‘Ten Canoes’


Directed by the Dutch expatriate filmmaker Rolf de Heer, this sometimes bawdy (remember: “Never trust a man with a small prick”), always beguiling work of imagination begins with a group of Aboriginal tribesmen setting out on an annual goose-hunting expedition, fashioning canoes from bark and sleeping in makeshift camps perched high in the trees. Along the way, an elder member of the tribe, Minygululu, regales his restless young companion, Dayindi—who happens to covet one of Minygululu’s three wives—with a cautionary tale about another young man smitten by similar desires and the hard-gotten wisdom of being careful what you wish for. Then this story within the story within the story starts to unfold before our eyes. If the moral of Ten Canoes is familiar, the getting there is anything but. To watch this movie (shot in breathtaking widescreen by cinematographer Ian Jones) is to enter into a whole new language of symbols and meaning, the likes of which I have rarely encountered in cinema outside of the African tribal films of Ousmane Sembene. And yet, as in Sembene’s work, we are never lost, for as much as anything else, Ten Canoes is a celebration of the art of storytelling, and of the power of stories to transcend all barriers of space, time, and language.

Archive Highlights