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Mahana opens to better local reviews

Lee Tamahori’s return to making films in NZ wasn’t well-received overseas, but local critics have found more to like.

Peter Calder’s 4* Herald review sums up the film as “a tight family saga of promises broken and secrets kept. The result has a universal appeal”.

With the notable exception of the Jerusalem Post, the universe didn’t seem to find it appealing on debut at last month’s Berlinale. Calder’s opinion is more in sync with other local critics, however.

While one always appreciates good production values, it’s often disconcerting when a review focuses on those, as Calder’s review does.

Cinematographer Ginny Loane … conjures a world full of elemental dangers – water, fire, sharpened steel – and delivers vistas of dusty roads, shifting tides of sheep or silvery moonlit pastures. A hat-tip, too, to Mark Robins and Liz McGregor, for production and costume design respectively, who evoke a past that has a patina of age even as it seems brand-new.

Calder does admit “some of the acting is less than compelling”, which was an issue other critics also took up.

Darren Bevan’s review considered Mahana “a film of two pieces, wildly meshed together”.

It “feels parochial and limited, when its scope should have been wider”, he claims, which might be why some of the international reviewers found it less engaging than its makers would have hoped.

Stuff took several bites of the Mahana cherry, offering reviews by Graeme Tuckett, Sarah Watt and James Croot.

Overall, the three were positive. Tuckett (3.5*) also praised the technical aspects shared some of Bevan’s concerns (“feels more melodramatic than it needed to … the tone lurches”), concluding, “I ended up respecting it for being a pretty good film, but frustrated by how close it came to being a great one.”

Croot (also 3.5*) noted the “less than favourable international reviews” before saying, “It’s a relief to say this Kiwi period drama is actually pretty good.”.He acknowledged Tamahori’s skills (“an ability to draw epic drama out of intimate moments and carry the audience along on an emotional rollercoaster.“) and summed up, “Mahana works best as an evocative period drama that offers a fresh view of Maori life in mid-20th Century New Zealand.”

every family soap and Shakespearian trope

Watt (4*) credited Tamahori with “a lightness of touch and a connection with Aotearoa which does justice to Ihimaera’s tale and beautifully showcases part of our nation’s history”.

She also observed, “For local audiences, there’s something magical about seeing Morrison and Nancy Brunning on screen together again after what feels like a long absence.”

Mahana is now in cinemas.

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