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Monday
May252009

"Samson & Delilah" - Great Aussie Movie Wins Cannes Camera d'Or

Fantastic. Australian aboriginal filmmaker Warwick Thornton with an aboriginal cast and a fair-dinkum aboriginal outback petrol-sniffing theme - unlike the bullshit that was served up in the Baz Luhrmann crap "Australia" with Nicole Kidman - takes the Camera d'Or Prize (Best Debut Feature Film) in the Un Certain Regard section at the Cannes Film Festival. "Best love story we've ever seen" was the jury's comment. Here's the trailer -

Here's what The Sydney Morning Herald reviewer Sandra Hall wrote about the movie before it went to Cannes -

Overlaid with the jaunty sounds of Charley Pride singing Sunshiny Day, the opening scene of the indigenous filmmaker Warwick Thornton's Samson And Delilah has a lambent beauty.

As 15-year-old Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes, the morning light strikes his bed as if bestowing a benediction.

Then he sits up and with a groggy air of purpose, he fractures the image by picking up a can from the floor and holding it to his nose to take a long, deep breath. He's a petrol sniffer, and for the next few minutes we're taken through the hazy patterns of his day, which is spent languidly kicking the dust around the tiny Aboriginal settlement where he lives in the Central Australian desert.

In this place of magnificent skies and endless red plains, Samson and most of the others in his community behave as if trapped in a belljar and starved of the oxygen necessary to make things happen. Only 16-year-old Delilah (Marissa Gibson) and her grandmother, Nana (Mitjili Gibson), seem content. Nana is the community's painter and her work is spirited away to the city by a dubious character who snaps up each painting as soon as it's finished. And as her grandmother paints, Delilah watches and sometimes helps, entranced both by the purity of the pigment and her grandmother's pleasure in the work she does. Nana's happiness is infectious and as Samson silently studies these two from the sidelines, he decides that he loves Delilah and wants her for his girlfriend.

It's a demanding film, so determined to replicate the listless rhythm which governs the community's routines that you feel a need to slow your pulse beat to adapt to it. Thornton, who shot the film himself, has the action unfold in long takes which give you plenty of time to dwell on the desert vastness. But there are bursts of restless energy, too. Samson's brother has a garage band which Samson is banned from joining because of his fondness for snatching up the guitar and thrashing it tunelessly at full volume. So he resorts to his boom box, while Delilah finds her refuge in the car, where she sits at night, listening to Latin music.

Samson doesn't speak, for reasons which are revealed much later in the film, and nobody else says much either. His courtship of Delilah is conducted in gently humorous pantomime. He carries his bed roll from his brother's house and lays it beside hers. She tosses it back at him, and so it goes until he eventually wins her trust. It's a beguiling sequence but at other times you long for the release of tension to be had from simple conversation. Despite the dusty realism of the setting, the story's tongue-tied nature gives it the deliberate feel of a fable, as if stillness were being used as a blunt instrument to impose meaning.

The pace quickens after Nana dies in her sleep. Despite the conscientiousness with which Delilah has cared for her, she's accused of negligence and beaten brutally with sticks by the other women in the community. Profoundly stirred by her injuries, Samson steals a van and takes her off to Alice Springs, where things inevitably get a lot worse before they get any better.

The few moments of cheerfulness come courtesy of Gonzo, a homeless man the teenagers meet while sleeping rough under a bridge on the town's edge. He's played by Thornton's brother, Scott, and his breezy if bumbling attempts to make friends with the couple add a bracing shot of spontaneity.

Thornton has said that he sees the film primarily as a love story and he's certainly endowed the relationship between the teenagers with great poignancy. McNamara, 14 when the film was shot, has a coltish grace and Gibson projects a remarkably mature sense of resilience. As well, Thornton has a real gift for the transcendent image. The film's opening is one example. Another has Delilah helping the spaced-out Samson to bathe himself - a scene filled with intimations of baptism and regeneration.

Yet like all stories about addiction, this one is ultimately dispiriting. Despite the flash of hope that Thornton gives you at the end, he isn't in the business of providing the kind of cathartic release you get from more conventional storytellers. He takes you into another world, but finds no obligation to make you comfortable there. He's made a tender film, and an honest one, but it's tough going.

BTW another Australian film critic (ex Sydney Morning Herald) is Lynden Barber has a great blog on film called Eyes Wired Open. He actually picked this movie to win the Camera d'Or. Oh yeah...he talks about Tarantino's war flick too.

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