Movies: Samson & Delilah * * * *
(15A, limited release)
Warwick Thornton's Samson & Delilah paints such a grim picture of Aboriginal life in the Northern Territories that it may have caused some controversy among the original Australians themselves. Samson (Rowan McNamara) is a restless teenage boy who lives in a remote shanty settlement with his elder brother.
Parental figures seem nowhere in sight, and in a brilliant and daringly slow opening sequence, Thornton impresses on us the emptiness of the boy's existence as he wakes each morning on his grimy mattress to relentless sunshine and the sound of his brother's band rehearsing outside.
There is nothing to do but wander the dry hills, get high by sniffing petrol fumes, start the odd fight and hunt down kangaroos whenever you come across them (Skippy-lovers beware -- one is caught and meets a sorry end). An uneducated ball of energy, Samson's sole interest is Delilah (Marissa Gibson), a pretty teenage girl who lives nearby with her grandmother and studiously ignores his clumsy advances.
They are, however, soon thrown together by circumstance. A violent maternalism within the Aboriginal community is implied, and when Delilah's grandmother dies in her sleep of old age, a gang of bossy, broad-hipped females descend on Delilah and give her a good hiding for reasons that remain unclear. She and Samson steal a truck and go on the run together towards Alice Springs. But instead of freedom they find violence and cruelty as they gain a new understanding of how harsh the wider world can be for their kind.
For all its grimness, Samson & Delilah has an uplifting artfulness at its heart. The landscape of the Northern Territories was memorably disneyfied in Baz Luhrmann's Australia, but it casts a pretty bleak and forbidding shadow here. For all that, the film has moments of real beauty, the naturalistic acting of the two principals is entirely convincing, and Scott Thornton delivers a memorable cameo as a kindly, grandiloquent tramp.