The Rape of Recy Taylor (2017) dir. Nancy Buirski

For many, the first time hearing the name Recy Taylor would have been in January 2018 when Oprah Winfrey paid tribute to the extraordinary woman in her Golden Globe speech, and yet Taylor’s sexual assault would prove to be an organisational spark in the Civil Rights Movement decades before the Women’s Movement and the #MeToo resurgence.

On September 3rd 1944, Recy Taylor neé Corbitt was kidnapped at gunpoint after leaving Church in Abbeville, Alabama by seven young white men. They drove her to a nearby wooded area where six of them – aged between 14-18 – took turns in raping and terrorising the 24-year-old sharecropper, wife and mother, before leaving her blindfolded and stranded at the side of the road. Despite three eye witnesses identifying the driver who would name all of his passengers (none of whom were questioned) an all white, all male jury dismissed the case. Enter the NAACP and their chief instigator, Ms. Rosa Parks who was to conduct a thorough investigation, help defend Taylor and seek punishment for her attackers – some eleven years before the Montgomery Bus Boycott – a dangerous business in Jim Crow-era South.

Writer-Director Nancy Buirski (The Loving Story) uses her film – which had premieres at the Venice Biennale and New York Film Festival – to expose the systematic racism that not only fostered the heinous crime but covered it up. She utilises footage from “race films” and their lack of white gaze to tell Recy Taylor’s story. These are intercut with gospel music and Church footage – shot by Zora Neale Hurston whose journalistic prose would prove important during another unconscionable and despicably unjust “rape” case in Scottsboro a decade earlier. 

While the obvious tone of this documentary is solemnity, some may find its structure superfluous, however, these snippets of human life, art and joy in the face of such adversity are beautiful in an otherwise infuriating film where (yet again) white privilege not only dehumanised this woman but terrorised her family. The full impact of which is discussed in interviews with Taylor’s brother Robert and sister Alma. Hearing them describe how their father slept in a tree overlooking their home (after Recy and husband Willie’s house had been firebombed) with a shotgun as a means to protect his family is particularly hard to hear, made all the more galling when one considers the justification for lynching was the white man “protecting” his wife and daughters. Benny Corbitt was, of course, not afforded that power.

Recy Taylor was just one in a longer tradition of black women who spoke her truth and sought justice, and an aspect the documentary does particularly well is arguing passionately for their place in history – these women were always there. Harriet Tubman, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, Ruby Bridges, the afore-mentioned Winfrey – look at the audiences photographed during Martin Luther King’s  numerous rallies, they were there, or look to the backbone of the Black Panther Party, or consider there wouldn’t even be a #MeToo without Tarana Burke.

The Rape of Recy Taylor is urgent and essential viewing. It speaks to the visibility of the African American woman, and the countless women whose voices have failed to be heard. A quietly devastating dedication – get tissues for the last ten minutes – to strength, resilience, resistance and a sustained fight for justice. The name Recy Taylor stands for them all.

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Anchor and Hope (2017) dir: Carlos Marques-Marcet

Following on from his 2014 long distance romance, 10,000km, Carlos Marques-Marcet, once again, looks at love in the modern age. In Anchor and Hope, he reunites with Natalia Tena and David Verdaguer only this time, thankfully, they are both on the same continent.

Kat (Tena) and Eva (Oona Chaplin) are four years into their relationship and following the death of their cat Chorizo, the conversation (re)turns to children. Enter Kat’s best friend, Barcelona-based Roger (an impressively hirsute Verdaguer) who comes to stay on their houseboat. When Eva drunkenly expresses her desire and longing for a baby, Roger – the sport that he is – offers to supply his “little fish” and help create their family. The only one not completely on board with such a huge life decision is Kat, who still believes it is “narcissistic” and “selfish” to procreate.

Marques-Marcet and co-writer Jules Nurrish cite María Llopis’ text Maternidades Subversivas in the film’s credits, and it’s easy to see how Llopsis’ work inspired. She wrote of the different maternity models born in light of new experiences and struggles in today’s society. No longer is motherhood limited to the hetero-normative cis-woman but can be subverted as a way of changing the world and even deemed an act of insurgency.

For so long, families had one model and this was only recreated onscreen. Thankfully, films have begun to catch up somewhat. There is a great scene in Anchor and Hope where the trio tell Eva’s “wacky” mother Germaine (played by actual mater Geraldine Chaplin) about their baby plans and awakens an impassioned speech from Kat who speaks out against the older generation. Those who claimed to have “rebelled” and, as it turns out, did not change a thing, instead conforming where they failed. Choosing to have a child does not require the prerequisite checklist which some deem so important.

