When I first started The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, I immediately drew some comparisons to Philip Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence, which would come some 25 years later. The films look and feel very similar, but to the other end, as I found while watching the rest of the film, that’s where the comparisons end. This one was apparently such a dreadful experience upon release for its director, Fred Schepisi, that he left Australia to work in Hollywood, not returning for ten years. Whether or not it was the fault of the film’s reception, I can’t say, but I can conjecture that it might have been the case, seeing how low the bar was placed after watching this one.
The story to this one is simple. Jimmie Blacksmith is a half-caste (half White, half Aborigine), who finally reaches the age where he is to get his own job and earn his own keep, in order to, in his own words, “be respectable”. He finds sporadic work, and proves to be a hard and capable worker, who takes orders and is always respectful of his overseers. All of this, of course, in the face of blatant discrimination and racism by pretty much every white person who comes across him, to provide the obvious tension, which escalates until Jimmie boils over and does the unthinkable. That’s the key operative word to describe this film: obvious. Everything is so on-the-nose that to not be swayed by whatever turn and twist in the story comes along is to be a concrete wall. The plot progression was a little sporadic; Jimmie is happy-go-lucky for too long and upset too short before he goes off, and this continues after the deed is done and Jimmie is on the run. The dialogue was also pretty choppy, and was delivered even choppier, by everyone involved and not just the actor playing Jimmie. There seemed to be no real conviction behind everything, aside from the single-minded drive to deliver each line and then move on to the next, which was hardly immersive at all. There was one scene near the end of the film with Jimmie and a white hostage he’s taken that pretty much contextualized the point of the film as a whole, and I liked that scene, but that was basically all I got out of this one.
This had potential, but it lost me with its disjointed narrative and blocky performances. The rest of the film was standard at best, and that’s pretty much all I have to say on it. I just couldn’t get into it; it had no immersive factor for me, since every time I thought I might get a little invested with the story, some fault of the film would pop up once again and I’d be reminded how shoddy the production value of this one was. Also, this was so thematically like Rabbit-Proof Fence, that it made me wonder why both were on the list, even though they tell completely different stories. Pressed, I wouldn’t know which one to pick; the latter since it was a slightly better film all around, or this one for being first and thus more important historically. It’s up in the air for me; I’d have either one, but this was too rough of a film for me. I like films that are expertly made and entertaining to boot, and this was neither of those.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10