> Volume 5 > Number 06

Volume 5, Number 06

This Week's Reviews:  Rabbit-Proof Fence, Heaven.

This Week's Omissions:  Deliver Us from Eva, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.

Capsule Reviews:  Biker Boyz, Shanghai Knights.

Phillip Noyce

Everlyn Sampi
Tianna Sansbury
Laura Monaghan
David Gulpilil
Kenneth Branagh
Jason Clarke
Ningali Lawford

Release: 29 Nov. 02

Rabbit-Proof Fence


For years, American filmmakers have been attempting to find some form of acknowledgement for the atrocities created by white supremacy and racism allowed through slavery and segregation. Maybe it's because we fought a war centered around the racist policies, or perhaps because we spent 100 years understanding the impact of slavery and, finally, moved away from the segregationist policies in the first half of the 20th century.

We still have not completely cleansed ourselves of this -- look at the Trent Lott affair late last year and the reaction it incited -- but we are gaining ground. Who would have thought there would ever be a black man in a presidential administration (the jury is still out on when we'll have a black woman)?

Meanwhile, the Australians are just beginning their cleansing. While Americans were more likely to protest the apartheid in South Africa, a policy in Australia was effectively committing genocide on the Aboriginal people living in the desert center of the continent. From 1905 to 1971, a white European was made legal custodian of the Aborigines. His job was to watch over them and ensure that their "backward" culture would not somehow seep into the white population.

Since white men were occasionally fathering children with the Aboriginal women, the custodians decided that it would be best that these kids, called "half-castes," would be placed under the supervision of the government so that they would never procreate with a white, effectively letting black genes into the ever so clean European gene pool.

Philip Noyce's Rabbit-Proof Fence tries to make sense of this policy. At first glance, the movie is an adventure in which three half-castes attempt to run away from the Australian internment camps. However, Noyce is more clearly attempting to inform the world of his own country's closeted skeleton -- how is it that, 31 years after the policy's abolishment, this openly racist plan is still unknown to most Americans?

And Noyce never really steps back from his drama to sermonize, turning his semi-indictment of a 66-year-old law into more of a historical document than a melodrama. While there are moments when the plight of these kids -- 14-year-old Molly (Sampi), her 8-year-old sister Daisy (Sansbury), and their 10-year-old cousin Gracie (Monaghan) -- seems formed for audience reaction, the clearness of Noyce's intent is more towards their contextual place than their contrived importance. This could have been a film form-fitted to make viewers cry over the events, but Noyce instead ensures that every tear shed is earned, not at the trill of a violin, but at the vileness of a supposedly civil society.

However, Noyce is not trying to convince the world that his people are demons, just were too willing to accept their government's racist policies. There are white people shown in the film that are kind to the Aborigines, and A.O. Neville (Branagh), the custodian of the Aboriginal people in the film's 1931 setting, never comes across as a villain, just a man sure that he is doing the right thing. These are not policies built on hatred, but instead out of a little intolerance mixed with great ignorance.

The rabbit-proof fence that these children use to navigate their way through thousands of miles of Australian desert serves as a reminder of a land divided by racial lines, a division that has yet to be unified. The fence, which the Australian government built to keep rabbits living around the Aborigines from the white-owned farmland, was a mere precaution for Australians. Keeping the rabbits out of their land would mean they could forget about any problems these pests could cause. Based on a 66-year-old law, I doubt that they saw the Aborigines as anything more than pests.

©2003, David Perry,, 7 February 2003

Tom Tykwer

Cate Blanchett
Giovanni Ribisi
Remo Girone
Stefania Rocca
Alessandro Sperduti
Mattia Sberduti

Release: 4 Oct. 02



Two years ago, Steven Spielberg attempted something that seemed impossible: he would direct a film long prepared by the late Stanley Kubrick. The final product was A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, a beautiful amalgam that took the familial themes of Spielberg and contrasted them with the coolness of Kubrick's vision.

