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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Beautiful, lyrical and tinged with magical realism, the third feature film from Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah; Sweet Country) is a delicate exploration of faith and the collision of cultures.
Set in a remote Outback orphanage during World War 2, a troublesome aboriginal boy (Aswan Reid) is delivered to the fiery Sister Eileen (Cate Blanchett), who runs the place with fellow nun Sister Mum (Deborah Mailman) and indigenous work hand George (Wayne Blair).
Sister Eileen takes her role as a spiritual guide to her young charges very seriously – so seriously, in fact, that she keeps from informing head office that the priest who is supposed to be in charge is quite dead. To keep any meddling from derailing the good work she believes her small team is doing in the service of God, she pretends to be the dead priest, writing upbeat letters assuring Catholic HQ that all is well and that the profits from their crops will continue to flow.
Sister Eileen takes a special shine to the new boy (that’s all he’s called), hoping to enlighten him through the power of Christianity. As it turns out he has his own special connection to the spiritual realm, a quality he keeps secret and which comes into sharp relief with the long-awaited arrival of a big wooden sculpture of Christ on the cross.
With stirring use of music from Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and featuring richly atmospheric cinematography by Thornton, The New Boy is leisurely paced with a basic narrative composed of intersecting themes about faith, devotion and what can happen when competing notions of spirituality collide.