SYDNEY, May 26 (Xinhua) -- Australia's unlikely victory over the weekend, was neither sporting nor local -- but as Australia slept, the legendary Aboriginal actor David Gulpilil came away from the star-studded awarded the Cannes Film Festival with the Best Actor Award -- capping off a career that has both amazed and suffered in the relative silence of Australian film.
At its official screening, Gulpilil's performance in Australian journeyman director Rolf de Heer's Charlie's Country received an extended standing ovation and de Heer, his longtime friend and collaborator accepted the Une Certain Regard award at a ceremony on his behalf.
Charlie's County finalizes of a trilogy of films for Rolf de Heer and Gulpilil.
They first met in 2000 when de Heer cast Gulpilil in the lead role in The Tracker.
Set in the early days of colonization of Australia, The Tracker screened In Competition at the Venice Film Festival and was awarded the Special Jury Prize at the Valladolid Film Festival.
However, only two years ago, Gulpilil was as far from Cannes as any actor could be, confined to alcohol rehab after serving a five- month jail term for breaking his wife's arm in the midst of the alcoholism that has maimed his life outside the cinema.
Almost every great Australian film focusing on an indigenous relationship featured the charismatic boy who grew up in a mission school at Maningrida in Australia's North East Arnhem Land, where the accomplished hunter, tracker and ceremonial dancer would later emerge as the star of iconic films such as Storm Boy, Rabbit Proof Fence and Australia.
Before the first steps of his long and celebrated career in film began, Gulpilil spent his childhood in the bush outside the turmoil of Anglo-Australian influences, living the traditional life and initiated into the Mandipingu tribal group.
In Nicholas Roeg's 1971 classic, Walkabout, Gulpilil, already fluent in several indigenous languages began to learn english, catching the attention of Roeg, who had come to Maningrida scouting locations for Walkabout.
Roeg promptly cast the unknown to play the principal role where Gulpilil's quiet charisma and on-screen presence turned him into an overnight celebrity.
But in recent times his battle with alcohol overshadowed his towering place in Australian film.
Gulipili first attended Cannes for his breakthrough performance in Walkabout, even then, little knowing he would become an icon himself, his performances helping shift the Australian cinema landscape in its representation of indigenous characters.
Today, Gulpilil is one of Australia's most instantly recognizable actors playing a key role in the landmarks of local cinema, including the two highest grossing Australian films of all time, Crocodile Dundee (1986) and Australia (2008).
Following Walkabout, Gulpilil soon starred alongside Dennis Hopper in Mad Dog Morgan (1976), in the AFI Best Film winner Stormboy (1976) and the Peter Weir thriller The Last Wave (1977).
More recently he has starred in Philip Noyce's Golden Globe nominated Rabbit Proof Fence (2002), Catriona Mckenzie's Satellite Boy (2012) and John Hillcoat's bloody The Proposition which screened at both Sundance and the Toronto International Film Festivals.
In accepting the award, de Heer told the audience,"43 years ago, David Gulpilil came to Cannes as a 17 year old with Nicholas Roeg's film Walkabout. "He wanted very much to come to this Cannes, he loves the red carpet, but he had tribal business, land management business, and he had to pull out at the last minute, but I know he will be deeply, deeply thankful."
The Hollywood Reporter described Gulpilil as an unknown giant of the screen.
"Ever since his indelible first appearance at age 16 in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout, David Gulpilil to a large extent has been the defining face onscreen of the Indigenous Australian."
Now 60, the Aboriginal actor and traditional dancer teams for the third time with director Rolf de Heer -- following The Tracker and Ten Canoes on Charlie's Country, inarguably the most personal project of their collaboration.
The film's observations about spiritual resilience in the face of white colonization and irreconcilable societal imbalance enrich it with emotional universality. It's the most affecting depiction of contemporary Aboriginal experience since Warwick Thornton's Samson & Delilah."
Co-penned together by Rolf de Heer and Gulpilil, Charlie's County is the story of Blackfella Charlie, who is getting older, and is out of sorts.
With the government making life difficult in his remote community, Charlie takes off to live the old way, setting off a chain of events that will force him return to his community chastened and somewhat the wiser.
Australian critic and cinema historian Dan Edwards told Xinhua that Gulpilil's legacy in Australia went far beyond the cinema. "He became the face of indigenous truth, a truth that white Australia -- over the five decades of his career -- tried hard to ignore." "In terms of performance its hard to imagine an award more deserving, but in the context of services to Australian art -- and society -- Gulpilil's recognition in Cannes has a significance that this country will need time to digest and truly understand." Edwards said.