Orphans & Kingdoms
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 10th April 2016
Orphans & Kingdoms is a terribly impressive first feature film by a local director which speaks volumes about the power of collaboration between talented, hard-working industry people and the inspiration of a damn good story.
Superficially, it’s a plot in which three Maori siblings break into a flash Waiheke Island home with the intention of living in luxury while they avoid an inevitable court order which would see them scattered to the far corners of the child welfare system. When the house’s owner returns unexpectedly, tensions rise and trouble ensues.
But thanks to writer-director Paolo Rotondo’s intelligent, compassionate take on the cliché, Orphans & Kingdoms addresses a topic that is a very current concern on New Zealand’s political and social landscape, but is all too often brushed under the Statistics Carpet. As the four characters knock up against each other’s assumptions and prejudices, they learn lessons that every Kiwi ought to be learning about those who constitute our wider society, and not just our cosy “community”. The young thieves say karakia before they wolf down a much-needed meal; the privileged Pakeha has money but no happiness.
Aesthetically, Rotondo and his crew have crafted a beautiful film, exploiting the eye-popping production design inherent in the Waiheke wealth (which hammers home the disgraceful chasm between the Needs and the Don’t Needs to great effect) through fabulous photography and an enchanting soundtrack. The fast pacing and variety in the camerawork keeps this chamber piece lively, relying on the strong central performances and a mostly bang-on script to deliver devastating revelations and credible reactions. Special mention goes to young Calae Hignett-Morgan (who debuted in The Dark Horse) for inhabiting the vicious, wounded kid whose internal conflict goes furthest towards illumination what’s really at the heart of the issue.
With genuine pathos and stacks of heart, Orphans & Kingdoms holds a mirror up to the ills of our society (quite literally: Rotondo used incidents from actual news stories to piece together his narrative), and while some of these problems may not come as a surprise, the characters’ handling of their lot is refreshingly illuminating.