Set in 1940s Australia, an Aboriginal orphan arrives in the dead of night at a remote monastery run by a renegade nun (Cate Blanchett) in this spiritual thriller from Warwick Thornton.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2023
Warwick Thornton’s mesmerising story of spirituality and survival finds a young Aboriginal boy (Aswan Reid) left in the middle of the night at a remote outback monastery run by Cate Blanchett’s rule-breaking nun, Sister Eileen.
Taking him in, the seemingly kindly nun calms the unnamed “new boy” and he soon forms connections with Sister Mum (Deborah Mailman) and the farm manager George (Wayne Blair). With an attempt at bullying quashed, he finds an uneasy place with the other orphans at the monastery.
Unlike other orphans who are given an Anglo-Saxon name, the New Boy remains “the New Boy” and his ”otherness” becomes more and more apparent as his unusual powers are revealed—he cures wounds at a touch, handles snakes and magically conjures a shimmering light to comfort him in the darkest hours.
When a large carved crucifix arrives from Europe for safekeeping things begin to unravel: Sister Eileen’s religious zeal intensifies as the, mostly wordless, New Boy develops a fascination and connection to the crucifix—he sees the eyes blink and the chest rise as if alive.
Thornton (Samson and Delilah [NZIFF 2009], We Don’t Need A Map [NZIFF 2017]), sweeps the viewer into a battle of wills and faiths between the Aboriginal boy’s spiritual connection to the land, and Sister Eileen’s Catholic faith, all blood and thorns, and tensions rise.
Intoxicating and mesmerising, Thornton matches concise storytelling with spectacular imagery and an incredible cast. Blanchett is compelling as the zealous nun who enjoys a regular swig of the communion wine, and the young actors playing the boys at the monastery are brilliant, but it is the extraordinary performance by Aswan Reid which makes this film magical. — Sally Woodfield