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Walkabout

Year: 1971
Production Co: Max L Raab Productions
Director: Nicolas Roeg
Writer: Edward Bond
Cast: Jenny Agutter, Luc Roeg, David Gulpilil, John Meillon

How much you respond to Walkabout will depend on an almost total extent to which you like avant garde, experimental cinema. I'm not a fan of any of director Nic Roeg's other work, so while I can appreciate the directorial talent here, the story (such as there is one) left me cold.

It's also the first time I realised – after researching the film – that Roeg was a cinematographer before he was a director, but it makes perfect sense. He's much more interested in the mood images can evoke than any narrative in the traditional sense.

The incredibly slight story is that a city dwelling British teenage sister and pre-teen brother (Jenny Agutter and Luc Roeg) ending up lost in the Outback and falling in with an Aboriginal boy (David Gulpilil, credited as 'Gumpilil', which made me wonder if we witnessed the tail end of an era where Indigenous Australians were as wild as their eons-long formation had made them, where names weren't written in registers but only spoken to be misheard and misspelled in the credits of a movie).

The plotting oddities describing how and why they end up lost are as esoteric and barely explained as anything else in the movie. Their stoic father (John Meillon, who'd co-star with Gulpilil again in Crocodile Dundee years later) leaves the city with them in his VW Beetle, drives into the desert for a picnic and pulls a gun, trying to kill them but eventually setting the car alight, shooting himself and leaving them stranded.

The Girl is either too stupid to know how much danger they're in or is trying not to let on to her brother as they sleep in gullies, try to find water and food and plunge deeper into the dust-coloured void.

Eventually they come across a small waterhole which puts them in contact with the young indigenous man on his traditional walkabout, and after they haltingly make themselves understood to each other, the trio start travelling together, the girl figuring he might lead them to civilisation.

And beyond that brief rundown, who knows what's going on? The script by Edward Bond (based on a novel) seems to use the plot to go on any number of weird asides about buffalo hunters, scientists deploying a weather balloon and more.

There might be an argument for it being some sort of Biblical parable – especially with the centrepice of the children swimming naked, apparently innocent of any sexuality and without a care in the world – but there are as many allusions to Dreamtime myths, cultural idioms and hallmarks as well.

And it's all presented amid strange camera angles, off-kilter optical effects and other abstract filmmaking tics that only add to the lyrical, dream logic-like tone of the whole film. Creatively it might be a very effective exercise in aesthetic, but narratively it's a bit of a bust.

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