Movie review: The Red House

By Peter Calder

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Meng Jia and Lee Stuart play themselves in The Red House. Photo / Supplied
Meng Jia and Lee Stuart play themselves in The Red House. Photo / Supplied

An assured dramatic debut and a film of striking formal sophistication, Duncan's intimate and meticulously observed family drama gives new meaning to the term "home movie".

In part that's because, as the title suggests, it's about a home: the modest house in the Waiheke bush in which Duncan spent the first 10 years of her life and where her father, Stuart, and stepmother, Meng, still live.

The film was conceived as a documentary when Stuart and Meng decided to leave the house for her native China, but when that plan was shelved, it morphed into something else. As the film tells a story of a couple, Stuart and Meng enact a directed version of themselves.

The result is equal parts documentary, drama and artwork on video. Duncan, who arrived at film-making from visual arts via dance and choreography, brings a refined aesthetic sensibility to bear, making a piece of work in which form and content are inseparable.

On the surface of it, it's a story of an unorthodox couple living a reclusive, even primitive, lifestyle which is interrupted when one must attend to the needs of an ageing parent.

But Duncan spins something ineffably subtle from this material: a rumination on the nature of love, the pain of separation and the ultimate unknowability of others, even those closest to us.

Its languid, contemplative pace will doubtless drag for some viewers.

This is a movie in which the most important "action" is internal. Neither are the performances refined and naturalistic - these are not actors, after all, but rather elements in a composition.

It is at its most unsure in the final minutes, when it seems to lose some measure of the poise that distinguishes its opening hour, but this is a bold and assured statement and is recommended for serious-minded filmgoers.

Stars: 3.5/5
Cast: Lee Stuart, Meng Jia
Director: Alyx Duncan
Running time: 75 mins
Rating: PG (adult themes) in English and Mandarin with English subtitles
Verdict: An artistic undertaking of meticulous control.

- TimeOut

- NZ Herald

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