Waru – movie review

by Peter Calder / 01 November, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Waru

Stylistic boldness and an implicit call to arms make Waru a breathtaking watch.

A compendium of eight short films that meld into an impressive whole, Waru is a movie whose title character we never see. We hear him, though – his voice is the film’s first: “When I died, I saw the whole world,” he tells us in a breathy voiceover.

So a child’s death, the result, we soon gather, of neglect or abuse or both, is the impelling event, but we never see that, either. Rather the eight films (waru is Māori for eight), each named for its central female character, explore the lives of the people in the wider whānau and hapū.

Their stories brush against each other in time and space and even briefly overlap (though I noticed only one character who appeared twice), but combine to shine a light on the idea that, in contrast to the liberal piety, it may take a village to kill a child.

They do so within precise formal restraints: each film is a single shot; each lasts 10 minutes and its action purports to begin at 10am. It sounds like a gimmick, an antipodean Dogme, but as it slowly brings the concurrent realities of its stories into focus, it becomes a powerful tool.

Roimata Fox as Anahera in one of Waru’s eight segments.

The nuanced, crisply written pieces are full of telling moments only glanced at, but others are confronted head-on: this doesn’t always work – a sequence about the media is a bit heavy-handed – but when it does, it’s mind-altering. The film in which two kuia argue over where Waru’s body should lie, a ritualised encounter that Pakehā so often misunderstand, feels like an epicentre of sorts.

It’s a film about the damage done and the guilt carried, but it’s not as grim as that sounds. Indeed, to watch it is a thrilling, exhilarating experience, not just for its stylistic adventurousness but for the implicit call to arms: if there’s a key scene – the one that left me struggling to breathe – it’s the one that ends with a man asking, “What did she f---ing say?”

That line touches the pulse of it: it’s a women’s film in all senses of that phrase, but it makes the same demand of all of us: that we do confront the depth of our failure to understand, and that we do not turn our backs.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

This article was first published in the October 28, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

Latest

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wrongful convictions
108539 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Crime

Top investigator urges police to speak up about wr…

by Mike White

Mike White talks to investigator Tim McKinnel, who says police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty.

Read more
Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations in talks with Scott Morrison
108570 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Politics

Jacinda Ardern to focus on Australia deportations…

by Craig McCulloch

PM Jacinda Ardern has doubled down on her criticism of Australia's deportation policy as "corrosive", ahead of her meeting with Scott Morrison.

Read more
How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their identity
108572 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Social issues

How closed adoption robbed Māori children of their…

by Te Aniwa Hurihanganui

Te Aniwa Hurihanganui looks at the outdated Adoption Act and its impact on Māori who grew up desperate to reconnect.

Read more
The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh removal
108377 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

The new robotic surgery aiding vaginal mesh remova…

by Ruth Nichol

Women with complications caused by deeply embedded vaginal mesh are being helped by a pioneering surgical technique.

Read more
A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can teach us
108544 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Health

A beautiful mind: What people with Alzheimer's can…

by Fergus Riley

North Auckland farmer Fergus Riley has uncovered many important lessons in caring for his father Peter, who has Alzheimer’s.

Read more
Instagram's trial to hide the number of 'likes' could save users' self-esteem
108617 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Psychology

Instagram's trial to hide the number of 'likes' co…

by Joanne Orlando

Instagram is running a social media experiment to see what happens when it hides the number of likes on photos and other posts.

Read more
The Hawke's Bay farm producing meat of uncommon quality
108594 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Food

The Hawke's Bay farm producing meat of uncommon qu…

by Simon Farrell-Green

Duncan Smith and Annabel Tapley-Smith weren’t satisfied with producing meat of uncommon quality. So they bought a butchery.

Read more
When biodegradable plastic is not actually biodegradable
108562 2019-07-19 00:00:00Z Planet

When biodegradable plastic is not actually biodegr…

by Isabel Thomlinson

A study on biodegradable plastic bags found they were still intact after three years spent either at sea or buried underground.

Read more