sat 20/07/2024

LFF 2012: The Sapphires | reviews, news & interviews

LFF 2012: The Sapphires

LFF 2012: The Sapphires

A likeable but lightweight tale of Aboriginal soul-power in war-time Saigon

Showtime: Dave (Chris O'Dowd) puts Sapphires Gail, Kay, Julie and Cynthia through their paces

A film about an Aboriginal soul quartet in the Vietnam War should at least have originality covered. This adaptation of the hit Australian musical by Tony Briggs based on his mum and aunt's Saigon adventures rings most changes, though, in being a resolutely uplifting Aboriginal story. Australia’s deep racism in 1968 is well-caught when sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) powerfully harmonise at a spitefully rigged small-town talent contest.

But with the help of cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens) and the dubious management skills of sozzled Irish keyboardist Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), the girls’ indomitable lust for life – and Mailman and Sebbens glow with it – means their audition to entertain the US troops is a hit.

The Sapphires doesn't much bother with credibility or consistency. But the biggest problem for director Wayne Blair, as for LBJ before him, is Vietnam. Despite being the first Western film about the war to shoot scenes in Saigon, The Sapphires feels physically papier mache and politically switched off, with a few bloody bodies flung in the group's way en route to a largely cheery front line. The conflict is just a distracting backdrop to the girls' musical emancipation.

There’s real shame in flashbacks to Aboriginal child-snatching by marauding government cars. Mostly, Blair’s desire to tell an aspirational tale goes too far the other way. Soul music thrills when it courageously transcends pain. The Sapphires is too soft-hearted to show much of that. For all its admirable intentions and performers’ spark, you can’t be uplifted when you don’t believe your eyes.  

Bloody bodies are flung in the girls’ way, but Vietnam’s just a backdrop to their musical emancipation


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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