Waru

(A film comprising eight segments, namely (a) Charm, (b) Anahera, (c) Mihi, (d) Em, (e) Ranui, (f) Kiritapu (g) Mere and (h) Titty & Bash)

 

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Vignettes of Maori life seen from a female perspective.

 
Waru
 

The selling factor here is the nature of the enterprise rather than its quality. That is not to say that Waru is a bad film, but what is striking about it is its singular concept. The producers gave eight Maori women the opportunity to contribute a segment, each lasting some ten minutes, to a film in which each section would be named after its central character, always a female. It was specified that each episode would be shot in a day and be filmed as a single camera movement. Furthermore, although the viewpoints would be diverse (no characters reappear later), each piece would be related to some extent to a small boy, the Waru of the title, who has died at the hands of a caregiver.

 

What emerges despite the shared setting is less cohesive than one might have anticipated largely because the circumstances of this particular death are never detailed and in some segments the connection is vague. The most obvious example of that is Em which simply shows a drunken and irresponsible mother in scenes that could happen anywhere. Anahera may feature one of the dead boy’s teachers but it spends much of its time on what might become an adulterous affair with a colleague. Similarly, in Mihi we meet a mother whose children are at the same school but its portrait of her trying to cope sidelines Waru. The opening piece, Charm, the one with the largest cast, is set in a kitchen, but it is the establishment doing the catering for the funeral. Even so, the sense of something intrinsically linked to the setting is not really felt until we reach the fifth item, Ranui. Here two grandmothers attending the funeral vie for the right to take the body but, ironically, their actions designed to return the boy to his ancestors to enable him to rest in peace need more knowledge than most of us will have as to the beliefs involved. Without that, the viewer is unable to feel its impact fully.

 

The sixth piece Kiritipu, which precedes two episodes that suffer from ending very abruptly, proves to be the nearest to a self-contained story (it’s about a Maori TV reporter who speaks out against the racist attitudes around her): this is hardly new territory but it’s adroit enough. The penultimate offering, Mere, contains the most compelling performance - it comes from Acacia Hapi as a teenage girl confronting a man on the make (men do not come well out of this film). In conclusion we have Titty & Bash which somewhat breaks the mould - and not only because it features two key female characters, sisters on a mission to save other kids in the family from Waru’s fate. Here alone the director is not also the writer and this is also the only contribution to be shot in what is virtually black and white. If the other filmmakers handle the single shot aspect competently (the film is in ‘Scope but the constant camera movement never becomes distracting to the eyes as in the recent Utøya - July 22), the director here cleverly keeps to the rules but has two sequences inside a travelling car so that at such times the camera can simply remain static.

 

While the concept is to be applauded, its execution is less effective than one would wish due to Waru’s death not being more central, even if Titty & Bash does incorporate his voice from beyond the grave. Consequently, Waru feels far more fragmentary than it should. Eight times over we get what comes across less as ‘a day in the life of’ than ‘ten minutes in the life of’ and the notion that each segment is happening at the same time does nothing to make it feel a fully united work. But its originality is unquestionable.

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: (a) Tanea Heke, (b) Roimata Fox, (c) Ngapaki Moetara, (d) Awhina-Rose Ashby, (e) Kararaina Rangihau, (f)  Maria Walker, (g) Acacia Hapi, (h) Mirama McDowell and Amber Curreen.

 

Dir (a) Briar Grace-Smith, (b) Casey Kaa, (c) Ainsley Gardiner, (d) Katie Wolfe, (e) Renae Maihi, (f) Chelsea Cohen, (g) Paula Jones, (h) Awanui Simich-Pene, Pro Kerry Warkia and Kiel McNaughton, Screenplay (a) Briar Grace-Smith, (b) Casey Kaa, (c) Ainsley Gardiner, (d) Katie Wolfe, (e) Renae Maihi, (f) Chelsea Cohen, (g) Paula Jones, (h) Josephine Stewart-Te Whiu, Ph Drew Sturge, Pro Des Riria Lee, Ed Rajneel Singh, Music Lauren King, Costumes Lindah Lepou.

 

Brown Sugar Apple Grunt Productions-Day for Night/Jonny Tull.
86 mins. New Zealand. 2017. Rel: 9 November 2018. Cert. 15.