High Ground (2020), directed by Stephen Maxwell Johnson
Premiered at the Berlinale a year ago, High Ground is an Australian drama film set in northern Australia in the first half of the 20th century. It tells a rather simple revenge story that could well have been taken from a Western movie. White settlers and policemen massacre an Aboriginal Australian family but cover up their bloody crime. About a decade later, one of the survivors of the carnage, who witnessed it as a young boy and then grew up with white missionaries, gets caught between the ethnic and cultural lines. On both sides there are fanatics and moderates, those who rely on unconditional violence as a means of conflict resolution, and those who seek intercultural dialogue and peaceful ways of living together or at least coexisting.
Rather than with its story and its characterizations, High Ground captivates viewers with brilliant performances by its cast and extremely impressive landscape shots, which make skillful use of drone technology. Director Johnson frequently contrasts the deserted vastness of the landscapes shown from a bird’s-eye view with the wretched events on the ground among the people living there. Of course, this begs the question: how is it possible that in such a vast and large country, a handful of white settlers and indigenous families cannot live together peacefully?