Samoan New Zealand director Tusi Tamasese's second feature, One Thousand Ropes, resonates with the same quiet power and restraint of his award-winning debut, The Orator.
A brooding and solemn story about a family fractured by its difficult and violent past and its patriarch's search for redemption, this English and Samoan language film is an exhausting and moving experience - in a good way.
Maea is an intriguing protagonist in the hands of the understated Uelese Petaia. A traditional midwife who nurtures his patients with massage and also a baker who refuses to rush the preparation of his dough, Maea lives a simple life in an almost-empty flat where squares on the faded walls are the only sign of the family photos that once hung there.
He's kept company by a spirit of a dead woman (Sima Urale), who refuses to let go of life and lives in the corner of his living room. Maea isn't disturbed by his guest, unlike estranged daughter IIisa (Adams), who unexpectedly arrives at his house, beaten and pregnant.
This is a film in no rush to offer explanations or reveal its secrets, but even with its gentle pacing, it's clear Maea battles with the consequences of the man he used to be. An early encounter with a rowdy neighbour suggests Maea's hands have not always been used for tender tasks such as massaging pregnant bellies. IIisa's reluctance to communicate with her father and a clash of personalities at the bakery also reveal more about the man Maea was and the man he's trying to become.
This character-driven drama is a fascinating mix of social-realism and supernatural, and at times is hard to watch, but although intense, it never feels forced. The performances, especially from Uelese Petaia and young bakery worker Beulah Koale, are pitch perfect, and if you've never watched Shortland Street you'll think you've just discovered our latest rising star - Frankie Adams is simply superb.
The soundscape is minimal - if it's not needed it's not there. The same goes for Leon Narbey's striking cinematography, which has a sense of stillness and control but manages to capture the tension and unease between characters. Then there's Tamasese's ability to draw us into a world brimming with culture, complex characters, sadness and hope - a world that lingers in the mind days after viewing.
Frankie Adams, Uelese Petaia
M (Violence & content that may disturb)
A powerful and moving story of one man's search for redemption.