Poverty sucks, whether in the Australian outback of “Samson and Delilah” or in the central Harlem of “Precious”. Seeing these two strong entries in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Official Selection raised some interesting questions about the nature of poverty and what to do about it. Although the subject matter was bleak in both cases, each filmmaker found cause for hope without betraying the material.
Samson and Delilah are aborigines living in hot, insect-ridden isolation, suffering ‘ain’t-no-food-in-the-fridge’ poverty. Government handouts keep them from starving to death but director Warwick Thornton meticulously records the tedium and fury of dead-end lives. White people are mostly absent from their lives, creeping in only to weasel away aboriginal paintings to sell at a huge profit. Battling violence, hunger and addiction the two teenage protagonists eventually find a measure of solace in each other.
Precious, of the eponymous film, has plenty of white people around trying to straighten out her life and plenty of burgers to fatten her up. As a Harlem teenager, pregnant with her father’s child, Precious’ main battle is with her ferocious mother. Played with demonic energy by Mo’nique, she is the mother of all welfare queens. (So this is why President Clinton insisted on ending welfare). White people are there to be massaged into continuing the welfare checks but ultimately it’s a government literacy program that saves Precious. Her white principal guides her into the program and a white social worker, played by Mariah Carey, pushes Precious to confront her horrific past.
Neither Delilah nor Precious end up alone. Delilah has the severely limited Samson and Precious has her babies. Each movies ends with a hint of the redemptive power of art; Delilah applies herself to an aboriginal painting and Precious seems determined to find her writer’s voice. It’s a woman’s world after all.Follow me!