Reviews Joyce Glasser Racer’s Wife: The Legend of Molly Johnson (May 13, 2022) Certificate 15, 108 min.

Australia boasts this year’s Oscar winner Jane Campion, actors, Oscar winners Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett, and multimillion-dollar studios used in international blockbusters. But beneath the surface of the former British colony, which has just begun to erupt, there are also many indigenous talents. We already had a strong taste in Warwick Thornton’s Kaytetye Samson and Delilahwhich won the Golden Camera at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, and in 2017 was followed by an even more ambitious and no less exciting revisionist Australian western, Sweet country who received a special jury prize at the Venice Film Festival.

Now in the directorial debut of playwright, novelist, actor, activist and screenwriter Leah Purcell, a new force of indigenous people has emerged. Wife Chaser Legend of Molly Johnson. Purcell is a woman from Goa-Gungari-Wakka Waka Moore from Queensland, and it is not enough for her to give a voice to indigenous authors-directors: this voice is uncompromising, guilty, feminist.

Purcell takes as a starting point Henry Lawson’s favorite story from 1892, which she has already adapted for the stage. Although Lawson’s mother was a feminist, Purcell expands the story and each character and the reference in it, changing, or rather, reinterpreting the story almost beyond recognition. In Purcell’s hands, it becomes the nation’s accusation of racism, misogyny and a celebration of cultural identity.

If you’re discovering new paths in predominantly male, white, western culture, why not go all the way and also star in a film? Suffice it to say that Purcell is so convincing that if you didn’t know, you would never believe that you look at a writer-director and not at a farmer’s wife like with a rifle on her thigh like with a baby.

While she tells people that her husband, driver Joe Johnson, is leaving with his sheep for a long time, hard-pregnant Molly guards a wobbly log cabin on the outskirts of the growing town of Everton. There she lives a lonely and spartan existence with her four surviving children, the oldest of whom is 12-year-old Danny (Malachi Dover-Robert), who, by necessity, is no longer by age.

No one is safe around the cabin, and when a stray bull appears and does not leave, she shoots him and cooks meat in an open pit on the street as a treat for children. But the arrival of a pair of strangers, attracted by the smell of meat, portends change, when her loneliness is invaded by a constant flow of visitors, the most undesirable.

Molly will take some time to trust even a friendly, handsome sergeant. Nate Clinton (Sam Reed), who walks, limping from the wounded Boer War, and his beautiful fiancée raised in London, Louise (Jessica De Gau). Clinton explains that they traveled a long distance and got lost because of a disaster on the way to enforce the laws of the Crown in lawless Everton.

Louise, a budding writer and early feminist with an anachronistic interest in beaten women, plans to launch her monthly women’s magazine in Everton. If Molly shows little interest in subscribing, we can feel how instantly a cultural gap emerges, one between two women, one that narrows as the story progresses, but not as strongly as you think.

When Louise, who has never been apart from Clinton since their meeting, sympathizes with the difficulties of being pregnant and so long absent from the chaser, Molly suddenly becomes lyrical, staring into the distant hills with a rare smile on her face. In poetic language she describes a tale that seems unnatural.

At Everton, Clinton is surrounded by racist, selfish pillars of society and a gruesome young police officer (Benedict Hardy) who helps him master the territory. Clinton is pressuring him to set out to find the killer of the wife of a powerful Aboriginal businessman, or so he is told.

It so happened that in the increasingly violent twists and turns of this complex saga, the main suspect, who looks guilty as a sin, becomes the next visitor to Molly’s cabin. In, perhaps, the most unexpected and strange scene in the film, Molly is going to blow up a man’s head when she begins childbirth and grabs a confused man by the outstretched hand …

After this traumatic experience, a stranger Yadaka (Rob Collins) staggers around, out of compassion, but also out of benefit. Molly expresses gratitude by cutting the shackles from his neck with an ax, and while she gives him time, Yadaka is still hanging. The two strangers form a bond that turns out to be stronger than Molly could have suspected; one that goes to the heart of her cultural identity.

There is nothing as obvious as a sexual relationship, but there is something deeper when Yadaki’s stories about his indigenous community and Molly’s origins awaken in her a deep but shocking connection to her roots.

Meanwhile, Clinton, who began looking for Joe Johnson, and not just in favor of Molly, sends his constable to Molly as part of the investigation. He is outraged to find Yadaka there, and Molly can’t protect her new friend.
Their happy idyll is shattered by a chain of increasingly disturbing events that expose the hypocrisy and systemic racism of the townspeople and the abuse of women with whom Louise hoped to fight.

Molly’s secret and Louise’s urban progressive crusade against beaten women is too sketchy, and it’s hard to see what to do with Louise’s pathetically ineffective activity that helps Molly in any way. And while the end may be inevitable, you may wonder whether border justice even around 1893 was so rapid and medieval.

But Purcell and Collins are a refreshing couple and make you take care of them. And as a portrait of a like-minded woman, ready to sacrifice herself for the freedom of her children, the film operates on an internal level, from which you will tremble with moral indignation.

Powerhouse Leah Purcell revisits Australia’s white, macho history with a saga of epoch proportions.

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