The film is shot episodically and made up of four titled vignettes. It’s a screwball comedy for the 21st Century, containing a hilarious singalong to Inner Circle’s 90s hit Sweat (A La La La La Long) and filmed on a houseboat which resides largely on London’s canal system. It’s a refreshing London which is depicted, almost idyllic with its palette of greens, oranges and golds, the grey and oppressive concrete jungle appears to be far away from this utopia. Dagmar Weaver-Madsen’s camera moves languidly through the womb-like canal tunnels and serves the narrative and plot which remains largely unpredictable. All is topped off deliciously with an eclectic and whimsical soundtrack including tracks sung by both female leads.

All three actors work incredibly well together and the chemistry between Tena and Verdaguer – who can be seen in the delightful Summer 1993 – is, well tenable. The naturalism feels unforced and realistic, like a family playing for the camera (all to impress their older sibling behind it). While the two provide, at times, the humour, it is Oona Chaplin who provides the heart. She is wonderful as Eva who possesses a real vulnerability and tenacity (and aversion to tequila) which is hard to pull off convincingly.

Anchor and Hope is a decidedly honest, and modern love story which is unafraid to ask the big questions surrounding men, women and parenthood. All the while navigating the choppy waters faced in love and relationships.

My Friend Dahmer (2017) dir: Marc Meyer

There’s usually always one. The slightly awkward loner in school; the social outcast whose interests include tennis, band practice, binge-drinking and, you know, dissolving dead animal carcasses in acid. For Revere High in Ohio, during the seventies, that kid was Jeff Dahmer (Ross Lynch).

Based on fellow classmate, John ‘Derf’ Backderf’s bestselling graphic novel, My Friend Dahmer takes place during a very specific timeframe, the graduating year of 1977-78. The isolated teenage Dahmer makes friends (well, almost) with Derf (Alex Wolff), Neil (Tommy Nelson) and Mike (Harrison Holzer) as they look forward to college and a life beyond the oppressive institution that is high school. For Dahmer, it was the year his warring parents (played respectively by Anne Heche and Dallas Roberts) finally divorced and abandoned him just prior to his first (human) kill.

Backderf’s comic – the original source material for Director Marc Meyer’s script – is a stark portrait, weirdly grotesque with a sweet and sinister edge. It depicts high school as a cruel and relatable experience, that yearning to fit in, the shelter it provides from the harsher outside world, and that’s just for every other kid who doesn’t grow up to be a killer. There’s a tenderness in Derf’s pages as he recounts his life as a teenager looking in on the kid that doesn’t belong. Sadly, by changing the narrative point-of-view, the film loses that originality and becomes yet another character study depicting the early years of a serial killer. The coming-of-age aspect and the odd pacing means, as a whole, it never quite coalesces.

That said, there are nice touches, little story kernels which hint at the future: the gifting of the dumbbells, the choice of roommate on the class trip, even his mother – not afforded much screentime but played brilliantly by Heche – declaring at the dinner table that they now “eat their mistakes”. The mise-en-scène tends to consist of yellows, greens, browns and blues and Dahmer’s costumes co-ordinate with the surroundings. He blends into the background, hiding in plain sight, repressing his hinted-at sexuality and more macabre predilections until that fateful day he chose to pick up Steven Hicks.

Ross Lynch’s performance is chilling – he has the vacant stare and distinctive gait down, second only to Jeremy Renner’s portrayal in the 2003 biopic Dahmer. Somewhat apt given that this film could act as a pre-cursor to that one. The first half of the serial killer’s life as it were. Given his tumultuous family life, it is easy to pity the strange and lonely boy depicted in this film, however, any sympathy is limited. Feigning meltdowns, ridiculing and mimicking palsy, reenacting his mother’s manic episodes AKA ‘spaz attacks’ as entertainment reveals the darker side of Jeff’s nature even before the murders, necrophilia and cannibalism.

My Friend Dahmer is a somewhat unremarkable and slight study of a psychopath in the suburban seventies. It lacks the nuance and honesty of the source material but manages to humanise the human before he became a monster and begs the question: where were all the adults?

