Confronting, compassionate and complex, Waru demands to be seen by New Zealand audiences, with an urgency rarely captured in our national cinema.
Named for a young Maori boy who died at the hands of a caregiver, the film takes the form of eight stories that explore the impact of Waru's death on his family and the extended community. The gently interwoven tales all take place across the same 10 or so minutes and each is directed by a different female Maori film-maker.
Although the tone varies throughout, the collective vision coheres to create a searingly impactful movie infused equally by empathy and rage.
The multi-threaded narrative on display can't help but recall the work of revered American film-maker Robert Altman (Nashville, Short Cuts). Altman's work is also evoked by the film's considerable technical ambitions - each story takes place across one long tracking shot with (apparently) no cuts.
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It's a technique often employed as something of a gimmick, but here it has a tangible effect on the emotionality of the stories being told. The lingering camera forces an intimacy than can be excruciating at times, but which nevertheless seems entirely justified, even necessary.
A raft of stellar performances help sustain Waru's effortless authenticity. Although nobody lets the side down, the dramatic force shown by young Acacia Hapi in arguably the film's most powerful scene is astonishing.
A debate between Waru's great-grandmothers (Kararaina Rangihau, Merehake Maaka) during his tangi is another stand-out acting moment in a film that contains many.
Although perhaps a tough-sell on paper, Waru stands a sturdy testament to the way film can generate resonant art from difficult subject matter. All New Zealanders should see it.
Cast: Briar Grace-Smith, Katie Wolfe, Miriama McDowell
Running Time: 86mins
Rating: M (violence, offensive language, sex scenes and content that may disturb)
Verdict: A delicate and devastating must-see.
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