Similarly, Tom Tykwer, the destiny-obsessed filmmaker behind Winter Sleepers, Run Lola Run, and The Princess and the Warrior, has been chosen to use his Euro pop style on a screenplay written by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski. They share a similar sense of meditation in their films, though Kieslowski finds it in sobriety while Tykwer finds it in energy. The Polish master, who made The Decalogue and Trois Colours series, was more mystical with his view of humanity -- his characters often crossed paths because of a similar condition, not out of pre-destiny (as Tykwer would prefer).

Kieslowski and screenwriter Krzysztof Piesiewicz were at work on a new trilogy to follow Trois Colours by looking at the differences between Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory (as the three films would be titled). Like the underlying themes of The Decalogue (the Ten Commandments) and Trois Colours (the French flag's liberté, equalité, and fraternité), this new series would be more about the way people react to these ideals, not about the words themselves.

Similarly, Heaven is more about the way two characters create their own ideal space in the world as it is about the Roman Caelum. Starting off with an inadvertent act of terrorism, the main character of the drama, Philippa (Blanchett), is shown to be of inordinate (and, to some extent, blinding) determination. She wanted to kill a drug dealer but instead killed four innocent people; she wanted to be God, and now must pay for her lofty goals.

There is a convergence of persona within the story (a Bergman-esque touch, though still as grounded in reality as Kieslowski's other works) after Philippa finds a savior in the form of Italian carabiniere cadet Filippo (Ribisi), who falls in love with her and then plans a way for the two of them to escape. Their on-the-lam drama may not be as interesting as their relationship under the nose of Italian officials (Filippo is Philippa's English translator for the Italian detectives), but the way that Tykwer finds ways to show their junction is near transcendent.

Kieslowski always looked for the symbol and subtext, something that Tykwer would only occasionally dally with (The Princess and the Warrior, despite its many faults, did show him making headway as a contextual artist). Like Spielberg, though, Tykwer seems to understand the weight of his task: regardless of his own intentions, he is still working on a project created by someone regarded his superior. If Heaven had been more Tykwer than Kieslowski -- as would have been the case if A.I.: Artificial Intelligence had been more Spielberg than Kubrick -- then cineastes across the world would be calling for his head.

Thankfully for both Tykwer and the cineastes, Heaven seems to align itself with the goals Kieslowski would have preferred. While there are moments when Tykwer's pop mentality comes in, the project as a whole seems to be more from the mind of its originator than its final artist. This is not meant to belittle the achievement of Tykwer: on the contrary, it is as notable for him to vary his own art in the guise of another as it is to see him working without the pretense of a lofty master. Like Philippa, Tykwer is trying to play a god. Unlike his heroine, though, I think he succeeded.

©2003, David Perry,, 7 February 2003


Biker Boyz

The campiness that made Gone in Sixty Seconds and The Fast and the Furious somewhat watchable (the degree of which is in the eye of the beholder) is nowhere to be found in Biker Boyz, another B-movie that aspires to be more. For much of the film's duration, it's impossible to get around the horrible performance from ingénue flavor-of-the-week Derek Luke until you notice that even Laurence Fishburne is turning in a bad performance. What's next? Emily Watson and Adam Sandler working together? Anthony Hopkins in a Chris Rock vehicle?

Reggie Rock Bythewood

Derek Luke
Laurence Fishburne
Orlando Jones
Djimon Hounsou
Lisa Bonet

Release: 31 Jan. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 7 February 2003
Shanghai Knights

It's tough to put your finger on exactly what's missing in Shanghai Knights. Owen Wilson is still funny; Jackie Chan's footwork is still thrilling. Even the setting (1890s London) is used well. What's wrong with this film? Well, maybe it's the shoddy writing that tries to play cutesy with every aside ("oh, he's Charlie Chaplin, isn't that funny") and turns this romp into another Wild Wild West without the west. The two films do, however, share a lackluster approach to the term 'wild.'

David Dobkin

Jackie Chan
Owen Wilson
Aaron Johnson
Tom Fisher
Fann Wong

Release: 7 Feb. 03

©2003, David Perry,, 7 February 2003

Reviews by:
David Perry