Set a thousand years ago in Australia’s Northern Territory, director Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes is the first feature shot entirely in Aboriginal languages. While on a tribal goose egg gathering trip, Old Minygululu (Peter Minygululu) learns his unmarried younger brother Dayindi (Jamie Gulpilil) desires the youngest of his three wives. In order to “help him live the proper way”, Minygululu relates a fable about the perils of adulterous desire.
Shifting from black and white for the framing device to colour for the story-within-a-story, Ten Canoes offers a fascinating window into the lives of its indigenous characters, convincingly played by a mainly non-professional cast. Anyone worried about being bogged down in ethnographic worthiness will be surprised by the movie’s playfulness and bawdy humour. “A story like you’ve never seen before,” claims the narrator (David Gulpilil). It’s a promise Ten Canoes more than fulfils.