Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#1,457. Where the Green Ants Dream (1984) - Spotlight on Australia

Directed By: Werner Herzog

Starring: Bruce Spence, Wandjuk Marika, Roy Marika

Line from the film: "You white men are lost. You don't understand the land"

Trivia: Herzog dedicated this movie to his mother, who died while it was being made

Werner Herzog’s 1984 film Where the Green Ants Dream is yet another example of the director doing what he does best: giving a narrative film an almost documentary feel while, at the same time, mixing in a number of strong images, all working in unison to tell a fascinating story.

Geologist Lance Hackett (Bruce Spence) works for the Ayers mining company, and his most recent assignment has taken him to the middle of the Australian outback. Testing the ground for the best place to drill, Hackett and his co-workers set off a series of explosives, at which point the leaders of an Aboriginal tribe rush onto the scene, bringing the entire operation to a standstill.

Miliritbi (Wandjuk Marika) and Dayipu (Roy Marika), two of the tribal elders, claim the area is where the Green Ants, creatures they hold sacred, come to dream, and to disturb the Green Ants' dreams would throw the world out of balance. To ensure this doesn’t happen, the elders stage a peaceful demonstration, putting themselves between the land and the mining equipment.

When they refuse to leave, Baldwin Ferguson (Norman Kaye), a top executive with Ayers, is brought in to negotiate. He even goes so far as to buy the tribe the military aircraft they requested, yet nothing will change their minds.

The Aborigines eventually take their case all the way to the Australian Supreme Court, but will the court recognize their claim to the land, or will the letter of the law win out?

Bruce Spence (the Gyro Captain from The Road Warrior) makes for a charismatic lead, convincingly portraying a mining company employee who comes to understand the Aborigine’s point of view. Another plus is Herzog’s decision to cast actual Aborigines in key roles, which adds to the film's realistic vibe. And like many of the director’s best works, the setting itself, the Australian outback, takes on a personality of its own. Just as Walkabout and Wake in Fright did years earlier, Where the Green Ants Dream takes full advantage of this barren yet picturesque locale, and in so doing gives the film a very unique flavor.

Of course, no Herzog movie would be complete without a series of bizarre, wonderful images, and Where the Green Ants Dream has plenty of them. There’s the elderly Miss Strehlow (Colleen Clifford) sitting on a lawn chair perched in front of a mineshaft tunnel, waiting for her beloved dog Ben (who wandered into the mine days earlier and hasn’t been heard from since) to return. Later, an Aborigine measures a wing of the tribe’s new aircraft by flipping his spear end over end from one side to the other. At several points throughout the film, Herzog even captures footage of an actual sandstorm, which, though they don’t fit neatly into the narrative, are amazing nonetheless. On top of it all, Where the Green Ants Dream has one of the most interesting and unusual courtroom sequences I’ve ever seen.

As with many of Herzog’s pictures, Where the Green Ants Dream won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you’re like me, and you consider Werner Herzog one of the finest directors ever, then you definitely don’t want to miss this movie!

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