×

Samson & Delilah

A meticulous portrayal of the chaotic existence endured by two Aboriginal teens on an Outback reserve, "Samson & Delilah" is an engrossing and touching snapshot of an Australia too often left on the cutting-room floor.

With:
With: Marissa Gibson, Rowan McNamara, Scott Thornton, Mitjili Gibson. (Warlpiri, English dialogue)

A meticulous portrayal of the chaotic existence endured by two Aboriginal teens on an Outback reserve, “Samson & Delilah” is an engrossing and touching snapshot of an Australia too often left on the cutting-room floor. Whether or not it succeeds in nabbing a rumored Cannes slot, this well-mounted, low-budget romantic drama is destined to become a pillar of the fest circuit, while cultural curiosity, combined with first-timer Warwick Thornton’s sure-handed helming, should also see this effort triumph with arthouse distribs. After winning the audience award at the recent Adelaide Fest, the pic goes out Down Under in late April/early May.

Opening reels demonstrate the titular couple’s daily routine. Samson (Rowan McNamara) wakes up to country music and the day’s first long sniff of intoxicating gasoline. The youth takes a guitar from the band rehearsing outside his room, badly plays a few raucous notes and then wanders around his township, occasionally racing in a derelict wheelchair for laughs.

While Samson is all play, Delilah (Marissa Gibson) spends her day in toil. Assisting her disabled grandmother, Kitty (Mitjili Gibson), with the labor-intensive dot paintings fashionable for a distant white population, Delilah interrupts her work only when she escorts granny to the health clinic. At night, Delilah unwinds by listening to flamenco songs in a pickup truck.

The pair cross paths at the compound’s general store, and the mute Samson lets his feelings for the monosyllabic Delilah be known in a loving graffiti message. Next day at the store, Delilah lobs her would-be paramour a packet of beef jerky.

Later, a delightfully erotic scene in which Delilah surreptitiously ogles a dancing Samson clearly signals the girl’s attraction to him, though she continues to feign disinterest; it’s Kitty, not Delilah, who greenlights Samson’s romantic ambitions.

After both protags suddenly suffer severe (but separate) beatings, they go on the lam, stealing the community car to travel to the nearest white inhabited town.

Though it sounds downbeat, the pic’s opening half-hour is as amusing as it is cheerfully uncompromising. Only later, when the two exist by shoplifting and must share shelter with an alcoholic (the helmer’s brother, Scott Thornton), does calamity intrude.

The story mercilessly displays the fragility of young lives plagued by drug-addled dysfunctionality and greeted in the wider world by racial fear. But though the movie’s images are confronting, the script emphasizes that solutions are never far away, even if the protagonists can’t always see them.

Helmer Thornton’s penchant for long, wordless takes will inevitably lead some to compare his style with that of fest favorites like Tsai Ming-liang and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. But Thornton shows a far superior narrative grip. Despite using minimal dialogue, he avoids playing hidden-meaning parlor games on his audience and simply tells it like it is: Every shot imparts plot and character information with simplicity and intelligence.

The film has an inclusive intimacy that partly comes from the quality 35mm handheld lensing by helmer Thornton himself, which avoids any alienating wobble-cam. In the title roles, amateur thesps McNamara and Gibson are both commanding — textbook examples of transmuting inexperience into authenticity. The only jarring note is Scott Thornton’s rough perf as the derelict, though he does show a forgivable charm.

Music, from a series of eclectic sources including the helmer’s own compositions, is ultimately revealed as having narrative significance. All other credits are impeccable.

Popular on Variety

Samson & Delilah

Australia

Production: A Footprint Films release of a Screen Australia, New South Wales Film & Television Office, Australian Broadcasting Corp. presentation of a Scarlett Pictures, Central Australian Aboriginal Media Assn. production, in association with Adelaide Film Festival. (International sales: Elle Driver, Paris.) Produced by Kath Shelper. Directed, written by Warwick Thornton.

Crew: Camera (color), Thornton; editor, Roland Gallois; music, Thornton; production designer, Daran Fulham; sound (Dolby Digital), David Tranter. Reviewed at Reel Room, Sydney, Feb. 19, 2009. (In Adelaide Film Festival.) Running time: 99 MIN.

With: With: Marissa Gibson, Rowan McNamara, Scott Thornton, Mitjili Gibson. (Warlpiri, English dialogue)

More Film

  • Samuel-W.-Gelfman

    Samuel Gelfman, Roger Corman Film Producer, Dies at 88

    Samuel Gelfman, a New York producer known for his work on Roger Corman’s “Caged Heat,” “Cockfighter” and “Cannonball!,” died Thursday morning at UCLA Hospital in Westwood following complications from heart and respiratory disease, his son Peter Gelfman confirmed. He was 88. Gelfman was born in Brooklyn, New York and was raised in Caldwell New Jersey [...]

  • Margot Robbie stars in ONCE UPON

    Box Office: 'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood' Pulls Ahead of 'Hobbs & Shaw' Overseas

    Sony’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” might not have hit No. 1 in North America, but Quentin Tarantino’s latest film is leading the way at the international box office, where it collected $53.7 million from 46 markets. That marks the best foreign opening of Tarantino’s career, coming in ahead of 2012’s “Django Unchained.” “Once [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Leads Crowded Weekend With $21 Million

    The Bean Bag Boys, the self-appointed nickname for the trio of best friends in Universal’s “Good Boys,” are conquering much more than sixth grade. They are also leading the domestic box office, exceeding expectations and collecting $21 million on opening weekend. “Good Boys,” which screened at 3,204 North American theaters, is a much-needed win for [...]

  • Amanda Awards

    ‘Out Stealing Horses’ Tops Norway’s 2019 Amanda Awards

    HAUGESUND, Norway —  Hans Petter Moland’s sweeping literary adaptation “Out Stealing Horses” put in a dominant showing at Norway’s Amanda Awards on Saturday night, placing first with a collected five awards, including best Norwegian film. Celebrating its 35th edition this year, the Norwegian industry’s top film prize helped kick off the Haugesund Film Festival and [...]

  • Editorial use onlyMandatory Credit: Photo by

    Richard Williams, 'Who Framed Roger Rabbit' Animator, Dies at 86

    Renowned animator Richard Williams, best known for his work on “Who Framed Roger Rabbit,” died Friday at his home in Bristol, England, Variety has confirmed. He was 86. Williams was a distinguished animator, director, producer, author and teacher whose work has garnered three Oscars and three BAFTA Awards. In addition to his groundbreaking work as [...]

  • Instinct

    Locarno Film Review: 'Instinct'

    Now that “Game of Thrones” has finally reached its conclusion, releasing its gifted international ensemble into the casting wilds, will Hollywood remember just what it has in Carice van Houten? It’s not that the statuesque Dutch thesp hasn’t been consistently employed since her startling 2006 breakout in Paul Verhoeven’s “Black Book,” or even that she’s [...]

  • Good Boys Movie

    Box Office: 'Good Boys' Eyes Best Original Comedy Opening of 2019

    Universal’s “Good Boys” is surpassing expectations as it heads toward an estimated $20.8 million opening weekend at the domestic box office following $8.3 million in Friday ticket sales. That’s well above earlier estimates which placed the film in the $12 million to $15 million range, marking the first R-rated comedy to open at No. 1 [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content