SAMSON & DELILAH
Aboriginal teenagers Samson (Rowan McNamara) and Delilah (Marissa Gibson) live in an isolated community in the Central Australian desert, struggling and making do. Samson is a lost soul, occasionally sniffing petrol. He has eyes for Delilah, who looks after her Nana (Mitjili Napanangka Gibson), who paints - until she dies. Delilah is held responsible and Samson comes to her aid - but he's is also in trouble. They leave the community together - and arrive in Alice Springs, a place no safer than their community. They shelter under a bridge in the town's dry river bed and Samson's sniffing (and isolation) accelerates. Delilah is traumatized by two terrible events and their future seems bleak.
Review by Louise Keller:
Samson & Delilah is an original - everything about Warwick Thornton's haunting film lingers. The images, the landscape, the music. The story is a simple one, offering a snapshot into the lives of two aboriginal teenagers stuck in a rut in a remote community in Central Australia. But it is not predictable, nor does Thornton tell the story as you might expect. His screenplay is extraordinary for its succinctness; not a meaningless word is spoken. Even more extraordinary is the fact that the two unknown, inexperienced leads (Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson) do not talk to each other. Their communication is through gestures and throwing stones or dirt at each other. It's an intriguing story, albeit one with a tragic undertone that will sadly be seen by too few audiences, as it gives an insight into the mindset and culture of aboriginals on the outskirts.
We first meet McNamara's orange-haired Samson as he wakes up in his makeshift bed. We hear the uplifting lyrics of Sunshiny Day as the sun peeks through the window and Samson dons the check shirt that matches his hair. Music is important to his life - and so is petrol sniffing, which he does constantly from a tin by his bed. Delilah is a pragmatic realist who lives nearby, spending her days caring for her elderly grandmother Kitty and helps create aboriginal dot paintings which we later learn are sold, Kitty getting a mere pittance of their retail value. Music is also important to her - she listens to cassettes in the front seat of the community's car. It is their music that brings them together (sort of), and with amusement we watch as Samson makes his own statement by tossing his foam mattress over Delilah's fence to be near her. Not a word is spoken. Just simple actions that are more powerful than a dictionary of words.
We learn plenty about aboriginal culture. After a death, the grieving process includes cutting hair - even if it is only with a serrated knife. Beatings take place too - when there's blame involved. These are the circumstances surrounding these angst-ridden teens before they embark on a road trip. It is then, when they are out of their comfort zone that they learn about the unknown perils of being an outcast with no money or prospects in the city.
Thornton's use of natural sounds, like the crackle of a fire and the sounds of crickets are most effective. His young cast deliver potent performances and I often felt like a fly-on-the wall (among the many flies that seemed to hover around faces) being privy to the many of the moving scenes we witness. Poignant indeed, and the closing song (Tammy Wynette's heartfelt lyrics All I have to offer you is me), magnifies our emotional experience.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Tangible, recognisable, sometimes terrible truths about the human condition drive this film's aching heart, in which few words are spoken but much is communicated. Warwick Thornton's film is a searing dramatisation of how he sees his world in Central Australia, and despite its bleak, agonising riffs, it carries the wings of hope. Hope for salvation from the shattering harshness of life for some of us. Us, of course, is meant in a humanistic way; I don't pretend to be a part of the specific world represented here. But having seen the film, at least I have some insight - better than I had before.
Much of the film is an exploration for the audience; revelations large and small come as minor climaxes, and our engagement is driven by the performances, the structure and the simple honesty of the storytelling. It's marked by the absence of judgement and the presence of understanding - that is not to be confused with condoning.
It's an almost entirely visceral film; images and actions convey the substance of the film's journey as we follow two teenagers whose tentative romance provides enormous drama - and some smiles. Non-actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson don't so much perform their roles as live out the lives of those who have been around them. Their ability to involve us and to make their characters real is astonishing.
There are flaws in the film, to be sure, developments that we question or time frames we don't buy; but they seem to vanish in the greater context of the film's heart and soul. And most importantly for Australian filmmaking, there is a complexity to our response; it's neither 'feel good' or a 'downer'. It's complicated - and therefore satisfying for mature movie palates.
Email this article
AUDIO REVIEW (1 minute)
By Louise Keller
SAMSON & DELILAH (MA)
CAST: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson, Mitjili Napanangka Gibson, Scott Thornton, Matthew Gibson
PRODUCER: Kath Shelper
DIRECTOR: Warwick Thornton
SCRIPT: Warwick Thornton
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Warwick Thornton
EDITOR: Roland Gallois
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Daran Fulham
RUNNING TIME: 101 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Footprint Films
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 7, 2009