Apr 10, 2010

Film Review: Samson & Delilah

DIR: Warwick Thornton
CAST: Rowan McNamara, Marissa Gibson

When were you most bored? What did it feel like? Midway through Samson & Delilah I wondered just how I could possibly review it. How, with mere words, I could communicate the sheer bludgeoning tedium of the experience. I’m not sure that I will succeed, but do me a favour, and picture this… Imagine you are attending an evening class, each class is an hour long, and there are ten lessons. The subject of the class is: “How to watch paint dry”, the dominant teaching aids are bar graphs, demonstrating how long paint will take to dry, given various states, surfaces and other variables. The charts are black and white. The class is being taught by Ben Stein (the teacher from Ferris Bueller's Day Off). This, I imagine, approaches being half as dull as the experience of sitting through Samson & Delilah.

The film begins in the Australian outback, in a scattered aboriginal community. The titular Samson and Delilah appear to be the only residents in their late teens. Samson (McNamara) sniffs solvents, and moons around after (well, stalks might be a more accurate description) Delilah (Gibson), whose only occupation is looking after her grandmother. She never encourages his affections, but when he’s thrown out by his older brother and her Grandmother dies the two go to the city together (why? Because that’s what it says, here in my script) and live on the street. The entire time they never exchange ONE SINGLE WORD.

I’ve said before, it’s not that I mind films about nothing, or films with little to no dialogue, but if you are telling a story which essentially just almost silently follows two people’s lives, with no real big events or larger sense of drama you had best make sure that those people are fascinating. It’s here (well, it’s almost everywhere, but notably here) that debuting director Warwick Thornton falls down. Largely by dint of the fact that neither of them speaks more than a handful of words. In Samson’s case it’s somewhat understandable; his brain may be affected by his solvent habit, but in Delilah’s it just feels unrealistic to the point of being silly, even if she’s shy, or traumatised, there are a mass of scenes here where it’s just totally unnatural for her not to speak (for example, she never exchanges one word with the older tramp who shares both his sleeping site and his food with them). Perhaps Thornton just isn’t confident in his ability to write dialogue, but if that’s the case then you bring in another writer rather than just having your characters be silent.

This silence, combined with the somnambulant performances of McNamara and Gibson, also means that neither Samson nor Delilah ever develops anything resembling a trait, let alone a personality. These aren’t characters. Like Twilight’s Bella Swan they are walking shells, spaces of totally pure vacancy, unencumbered by emotion or expression. Nothing happens in this movie (or, when it does, as when Delilah is kidnapped – oddly she doesn’t even appear to try and scream, which really is taking the silence motif a bit far – it happens almost entirely off screen), and so the running time is filled with endless repetition; Samson’s brother’s band play the same single refrain throughout every scene in the outback; Samson constantly has a cup of petrol under his nose; Samson and Delilah walk around aimlessly, saying nothing; the tramp tries to engage them, they stare silently into space. Look, you don’t have to be entertaining, movie, but DO SOMETHING.

Warwick Thronton is a cinematographer by trade, and the photography here is pretty good, but honestly, who cares, because this film is no more interesting for being nicely shot, the pretty pictures being akin to a pink ribbon, wrapped round the dog turd you’ve just been given for Christmas, I appreciate the gesture Warwick, and it’s a nice ribbon, but that’s still a turd you’ve wrapped it round.

More reviews tomorrow.

No comments:

Post a Comment