There’s a discussion in The Sapphires that describes the distinction between country music and soul music. (To paraphrase) They’re both about loss, but while country music has come to terms with the loss – soul music is cathartically dispelling that loss and clawing to get something back.
A quartet of Aboriginal girls (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell) and their drunken Irish manager (Chris O’Dowd) escape mission life and the racist climate of late 60s Australia to perform for U.S troops in Vietnam.
Director Wayne Blair sets a high performance standard (after transitioning from in front to behind the camera) and yet Deborah Mailman is the stand out. There’s a gravitas that she’s grown into that influences and compliments the younger actresses (Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens and Miranda Tapsell ). O’Dowd is the perfect foil for these strong female characters and he’s hilariously the most soulful white man on the planet. The soundtrack is perfectly attuned to the tone and is used during performances to form the sign posts of the narrative.
Warwick Thornton’s cinematography turns the tiny budget (compared to your average Hollywood period drama/musical) into some beautiful grandiose shooting. And yet (with the same poetic style of Samson and Delilah) there are beautifully composed moments of intimacy.
It’s a difficult prospect to tackle this period of turmoil throughout the world and adequately pay lip service to each intersection of the significant events. The balance between the despair and the joyous walked a knife’s edge. The minor flaws in production are fleeting and can be attributed to the smaller budget.
This film is a rare gem that Australian cinema rarely produces. There’s a sense of vibrancy and hope burgeoning throughout as the quartet yearn to escape the shackles of their oppressive past at the hands of a racist White Australia. The Sapphires is a triumph.
and a half
Directed: Wayne Blair
Written by: Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman and Jessica Mauboy
The Sapphires is released: 9 August Australia 2012 & 2 November 2012 UK