This review first appeared in the Sunday Star Times, 2nd October 2011
This New Zealand co-production shot on location in Samoa is exquisitely photographed, and gives a true insight into the local, non-touristy side of life on the island of Upolu. Desperately slow in pace, and lush in its tropical ambience, it tells the story of an unusual family living day-to-day, shunned by their community for reasons that become clear at their own pace.
Vaaiga (Tausili Pushparaj in her first feature film role) was banished from her ancestral village and her family 17 years prior, leaving her with an aching wound that she has patched up as she gets on with life with her daughter and husband. When her brothers front up and aggressively demand her return and contrition, Vaaiga’s gentle but firm resistance causes problems for all, and challenges her husband’s assumptions and fears about his ability to provide for and protect her. Meanwhile, their rebellious daughter Litia is caught up in a scandal that risks bringing more shame into their family.
As with its location and sparse script the story is simple in its action, yet complex in its portrayal of the deep emotion underpinning human relationships. There are few light moments (notably the lecture given to his players by a fertiliser-spraying rugby coach) and the beautiful, calm Vaaiga issues one solitary smile before things get really grim. On the whole the largely local cast, some of whom are amateur, manage extraordinary performances. However, the pace often dips and the audience risks losing its engagement between key moments. Many will be touched and affected, while others may find it a little too languid.