The Sapphires is ostensibly about a talented four-member Aboriginal girl group in Australia whose members, with the help of a washed up Irish entertainer-turned-manager, wind up expanding their lives personally and geographically. Below the surface, though, the movie – directed by Wayne Blair and inspired by a true story that transpires in the late ’60s – is a heartfelt and even poignant look at the Lunar inspiration behind the soul music these song birds perform: home, roots and family.
When we see him in the film’s first frame, Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd), is a shambling, drunken mess, en route to his gig as host of a local talent show. He’s smitten with the crooning of three local Aboriginal sisters (Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy and Miranda Tapsell) who perform a C&W tune. Dave is persuaded to enter the gals into a larger talent competition, whose prize is an opportunity to go on tour singing for U.S. troops fighting in Vietnam.
Dave changes their musical groove to R&B and soul, and the gals– now a foursome with the addition of Kay (Shari Sebbens), who sang with them in childhood – nab the win as The Sapphires. Once in the war zone, they learn life lessons, perform rousingly, gain fans and even fall in love. But it’s the archetype of home, parenting, security and nurturing – the Moon’s domain – that transcends the music.
On the road, Dave becomes the caretaker of his young surrogates who, for the first time, are away from home. But, in fact, they’ve never been truly at home, even in their native country. As the movie reveals, Aborigines did not get full Australian citizenship until 1967. Worse, even into the next decade, the government sanctioned that light-skinned Aborigines, able to pass for white, could be forcibly removed from their birth parents and raised by others to learn “white ways,” as was the movie’s character Kay.
In The Sapphires, mostly everyone is uprooted – the ladies who have been ritually separated from their own homeland, Dave who’s far from Irish soil, the American soldiers fighting on foreign land, and even the blacks in the U.S. – seen in news clips – who’ve taken up the cause of civil rights.
As Dave explains to the girls early on, C&W music is about loss and giving up. But soul music is about loss and the desperate struggle to retrieve what’s been taken away from you. This movie is about getting back home in every sense.
Astrology Film Rating: ☽ (Moon)