10 CANOES (Rolf de Heer, Peter Djigirr). 90 minutes. Opens Friday (June 1). Rating: NN Rating: NNNNN
10 Canoes is like The Gods Must Be Crazy - minus the Coke bottle - coupled with the boring bits of Baraka.
A mythic history lesson set in the Australian outback 1,000 years ago, it's the first Aussie feature starring an all-indigenous cast speaking their native language.
The film's dual cautionary tales of forbidden love - in each story a man covets one of his brother's wives - are narrated by a wise yet wacky tribal elder (in a nod to the Aboriginal peoples' strong oral tradition) who begins, "Once upon a time in a land far, far away" before cracking the fairy-tale stereotype with "I'm only joking." Aesop it ain't.
That the film is inspired by 70-year-old anthropology photographs is painfully obvious. It plays with such plot elements as murder, kidnapping, revenge and sorcery, yet directors Rolf de Heer and Peter Djigirr seem equally interested in showing how the boats of the title are made. The most exciting moment is when the shaman slides a new bone through his nose piercing.
The result is the kind of ethnographic morality tale that would fit well in any Aussie middle school social studies syllabus. Even the out-of-left-field dick and fart jokes add to its grade-eight feel.
Educational? Yes, in a National Geographic kind of way. Entertaining? Yes, in a National Geographic kind of way.