The Great Maiden’s Blush
This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 1st May 2016
We’re scarcely five months in and already 2016 is proving a great year for New Zealand film, having proffered a boisterous Samoan comedy, an animated war documentary, a socially-minded drama and a straight-faced comedy about some wilderpeople.
Adding to the anthology of gritty stories told poetically (one of the abovementioned wilderpeople long ago coined Kiwi film as “the cinema of unease”), The Great Maiden’s Blush tells the intimate tale of two women from very different walks of life whose paths cross in the ante-natal ward of a hospital. In typical odd-couple form, their trajectory towards friendship starts with wariness and assumptions as each tries to figure the other out: Bunni, the girl-racer with a tragic past (a deeply committed performance by The Dark Horse’s Miriama McDowell) and Aila (a strong leading role debut by Renee Lyons), the classical musician who harbours a shameful secret.
The writing-directing team of Andrea Bosshard and Shane Loader (both at the helm of 2011’s Hook, Line and Sinker) keep their characters, and the audience, engaged through a delicately-paced plot of slow reveals and mysterious flashbacks – occasionally too opaque for this viewer, although leaving questions in the mind of the audience certainly provokes post-match discussion. At the heart of this thoughtful “woman’s picture”, however, is the unambiguous and affecting ache of bearing a child into less-than-ideal circumstances. While Maiden’s dialogue often follows the path most-anticipated, Bunni and Aila’s backstories provide endless surprises and strange twists.
Notably, Blush’s aesthetic leaves no film technique unused, resulting in an often beautiful melange of layered shots and artfully-relayed messages amidst diverse camera shots. In keeping with the non-linear narrative, the film often feels like an art installation of myriad heartfelt ideas. Enhanced throughout by a stunning classical soundtrack, one scene in particular, where fish-out-of-water Bunni learns to breathe opera, is particularly lovely.
As each woman’s denouement is revealed, the story loses some of the gritty authenticity which was so promising early on, but The Great Maiden’s Blush is nonetheless a beautifully-crafted and resonant parable on motherhood and the unbreakable bonds it fosters.