White Lies

White Lies

(Tuakiri Huna)

Redemption comes at a price.

New Zealand period drama based on the novella Medicine Woman by Witi Ihimaera, author of The Whale Rider. Stars Whirimako Black, Rachel House and Antonia Prebble.... More

Paraiti (Black) is the healer and midwife of her rural, tribal people. But new laws are in force prohibiting unlicensed healers. On a rare trip to the city, she is approached by Maraea (House), the servant of a wealthy woman, Rebecca (Prebble), who seeks her knowledge and assistance in order to hide a secret which will destroy Rebecca’s position in European settler society. If the secret is uncovered a life may be lost, but hiding it may also have fatal consequences, forcing a clash of beliefs, deception and ultimate salvation.Hide

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Flicks Review

This atmospheric 1920s-set tale from Mexican writer-director Dana Rotberg (who made her home in New Zealand after seeing the 2002 adaptation of Witi Ihimaera’s Whale Rider) is essentially a chamber piece populated by three very good acting performances. Best known as a Maori recording artist, Whirimako Black is a revelation in her first film role, while Rachel House (Whale Rider) does the heavy emotional lifting and a porcelain and prim Antonia Prebble (TV’s The Blue Rose) does terse and tragic with equal aplomb.... More

Yes, be warned this is not a film for the faint-hearted or even mildly pregnant as some scenes may seriously disturb (for once it’s a film where women rather than men will find themselves crossing their legs). That may be partly due to the haunting cinematography of Alun Bollinger (River Queen), especially when coupled with John Psathas' atmospheric and forboding, yet sparse and understated score.

But while the story takes a couple of unexpected turns (although its cinematic title is a big clue) and builds to a nicely judged ending, it does take a long time to get going. Some of the editing feels a bit rough (some scenes are too short, others too long) and the limited locations and action  make it all seem a little too theatrical, a story more suited to the live stage.Hide

The Peoples' Reviews

Average ratings from 4 ratings, 4 reviews
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BY JenniferJ wannabe

I too like to support Kiwi movies - but this was so disappointing. Whirimako Black was outstanding; Antonia Prebble looked exquisite and was mostly convincing, particularly in those gruelling, looooong birth scenes, though - maybe just because of the characters they were playing - neither she nor Rachel House fully engaged the viewer. The scenery, of course, was beautiful, period detail in sets and costume excellent. However, the actors, and the bones of a powerful story, were stifled by the... More stilted, leaden direction which placed a full stop between each scene and the next, and by the pacing, which was so slow and even that it became soporific. I have always been proud of New Zealand's film industry - but this just was not up to standard.Hide

BY Deb superstar

I like to support kiwi movies but its hard to find something to like in White Lies. Everyone moved slowly and acted poorly. The setting was lovely. It was great to hear Maori on the big screen but... it was just so terrible.

BY Weds_Loafers superstar

Six of us (2 females, 4 males) saw this movie and an interesting divergence of opinion amongst us suggests that women will like this film more than men, though it is somewhat harrowing. It is both beautifully filmed (Alun Bollinger's work) and acted, though Antonia Prebble seems a bit wooden at times. The film's real problem, though, apart from the fact that very little happens, is that it is at least 30 minutes too long (we were unanimous on that!) and some of the scenes are just interminably... More loooooooong! A good score by John Psathas completes the NZ content and it is a pleasure to have many scenes in Maori with English subtitles. However, of all the great novels that have been written in this country, we were scratching our heads as to why this one was made into a movie. Two scores this week - 3 stars from the men; 4 stars from the women.Hide

I was fortunate enough over the weekend to attend a screening of NZ feature White Lies followed by a revealing Q+A session with writer/director Dana Rotberg, star Antonia Prebble, composer John Psathas and novelist Witi Ihimaera. It might seem odd for a film about NZ colonial identity to be made by a Mexican filmmaker, but surprisingly the story benefits greatly by coming from an outside perspective.

Adapted from Witi Ihimaera's novella Medicine Woman, White Lies doesn't have a particularly... More well told story at its core, but is nonetheless an important film for NZ to have produced. Set during the early days of settlement, the film depicts a sinuous power struggle between colonial housewife Rebecca (Prebble), her housemaid Maraea (Rachel House), and Paraiti (Whirimako Black), the Maori medicine woman whose particular skills and discretion are sought.

The shifting dominance of each of these women, representing different aspects of female identity at the time, weaves a compelling and bleak narrative, but some of the story beats that should have had greater impact unfortunately fall a little flat. Elements that needed more room to breathe play out much too quickly, not allowing audiences time to digest, although the film's closing scenes are powerful. White Lies deals with uncomfortable subject matter, and Rotberg doesn't shy away from the story's most tragic aspects.

Thankfully, White Lies looks better than any NZ film for some time. The cinematography by NZ legend Alun Bollinger gives the rugged setting of the film a beautifully oppressive quality reminiscent of his work on Vincent Ward's Vigil, and has moments of rare, haunting beauty.

It's a shame that most viewers will be unable to hear Rotberg speak about her approach to the film. The director's keen understanding of the tragedy of colonialism in her homeland brings significance to White Lies that a Kiwi director may have been guarded about addressing, and hearing her thoughts on NZ colonialism and our nervous attitude about exposing our own violent past was incredibly refreshing. Her desire to treat the subject with integrity while never sugarcoating it comes across with wonderful passion, and while she remained respectful of the source material, she makes no excuses for altering Ihimaera's work to suit her own vision. Despite the film's faults, White Lies takes more risks and offers deeper perspective than most NZ films of late.


The Press Reviews

  • The languorous pace comes close to dragging at times... There are also some jarringly implausible moments. Nonetheless, it's an impressive and memorable piece of work from our most prolific production house. Full Review

  • But for Black's performance, for Ihimaera's well-wrought plotting, and for Alun Bollinger's wonderful cinematography, White Lies is still a very easy film to recommend. Full Review

  • White Lies is a bit of a tough watch thanks to poor pacing. Full Review

  • Cultural specificity and a quietly powerful central performance help overcome the missteps of Dana Rotberg's uneven drama. Full Review

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