78/52 (2017) dir. Alexandre O. Philippe

Shot almost exclusively in stylish black and white (save for the colour film clips and art pieces), Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52 celebrates Alfred Hitchcock, and the most infamous shower scene ever committed to celluloid (and after its decline). Its title referring to the mammoth 78 set ups and 52 cuts that makes up the sequence which lasts just 45 seconds.

Recreating scenes of the proto-slasher and taking full advantage of Jon Hegel’s string-heavy score, 78/52 relies upon audience participation; ours and those onscreen seated on a set decorated not too dissimilarly to the Bates house, all floral wallpaper, old fashioned TV set and dressed in trinkets. By the final third, we are watching those talking heads involved viewing the scene in question to utterances of “wow”, the odd gleeful “yes”, only Marli Renfro (Janet Leigh’s body double) appears uncomfortable. Just one more aspect of voyeurism which begins with Norman Bates and his peep-hole.

From Saul Bass’ storyboards and Hitch’s script notes, Bernard Herrmann’s score, and the casting of Leigh’s body-double Renfro, to the type of melon used for stabbing foley and of course, the watered-down Hershey’s chocolate syrup which doubled so convincingly for blood; 78/52 is an interesting and in-depth critique of an iconic piece of film by a controversial cinematic auteur. It is effective, informative and well-produced as the likes of Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Bret Easton Ellis, Tere Carrubba (Hitchcock’s granddaughter), Eli Roth, Osgood Perkins, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Danny Elfman – amongst many others including directors, actors, authors, film editors, professors of cinema, composers, AFI scholars and art curators – wax lyrical about the film which was so culturally and socio-politically integral to cinema and its reception. As one suggests, it elevated not only the horror genre but cinema as a whole.

While the influence of Psycho is staggering, one small scene cannot quite sustain a whole 91 minute film which is why it veers somewhat through the body of work and the film as a whole. The majority of observations are interesting, however, there are moments which are superfluous and trite and a few which remain unsaid. For example, Hitchcock’s notorious onset working practices is a subject never broached and what of the sexualised aspect of the shower scene, the symbolic rape (though there is Bogdanovich’s feeling of rape after seeing Psycho for the first time and a comparison to Irréversible), or the female gaze? Again, topics that are mentioned in passing and danced around but never explicitly with reference to the subject matter (or not at all), Karyn Kusama and Illeana Douglas (two of only seven women interviewed) aren’t afforded the time to expand upon their thoughts – or were and then cut. It seems almost ironic to set up a discussion about a horror film which has an integral scene removing the woman and then not have a few more female filmmakers, fans and/or experts to voice opinion – unless that’s the point?

As a piece of art, there is no denying Psycho remains a cornerstone of the horror genre and cinema, it broke taboos and pushed boundaries, and is one of Hitchcock’s masterpieces within a substantial and impressive oeuvre. In the words of Edgar Allan Poe “the death of a beautiful woman, unquestionably, is the most poetical topic world” which pop up onscreen as the documentary begins. It’s just a shame that more women weren’t included to talk about it rather than the whole discussion, or thereabouts, dominated by white males.

78/52 is for those who have an interest in the art and history of film. Part visual essay, Hitchcock commentary, and Psycho autopsy, it’s entertaining enough and well worth a watch but for anybody who has ever studied film or auteur theory, there will be little you didn’t already know.

Multiple Maniacs (1970) dir. John Waters

He is regarded as The Pope of Trash and now John Waters’ third feature film, unavailable for decades, has been “restored, remastered and re-vomited” by premium label The Criterion Collection, following a limited release in arthouse theatres.

Multiple Maniacs stars Waters’ merry band of misfits, including David Lochary, Mink Stole, Mary Vivian Pearce, and Edith Massey. Those who would appear in most of his subsequent films, and led by the Queen: Miss Lady Divine, who we first see lying naked on a chaise longue, her Rubenesque derrière framed and in close-up. She leads the sideshow of “freaks” within Lady Divine’s Cavalcade of Perversion, a travelling band of “real, actual filth”. There’s a naked human pyramid, bra fetishist, a women giving oral pleasure to a bicycle saddle, a Jonesing addict, “actual queers kissing” and a bonafide puke-eater. Of course this is all a ruse, a front to house psychotic kidnappers and murderers. The brains (and beauty) of the outfit is Lady Divine. She’s the leader, the matriarch, think Ma Barker by way of a transgressive Elizabeth Taylor, and will do right by her people if they do right by her. Woe betide anybody who, for example, cheats or betrays.

