Bran Nue Dae Review
Broome, Western Australia, 1969. Willie (Rocky McKenzie) is a young Aboriginal who has a crush on the beautiful Rosie (Jessica Mauboy) who likes him as a friend, but not more than that. Willie is sent away to a boarding school, run by Father Benedictus (Geoffrey Rush) to study for the priesthood. When several pupils steal food from the kitchen after hours, Willie is the one who is caught but he runs away before he can be punished. On the streets of Perth, he meets up with Uncle Tadpole (Ernie Dingo) and they set off back to Broome, but it's a longer journey than they thought and Father Benedictus is after them...
Bran Nue Dae began in 1990 as a stage musical by Jimmy Chi and his band Knuckles. It had a particular impact in Australia, especially amongst the indigenous community, and 200,000 people saw it on its theatrical run as it toured the East Coast. In the audience in Sydney was a aboriginal woman in her early twenties, Rachel Perkins. Nineteen years later, Bran Nue Dae became her third feature film, following 1998's Radiance (which I reviewed here) and One Night the Moon in 2001 (which I haven't seen).
Bran Nue Dae is energetic to a fault, and this gets the film over some rough patches along the way. Like another recent film musical derived from the stage, Mamma Mia, it works despite yourself, and you can overlook the fact that the musical numbers aren't staged with as much flair as they could be. Also, the supporting roles tend to overshadow the rather bland leads. Geoffrey Rush is very funny and in smaller roles, Ernie Dingo, Magda Szubanski and Deborah Mailman (who was one of the leads in Radiance) steal quite a few scenes between them. Andrew Lesnie's Scope photography is colourful to the point of being garish in places.
With song lyrics like “There's nothing I would rather be/Than to be an Aborigine/And watch you steal my precious land away”, there's no disguising a political edge beneath the brightly-coloured song and dance numbers. Even more so, in the powerful sequence set to the song “Listen to the News”, sung by Ernie Dingo. You even get Rolf Harris singing “Six White Boomers”. (A soundtrack CD was released in Australia, though import copies to the UK are expensive.) Bran Nue Dae's priority is clearly entertainment rather than diatribe, but it does manage to make its points well enough and at only 81 minutes doesn't outstay its welcome.
No doubt all this was considered too culturally specific for non-Australians as, apart from a showing at the Barbican's annual Australian Film Festival, Bran Nue Dae has not had a British release of any kind. Back home, it was nominated for seven Australian Film Institute Awards but the only winner was Deborah Mailman as Best Supporting Actress.
Bran Nue Dae is released by Roadshow Entertainment on a single dual-layered DVD encoded for Region 4 only. (There is also a Blu-ray edition.) The PG rating is the Australian one, though due to some sexual references – particularly in the lyrics of “Seeds That You Might Sow” near the beginning – it's a 12 by UK standards, so parents be advised. The disc begins with an anti-piracy ad and trailers for Bright Star, Love Happens and The Rebound.
The DVD transfer is in the ratio of 2.40:1 and anamorphically enhanced. I said the film was colourful, and the blues, reds, yellows and especially oranges really pop, to the extent that there is some colour bleed in places. The blacks are solid and I've no reason to doubt that what's on screen is what Perkins and Lesnie intended.
There are three soundtracks, a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround (2.0) and a 2.0 audio-descriptive track. It isn't the most adventurous sound mix out there, with the surrounds being used primarily for the music score and some scenes of rainfall, but it does its job and the music sounds fine. Subtitles for the hard-of-hearing are optionally available.
“The Story of Bran Nue Dae” (24:17) takes us from the original stage show (from which we see an extract, in archive footage) to the production of the film. Rachel Perkins and producer Robyn Kershaw talk about the impact of the stage production and we also hear from Jimmy Chi and his band members. For someone like me, who had not heard of Bran Nue Dae before this film version came out, this featurette is as informative as it should be.
Next up are a series of interviews with cast and crew, which combine into a making-of documentary of sorts. The sections can be selected individually and they are: “Rosie – Jessica Maulboy” (2:59), “Willie – Rocky McKenzie” (2:57), “Roxanne – Deborah Mailman” (3:09), “Uncle Tadpole – Ernie Dingo” (2:55), “Listen to the News” (2:37), “Nothing I Would Rather Be” (3:03), “Taryne Laffar & Irma Woods – Producers' Attachments” (2:45), “Kimberley West – Editing Assistant & Terrence Jack – Art Department Assistant” (3:03), “Arnhem Hunter – Lighting & Devina McPherson – Camera Attachment” (2:48), “Rachel Perkins – Director” (2:54) and “Stephen Page – Choreographer” (3:08). There is a Play All option. As you can see from the running times, most of these interviews are very short, especially as they are interspersed with on-set footage.
The extras are concluded with five storyboard-to-film comparisons: “Beach Fishing” (0:14), “Kombie Runs Down Tadpole” (1:20), “Interior Sun Pictures” (1:54), “Light a Light” (1:25) and “Clontarf Arrival Night” (0:39). There is a Play All option. Each one of these has the animated storyboard in the top half of the screen, with the finished film version playing in the bottom half.
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