Samson And Delilah

Samson And Delilah

*****

Reviewed by: James Benefield

Warwick Thornton’s debut feature, Samson And Delilah, has ‘important’ written all over it. It’s a tag that almost put me off completely. The Australian press temporarily disappeared into spasms of ecstasy on its release, proclaiming the movie to be one of the best and most important films the country has ever made. Indeed, the film’s depiction of a shunned, perhaps forgotten, Aborigine culture is unparalleled.

Thankfully, the film is more than that. It’s also a gorgeous love story between the two eponymous characters. Delilah (Marissa Gibson) lives with her artistic, but frail, grandmother (Mitjili Gibson) in a simple house somewhere in the deserts of central Australia. Neighbourhood hot-head Samson (Rowan McNamara) has a thing for Delilah, but can’t express how he feels in words. Instead, he throws rock at her. They both want to escape, and frequently retreat in their own ways - Samson sniffs petrol, while Delilah escapes to music with lyrics she doesn’t understand.

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Their dream of exodus unexpectedly, yet unhappily, comes true, when violence and death hit their small settlement. They steal a car and head for the nearest big town, Alice Springs. However, they are greeted with a hostile reception, and end up living underneath a bridge with an ageing homeless man, Gonzo (Scott Thornton). It is here where, with nothing else left, the two fall in love.

In content and form, Samson and Delilah is a million miles from the last major Australian movie to hit British screens: Baz Lurhrmann’s Australia. Thornton’s world is an indigenous one where custom and tradition does not mean self-consciously ‘weird’ mysticism, and whose relationship with the more recent settlers is problematic at best, and actively hostile at worst. Unlike any Luhrmann film, there is little music and dialogue featured, and Thornton spent less than a million dollars bringing the movie to life.

The movie works by getting under your skin in ways that you only realise when the situation turns sour. One event in the film’s second half, in particular, will knock the wind out of you. The characters are desperate, flawed and often selfish souls. There are supposedly benevolent people who turn out to be hypocrites and then unscrupulous art dealers exploiting aborigine culture for massive personal gain, However, almost everywhere you look there are flashes of hope and humanity. Despite all the evil in this world, there is something to fight for. And it’s love.

It is all of this, and not the politics, that will bring it an audience outside its homeland. It’s not an easy watch. It’s a slow building piece, which reaches a heartbreaking crescendo about three-quarters of the way through. Yet throughout it is exquisitely shot and the two central performances, from untrained actors who were brought up in neighbourhoods like the ones portrayed in the movie, are terrific.

With Samson and Delilah, Warwick Thornton taps into the very essence of cinema; the movie shows us a completely different world, yet manages to anchor it in something universal. It’s human experience distilled, so perfectly. It’s absolutely stunning.

Reviewed on: 13 Nov 2009
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Samson And Delilah packshot
Winner of the Camera d'Or at Cannes, sees an Aboriginal couple drawn together after tragedy strikes.
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Director: Warwick Thornton

Writer: Warwick Thornton

Starring: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson, Scott Thornton

Year: 2009

Runtime: 101 minutes

Country: Australia


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