Login

Black River Review

Image for Black River

Miriam is an aboriginal woman in small-town Australia whose son was unfairly imprisoned and then died in captivity in suspicious circumstances. She is out to find out the truth and confronts a policeman and a judge, staying there due to the weather, at the local police station. Calling on her ancestors she rails against the centuries-old oppression of aborigines.

★★★★★

Clocking in at just under an hour, with an opera score and a lot of symbolic and/or surrealist action, it's hard to know whether to classify this as a feature film, an extended high art music video or a weird experiment in multi-media mutation. A judge (Pringle) on a fact-finding mission to investigate racial tension in a corner of the Australian backwoods is stranded by terrible weather and has to put up in a smalltown jail. Also on hand are a drunken bigot, spending a night in the cells for disturbing the police, a pragmatic copper who just wants peace and quiet and everybody happy, and Miriam (Barambah), an embittered aboriginal with a sad history and an incredible voice.

We get a scattering of enigmatic flashbacks, especially when Miriam, who is upset because her son, jailed after being beaten up by the bigot, has either hanged himself or been murdered in a cell, is recounting (in song) the dirty deal her family has got from white men through the years. As Miriam's singing gets more ominous and everyone else shows signs of being pretty frightened, the movie takes a turn into horror with the appearance of the ghosts of centuries' worth of murdered aboriginals. In a conventional film, the apparitions might well teach the whites a lesson by ripping their guts out, but here we just get mud-covered naked women doing a super-imposed interpretational dance.

This has obviously been conceived as an opera on film and looks terrific yet remains solely a curiosity due to its fairly impenetrable story elements and the competent but hardly outstanding musical score by Andrew Schultz.

More from Empire