The Survival of Kindness (2023)

February 16th, 2023
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir.: Rolf de Heer; Cast: Mwajemi Hussein, DarsanSharma, Deepthi Sharma; Australia 2023, 96 min.

Dutch-Australian writer/director Rolf de Heer (Ten Canoes) has created another dystopian lament, set in a remote part of Tasmania and South Australia and shot during the lockdown of the pandemic, which was particularly harsh in Australia.

De Heer is well underway to claiming ownership to the sub-genre oethnographic docudrama. His characters hardly ever get names: just, black woman, brown girl, brown boy, Everything is minimalist, Maxx Corindale’s camera roams about finding no peace in the outback. Essentially a series of episodes his narrative remains enigmatic and rather lacking in flow. 

The film opens in the aftermath to a massacre, bodies strewn around, until the camera focuses on a family. A black woman (Hussein) is captured in an iron cage, trying to escape. She ingeniously, finds enough tools to create a sort of key, which opens the door, and delivers her into the dark desert. Not prepared for the challenging terrain, she has no footwear but luckily meets helpful Asian siblings (Darsan and Deepthi Sharma), who live in a vintage train. Even though the three of them share no common language, the communication is sufficient.

Later, the Black Woman will find her boots, but loses them again later on. The threesome arrive at a city where they are captured and put to work in an industrial complex, where the Woman has to slave away in a salvage yard, trying to find metal. But her resourcefulness is once again at the forefront, and she manages to get free of her shackles. In the end she will be left with a brutal choice if she is to survive at all.

Anna Liebzeit’s score is unsettling, even though there is birdsong and lapping water. Mwajemi Hussein carries the feature with dignity, even without words, she communicates the essentials of a world lost.

The endless repetitiveness makes this feature feel bloated: once again brevity is of the essence whilst it is obvious that dramatic arcs are not part of how the story is told, the 96 minutes certainly feel much longer. As a medium-length feature THE SURVIVAL would have certainly had more power. AS


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