Shot on 16mm and made with a $5000 budget – via a loan by Waters’ father – Multiple Maniacs is deliberately offensive and grotesque. It has an avant garde sensibility, with low contrast grainy black and white film stock, which makes the sprawling chaos, horrible camerawork and zoom abuse more bearable. For all its gleeful delinquent subversion, it actually has a lot of charm. Sure, it glorifies carnage and wears its anti-establishment, anti-bourgeois respectability, and sacrilegious, cannabilistic heart on its sleeve but it does so with such veracity, it’s admirable. Disgusting and atrocious, it may be but it’s also hilarious.

Hippy values take a few knocks, there’s a definite anti-war vibe to the denouement but it celebrates art via the Warhol and Lichtenstein pictures on an interior wall, its Czech New Wave style, and even surrealism – it’s hard not to think of Dalí when Lobstora rears its rapey pincers. Nothing is sacred. Least of all Catholicism. There is religious iconography dotted amongst the mise-en-scène, and The Stations of the Cross is even recreated as Divine receives a seemingly never-ending “rosary job” from Mink Stole, in a Church pew. All to the strain of He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands.

Waters and his maniacs deliver on the blackest of comedies. All dialogue is frantic, emphatic and, at times, stilted and a little repetitive but that’s the Waters way. He and his friends, some from childhood, some dropouts from NYU created a filmmaking family which celebrated difference, embraced outsiders and misfits, and forged an artistic front for freaks. Divine was the heartbeat; loud, brash, crude, angry and trashy. She didn’t give two flying kitten heels what people thought of her, she knew she was beautiful.

In the words of the great auteur himself (oh, he’d hate that): “To understand bad taste one must have very good taste. Good bad taste can be creatively nauseating but must, at the same time, appeal to the especially twisted sense of humour, which is anything but universal.” Multiple Maniacs is a transgressive, blasphemous, and iconic piece of celluloid. It won’t be for everyone, but for those of us with a wicked sense of humour and good bad taste, it will be a religious experience.

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I Am Not a Witch (2017) dir. Rungano Nyoni

Dramatic strains of Vivaldi strings play over the mini-bus crawling along as a tour guide announces to his passengers that they have arrived at their destination. Out everyone pours around the van to view whatever it is they have clearly paid to see, “so exciting, once you see the witches.” The what now? The camera captures what can only be described as a human zoo; behind metal barriers sits a group a women, dressed in blue, partially painted in white, their clownish make-up made more apparent as they howl and pull faces for the benefit of their visitors.

Shula (Maggie Mulubwa) – though she has no name until much later on – is an orphan who’s accused of witchcraft. Evidence is patchy at best, she has the ability to ‘curse’ water, make people trip and fall, and hack off a man’s arm (it miraculously grew back). The fact that she refuses to confirm or deny the charge means she is “cunning and deceiving” and before she knows it, she’s shipped off to government worker Mr. Banda (Henry B. J. Phiri) who oversees the small witch camp as seen as the start of the film.

After consulting a witch doctor who “proves” witchcraft, the little girl is fitted with a spindle and spool of white ribbon, the length of which varies from woman to woman, all to “prevent them flying away”. Shula is then offered the choice of either accepting her label and joining the women or cutting the ribbon and being transformed into a goat. It’s not difficult to realise which she will choose, she’s eight.

While the rest of the colony work tending the fields and hoping for rain, Shula is “witchified” and dressed in a frilly sack, twigs and leaves in her hair, white make-up adorns her face as she taken from village to village condemning thieves i.e. choosing the one she thinks is guilty. It’s ridiculous. The rewards she earns she shares amongst the women and that’s what is so bittersweet, there’s genuine camaraderie and affection between them and Shula now has a family, full of grandmothers – as all of these women are considerably older – sorrow, time and circumstance etched into their lived-in faces.

What strikes most about Rungano Nyoni’s first feature is how strong and self-assured it is. I Am Not a Witch is completely unique and striking in its gendered social critique and satirical rendering of persecuting patriarchal control. Thankfully, the comedy does not overwhelm but punctuates perfectly. The central performance which is mostly a silent one, by Maggie Mulubwa is rendered beautifully, her largely impassive and gorgeous face is often shot in close-up and the slightest expression is subtly mesmerising. The use of colour, which tends to be the odd swatch whether white, blue, red, purple, or the bright orange of the transporting truck is set against the dusty greys, and dirty sepia tones of the earth superbly. The impossible point-of-view shots, long languid takes, and narrative ellipses provide a visual erudition and subtle sophistication to the magical realism and that final shot is absolutely breathtaking.

