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Australia 1977
Directed by
Peter Weir
106 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
2.5 stars

The Last Wave

Richard Chamberlain (best known then from the popular US television series Dr Kildare) plays a Sydney lawyer, David Burton, whose  disturbing dreams are somehow connected with a case in which he is defending five Aboriginals (one of whom is played by David Gulpilil) for the murder of another Aboriginal. Burton realizes that the killing was related to tribal law but the men refuse to speak about what happened, even in their own defense. 

Co-written by the director with Tony Morphett, the film is significant as an early attempt to introduce authentic Aboriginal culture into Australian film (Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, 1971, which had also starred Gulpilil,had done so in a more modest way) and revolves around the contrast and conflict between white man's materialist thinking and the Aboriginal way of seeing the world, The Dreamtime.

Weir doesn't really get the opposition to work, however, the plot being simultaneously conventionally literal and artistically opaque, notably the film's ending when Burton discovers an underground vault full of what appears to be South American artefacts whilst it is not clear to what extent an ecological disaster is in the offing.  Lots of close-ups of enigmatic Aboriginal faces with didgeridoos playing in the background and endless rain and/or flowing water hardly make up for the under-developed script which takes on a lot of ideas but doesn't develop them into a coherent whole.

Weir was on surer ground with his previous film, the hugely successful costume drama, Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975 ), which like this film conveyed the white man's unease in his stolen land but wisely did not try to explain the mystery at its heart. Technically, however, the film is well-made and picked up AFI awards for sound design and Russell Boyd's cinematography.




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