Wednesday, 19 August 2015

No.231 : Where the Green Ants Dream

Where the Green Ants Dream at the IMDb

 This was German director Werner Herzog’s first film in English although the copy I saw was dubbed in German and had English subtitles - long way for a short cut!

The film is all filmed on location in Australia and deals with the cultural clash between some native Aborigines and a mining conglomerate who want to extract uranium from land the Aborigines see as sacred. Although an environmental warning, the film is also a parable of sorts and although the subject matter may seem a bit dry it was interesting enough to keep me engaged.

From the off you get a fair idea of where the film’s sympathies lie with a long tracking shot of piles of debris left over from previous excavations. It’s clear that a mess has been made of large swathes of the country and to reinforce this there is stock footage of extreme weather which either indicates climate change or an angry God - I’m going with the latter!

Mining engineer Bruce Spence (Gyro Captain out of the ‘Mad Max’ films) is in his office dealing with an old lady who seems somewhat out of place in the middle of the Outback. She has lost her dog in the mines and asks if it can be found. Bruce fobs her off, but she is a persistent old bird and her quest continues throughout the film, running parallel with the main narrative. I’m pretty sure the lost dog is a metaphor for something, lost innocence maybe, but it’s not made clear and as regular readers will attest, nuance isn’t my strongest suit.

Anyway, the new mine needs some bore holes and progress is halted when some Aborigines show up and block the bulldozers. The workers are keen to shove them off but Bruce, perhaps fearing bad publicity, engages with them to see what it would take to move them on. He has all the right permits but the Aborigines claim ancient title to the lands where, they claim, the green ants dream. In their folklore if the green ants are awoken the world will end. Frankly I was hoping this would happen but seemingly the budget wouldn’t stretch to it.

The mining bosses come in with a raft of offers but all are turned down. Bruce starts to see what he’s up against when he encounters another group in a supermarket huddled round the spot where a favoured tree once grew that was cut down for the store. The bosses decide to seduce the tribal leaders with a trip to the big city and shower them in tat such as a digital watch that no one can turn off - another metaphor?

On the trip home the Aborigines are impressed with a large aeroplane and a goodwill offer is made to supply such a machine to the Aborigines despite them having no airport or conceivable use for it. With this sweetener in place the action transfers to the court room where ancient claims are weighed against the law of the land. Will the miners be sent on their way and the Aborigines left with their land’s mineral wealth intact? What to do you think?!

I quite enjoyed this film but it was too indistinct in what it was trying to be. A factual drama? Part documentary? Social commentary? Fantasy parable? I’ve no idea. Lots of stuff was laid on thick with the evil suits clearly trying to screw with the local heroes. There were a lot of metaphors such as a lift that kept breaking down, perhaps suggesting that progress wasn’t all it was meant to be. I never figured out the relevance of the lost dog although the big green plane was a bit more obvious.

Bruce Spence was the only actor I knew in the film and he did a decent job of holding it together. Most of the Aboriginal cast were not actors but they all had great faces and presences. Things like their drinking problems were touched on but for the most part they were the innocents being treated badly by corporate interests and progress in general.

The film was pretty clear where its sympathies lay and this was shown via Bruce’s character who starts off seeing the Aborigines as a nuisance before gradually going more and more native himself. The politics were not of the subtle variety and there was a lot of mystical stuff going on, such as a key artefact being presented to the court that we, the viewer, weren’t allowed to see but overall there was enough to like to justify a recommendation - just.

Best Bit : Pit vigil with Pal
‘W’ Score 14/23

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