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Trilby Comeaway (Kristina Nehm) is an Aboriginal teenager living in a squalid shantytown with her extended family who are divided between those more assimilated into the white world, like Trilby and her sister, a nurse, Noonah (Kylie Belling) and an older generation still attuned to the mythology of their culture. A quietly ambitious girl, Trilby persuades her mother, Mollie (Justine Saunders), to move into a prosperous white neighborhood somewhat beyond their means but to Trilby's dismay, the entire extended family moves with them. With the white locals freely expressing their distaste for the new neighbors and Trilby's relationship with boyfriend Phil (Ernie Dingo) resulting in an unwanted pregnancy, things are not turning out how Trilby had imagined.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
One of the few Australian films selected for Competition at Cannes (1986), Bruce Beresford's adaptation of the novel is a milestone for Australian cinema. Ironically (or tellingly) it has been appreciated outside Australia to a greater extent than here - as evidence by the Cannes selection. (It was nominated for Best Film at the 1986 AFI Awards, along with five other nominations, but it won only the Best Screenplay (Adapted) Award. Nor did the film enjoy box office success here, taking just $174,433 at cinemas.

Devoid of judgements about its characters, the film depicts the continuing conflict between black and white cultures in Australia, compounded by the conflict between generations. And when I say cultures, I don't mean the ceremonies but the whole range of attitudes to everything from gender-roles to work and money to spirituality to recreation and relationships.

But it's not just a social document; Nene Gare's novel invokes the drama of those conflicts through specific characters and situations. On the screen, the visual realisation - through Don McAlpine's sensational cinematography - provides added layers, as we connect with the beauty and power of the land, which is such an integral part of Aboriginal life. But the images of interiors are equally marvellous.

But the core of the story is about Trilby's constant assertion of her independence and this is the universal element that connects with us most powerfully. It also motivates her to make a tragic decision - treated with a degree of ambiguity in the film - which enables her to seek that independence in the long term.

The performances are excellent, notably Kristina Nehm's debut as Trilby, Justine Saunders as her mother Mollie and Bob Maza as her father. Thanks to Beresford's sensibility, the often gently humorous dialogue comes across intact.

The striking feature of the film's tone is that it neither reproaches nor praises its characters, and so invites a compassionate reading where a polemically inclined filmmaker may have underlined elements in a futile attempt to apportion blame. Beresford's approach is far more subtle, intelligent and humane. The Fringe Dwellers is a film of lasting value and this Collector's Edition is welcome, with its rewarding extras - including the audio commentary track, where we learn that Nene Gere's story is based on real life in WA, a fraction fictionalised. (The film was shot in Cherbourg, Queensland.)

The audio track is a casual conversation between the participants (director Bruce Beresford, Tania Nehm, Justine Saunders, Ernie Dingo) and proves to be engaging, informative and insightful. Typically, Beresford is hugely entertaining and infectious.

Published November 29, 2007

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(Aust, 1986)

CAST: Justine Saunders, Kristina Nehm, Bob Maza, Ernie Dingo, Kath Walker, Kylie Belling, Malcolm Silver, Denis Walker, Bill Sandy, Michelle Torres, Michelle Miles, Marlene Bell

PRODUCER: Sue Milliken

DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford

SCRIPT: Bruce Beresford, Rhoisin Beresford (novel by Nene Gare)


EDITOR: Tim Wellburn

MUSIC: George Drefus


RUNNING TIME: 98 minutes

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 23, 1986


SPECIAL FEATURES: Meet the cast & crew (2004); audio commentary with producer Sue Milliken, director Bruce Beresford, Tania Nehm, Justine Saunders, Ernie Dingo (2004); Oondamooroo - documentary profile of Ernie Dingo (1992); photos, trailer


DVD RELEASE: July 22, 2004

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