Sweet Country

In the 1920s, Australians were still trying to set up cattle farming in the Northern Frontier, using some of the aboriginal peoples but not all. The farmers, an unruly lot, meet for booze in a nearby town but otherwise have to cope with difficult terrain. Some of the aboriginal people have learned English, but they are looked down upon. Harry March (played by Ewen Leslie) has asked for help from a neighbor, who assigns his workers Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris), and a young boy Philomac (Tremaine Doolin). But while Kelly is working, he forces himself on Kelly’s wife and puts Philomac in chains for a minor infraction. Philomac escapes during the night while all are sleeping. In the morning March discovers that Philomac is missing and accuses March of hiding the boy. When Kelly says that he does not know where the boy is, March begins to shoot into the cabin where Kelly and his wife have been sleeping. Kelly then arms himself in case March forces the door open. When March does so, Kelly shoots in self-defense. Then the drama begins, as Kelly is charged with murder. Local law enforcement officer Sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) assembles a posse to look for Kelly, who hightails out of the area in the direction of the naked aborigines, a trek that enables a cinematographic view of the outback. But the latter not only shoot one of the posse but also threaten Kelly and his wife. Kelly realizes that he must give himself up, and he presents himself to Sergeant Fletcher. But judge Taylor (Matt Day) suddenly appears to preside over a trial, and the testimony eventually indicates that the homicide was in self-defense. Meanwhile, the men of the town are erecting a scaffold for a hanging. The climax of the film is what happens after Kelly is released from custody. For Australian director Warwick Thornton, a descendant of the Katej people of Central Australia, revival of the memory of the incident may bring a sense of remorse for a past that has been transcended in the present. The Political Film Society has nominated Sweet Country as best film on human rights of 2018. MH