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Show of Hands

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Verdict: Newest local film is a small drama whose characters struggle to fill a feature.

Who would have dreamed they had such cultured talkback hosts in the Naki? The one whose gravelly voice in a darkened studio acts as a kind of Greek chorus to the action in this New Zealand flick quotes Nero (in the original Latin, natch) and Yeats and plays Mozart's Requiem Mass when he thinks a subject is a matter for regret. We never got that when John Banks was on Pacific.

The film's New Plymouth setting repaid Venture Taranaki's enthusiastic support, but the implication that the city is a cultural crossroads on the scale of Vienna seems slightly poncy for a local flick.

Show of Hands, originally entitled Endurance, was set in London when McCarten wrote it as a novel. It's about one of those grotesque competitions - now, mercifully, extinct - in which contestants keep a hand on a car for days at a time in the hope of winning it.

McCarten's conception of the event as a symbol of the dog-eat-dog world of modern urban life loads it with more metaphorical weight than it can comfortably carry. And, even though he peoples the story with characters who manage to be both charming and archetypical, to the extent that the film works, it is as a two-hander.

Jess (Lynskey), is a solo mother who wants to win the car to transport her invalid child; Tom (Hall), who has lost his shirt on a failed business venture, and is as bitter as he is smart, needs the cash it will sell for.

There are no prizes for guessing how it all ends up, though the abruptness with which it does so is rather implausible. It also requires Jess to remain a rather simpering individual, despite her apparent triumph, which lends the whole thing a rather blokey sensibility.

Other details jarred: what kind of person settles in for a week of car-holding without bringing a thermos or a lunchbox, or even organising food deliveries? All of this lot, apparently.

McCarten's smart plotting maintains the tension well (there is a clever twist at the climax) and the performances - in particular Lovatt's as the sleazy car dealer whose idea the whole thing is - are good. It's a matter of debate, though, whether the characters are interesting enough for the length of a feature. In the end, the film - initially conceived of as a small-scale television drama - might have been best left as one.

- Peter Calder







Cast: Melanie Lynskey, Craig Hall, Stephen Lovatt

Director: Anthony McCarten

Running time: 90 mins

Rating: M (contains sex scenes and offensive language)

Screening: Berkeley, Bridgeway, Hoyts, Rialto Newmarket, SkyCity

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