Rabbit-Proof Fence

dir. Noyce

Opens Wed Dec 25

Cinema 21

The most striking aspect of Rabbit-Proof Fence is its simplicity; its bald setting in Western Australia's bush, its story, and its characters. It relates the true tale of Molly, a 14-year-old Aborigine, her sister, and their cousin. Part of the Stolen Generation, they were forcibly seized and placed in a racial assimilation compound. Their escape and journey back home is heroic, but the impassive representation of it undermines a fulfilling sense of sympathy.

The Stolen Generation's plight (in which the Australian government removed and detained Aboriginal children from their families) is not often illuminated on film. Rabbit-Proof Fence enjoys the advantage of elaborating on a largely unprecedented subject. However, by focusing on an individual's experience, it doesn't delve into the corners of its history. It inspires an intrigue for the context that ultimately detracts from the film's plot.

Part of this stems from the story's aforementioned simplicity. The characters are uncomplicated, as are their reactions and motives. The sparing use of dialogue contributes to the general lack of expression within the film, with the exception of the traumatic scene in which the girls are wrenched into a police car. Another effective scene presents the fish-eyed perspective of a nerve-wracked Molly as she interacts with Mr. A.O. Neville, official legal guardian of mixed-race Aboriginal children. Neville is played by Kenneth Branagh, who looks appropriately slight and pasty. His character is primarily used to limply indicate the bureaucratic aspect of organized racial persecution, using the conventional modes of giving such an impression: thin-lipped secretaries, reams of note cards and cramped files, paperwork.

Because the film seems loyal to preserving the story's factual content, it finds itself steady, almost meditative, rather than suspenseful or anguished. This is somewhat surprising given the comparative pace of Noyce's bizarrely dissimilar earlier films, such as The Bone Collector and Dead Calm. The straightforward, open-handed style of the film is an acquired taste; however it both provokes and frustrates a desire for historical detail.