The Sapphires (Wayne Blair, 2012): Australia

Reviewed by China Rose.  Viewed at AFI Fest 2012.

Winner of an Awgie, Major and Hugo Gold Award lets all get together and sing along… with this fabulous ensemble cast in this nostalgic and charming film, The Sapphires. This film has a great heart and soul you can dance to (circa, Dick Clarke from that era) from the very get-go! This is a period piece crafted to fit the place and time it existed and it will take you back to it’s deep, family roots. If you’d like a feel-good romance that is tied up with social justice and true-to-life situations this is your best, bet ever.

At times the music is treated more like a prop (catalyst) than a character and this keeps the story anchored in real-life, drama rather than becoming a long extended music video. The girls (women who played the girls) did a superb job of embodying each ladies individual dynamics of persona. In the closing credits they show real life photo’s and give details to explain where each of the main characters ended up in their world. I enjoyed seeing how production did a really excellent job in casting. There was obviously a strong team element behind the scenes that brought this project to life.

The really great way the film makers shared this story was pseudo-documentary like (or even adaptive to it’s time frame maybe, which was cool) with camera moves that gave a very straight forward approach to it’s subject at all times. There was no ambiguity and the true-to-life story chronicles what happens as young Maori girls living in the outback of Australia, during the Vietnam war, try to take control of their economic opportunities by embracing their talents.

This romance mixed with it’s brand of social justice is served late but satisfyingly at the end. Musical gifts spurred the real life energy that sent these young, girls on a life adventure head-long into the battlefields of war. They get their tail feathers singed and yet manage to do a lot of good for themselves and their world as they fall in and out of love along the way. They bare their souls and find their way home through lyrical prose.

A fantastic everybody film, anyone can enjoy, The Sapphires provides depth and perspective on a cultural topic experienced by these Maori girls and their family. What they had to endure with child kidnappings in their midst… but it does so with an every-persons perspective to their life events. They don’t lose sight of the glam-a-rama as the girls hard-knocks manager begins to polish their act.

The “sapphire” was a suburb use of  prop to bring clarity to this story with it’s weight and balance (tone, texture and tempo) measured like a gem cutter would do. The edits are precision cut to blend and twirl-us like a baton.  The film makers keep the visual telling of their story intact to allow a heartfelt and bittersweet portrait to unfold. The intimate experience of an extended family, a Maori tribe in the late 1960’s is well served by this project. The storyline pushes toward a climatic end and true third act resolve to rival the Brady Bunch in TV time without minimizing the social content device.

I’m very happy to say this film has a soft, gooey, molten-chocolate heart at it’s core. When I got up from my seat I was warm and fussy from inside out. This film put me back on track with a very human story of success and love in a time of social struggles and war. There were three wars raging in this story, social justice, the Vietnam war and the war between two sisters (that spilled over into the others) torn apart by pride, politics and fear.

I believe stories of personal love and triumph are needed in our jaded, fabricated and iconic world of techno babble. Stories of how we can overcome all obstacles in life to experience love and share our gifts that can bring joy to others even in our own time of sorrows. It’s not a tear jerk-er really but probably qualifies as a chick-flick. I think I was wincing back some salty ones when the Sapphires manager gets left for dead (he is shot) right after the two lovers express their true feeling and the war breaks out. She flies away (torn apart) with bloody victims in a helicopter leaving her lover/manager behind with circumstances beyond and out of her control; her lovers certain death is very probable. The dramatization of the combat zone for this scene in Vietnam is very intense!

Speaking of which the hair styles, wardrobe, props and time period make-up where worthy of golden awards. Though it often looks easy when done correctly, to re-create a period (especially one that is vintage) in time, trust me it’s not. The powerful performances of these songbirds as they fought social injustice and made music to heal their own wounds and overcome their own poverty is well crafted against a backdrop of time recreations. I hope to see this film get accolades and plenty of playtime in the coming holidays, it certainly is a pleasure to watch.

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