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Film / Sweet Country

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Sweet Country is a 2018 Australian film directed by Warwick Thornton and featuring a cast headlined by Sam Neill and Bryan Brown.

Set in the Australian outback in the early years of the 20th century, an Aboriginal farmhand, Sam Kelly, goes on the run with his wife Lizzie after killing a white station-owner in self-defence.

Before going into wide release in January 2018, the film had its world premiere at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, where it was awarded a Special Jury Prize.

This film contains examples of:

  • And Starring: Sam Neill gets this treatment in the end credits.
  • Asshole Victim: Harry March, the man whose death kicks the plot into high gear, treats Sam like dirt, assaults Lizzie, and repeatedly threatens the lives of Sam and his family.
  • Flashforward: Brief flashbacks and flashforwards are scattered through the film.
  • Heritage Disconnect: At several points in the film, Aboriginal characters working for whites lament that they've lost touch with the culture of their ancestors. Sam and Lizzie, when their flight takes them onto Aboriginal tribal lands, are nearly as out of place there as the white posse pursuing them.
  • I Am the Noun: Sergeant Fletcher tells Sam, "Don't count on the law to save you. I am the law."
  • Inspector Javert: Sergeant Fletcher is determined to bring Sam to justice for what he believes was an unprovoked attack on Harry March, who he feels a kinship with because they were both ex-soldiers. (His attitude visibly changes when Sam gets a chance to tell his story, and Fletcher learns what March was really like.)
  • Morning Sickness: The first hint that Lizzie is pregnant is her throwing up.
  • Once More, with Clarity!: Brief flashbacks and flashforwards are scattered through the film. It's not always clear on first viewing which are which (or even sometimes that they are flashes, since they're not marked out by any cinematic effects), and many of the flashforwards lack context that only becomes apparent when the action of the film catches up to them. For instance, early in the film, after Sam's niece is threatened by March, there's a brief flashforward of her sitting in shock, covered in blood; it's not until nearly the end of the film that we learn whose. In another case, while Sam is awaiting the outcome of his trial, there's a series of flashes of men building a wooden framework and hauling something heavy up on the end of a rope, with the context implying that they're building a gallows. At the end of the film, the construction is shown more clearly, and it turns out they're building a church under Fred Smith's direction.
  • Scenery Dissonance: The beautiful landscapes of the "sweet country" the pursuit travels through contrasts with the violent events that occur.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: As the pursuit continues (and especially after one member of the posse is killed), the posse members one by one decide that they've had enough and head back to civilisation, until there's only Sergeant Fletcher pushing forward on his own. After he nearly dies and is saved by Sam, he turns back too.
  • Shell-Shocked Veteran: Harry March is a veteran of World War One, and is hinted to have PTSD which contributes to his alcoholism and erratic behaviour.
  • Source Music: Until a gospel song starts playing over the end credits, the only music in the film is that which the characters make themselves.
  • Take a Moment to Catch Your Death: The out-of-town judge rules that Sam is not guilty of murder, and orders him to be set free. The white townsfolk aren't happy about it, but don't seem inclined to push it, especially once Sergeant Fletcher offers Sam and his family a police escort out of town. Once they're away, they just have time to relax and start looking toward the future when — blam! — Sam is shot dead by a disgruntled station-owner.
  • Time Passes Montage: As Sergeant Fletcher rides out onto the salt pan, the camera shot remains fixed as the action fades to some time later, when his horse is well out onto the the salt pan, and then again, to when he and his horse are a tiny figure in the distance.
  • Title Drop: Occurs toward the end of the film, when Sergeant Fletcher reflects on the "sweet country" the posse rode through and says he's thinking of retiring and starting a farm.