September 29, 2020

Venice film festival: Tracks by John Curran. At last a film starring camels

‘You don’t have to be unlucky to die out there’

If you often watch movies then you will know that there are certain topics that keep popping up. Films about secret agents, love or baddies trying to take over the world are commonplace. Films about camels are rarer. If you’ve ever scanned the What’s On pages and felt disappointed there were no plays, films or ballets about camels, it’s your lucky day.

Tracks is directed by John Curran and stars Mia Wasikowska, along with a few camels and the Australian Outback. It is based on the real-life story of Robyn Davidson who walked from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean in the 1970s. Why did she do this when cars had already been invented? Bored of life in cities, Davidson planned her trip to prove that an ordinary person is capable of anything. A noble motive, though it ignores the fact that walking from A to B, no matter how far it is has little to say about what an ordinary person is capable of. Rather it only really proves that it is possible to walk from A to B. Anyway, exploring was in her blood, her father having crossed the Kalahari on his own in his youth.

The film starts with an unusual disclaimer, aimed particularly at Aborigines, saying that it may contain the voices of deceased persons. Which I suppose translates as the undeniable fact that some of the people in the film may have died since it was made. A floating camera and effervescent music take this out of documentary territory, as do flashbacks, slow motion and hazy images shot through the heat that reduce figures to Lowry stickmen. However the subject would have been better served with a more back-to-basics technique. The journey was undertaken cheaply and Davidson is often quoted as not wanting even a photographer to travel along with her. The Hollywood style that the film has is not in keeping with her statements within it.

It is hard to build tension in a film that follows a woman walking across Australia. Her source of funding insists on the photographer following her, which leads to some drama, but basically this is a one woman road trip, albeit without a road. I am surprised that this woman proving she can achieve anything submits to the Aboriginal sexism that stops women butchering animals or walking in certain ways. (I mean certain directions, not walking with – for example – an exaggerated sashay of the hips, although they may not like that either).

I thought my journey to the cinema to watch Tracks had been tricky. Getting off the vaporetto at the wrong stop. Getting on a bus that turned left just where I hoped it would turn right. But a story of trekking 2700km across the outback put my woes in perspective. At least I didn’t have to train a camel first. Although as I was in Venice I would have had to teach it to swim. Now that would be worth making a movie about.


dir. John Curran




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