Two outback teens await a not-so-promising future. (Image courtesy of New Directors/New Films.)
SAMSON AND DELILAH
Directed by Warwick Thornton
Screening Thurs., March 25th and Sun., March 28th
The legend of Samson and Delilah has been influencing artists since the sand and sandal days of yore. From Michelangelo to Rembrandt to Basquiat, the strongman and the seductress have been depicted in paintings, statues, grand operas and of course, movies. Dozens of them. The latest is the feature debut of Australian director Warwick Thornton. A beautifully filmed update, it transplants the biblical tale to the modern-day Australian desert, specifically, a remote Aboriginal community that is home to two teenagers destined to fall in love.
Samson is a petrol-huffing teen whose only purpose appears to be to daydream and torment his family. Delilah cares for her aging grandmother, an artist who spends her days crafting large canvases for which she is paid a pittance — but which upscale art galleries then resell for a tidy sum. The first third of the film is Jeanne Dielman-meets-the-outback, repeating the bare bones existence of a young couple that will come to rely on each other when the world turns its back on them.
And ye Gods, does it ever! After a family tragedy, the duo find themselves outcasts from their village and take to the road in a stolen car. Here, the film takes on a slow ride down a very dark tunnel that threatens to overwhelm the lead characters and the audience in turn. While good movies can be made from the darkest of themes — Last Exit to Brooklyn, Dogville, a good chunk of the Bergman ouevre — it takes a great commitment from the part of the audience to sit through what is essentially a passion play of the underprivileged. We watch as Samson begins to lose himself completely to his addiction, while Delilah braves humiliation and physical harm in order to help them survive.
This is not an easy film to sit through, but we were grateful that Thornton has the touch of a true filmmaker in being able to tell a story visually, with forceful, rich images. His movie may not be on par with a similar auteur approach (Terrence Malick comes to mind), but it is nonetheless a notable achievement for a new director. If the pain and suffering of the title characters is meant to be an allegory for the indigenous people of Australia, it certainly succeeds. It’s an admirable debut from a director whose future work we look forward to, perhaps after a few drinks to steady our nerves.