The Weight of Elephants
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st September 2013
Never act with children or animals, they say, and with effortlessly talented youngsters the focus of almost every frame, The Weight of Elephants is a case in point.
Filmmaker Daniel Borgman (a Kiwi now resident in Denmark) has created a stunning film that indulges local audiences with familiar locales photographed more beautifully than they’d look in real life.
The excellent New Zealand-Danish co-production begins luxuriously and somewhat enigmatically with sweeping slo-mo shots set to an exquisite soundtrack. In the heartland of New Zealand, young Adrian lives a strained existence with his fraught grandma and mentally ill Uncle Rory (Out of the Blue’s Matthew Sunderland, understated yet compelling, as always).
Once he’s had his head shaved for nits, Adrian’s little face is in frame for most of the movie, and though his travails are those of many a young Kiwi lad – the longing to be accepted by friends and feel secure in his family – novice actor Demos Murphy moves like he’s living the experience rather than acting it out. Saying very little, he conveys a great deal.
Adrian shares many touching scenes with the kids who materialise next door, in a plot that is gently involving, opening up myriad threads that feel urgent in their resolution.
Therefore, if there is any complaint, it’s that this truly cinematic and beautiful film stops more suddenly than you might wish. It feels like the funding ran out at 83 minutes, but I’d hate to think that is what actually happened so will assume it was simply a daring decision by the writer (Borgman himself adapted Sonya Hartnett’s novel “Of A Boy”). While it may leave viewers feeling short-changed, the preceding 82 minutes nonetheless account for some of the finest local cinema we’ve seen in an age.