Friday, November 9, 2012

The Sapphires - There is the music, There is Chris O'Dowd, There are the four incredible women

In Wayne Blair’s The Sapphires, three of the young women, they are sisters and cousins, go to a local club in a rural part of Australia, to perform in a talent contest. This is a ‘whites’ only process and the Aboriginal women are rudely treated but they perform nonetheless. The MC, Dave (Chris O’Dowd), a down on his luck, boozy musician, scuffling to get by, is very taken with their singing. He persuades them that if they will only give up the Country and Western songs they want to sing and take on American Soul music they can be successful – but probably not in Australia because they are Aborigines and this is the sixties. Vietnam is where they need to go to get their big break.

Dave says they need to be a quartet – there is another sister. She is now living in Sydney, one of the ‘light-skinned’ ones taken at an early age and being raised by a white family.

The history of racism in our own country is matched by that of Australia in its treatment over the years of its indigenous population, the Aborigines. While it wasn't quite the Apartheid of South Africa it was brutalizing to the Aborigine nonetheless. One aspect was the taking of young Aborigine children who were light skinned and could pass for white. They would be raised 'white' would marry white and in theory diminish the indigenous population by selective breeding

There is not total agreement among the other three sisters about the need for the fourth to join them – this tension, among others, runs through most of film – but in the end they are indeed a quartet and are off to Vietnam.

This comedy/drama has so much going for it: the script is delightful, O’Dowd (in a tour de force turn) is wonderful, and there is the music and the women – wow.

The four Sapphires are played by Deborah Malman, Jessica Mauboy Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens. They are the real deal. Close your eyes and you will swear you are listening to the Supremes at their best. In fact, you won’t want the music to stop (there is a soundtrack available).

The film is based on a stage play/musical written by Tony Briggs, the son of one of the real Sapphires and who also co-wrote the screenplay with Keith Thompson.

And while the music is wonderful and this is in essence a comedy, the script deals with the underlying racism, cruelty and bitterness the women face in their real lives.

And as we learn in the credits, the real woman have gone on, not to musical careers but making a difference in the lives of their community.

This film got a standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival (a remarkable achievement) earlier this year. It screened over this past weekend at the Starz Denver Film Festival and was a huge hit. It has three more screening this coming Sunday night, the last night of the Festival.

No comments: