Australian actor David Gulpilil has received a best actor award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival for his role in Charlie’s Country, which director Rolf de Heer believes allowed the indigenous star to live up to his talent “for the first time”.
Gulpilil won the best actor gong in the Un Certain Regard competition which honours more offbeat films than those up for the Palme d’Or.
Dutch-born director de Heer accepted the prize on Gulpilil’s behalf in France.
“He wanted very much to come to this Cannes. He loves the red carpet,” the director said of Gulpilil.
“But he had tribal business, land management business, and he had to pull out at the last minute. I know he will be deeply, deeply thankful.”
Charlie’s Country – co-written by de Heer and Gulpilil – is set in a remote Aboriginal community in Arnhem Land and follows an elder as he struggles with his cultural ties in a world dominated by white law.
While the story is not autobiographical, much of it mirrors Gulpilil’s life.
Charlie battles the demon of drink, spends time behind bars and feels disconnected from his native land.
De Heer believes the personal connection has allowed Gulpilil to deliver the performance of his career. The film received a standing ovation when it screened at Cannes.
“David is such an extraordinary talent and one of the great things about Charlie’s Country for me is that he’s been allowed to live up to that talent for the first time,” de Heer said this week. “It’s just the greatest role for him ever.”
It’s also worked as a vehicle for 60-year-old Gulpilil to get his life back on track.
The actor is now two years sober and campaigning over land use in his native Arnhem Land.
Gulpilil first attended Cannes in 1971 when he left Australia for the first time as a teenager following his breakthrough role in Nicholas Roeg’s Walkabout.