I Am Not a Witch is a stunning debut, an amusing if poignant and heartbreaking fable critiquing a very real social problem and making the Zambian-born Nyoni a filmmaker to watch out for in the future.

The Piano (1993) dir. Jane Campion

Ada McGrath (Holly Hunter) is sold into marriage by her father and sails from Scotland, across rough waters to New Zealand where she and her young daughter Flora (Anna Paquin) are to begin a new life in the home of new husband (and father), and emotionally frigid landowner, Alisdair Stewart (Sam Neill). Ada is mute and relies upon sign language, a small notebook contained in a locket around her neck and, above all else, her piano and music to speak for her. Alisdair, not only, dismisses the importance of the instrument to his new wife but gives it away to employee George Baines (Harvey Keitel) who, upon hearing Ada play, agrees to sell it back to her one key at a time.

Writer-Director Campion, a filmmaker with a propensity for engaging feminist interest through a female protagonist, desire and gaze does not disappoint with Ada. While some may misinterpret her as a product of the oppressive, Victorian society she inhabits, objectified from the start, sold into marriage and left on a beach much like her piano; her silence often mistaken for obedience. One could argue that in actuality Ada exists on the fringes of society; her self-assured identity and sheer wilfulness make her one of the most fascinating characters of Campion’s creation. Her austere costume (designed and created by Janet Patterson) functions for and against her femininity. These items often restrict her movements yet at other times rescue her from unwanted exposure, pawing male hands or indeed provide a place of shelter; a hoop underskirt is utilised as a makeshift tent in the opening sequences. The bonnet is a symbol of submissiveness but tends to be discarded more often than not.

Power struggle appears to be the main theme of the film displayed through sexual politics, patriarchy and colonialism. Alisdair is the white settler whose link to the Māori people is Baines, a coloniser who has adapted the ways of the native (he still has tartan items displayed about his home pertaining to his Scottish roots) but has attempted to assimilate into NZ culture with his clothing, wild hair and tā moko which adorn his nose. These markings add a sexual aggressiveness to his ‘othered’ facade; however, his whiteness and lack of education makes him belligerent, specifically in relation to the (ideologically homogenised) Māori people he has chosen to live amongst. He, too, never quite belongs.

Neill and Keitel give outstanding performances (in a cast full of NZ film stalwarts) as the uptight Stewart and outsider Baines, men who conform and subvert type/expectation as much as the women in the diegesis. It is, however, Holly Hunter’s film. The piano and Ada are inextricably linked. The instrument represents her voice, sexuality, passion, mood and freedom; a tool that can be – and is – used against her. Hunter, an accomplished pianist played all musical pieces and, allegedly, insisted upon communicating through sign language on and off set as the film was made. In fact save for Ada and her ‘mind’s voice’ at the film’s commencement and end, one forgets Hunter can really talk at all.

While The Piano can be described as a Gothic melodrama, at its narrative heart it depicts a mother-daughter relationship, offers up ideas of the absent father and draws parallels not only with the play within it: Perrault’s Bluebeard but also Du Maurier’s Rebecca in its portrayal of a woman who leaves home and enters a new world dominated by a male figure. It deals with concepts of freedom, affronting destiny, definition of the self, re-birth and the sexual-political appropriation of ambiguities, while showcasing the talent of Campion and her cinematographer Stuart Dryburgh. They insist upon giving the audience a distinctive, sexually provocative spectacle; a sumptuous production which depicts the unease provided by the New Zealand landscape with authenticity and, even occasional, mirth.

Given its timelessness, Michael Nyman’s magnificently evocative score and the seductive panoramic allure of a Gothic New Zealand, it’s hard to believe The Piano is 25 already. It remains extraordinary, a gorgeous and enigmatic masterpiece which only gets better with age, except in its depiction of its Māori people.

Peppermint Soda (1977) dir. Diane Kurys

Growing up is never easy and when you’re a girl on the cusp of womanhood, it can be worse (trust me). You fight the naïvety, loneliness and quiet rebellion of adolescence, face the ups and downs of school and try to balance a tumultuous home-life having never really gotten over your parents’ divorce – as is the premise of Peppermint Soda. Everyday battles include struggling to have a relationship with an overwrought mother who, not only, has a radically different one with your sister but seems to have little room for you outside of her new boyfriend and recent Psoriasis diagnosis.

