Starring: Maria Walker, Awahina Rose Ashby, Ngapaki Moetara
Director: Chelsea Cohen, Ainsley Gardiner, Casey Kaa and 5 others
Running Time: 88 mins
Waru is a New Zealand film about the stories of eight different women and how they, the local Māori community, and the country’s wider population react to the death of a young boy.
Anthology films are so hard to get right, simply because you have to string together a series of deliberately separate stories into one cohesive package, and that’s something that Waru struggles to do. Although the overarching story arc is clear, that of tensions within the Māori community, as well as the struggles of women in such communities, it’s by no means the most emotionally riveting and enthralling piece of work.
The biggest problem is that, given that the film features eight ten-minute segments made by eight different directors, it’s really hard to keep everything feeling exactly the same. So, rather than following the continuous strain of drama throughout the movie, I ended up feeling a little put off by how disjointed the film felt, ultimately turning to comparing which of the segments was my favourite, rather than seeing it all as one whole.
Given that each segment only lasts around ten minutes or so, I felt that there really wasn’t enough time to develop each of the characters to a substantial level to make their drama particularly engaging. Again, some segments do this significantly better than others, and sometimes you do get some fascinating drama that hints at how good this film could be, but there are some parts where you’re just watching a person acting on screen with a camera pointing at them, and not feeling the necessary emotion for that it to be any more than that.
Moving on, one of the most striking things about the film is its camerawork. In order to make the different segments appear more similar, the film cleverly uses one cinematographic technique, a Birdman-style long take for every segment, which was very impressive to see pulled off in such strong fashion from a film with such a small budget.
However, as impressive as it is, I really didn’t feel all that much value came from the long shot technique. Above all, it’s a little distracting, as the camera floats and moves around a little too much for you not to notice it. In truth, being a little calmer and more still with the camera could have even doubled the dramatic power of the film, as some harder, stiller and wider shots would have emphasised the women’s hardships more powerfully.
The story here does have some good value and depth throughout, and often offers a fascinating insight into Māori culture, life and their relationship with both each other and the rest of New Zealand, something that’s obviously never much of a big focus on the other side of the world in Hollywood. Some parts of the film offer this drama in a far more engaging way than others, while some are just a little too empty and/or abstract to really make the difference.
Finally, we’ll move onto the performances, which are also a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, some of the performances are brilliant, looking at Maria Walker as the example as she stars in what is by far the film’s most memorable segment. The young Ngapaki Moetara also impresses in her section, as do a couple more. However, there are some segments which, particularly in conjunction with a lack of character development in their short time frame, don’t have the best performances to save them from being a little dull.
Overall, while I was impressed and intrigued by some elements of Waru, it’s a film that’s overall far too much of a mixed bag to really grab you with its drama. Sometimes it’s really on form, but it can also be really rather dull and hard to follow, further compounding the disjointed feeling of the anthology as a whole, and that’s why I’m giving it a 6.8.