One of the most pressing and important issues in New Zealand today is the shockingly high suicide rate - particularly in Māori communities.

This is something psychologist and filmmaker Paora Joseph (Tātarakihi - The Children of Parihaka) tackles in Māui's Hook, an intriguing meld of narrative and non-fiction, which depicts a traditional pilgrimage of mourners to the tip of Te Rerenga Wairua (Cape Reinga) to perform sacred farewell ceremonies for the dead.

Along the way, Paora and a group of travellers pick up more and more mourners who share their stories along the way. Running tandem with this is the story of a young man (Niwa Whatuira, in an honest, tough performance), who acts a sort of symbol for all those lost.

The strikingly honest film invites open and frank discussions, arguing that everyone needs to get involved if anything is going to change. To ensure this, the viewer is exposed to mourning processes rarely presented on screen. Māui's Hook's strongest sequences are these, and the genuinely astonishing interviews Paora has attained with those grieving a family member lost to suicide.

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Subjects bare their experiences in exacting detail, and watching can be a shattering, almost unbearably painful but vital and powerful experience. This is not easy viewing - nor should it be - and it is commendable that Māui's Hook faces these sensitive subjects with remarkable openness and grace.

For all its power and intensity, it's not without its rough edges. The filmmaking craft here is solid but hindered by some shaky editing and camera choices. The urgency of the filmmakers mostly overshadows this, and the choice to meld non-fiction with fictional, narrative elements makes a decent case for itself.

However, this approach can bog it down in distracting stretches of symbolism when the subjects are completely absorbing in their own right.

But this is film that should be discussed widely.

Cast:

Niwa Whatuira, Hera Foley

Director:

Paora Joseph

Running time:

92 minutes

Rating:

RP13 (Deals with suicide)

Verdict:

A soul-shaking sermon on a defining issue.