Waru (4 stars)

Waru

Powerful portmanteau film about the death of a New Zealand child made by eight Māori women directors

There's something uniquely powerful about this portmanteau film made entirely by Māori women directors and starring Māori women in the lead roles. Eight ten-minute shorts are woven together as a continuous shot to convey the impact of the death of a young boy on the day of his funeral in the community; the cumulative effect is a chorus of resounding emotional and thought-provoking material.

Opening in the busy kitchen of Charm (Tanea Heke), who is preparing a feast for Waru's funeral, the sense of sadness and frustration is palpable — yet so is humour, as two kids keep playfully wandering in to tell her all about the goings on at the tribal meeting house. Life goes on though interior emotions run high. It's a great opener that sets the scene for verbal clashes, vulnerable displays and socio-political discussion.

Taken on their own, each vignette reveals detailed depictions of traditional and modern life that passionately marries place and culture while also challenging deeply ingrained beliefs. As a whole the entire film is a perfectly packaged and stirring expression of the strength of Māori women in the face of adversity.

Each filmmaker places her own stamp on their short with Ainsley Gardiner, Casey Kaa, Renae Maihi, Awanui Simich-Pene, Briar Grace Smith, Paula Whetu Jones, Chelsea Winstanley and Katie Wolfe all effectively directing a talented cast who turn in affecting performances. Music from New Zealand rapper Ladi6 appears in a couple of the vignettes adding a feel-good factor, but also providing relatable lyrics about hard graft.

The themes of child abuse, alcoholism and the pressures of motherhood are tackled via various formally creative approaches, and tie in with a national epidemic of violence in New Zealand that has resulted in the death of many children. Waru tackles this serious subject matter head on with a poignant clarity that calls out destructive behaviour and pays tribute to the children who have passed.

Limited release from Fri 9 Nov.

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