peteg's blog - noise - movies - 2022 02 25 TheFringeDwellers

The Fringe Dwellers

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A Bruce Beresford concoction from 1986. Adapted by him and his wife-of-the-time Rhoisin from the book by Western Australian Nene Gare. (Here's Beresford at 80 in 2021.) Filmed in Cherbourg and Murgon, and as such a nicely made time capsule of mid-1980s regional Queensland. An Aboriginal family moves from the shantytown near the river to a Council house in town. Culture clashes ensue. All the leads are Aboriginal; the whites are teachers, snotty schoolgirl bitches, cops and curtain-twitching neighbours who rapidly exceed their well-meaning tolerance. The family consists of a final-year teenager (Kristina Nehm), the walls closing in on limited prospects, her amiable parents (Justine Saunders and Bob Maza), stuck between ways old and new, her sister (Kylie Belling), a trainee nurse who is subject to some effective positive discrimination, and her younger brother (Denis Walker) who draws at every opportunity. The rest of the mob is too large for me to enumerate; Beresford's achievement is that they do have distinct personalties.

The narrative arc is the usual it's-a-free-country aspirationalism with a dash of the downward spiral; you know from the start that whatever the outcome the old ways are cactus and everyone will (want to) be deracinated. Beresford leavens it all with some very funny dialogue, the odd antic down at the river, and a poignant song about the stolen generations. These days it'd be deplatformed as cultural appropriation, but I guess I hope it was a bridge to more people telling their own stories in their own ways.

Roger Ebert: three-and-a-half stars.