Here comes the rain again
After the Waterfall
It was never going to be a laugh a minute. Cute-as-a-button four-year old Pearl goes missing while out in the bush with her dad, his wife leaves him, and the man’s world falls apart. Even the luscious West Auckland scenery can’t brighten what is inevitably a sombre but subtly told account of grief and self-destruction.
The film opens at a happy family celebration where John (TV’s “Outrageous Fortune”‘s Antony Starr in dramatic mode, and doing a very fine job of it, too) mans the barbeque, in love with wife Ana, daughter Pearl, and on seemingly good terms with his parents. Right from the opening frames the scene-setting is perfect: seen through the lens of somewhat grainy home-video style photography, we eavesdrop on snatches of conversation that soon show that the idyllic Piha life is not all it seems. Subtle is the key word here, however – and we’re given plenty of time (without it being laid on too thick) to appreciate John’s world before everything changes.
Losing a child must surely be one of the most devastating experiences any human can go through, and it’s an understandable tragedy that so few marriages survive the heartbreak and recriminations that often follow. Within weeks of “losing” Pearl, John winds up in hospital while his grieving wife takes up with his best mate. A few years later he’s living with his negative and taciturn widowed father, and basically letting himself go to seed. Now working as a taxi driver, his wedding ring resolutely on his left hand despite his estrangement from Ana, John’s day-to-day life is miserable.
The film touches on the notion that Pearl’s disappearance is a mystery, allowing the parents (and us) to countenance her potential return. But the story is mostly about John’s downward spiral, and his response to the various happenings in his life many years after the fact. It’s well-acted, realistic and gently meaningful without any of the emotive music or blistering show-downs that manipulate many a bigger film’s audience. Writer/director Simone Horrocks has done an admirable job in her first feature.
That said, After the Waterfall perpetuates the body of New Zealand films so briefly interrupted by the relative frivolity of the largely unpopular Predicament, by tackling a tragic topic and staging it and its aftermath in our pretty countryside. Though the film inevitably ends on an optimistic note, it drags us through some pretty dark places without giving us much we didn’t see in the likes of Rain and In My Father’s Den. It’s a worthy addition to this oeuvre, but it sure would be nice if we could produce something simply entertaining. The Hobbit, anyone?