Reviews and notes
Barry Barclay's NGATI
is a deceptively simple low-budget feature that releases the miraculous essence of community, strength and joy.
The film signals the gathering strength of Maori New Zealanders in the industry, and the kind of insight and skill they can bring to human themes that too often emerge jaded and unpalatable.
In its measured form and style, NGATI
- the Maori word for tribe - reflects Barclay's background in documentary film making (The Neglected Miracle
, Tangata Whenua
) and something of the early Satyajit Ray films (Pather Panchali
, The World Of Apu
). But in this, his first dramatic feature, he clearly is his own directorial master.
Set in a tiny New Zealand coastal town, circa 1948, NGATI
has as a pivot the homecoming of a young man Greg Shaw (Ross Girven). Unaware of his exact cultural heritage and roots, he becomes absorbed in the heartbeat of the predominantly Maori community, which has time for its youngest and oldest inhabitant even as the forces of economic progress beat at the door.
In this interregnum, both Maori and European medicines are used in the attempt to save the life of a young boy, Ropata (Oliver Jones) while his friend Tione (Michael Tibble) keeps loyal watch. Sally (Connie Pewhairangi), fresh from the city, urges the local men to run the local meatworks themselves when the owners threaten to pull out. Iwi (Wi Kuki Kaa), Ropata's father, is given the chance to hold back the closure when he assumes management of a big sheep and cattle station.
Greg's hosts, the local European doctor Paul Bennett (Norman Fletcher), his wife Sam (Alice Fraser) and their daughter and local schoolteacher Jenny (Judy McIntosh) show their ease in crossing cultural boundaries as a "minority" in the community.
Barclay's character focus settles most on Greg and young Tione, the one in the process of finding his identity, the other about to lose his closest friend.
It is the community - the sum of the parts - that predominates, and which is the catalyst for a thumpingly powerful ending which Barclay glides you towards and through almost before you realize it. This evocation of the ever-recurring surge of life and death is profound and resonant.
This achievement is not gained without cost. The strands of the plot (screenplay, Tama Poata) are elusive at times, while the dialog contains its share of non sequiturs.
The cast is a mix of professional and very amateur. Best acting moments come from Fraser, Mclntosh and Kaa, and in a scene between Girven and Tibble towards film's end that ties the main strands.
The photography of Rory O'Shea is impeccable, while the soundtrack of Dalvanius should have spinoff hits in its blend of contemporary and Maori songs.
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