October 2011

Arts & Letters

Film masterpiece

By Adrian Martin

Rolf de Heer - ‘The Tracker’, 2002

Australian cinema is prone to chronic understatement – shrinking away from opportunities for sex, violence and catharsis. The Tracker is an exception. From early bushranger movies to The Proposition, Australian cinema has drawn close to American Westerns. The conflict between Indigenous and settler communities lends itself well to a Western treatment.

Here, four emblematic characters – the Fanatic (Gary Sweet), the Veteran (Grant Page), the Follower (Damon Gameau) and the Tracker (David Gulpilil) – travel together through the landscape in search of an Aboriginal fugitive. The Fanatic is a brutal racist, but most intriguing is the Tracker himself, magnificently played by Gulpilil – a man of few words who seems, at first, a compliant slave.

Instead of taking the familiar Aussie escape route, The Tracker follows its premise all the way to a shatteringly logical, gleefully confronting conclusion. Inverting the usual relationship between visuals and musical accompaniment, de Heer places the splendid songs performed by Archie Roach (composed by Graham Tardif) firmly in the driver’s seat. The Tracker displaces the past decade’s reconciliation debates into a primal, melodramatic, stylised form. It recognises the existence of two distinct laws, white and black, and confronts head-on how these laws clash and negotiate with each other.

—Adrian Martin

Adrian Martin
Adrian Martin is an associate professor at Monash University, and a film and arts critic. His books include Phantasms, Once Upon a Time in America and Movie Mutations. @AdrianMartin25

David Gulpilil in 'The Tracker'. Image courtesy of Rolf de Heer.
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