Rain of the Children

Rain of the Children

(2008)

Vincent Ward's film unravels and re-imagines the story of Puhi, the Tuhoe woman he documented in 1978 for his early film In Spring One Plants Alone. Then she was 80 and caring for her schizophrenic adult son, and Ward was 21, a young art student capturing her way of life. While not the subject of his earlier film, Puhi believed herself to be cursed, and this unknowable curse is what preoccupies Ward now.

Puhi, he discovers, was chosen by Tuhoe prophet Rua Kenana to marry his son, she survived the 1916 police raid on Rua's Maungapohatu community and went on to have 14 children. Cutting between early footage, his own to-camera narration, contemporary interviews with Tuhoe descendents, and recreated historical sequences; Ward reveals both the heartrending background of Puhi's belief in the curse, and her lasting power over him. [Source: Sydney Film Festival 07]

Flicks Review

The subject of this film is Puhi; a spirited, fascinating and very endearing old lady. A hunched and haunted figure, with a face you could look at for hours; you very quickly get the impression Puhi - or 'Nanny' - has had a hell of a life. We are introduced to her in her eighties, living an insular existence in the Urewera Ranges near Gisborne and still caring for her schizophrenic adult son Niki (who is no less intriguing). This strange and tense family unit was also the subject of Ward's short documentary In Spring One Plants Alone, made 30 years ago. Puhi died shortly after that, but since then director Vincent Ward has harboured a hunch - that a dark undercurrent he observed held a much bigger story. Compelled, he revisits the subject in the brilliant Rain of the Children.

And find out more he does, unearthing a very tragic tale. Puhi (who would eventually have 14 children in total) was ordained to marry the son of Maori prophet Rua Kenana. Stately and long haired, Rua Kenana attempted to revitalise his people after the New Zealand Wars. He called himself the Messiah, likening their plight to that of the Israelites. He created an amazing settlement that housed up to 1,000 followers at Maungapohatu, which he called 'New Jerusalem'. Puhi's life - her husbands, her children's tragic fate and the subsequent belief in a curse - is weaved through these historic times.

I mention all this, because I was so intrigued with the story and found it hugely insightful. The characters and the historical backdrop are just so damn interesting.

The film uses a whirlwind of archival footage, photographs, awesome re-enactments (in which Ward's unique visual flair is on show), and interviews with descendants and historians. Ward may be guilty of over-playing things, or forcing a narrative. For instance, Puhi's 'narration' voiced by Rena Owen sits uneasily and seems to put words in Puhi's mouth (especially when juxtaposed against actual footage of her). But such irks are only slight distractions to the film's bold and imaginative presentation. Like the audience enjoys discovering this story, Ward is enjoying telling it. He unfurls it like a campfire tale, and it's consistently captivating.

Rain of the Children corners and captures a specific part of history and, perhaps more importantly, a specific part of our culture that isn't obvious nor well known. I've been recommending it to everyone.


The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 15 ratings, 16 reviews
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Beautifully done and pulled at the heart-strings. A film like this is few and far between and I could watch this film over and over again.


A disappointing movie from a film-maker reknowned for his dark portrayals of the landscape and people in New Zealand Aotearoa. Vincent over-dramatises almost every scene with dingy grainy footage that does nothing to capture the beauty of the Urewera's or the people who live there. As somebody who grew up in rural landscapes, very like the ones that appear in this film, I was dismayed but not surprised to see that Vincent Ward has once again managed to extract the worst in everything that he... More sees and force his dispiriting view on subjects and audience alike. In one scene after he has visited and filmed Puhi, he leaves the poor woman so distraught that she is reduced to chopping wood against the grain in a state of dejected melancholy. Where many New Zealanders who have lived rural lifestyles might have felt a sense of nostalgia for the old houses, huts and enamel utensils that Ward attempts to film - Ward somehow succeeds in removing all vestiges of rustic charm and replaces fond memories with bleak and cruel renditions bathed in tinted film stock that filters out all traces of warmth. Be warned - "Rain of the Children" is depressing. Perhaps as a film student Ward was inspired by miserable renditions of Van Gogh's life story and thought to style himself as an equally miserable artist. Such a pity that he chose imagery more befitting Edward Munch than Van Gogh's warm rich canvases that generally featured far more cosy tones in spite of hardship.Hide


everyone who works in health would benefit greatly from this movie, in all my years of training and the experiences ive had as a mental health nurse there are so many of our people who are misinterpretted, misjudged, misdiagnosed and mistreated, a truly beautifully captured film to be proud of, the best


I hear korero about this nanny of ours, she had this aura of wairua (spirituality) about her. We as children from Whakarae and Matahi knew she had mana and was a rangatira to us. She was humble and said very few words if not, nothing, she had this giggle hard to describe, which we thought was I must say stupid. She growled or waved her stick when kids laughed or teased Niki. Vincent Ward's research may have not been to what people expected but Puhi Kuia's normal life to us is just what we... More knew of her, he did good. Tumeke for bringing our nanny to life.Hide


I loved the story so much, it brought me to tears. I could watch that over and over,there was nothing wrong with the movie, it was the perfect life documentary...ps is more coming.......................i hope so


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The Press Reviews

  • In the stunning docu-drama "Rain of the Children," New Zealand-born filmmaker Vincent Ward revisits the past to unravel a mystery that's niggled at him for three decades. Here meticulous research reveals the family secrets burdening the stooped old Maori woman who was, in fact, the subject of Ward's 1978 observational film "In Spring One Plants Alone." It's a masterful companion piece -- a kind of marathon director's cut -- but it also stands alone as a haunting historical epic. "Rain" is guaranteed a warm art house reception. Full Review

  • In exploring the fascinating past of a character in one of his earlier films, director Vincent Ward gets in the way of his own storytelling. Full Review

  • 1/2 Ward narrates his story both on camera and in voice-over, and once I settled in and got used to that, I found the film a compelling watch. Full Review

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