It’s been a long, plodding journey to get Tracks to the screen – Julia Roberts was attached to the project at one point in the early ’90s – but worth it. Robyn Davidson’s 2,700km walk from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean emerges as a startling achievement in this retelling, sensitively directed by American-born Australian director John Curran (Praise, The Painted Veil). The film rests on the ordinary-yet-enigmatic presence of Mia Wasikowska as Davidson, who arrives in Alice Springs in 1975 with the aim of taming four camels and leading them on a nine-month trek with just her black pooch Diggity for company. As a local bar woman drily comments: “You go right ahead, love.”
‘The Camel Lady’ has to wrangle her humpbacked charges as well as various naysayers before embarking on her trip with the sponsorship aid of National Geographic. Adam Driver from Girls is ideal casting as the American photographer who arranges to meet up with Davidson every few weeks to take photos, a deal which she quickly regrets despite their mutual attraction. She’s less ambivalent about an aboriginal elder, Eddie (Roly Mintuma), who guides her across a stretch of sacred land and has a much deeper understanding of what Davidson is doing. The landscapes are spellbindingly captured by DOP Mandy Walker, and there are tense moments of near-disaster punctuating the long, mesmerising stretches of perambulation. Curran and screenwriter Marion Nelson don’t impose any false triumphalism on Davidson’s odyssey, portraying it as a metaphysical quest as much as a feat of endurance.