Directed by John Curran, “Tracks” is an Australian film adapted from Robyn Davidson’s memoir, detailing the author’s journey across the Australian desert. The film was shown at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival (Special Presentation) and the 70th Venice International Film Festival 2013 (in Official Competition). “Tracks” was the opening film at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2013. The film hits cinemas nationally in early March 2014.
The filmed opened with an upside down shot of a small girl running along a dirt road. The camera held this panning shot long enough for us to see her shadow as a person, running towards us along the road, then on into the distance. We are invited to witness the true story of Robyn Davidson and we are invited to become a part of the narration. We travel with her as she faces adversity in the harsh outback and we’re at peace with her in the scenes of serenity. We look with her through her mind’s eye as she reflects on what lead her to walk the 2700 kms from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean.
The film faces a number of relevant issues and comments on them- either as an observation or as a condemnation. In true Australian fashion, however, the socio-political commentary is very subtle and this is indeed a film that comes across as simple while having strong undercurrents. For example, there’s a scene where the protagonist, Davidson, goes to a pub in Alice Springs looking for work and there she encounters a scene of 1970’s racism and bigotry. It’s only a scene of a few seconds and if memory recalls, the sound is edited out, but it’s enough to understand the feelings of our central character. They don’t have to tell us that Davidson’s had a rough life, they only need to zoom in as she sits by a campfire picking out stones and pebbles from her feet as she rests after a day’s work on a camel farm.
The editing is superb. Just wonderful- the camerawork, seamless scene editing, flash-backs, audio overlays; everything is just so perfect. The camera tells us the whole story, the story is polished and truthful in examining the human condition. There was only one instance where I thought- “if I were creating this Robyn character, I wouldn’t have made her do something so incongruent with the character development”. Yet, this is a true story and moments later, I realised that Davidson was a human reflection, who made human choices and human decisions and it made the story so completely authentic.
The film values the outback as an entity to be respected. Not a harsh, barren, unforgiving hellmouth as other Australian films like “Wake In Fright” like to impose. No, this film captures the essential beauty that the outback paints. The cinematography makes this piece something worth seeing on the big screen, rather than just at home. Ultimately, it tells the simple story of a woman facing her demons, by going on a journey of self-healing. It’s an age-old story told countless times, in film such as “The Way”. However, this is totally unique in its portrayal of the outback, in its artistic storytelling and its dynamic exploration of the human condition. I can only sing its praises.
At times, the film can feel like it’s going to be stagnant- walking from the middle of Australia to the ocean could be rather monotonous for not only the traveller, but the audience as well. Alas, through added touches of humour and the rise and fall of grief, sadness, flashbacks and emotional exploration, the film is always dynamic. The film strays from the cliché- although it has all the elements of falling into that trap- for example, the 1970’s could’ve been a time worth presenting through caricature, or the Aussie larrikin may have lifted its head, or even isolated recluse-types living in the outback could’ve been portrayed with more insanity. Instead, the film presents a broken woman with dignity and integrity, gives respect to the small communities involved in the story and reveres the landscape. All credit goes to Mia Wasikowska for her incredible performance. I was totally awestruck by the premier of this film and I highly recommend it to anyone.
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