Last week, I went to see the avant-première of an Aussie movie at the Cinéma du Pantheon: Samson & Delilah by Warwick Thornton (the movie won the Caméra D'Or, the award assigned to the best first feature at the last Cannes Film Festival).
I have to confess it: I’m in love with Australian cinema.
I think it’s a real pity that not many movies from Down Under are distributed in Europe and I think it’s a pity that the few Australian movies arriving in Europe are not exactly the best representation of their cinema industry. I mean, Australia by Baz Luhrmann is one of the worst movies I’ve seen in my entire life and the country he’s showing there is a mere cliché. The real Australia is somewhere else, for sure.
In the four years I’ve been living in Paris, though, I was lucky enough to see some very good Australian movies: the noir The Square by Nash Edgerton, the incredibly funny Razzle Dazzle by Darren Ashton, the fascinating 10 Canoes by Rolf De Heer, the interesting Jewboy by Tony Krawitz, the tender fairy tale Opal Dream by Peter Cattaneo and the splendid animation movie Mary and Max by Adam Elliot.
My favourite Australian movie of these recent years, by the way, is Lantana by Ray Lawrence. If you’ve never seen it, please rent/buy the DVD. It is a beautiful, touching, outstandingly played story (if you can, please also see the other two movies by Lawrence: Bliss and Jindabyne).Another film maker I really love is Peter Weir and I don’t think my life would have been the same without the vision of Walkabout, a masterpiece by Nicolas Roeg (1971).
And last, but not least, I owe to two Australian movies my funniest moments seated in a cinema: The adventures of Priscilla, Queen of Desert by Stephan Elliott and the (unfortunately) completely unknown in Europe The Castle by Rob Sitch.
When I feel depressed, I think about Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce and Terence Stamp dancing on I will survive in the middle of the Australian bush and, well, I can’t help myself: I’m happy again!
Besides my good foundation of Australian cinema, I wasn’t prepared for the experience of Samson and Delilah. When it comes to Aborigines, I always feel uncomfortable.
I mean, it is a very delicate subject in Australia, for evident reasons, and I’ve always found a false note in the representation of Aborigines in movies. The only exception is the character of the police woman in Lantana: she is Aborigine (or half-Aborigine) and this is a simple detail. Watching the movie by Thornton, the other night, I suddenly understood why I always felt that way: I’ve never watched a movie before on Aborigines made by an Aborigine. No false note whatsoever in his representation of the group. He was allowed to do something that other film-makers couldn’t do: to be tough with his own people.
The plot of the movie is very simple: Samson and Delilah are two young Aborigines living in a small community in Central Australia. When Delilah’s grandmother died (the only family she had), the two, who are secretly in love, leave the place trying to reach Alice Springs. The impact with the city is simply awful. All sorts of tragedies happen, but in the end they manage to go back to the community and to settle in an isolated but quite place in the Northern Territory.
I’ve rarely seen on screen such a powerful story.
Thornton, who’s been a cinematographer up until now, not only wrote, directed and edited the movie, but also partially composed the original soundtrack. He perfectly knows what he wants to say and how he wants to say it.
The images are so talkative, that there’s no need for words.
Thornton takes his time to tell us the story, and we savour every single moment of it. We enter into the bleak day by day life of these two young people very slowly, till the point it feels like it is our own life. We know that they are falling in love simply because they look to each other in a certain way (there’s a magnificent scene: Delilah seated in a car listening to some quite music looks at Samson dancing on some loud music from a ghetto blaster and the two tunes melt into each other, while Samson’s dancing is filmed in a sensual slow motion).
The violence too is filmed in a very strong way. Nobody is immune: the Australians towards the Aborigines and the Aborigines towards the Aborigines. Thornton wants to tell us that the good and bad could come from both sides (the white homeless that help the guys in town, the Aborigine woman that beat them up when they’re back to the community instead of welcoming them).
After the movie, we were lucky enough to have the film-maker present at the cinema. I really loved his witty and clever answers to the audience’s questions.
He said that this story is his story. He said that he’s been saved by cinema, otherwise he would have been one of the many Aborigines sniffing glue and getting drunk near some Australian highways. He said that this movie is his “400 Blows” (no surprise about the fact that I almost cried listening to this sentence: 25 years after Truffaut’s death, here it is an Aborigine film-maker talking about his cinema!!!).
Thornton, above everything else, was hoping that, leaving the theatre, every one of us meeting a homeless in the street would think about Samson and Delilah, and this will give us the will to help him/her.
I don’t know if this is going to happen but, for a moment, every one of us dreamt of being a better person, stepping out of that cinema.
So thanks, Mr. Thornton.