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Sunday, 24 May 2009

Samson and Delilah


There are movies we go to see because they look like a good time, and there are movies... no, actually people only go to the movies if they look like a good time. Mind you, that good time can be educational, or the good time that comes from putting yourself through an ordeal that you hope will broaden your view on the world. But usually people go to movies hoping to enjoy themselves, which is where the excellently made Australian film Samson and Delilah might find itself in a bit of trouble. To state the obvious up front: this is a first-rate piece of story-telling, and a clear front-runner for Australian film of the year. Basically a silent film for large stretches, it tells the story of two teenage Aborigines living in a small isolated community near Alice Springs . Samson (Rowan McNamara) lives in a concrete shack, sniffs petrol, and spends his days mucking around. Delilah (Marissa Gibson) is a more serious soul who passes her days helping her elderly grandmother with her dot paintings. Samson clearly likes Delilah, she tolerates him, and when a series of events sees them travel together to Alice Springs the pair are forced to get by in a world that has nothing for them.

Written and directed by Warwick Thornton, his first feature-length film draws you into a world many of us know nothing about, and in the early scenes there are moments of comedy and warmth that bring the leads (who both give compelling and completely believable performances) to well-rounded life. But this isn't just a character study, and once the duo relocate to Alice Springs it all comes crushing down in a series of extremely bleak scenes that turn this into the kind of blunt message film that most of us saw enough of at school. There's no denying that Thornton 's point is an important one, or that the events he shows are all-too-real. But when a film hammers away at the same note for as long as this one does, it's hard not to imagine some viewers choosing to disengage. Samson and Delilah contains some excellent film-making and an extremely powerful point. Unfortunately, the two don't always combine as well as they should.

Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #453)