This debut from young Aboriginal Australian director Warwick Thornton, a cinematographer and veteran of short films and documentaries, is a near-silent, sun-bleached love story that plays out delicately between two teens living in a rundown community in the Australian desert. Barely a word is spoken between disaffected, petrol-sniffing Samson (Rowan McNamara) and wary, more sensible Delilah (Marissa Gibson) from start to finish; they communicate almost solely in looks and gestures. At first, it’s Samson who does all the chasing, but when Delilah’s grandma (Mitjili Gibson) dies and the community blames her, she seeks companionship with Samson, who himself has fallen out violently with his brother. Together they steal a car and head to town, where they end up indulging in a worsening solvent habit that threatens to ruin their lives entirely.
Thornton is brilliant at capturing the isolation that marks these kids’ lives and inviting us into their bubble, a place where we come to see tenderness behind rough exteriors and understand the prejudices they face. The director plays a clever game with sympathy: he brings us closer and closer to Samson and Delilah but doesn’t demand that we feel sorry for them. It’s a smart approach that means we never feel manipulated, just guided by a sensitive and fearless commentator unafraid of revealing ugliness on all sides of the social divide – but who also believes that love can endure most hardships.