It’s about a year (1963) of stolen kisses, summers on the beaches of Normandy and winter skiing trips, the loss of innocence, first love, as that awkward boy pays attention, and you finally get your first period. Music punctuates your daily life. Being curious and suspicious of sex is a given and rebelling in any small nylon way you can, desperately vying for the attention and affection of said older sister who must see how fragile you are; how angry and frustrated you are by everything, your altogether sullen nature when not bursting into tears but then, she has her own issues to deal with…

Peppermint Soda [Diabolo menthe] is arguably the first of its kind – a female-helmed and led film which deals explicitly with girls and growing pains, sisterhood, and its unbreakable bond. There have been many male-led dramas, not least The 400 Blows (1959), to which this film owes its final shot yet films such as this and À ma soeur [Fat Girl] (2001), Tomboy (2011), The Wonders (2015), Mustang (2015 and Divines (2016) are particularly important because they are framed and written by women and depict how girls see themselves, and not only validate their existence in a largely non-sexualised way but tend to encapsulate beautiful storytelling within a very small window of adolescence and puberty.

Based upon director Diane Kurys’ own youth, this delightful film largely takes place within the classrooms and corridors of the Lycée Jules-Ferry. The teachers at which are sarcastic, cruel, sadistic and mean-spirited or a laughing stock held together by frayed nerves. The whole place has a surreal edge to it, and its characters. Keep an eye out for Mme. Clou (Dora Doll) the gym teacher who dresses in an Adidas tracksuit, neck towel, full face of make-up, fur coat and hair turban.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For all of its lighter moments, there are heartbreaking ones – played out against elements of the political climate in 60s France – few of which are resolved. Peppermint Soda is light on plot and is edited together like several vignettes, and while Anne (Eléonore Klarwein) is very much the main character, there are moments which veer into Frédérique’s (Odile Michel) subjectivity and it’s seamless. Both sisters exhibit a maturity which can dissolve, more noticeably by the former, into a petulant childishness which strikes a chord, we’ve all been there, and it’s what makes this story so universal and timeless. The siblings are together and yet totally separate as they advance into adulthood and realise that it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Friendships are forged, broken and lost in an instant.

Frank, funny and painfully realistic, Peppermint Soda is deftly directed, charmingly written, and a triumphant portrayal of the edge of adolescence, and who doesn’t love to be reminded of that time. Merde!

Boy (2015) dir. Taika Waititi

The year is 1984, and 11-year-old Boy (James Rolleston) welcomes us into his “interesting world” as he stands before his classmates and recounts who he is, what he likes (Michael Jackson), and who he shares his life with. There’s Nan (Mavis Paenga), cousins Miria, Kiko, Che, Hucks and Kelly, Aunty Gracey (Rachel House) who’s a tennis coach, the “mailman”, school bus driver and manager of the local shop; a pet goat named Leaf and a six-year-old brother Rocky (Te Aho Eketone-Whitu). Rocky thinks he has superpowers. Bless him, he doesn’t.

Boy’s interests include art (cue desk graffiti), social studies (getting picked on by older boys) and Michael Jackson. His other idol is his father, Alamein (Taika Waititi), a master carver, deep sea treasure diver, captain of the rugby team and holder of the record for punching people out with a single fist. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth but in Boy’s world, reality isn’t really the mainstay, he is a kid after all.

After Nan leaves to attend a funeral, he’s the man of the house and so he ensures all the younger children wash, eat and generally thrive, until Alamein Sr returns to Waihau Bay, fresh out of prison, seeking a “treasure” he buried in the field opposite the house. It gives him the perfect opportunity to reconnect with his estranged sons as long as they stop calling him Dad… it’s “weird”. Boy, initially thrilled by his father’s return, soon comes to the painful realisation that his father isn’t the hero he imagined. In complete contrast, Rocky’s reluctance to accept the man he has never known comes full circle and his doubt and suspicion turns to respect. The moment all three boys reach the point of transformation is a deeply moving and beautiful thing, and harks back to that opening quote perfectly – “You could be happy here… we could grow up together” (E.T., 1982). 

