Eight Māori female directors contribute a sequence to this feature which unfolds around the tangi of a boy who died at the hands of his caregiver.... More

"We see a single death through the differing lenses of the extended family, community, and in one sharp sequence, national media too. Waru weaves multiple reactions and offers a glimpse into the events which ensue upon the killing of a child and the conflict created among loved ones." (RNZ/The Hui)Hide

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"When I died, I saw the whole world."

These are the first words we hear in WARU, whispered in voice-over by the titular character, a young Maori boy whom we will never meet - because he has been murdered. His tangi, taking place on a rural marae, is today; the consequences and implications of his death, we realise with sobering clarity, will resonate for years, possibly generations, through those who have survived him.

Rest assured that this is not a re-run of Once Were Warriors'... More sledgehammer melodrama. Rather than dramatize the abuse of an innocent, which could amount to exploitative sensationalism even in the most careful artistic hands, WARU takes a more oblique, nuanced, and altogether persuasive approach to this subject matter. The film is comprised of eight chapters, all set on the morning of the tangi but taking place at various locations, and each observing how this tragedy has impacted, or might impact, different women on the periphery of Waru's story.

Aunty Charm is running the marae kitchen as mourners arrive; Anahera is teaching Waru's classmates at the local school; Mihi is stuck at home, her car broken down, her call to WINZ on indefinite hold; Em is staggering home after a night on the piss; Kiritapu is a mainstream news show's token brown compliment to a scummy Mike Hoskings-type host; Ranui and Hinga are Waru's great-grandmothers and conflicting kaitiaki of his departing spirit; Mere, a tween cousin to Waru, watches over her little brother as he plays on the marae grounds; sisters Titty and Bash, in the final chapter, wrestle with the agonizing dilemma of knowing what needs to be done - but not knowing if they have the strength to do it. Note here: there's not a bad performance in the bunch.

Each chapter, written and directed by a different film-maker (all wahine Maori!), is realised in an unbroken take approximating real time, the action choreographed around a fluid-moving camera. This format serves some of the stories better than others but, on the whole, it's immersive, and an effective "uniform" for the convergence of voices and viewpoints. Each story tackles it's literal subject(s) head-on, but there are layers of pertinent subtext, too: the ways that racial stereotyping can sour even well-meaning efforts to bridge cultural divides; the boundaries of responsibility we draw between ourselves and others; and, of course, how establishing "whodunit?" in cases such as Waru's may set the wheels of legal justice turning, and appease our collective shame by presenting concrete targets for scorn and judgment, but also permits us to stop short of answering the larger question "why does this keep happening here, and what can we do about it?" In keeping with this last theme, the film lets its characters throw a lot of blame around, but boldly refuses to confirm the true identity of Waru's killer (or killers). The tone is appropriately sombre, but hope, courage, love, and a distinctly Maori sense of humour sparkle faintly even in the most emotionally wrenching scenes.

Films about such grave social issues mightn't fall into the broad category of "entertainment", but WARU is absorbing, powerful, and absolutely essential. It's from, and about, here-and-now. I couldn't stop thinking about it all night after I left the theatre, and it sprang right back to the forefront of my mind the minute I woke up the next day. It feels like an instant classic of our national cinema.

WARU screens as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.Hide

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