AUSTIN FILM FESTIVAL 2012
By Caitlyn Collins | October 25, 2012
Director: Wayne Blair
Writers: Keith Thompson, Tony Briggs
Starring: Chris O’Dowd, Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell, Jessica Mauboy, Shari Sebbens
I know almost nothing about Australian history and was deeply saddened and disturbed by the opening lines of text for The Sapphires. The film, directed by Wayne Blair, takes place in 1968, one of the most tumultuous years in modern world history. While I’m boggled by how recent the Civil Rights Movement is in U.S. history, it’s even more shocking for Aboriginal Australians. The Sapphires is based on a true story of four Aboriginal Australian women who formed a singing group and toured Vietnam entertaining U.S. soldiers.
The film opens on an Australian mission with sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman) and Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) scrambling to get ready for a singing competition in town; their younger sister, Julie (Jessica Mauboy), is arguing with their mother because she wants to go too. As Gail and Cynthia thumb a ride to town, Julie comes up with her own plan.
Dave (Chris O’Dowd) is an Irishman living out of his place of employment. He is the local DJ for the singing competition that Gail and Cynthia have entered. He drinks, smokes, and swears, which doesn’t impress the hot-headed Gail at all. However, Dave takes genuine interest in the girls as they begin their song because not only are they the only black duo in the competition but they can actually sing. Julie eventually makes her way to the stage as well, and it becomes apparent that she is the sister with the powerhouse voice.
After finding their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), who was taken from their mission during childhood to learn “white ways”, the four set off for Vietnam with Dave as their manager. The Sapphires is a film about love and guilt, tolerance and adaptation. Chris O’Dowd’s Dave doesn’t stray far from his usual, hilarious and charming characters. And the singing in this film is truly phenomenal. There is no doubt that this film is meant to pull heartstrings, but while it’s a bit overly sentimental, I have thought quite a bit about the historical aspects of this film and the women who inspired it.