Boy is a thematically rich film and one which comments upon rurality, poverty, childhood, adulthood and grief while using magical realism, animation, mythology and a free-spirited style which also incorporates intertextuality and 80s popular culture to bring Waititi’s approach to identity and masculinity to the screen. That very specific form and unique Aotearoa voice has been so prevalent since those couple of Taika-written and directed episodes of Flight of the Conchords.

While including visuals of the sublime landscape, hostile terrain and open roads that have long been associated with New Zealand cinema, Waititi also gives us a Māori film rich in culture and beautiful hues of colour via a nostalgic trip to the eighties. The absentee father within a Māori family is just one of the thematic links Boy has to Once Were Warriors (1994) and Whale Rider (2002), however, here the comedy and pathos, drama and fantasy is – as one has come to expect following Eagle vs. Shark (2007), What We Do in the Shadows (2014) and Hunt for the Wilderpeople (2016) – charmingly measured.

Rolleston is wonderful in the titular role, however, one can’t help but fall in love with the largely mute and thoughtful, cape-wearing Rocky as both boys shine in this endearing and magical coming-of-age drama. Waititi is equally adorable as the misunderstood big boy of the trio, Alamein, a man who has yet to truly face his responsibilities or fully embrace adulthood but whose little men will help him pull his socks up. Boy is a big-hearted film – possibly even Waititi’s finest – poignant, funny, an effortless joy. Oh, and that Haka hybrid is genius.

Moana (2016) dir. Ron Clements & Ron Musker

In the beginning there was only ocean…

For the inhabitants of Motunui, that ocean is vast, and while once conquerable, it now serves to separate rather than unite, and to provide food. For Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), daughter of Chief Tui (Temuera Morrison), it calls to her. From infancy, she has a special relationship with it, hell, it’s even the translation of her name. Her beloved Gramma Tala (Rachel House) regales her with tales of myths and legends; amongst them, that of Te Fiti, Te Kā, and Maui.

Moana is fearless and yet torn – as she matures – between her birthright, of becoming Chief or giving in to the niggling voice within and setting sail beyond the reef. She’s at odds with who she is and who her people need her to be. When circumstances change and her village starts to suffer, she summons her courage and determination, along with hapless stowaway Hei Hei (Alan Tudyk), and restore the heart of Te Fiti. Her heart previously stolen by Maui (Dwayne Johnson) – chump, braggart, all hubris and hair (and moko). Moana must persuade the demigod to help her reverse the damage he has caused.

Disney’s last dabble with Polynesian culture was in 2002 with the Hawaii-set Lilo and StitchMoana – although the period of time is never established – is most definitely the pre-cursor to Lilo… – the island of Hawaii still to be discovered by the voyaging canoes of the master navigators using star constellations to guide them to lands old and new.

A non-white cast certainly makes a refreshing change. In fact, only the gormless chicken is voiced by a non-Polynesian with the remainder of the cast made up of Hawaiian, Samoan, Māori, and Tahitian natives, this authenticity makes all the difference. Yes, it’s a Disney-fied version of history but oh what a beautiful one with the music making it. Moana’s songs are written and composed by the trifecta that is Opetaia Foa’i, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Mark Mancina. They are heartfelt, incredibly catchy and above all memorable with highlights including ‘Where You Are’, ‘How Far I’ll Go’, ‘We Know the Way’, ‘You’re Welcome’ and the Bowie-inspired, Jemaine Clement solo, ‘Shiny’. This soundtrack is up there with Beauty and the Beast (1991) and The Lion King (1994) for standard, originality, and (eventual) longevity.

In keeping with the recent trend, there isn’t a romantic slant to the narrative. Just like Merida in Brave and Elsa in Frozen, the love story element is reframed within a pre-existing relationship, i.e. Merida and her mother, Elsa and her sister, and their respective narrative drives stem from finding their place in the world. By comparison, Moana is about a girl and her grandmother and celebrating tradition, embracing heritage, and restoring balance. Like an animated, musical, slant on Niki Caro’s Whale Rider (2002).

Directors John Musker and Ron Clements having previously helmed The Little Mermaid (1989), Aladdin (1992), and The Princess and the Frog (2009) have, with Moana, created an incredibly respectful window into a previously untouched culture, certainly by Disney standards. This not only gives young vahines a voice but recognisable onscreen figures to identify with. Moana embraces her independence to venture and veer from her expected path, assert herself and listen to that voice within. What’s not to love about that?

The film is a sheer joy from beginning to end; 113 glorious minutes in which to be engulfed, immersed, and swallowed by an entire oceanic culture.