Mahana [The Patriarch] (2016)

Director: Lee Tamahori
Writer: John Collee
Based on: Witi Ihimaera‘s novel Bulibasha: King Of The Gypsies
Cast: Temuera Morrison, Akuhata Keefe, Nancy Brunning, Jim Moriarty, Regan Taylor, Maria Walker, Sienna MacKinlay, Tuhiwhakauraoterangi Wallace-Ihakara, Kyra McRae, Eds Eramiha, Ngahuia Piripi, Yvonne Porter, Te Kohe Tuhaka
Seen on: 12.10.2016

Simeon (Akuhate Keefe) has always been a good kid. But now he is approaching adulthood and is ready to make the transition and work with the men of his family in their sheep business. But his grandfather Tamihana (Temuera Morrison) is not convinced of Simeon’s maturity and tells him to stay behind with the women and other children. This disappointment causes Simeon to reevaluate Tamihana as the undisputed ruler of the family and even the entire family’s rivalry with the Poate family.

Mahana is beautiful, big, emotional cinema. It’s a sweeping epic as only a private family story can be and left me crying my heart out more than once.

Film Poster of "Mahana"

Mahana stands and falls with its characters and fortunately, it doesn’t have anything to fear in that regard. They are complex and sensitively portrayed, both by the script and by the fantastic cast. Especially the way we get to know them – slowly and yet all at once – is a master class in handling information about characters. A particular stand-out is Nancy Brunning as Ramona, Simeon’s grandmother. Brunning doesn’t miss a single note and with every turn of events, we get a new facet of Ramona’s personality that wasn’t there before and yet fits perfectly – and Brunning often manages to pack that into a single glance or gesture.

Which makes it doubly sad that Mahana is so incredibly preoccupied with the men in its story. I wish the film had devoted more time to the women in it who are relegated to the sidelines too much. But then, the film generally is not a particularly feminist work. While it calls into question Tamihana as the patriarch in the family, it only question his fitness to do the job, not the system of patriarchy itself. For a feminist like me, this is of course a pity and a missed opportunity.

Temuera Morrison as Grandfather Mahana and Nancy Brunning as Ramona Mahana

But apart from that and the fact that we didn’t get subtitles when the characters spoke Maori (I don’t know if that was a decision on the filmmaker’s side or if we saw a broken copy in the cinema, but either way it was weird and devalued the Maori dialogue as something that didn’t need to be understood), I really have no complaints whatsoever about the film. To the contrary, I’m full of love for it, although it left me a blubbering, emotional mess.

With beautiful cinematography, strong characters, an engaging story in a marginalized setting and great performances, I really can’t believe that Mahana hasn’t made a bigger splash so far and I can only urge you to see it.

Temuera Morrison as Grandfather Mahana and Akuhata Keefe as Simeon Mahana

Summarizing: Beautiful.

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