Mahana (The Patriarch)Berlin Film Festival 2016
In the 1960s, New Zealand was home to less than 2.5 million people – with around 25 million sheep. It’s shearing these sheep that funds and feeds Tamihana Mahana (Temuera Morrison) and his extended family, and he rules his wool-driven empire with understated gruffness. This empire also happens to be at war with a neighbouring family of shearers due to a decades-old grudge. Tamihana’s gruffness can unexpectedly erupt into violence, and at times it’s as though Morrison is channeling his character, Jake “The Muss”, from 1993’s Once Were Warriors, a previous collaboration with director Lee Tamahori. Much like Jake, Tamihana is a domineering figure who controls his family with threats of violence and of being cast away from the family unit. These threats are sometimes followed through with a brutality that, while shocking, is very much in character.
Morrison receives top billing, but the film is more the story of Simeon (Akuhata Keefe), Tamihana’s grandson. Simeon displays an enquiring mind and an unwillingness to accept his grandfather’s word just because this is traditionally what the family does. Simeon’s path to independence leads to the conflicts that drive the film along, as the family struggles to emerge from the shadow that Tamihana has cast over the land. Keefe is a remarkable find, and all the child performers here are admirable.
New Zealand has featured heavily in cinema before, and Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy caused a noticeable bump in tourism figures. Tamahori’s New Zealand is the real deal, and the beauty and isolation of the landscape perfectly complements the mood and motives of several family members. Small towns abruptly end and become green fields and rolling hills, the sort of mild wilderness that makes escape seem like a mighty tempting proposition.
Revelations about the extent of Tamihana’s ruthlessness could easily veer off into melodrama, but Tamahori deftly keeps things bold and yet credible. Mahana is a fascinating Shakespearean drama (with sheep) that will make viewers want to book a holiday to New Zealand. Just so long as they can avoid Jake “The Muss” and Tamihana Mahana.
Mahana (The Patriarch) does not yet have an official UK release date.
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Watch the trailer for Mahana (The Patriarch) here: