Monterey - review

by David Larsen / 19 May, 2016
For five seconds, I didn't like Lisa Burd's Monterey at all. Another documentary, another upwards-peering, we-are-driving-somewhere opening shot. Why do so many documentaries, even good ones, grab their visual style off the shelf of pre-existing options without pause for thought? It's as though three out of every ten novels opened, "It was a dark and stormy night".

Then I got pulled into the story, and I stayed there. Smart editing choices. Good use of music. A quiet little story that isn't either quiet, or little - no story is little when you're inside it, unless it's being told badly, and the inner life of a Grey Lynn cafe isn't quiet at all. Food sizzles. Knives smack repeatedly down onto the chopping board. Customers chatter. We're constantly getting the soundtrack of the Monterey coffee lounge's day to day work, and its staff's day to day worries. Married owners Mira and Paul had experience in the food business - Paul was one of the founders of Dizengoff in Ponsonby - and wanted to create a good local cafe, which meant something very specific to them. One part of that was that they would be working on it together. "A family business is just the nicest thing you can do", says Paul.

Lots of face to the camera interviews, with Paul, with Mira, with Jacob, their first hire, with the rest of the staff. Jacob is a laid-back Samoan boy from Onehunga, with no cooking skills when he comes into the business. A large part of the film's project is to ease us into a sense of who he is, and why he and Paul and Mira all get on so well, and how their approaches to life differ and dovetail. So that when Paul decides he needs to bring in a high powered chef with more experience and new ideas, we're primed to understand why it's difficult for Jacob, and why that matters to the cafe.

And in fact it mattered to me. This is not a highly eventful film. But it has weight. A small people-oriented business is a hard proposition: it can be a good life, or it can be what you have instead of a life. Either way, properly told it's a Dickensian story. Burd has done a lovely job of capturing a chapter in the life of Auckland.

Monterey, Wednesday May 25, 8pm and Sunday May 29, 10am, Q Threatre. Q&A with Lisa Burd will follow both screenings. Book tickets.

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