Warwick Thornton Selects: Sweet Country + Down by Law
with introductions by Warwick Thornton
Sweet Country (2017)
An Aboriginal farmhand is pursued by relentless lawmen across the harsh and stunning outback in Warwick Thornton’s Aussie take on the western.
After giving a free day of labour to help his neighbour, station owner Harry March (Ewan Leslie), all that Aboriginal man Sam Kelly (Hamilton Morris) receives in return is a series of indignities. Then Harry knocks on Sam’s door, intoxicated, gun in hand, and launches an unprovoked attack. Sam is forced to kill the whitefella in self-defence and go on the lam across the harsh, glorious outback with his wife Lizzie (Natassia Gorey-Furber), fleeing a man-hunt led by police sergeant Fletcher (Bryan Brown) and his posse, Aboriginal tracker Archie (Gibson John) and local landowners Fred Smith (Sam Neill) and Mick Kennedy (Thomas M. Wright).
Based on a true story, Warwick Thornton's sparse, textured film explores racism, trauma and morality through the lens of a period western set in Central Australia; it was his second truth-telling film in 2017 after his documentary We Don't Need a Map (2017). Overwhelmingly cinematic, Thornton's camera captures the beauty of the land mostly bathed in daylight and sadly at odds with the dark dealings happening upon it. More than a backdrop, the MacDonnell Ranges and the salt flats of Kati Thanda-Lake Eyre exert their own influence on the fate of the hunting party. But perhaps the most striking moments are those completely void of light, where dark deeds are mostly unseen but no less haunting.
Sweet Country premiered at the 74th Venice International Film Festival where it competed for the Golden Lion and was awarded the Special Jury Prize.
The shots of scorched red landscapes and dried-up riverbeds are often rapturous.
Down by Law (1986)
Three jailbirds flee across the swamps and streetscapes of Louisiana in Jim Jarmusch’s dreamlike noir comedy.
On the mean streets of New Orleans, Zack and Jack (a radio disc jockey and a pimp played by Tom Waits and John Lurie, respectively) find themselves separately framed for crimes and sent to prison. Together they share a cell and an instant dislike of one another until a third inmate, chatty Italian tourist Roberto (Roberto Benigni), joins the duo with escape on his mind.
Although this is Jim Jarmusch's third feature film, Down by Law is in many ways a film of firsts for the director. Filmed entirely in Louisiana, it was his first film to step away from the Lower East Side-tethered No Wave scene, and his No Wave cinematographer Tom DeCillo. Here, Jarmusch enlisted Dutch cinematographer Robby Müller to the project, who by this stage, had earned international recognition following his collaborations with Wim Wenders (Paris, Texas; The American Friend).
Shot in crisp black and white, Müller’s cinematic eye captures moonlit Bourbon Street-scapes, dappled sunlight working its way into the Louisiana bayou and interiors that would make Wes Anderson proud.
Down by Law made its premiere at the 39th Cannes Film Festival where it competed for the Palme d'Or.
The excitement [of Down by Law] comes from the realization that we are seeing a true film maker at work, using film to create a narrative that couldn't exist on the stage or the printed page of a novel.
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