The rest of my fest: Precious, Samson and Delilah, At the End of Daybreak

Posted by Lou. The time is 8.10pm here in London, UK.

Precious: Based on the novel by Sapphire is amazing - totally one of those films that comes out of nowhere and stuns people with its power and might. It is the first time I have ever sat in a cinema audience where alongside laughing and crying is actual shrieking. The shrieking is the best way I can convey to you how involved you become, and how real this story seems, as it unfurls onscreen.

But if I tell you what the story is it will seem patronising and cliche - a poor, obese, black 16-y-o with an abusive mother and an absent (except when raping her) father who finds herself pregnant and put into an alternative education school. Yeah, I know... but... the filmmaking is far from patronising (it feels told from 'within'), it is portrayed in a fresh and stylistic way but retaining utter realism, and the casting is fucken genius: newbie Gabourey Sidibe fills her character with pride and sass and humour, and Mo'Nique is absolutely incredible as her mother (a certainty for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, methinks).

Go see this film!!

I saw Samson and Delilah straight after and, as I was feeling horridly ill anyway, it was sort of just a ridiculously depressing and emotive day of cinema. It is the story of two young teenagers from an isolated Aboriginal community who silently bond, and then run off to Alice Springs together to a life on the streets after things turn sour at home. I wasn't sure what to think of the film at the end (it is ambiguous and one of those ones where I need to know the context within which it was made - for that same point of patronising vs from 'within'), but having read more about it since I am retrospectively blown away.

To fill you in: the film is made by a first-time feature filmmaker who is himself Aboriginal and made the film to express things he himself grew up around; the budget was a paltry $Aus1.6m; the two leads are non-actors with personal experience of the issues portrayed; he cast his own older brother - a non-actor with acute alcohol dependency issues for which he was sent to rehab prior to filming - to portray a homeless man with alcohol dependency; he intends the film to ask questions that can't - and haven't been able to - be answered for Australia.

Seen in this light, the film is absolutely stunning.

I was very - very - underwhelmed and quite disappointed in the other of my film fest films, At the End of Daybreak. It's entry in the festival programme talked of it being an illicit Malaysian modern-day film noir - a 23-y-o man faces charges of statutory rape after his girlfriend's parents find out about their relationship: plenty of potential to play with the power dynamics of sexual relationships and add in some thriller elements. Instead we get a dreary and contradictory tale that has the unfortunate collision of one fantastic performance (the mother of the boy) and one extremely bland and meaningless performance (the teenage girl).

Due to the bland portrayal of the relationship and the teenage girl we don't know what he is meant to be being saved from - there is no chemistry to the relationship (in fact, I didn't actually realise they were meant to be shagging), the teenage girl is portrayed in a terribly blank manner so we don't know if she is meant to be complicit in the events or taken advantage of or a robot with human skin on or taking out her frustration towards other factors on the boy or her parents or everything and everyone... Not to mention that I find it quite offensive that they used the genre classification "film noir", one of the calling cards of which is the femme fatale. There was nothing femme fatale about this character or performance, and can a 15-y-o girl be a femme fatale? (Now that question could have provided the basis for an interesting film.) The sympathy gained by the mother can't make up for what seemed to be an unintentional ambiguity of everything and everyone else.

One thought on “The rest of my fest: Precious, Samson and Delilah, At the End of Daybreak”

  1. Am feeling very excited about Precious. When I first watched the trailer, I was like 'Whoa'. And thought, 'hmm this is either awful or quite possibly brilliant'. Am glad that everyone seems to be saying the former!

    Sometimes it can be good to see a bad film in close proximity to a good film, bc then at least it casts the good one in a even better light and makes up a bit for having suffered through the dud...?