Aboriginal teenagers Samson and Delilah live in an isolated community outside Alice Springs, about 1,500 kms south of Darwin. Delilah spends her days caring for and painting with her Nana, Samson is a chronic petrol sniffer who has cast his eyes on Delilah.
When Delilah is blamed by community women for her Nana’s death and violence intervenes in the teenagers’ lives, they steal a communal car and head for Alice Springs, a place no safer than their community.
They shelter under a bridge in the town’s dry river bed and Samson’s sniffing and isolation worsen. Delilah is traumatised by two terrible events and their future seems bleak.
As they discover how harsh life can be for a pair of homeless kids, they also fall in love.
Samson & Delilah resonates with truth and will open the eyes of all those who mistakenly believe the hard-won apology given by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made life better for the first inhabitants.
It's my life—everything in that film I've seen and I wanted to show the world what Alice Springs is like. It has the most beautiful angels and the most evil devils.—Warwick Thornton, director of Samson & Delilah
Making Samson & Delilah
Don’t miss the Making of Samson and Delilah, a documentary by Beck Cole.
Australian cinema is never going to be the same.—At The Movies program
The best love film we've seen for many a year.—Cannes jury member Isabelle Adjani
Samson and Delilah is a powerfully confronting film which presents the complexities and realities of everyday life for many young Indigenous people.—Scott Wilson, Chairman, Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation
Hopefully [Samson & Delilah] will serve as a wake up call to the continuing apathy displayed by the dominant culture in this country toward the plight of disadvantaged Aborigines. —review on TwoFlatWhites.com
This groundbreaking, moving film brings [a reality] to the many Australians who don't have a clue just how tough life must be for Indigenous Australians. —review on Cinephilia
It's a remarkable achievement in cinema and steps beyond what most filmmakers are trying to achieve. —Aden Young, actor
Aboriginal director Warwick Thornton's powerful Samson and Delilah, tale of troubled young love in Alice Springs, was today awarded the prize for best first feature at the Cannes Film Festival.
"Thank you for believing in our first-born baby," Thornton said as he accepted the award. "I don't don't know what to say. Viva Cannes, viva le cinema."
Samson and Delilah competed against 25 other films dotted around all the festival's sections to win the prize known as the Camera d'Or.
It was a popular win among the world's film press, among whom word-of-mouth over the course of the festival had taken the film from obscurity to the prize's top contender.
The chairman of the Camera d'Or jury, French-Moroccan actor Roschdy Zem, said he saw the film at the beginning of the festival and was very impressed by it.
"We watched many marvellous movies and I kept waiting for something to chase it away, but nothing did,'' he said.
Zem particularly praised the unknown actors Rowan McNamara and Marissa Gibson, both 14 at the time of filming, for their depiction of "a great love story, almost without words''.
Thornton said the pair had yet to hear the good news.
"It's 4am in Alice Springs where the actors come from and neither Marissa nor Rowan have phones,'' he said.
"Someone will have to drive to their community, knock on the door and say 'we won'!''
Thornton said his life had been a Cinderella story, with cinema as his fairy godmother.
"I grew up on the streets of Alice Springs, getting into trouble with the police. I needed direction and somehow I found cinema, or cinema found that direction for me. It saved my life.''
He felt, however, that the Camera d'Or marked the beginning of his story rather than its culmination.
"I've got so many more stories to tell, what I believe are beautiful stories, that are fires inside me that I desperately need to show the world.''
It was not initially easy, he said, to find the beauty in a story of dereliction.
"The original story came out of anger at the neglect of our children, not only by the government and wider society, but even by parents. So it came from a dark place. I had to think about it for a year in order to present something that wasn't angry, where people could just go on a journey
with these children.''
Once he began writing, however, everything went remarkably smoothly: he wrote the script in 14 days, finished both shooting and editing early. He even found he had more money than he wanted, a problem probably no other film-maker in Cannes has ever experienced.
"We had to cap the budget,'' said Thornton. "For every million dollars you add three more executive producers and we had to say 'no, we don't need that'.
"We made it for $1.6 million. We only needed that amount of money. It was one of those beautiful experiences in cinema where all the stars aligned at the right time.''
He patted his award, a large representation of a projector.
"Obviously the stars aligned at the right time! Nothing went wrong.''
In the main competition, regarded as one of the consistently strongest in years, the jury still managed to make some very controversial choices.
Charlotte Gainsbourg, who shocked the world by apparently cutting off her clitoris with a pair of scissors in Lars von Trier's explosive horror Antichrist, won the best actress award.
The best actor award went to Austrian actor Christoph Waltz for his performance as a particularly vile Nazi in the film that has most divided the critics, Quentin Tarantino's comic-book caper Inglourious Basterds.
The top prizes, however, were as generally predicted. Austrian director Michael Haneke was a thoroughly deserving winner of the Palme d'Or, which went to his story of fear and loathing in a small German community on the brink of World War I, The White Ribbon.
Its nearest rival was always going to be French director Jacques Audiard's A Prophet, a bravura story of a young Arab prisoner's gradual acquisition of power behind bars as a crime boss. It won the Grand Prix.
Isabelle Huppert greeted Haneke on stage with a long, affectionate hug. She had starred in one of his best-known films The Piano Teacher, winning the 2001 Cannes award for best actress for her performance. Haneke himself won the jury's Grand Prix that year and the prize for best director in 2005 for Hidden. Perhaps it was his turn to win; fortunately, his profound and unsettling study of the psychology of conformism indisputably deserved it.
The more wayward decisions began with the jury prizes. The downbeat social realism of British director Andrea Arnold's searing Fish Tank, in which a teenage girl's life is transformed when her rough-and-ready mother brings home a charming new boyfriend, was not to everyone's taste.
But it was the other prize-winner, Park Chan-wook's visceral, untidy vampire tragic-comedy Thirst, that had half the press audience booing.
``I have yet to learn to be an artist,'' said Park humbly as he took his prize. ``That's right!'' shouted one of the objectors.
Critics were also astonished that the award for best director was bestowed on Filipino Brilliante Mendoza, whose film Kinatay (Slaughter) was one of the most widely disliked.
"Most people will find Kinatay either unremittingly tedious, harrowing or vile. Possibly all three,'' wrote the daily critic for the London Telegraph. He was, in fact, one of the film's admirers.
Lou Ye's Spring Fever was also the last film expected to win a prize for best screenplay, awarded to writer Mei Feng.
"`The script is so convoluted and contains so many loose ends,'' the Screen Daily reviewer wrote, "that the intense style (fragmented editing, jerky, handheld camera) only highlights the movie's occasional lapses into incoherence.''
There were few naysayers, however, when 87-year-old Alain Resnais received a special award for a career that includes such masterpieces as Night and Fog, Hiroshima Mon Amour and Last Year at Marienbad.
He was in competition this year with Wild Grass, a very Gallic divertissement about disquieting events that unfold when a discontented middle-aged man finds and returns a strange woman's wallet.
The characters' muddled self-absorption and circular conversations smacked of the existential cinema of another era, which perhaps was precisely the source of its undoubted charm.