Kevin Mueller

UWM Union Theatre screens “Samson & Delilah”

By - Jan 28th, 2011 04:00 am
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Warwick Thornton’s Samson & Delilah is dubbed as a love story, though it’s about as romantic as a dead cat. Only circumstance and survival thrust the titular characters together. They’re both outcasts, and they need each other’s help to stay alive. Heartwarming stuff.

The film, Thornton’s directorial debut, takes place in a Central Australian desert aborigine community where food and water are scarce, there’s little adult supervision and three dudes play frilly reggae day and night. What’s worse, it’s unclear which of these causes the most grief.

Film still courtesy Scarlett Pictures

It’s a sad portrait of a struggling people. The reggae guitar player’s brother, Samson (Rowan McNamara), huffs gasoline and panhandles outside the town’s store. Delilah (Marissa Gibson) tends to her ailing, stubborn grandmother, helping her paint for a white Australian who, unbeknownst to them, is making thousands from the aboriginal artwork.

Our two leads connect when Delilah gives Samson food out of pity, leading him to cling to her like a stray dog looking for any kind of love. After Delilah’s grandmother dies and village elders take turns in beating her for failing to adequately care for the elderly woman, she leaves their community with none other than Samson. She doesn’t like him all that much, but who else can she go with?

The two flee to a nearby town, although there isn’t anywhere for these two souls to live. The town offers them even more plight than their village.

Much of the dialogue  is subtitled, but that doesn’t make much a difference since speaking in this movie seems as barren as the landscape. This is certainly a bold move, but one that undoubtedly pays off due to Thornton’s cinematography experience. His frames capture everything the characters don’t say — isolation, desperation, vapidity. Thornton’s achieved the pinnacle of the old saying “show don’t tell” here.

Credit is also due to McNamara and Gibson. They are required to sell their emotions non-verbally, an ardent task for any first-time actor. But there are only a few moments were it’s hard to decipher what they’re feeling or thinking. I could feel the desolation in their faces, the agony as they mournfully chopped their hair and their emptiness as they spent days perched beneath a bridge with nothing but gasoline.

Since it’s a slowly paced film, Samson & Delilah seems like a slog at 101 minutes. The sense that these two people don’t actually like each other doesn’t help either. But when the credits are about to roll, I couldn’t help wanting more. Just to see them live on the screen a little longer would have been a relief. Sure, watching them was painful, but when they were on the screen, I could at least be certain they were still surviving.

The UW- Milwaukee Union Theatre offers free screenings of Samson & Delilah beginning tonight, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m., with additional viewings on Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 5 p.m. For more information, click here.

Categories: Movies

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