Mahana has largely failed to impress at its world premiere in Berlin, at least if the early reviews are to be believed.
Screen Daily, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety reviewed the film over the weekend. None offered the kind of quotes to slap on a poster and, while there were some differences of opinion about specific aspects of the production, it was mostly a case of various shades of meh.
“It’s been a long time since anyone attempted to get an audience’s pulse racing by pumping up the excitement and rivalry of a local sheep-shearing contest.”
Variety’s summing up was as good as it got. Calling the film a “well-crafted (and wisely retitled) 1960s family saga” (the film is presented in Berlin under its former title The Patriarch), Peter DeBruge’s review said, [Mahana] blends incredible cultural specificity with Tamahori’s internationally accessible storytelling style.”
While it’s pleasant enough, “cultural specificity” is often reviewer for “nobody outside the country of origin will give a shit”.
For Screen Daily Wendy Ide’s take echoed that sentiment, if more politely. “It’s difficult to work out at whom the picture is targeted. Commercial prospects outside of New Zealand would seem limited.”
That assessment won’t be encouraging for those who invested in the film’s equity crowdfunding campaign, which made much of Tamahori’s return to NZ. Indeed, the last Robin Scholes-produced feature by a director returning to NZ after time in Hollywood drew similar criticism on its premiere at an A list festival, and disappeared back into the edit suite for several months.
David Rooney’s THR review damned with faint praise, deciding the film was “quite enjoyable as these things go”.
When the techos score the highest praise, it’s usually a sign the piece as a whole has failed to hit its target. “Cinematographer Ginny Loane’s crisp, handsome compositions of the verdant countryside with its rolling hills are among the movie’s chief attractions.”
Ide was less convinced, claiming, “There’s so much soft focus that you start to wonder if there is something wrong with your eyes.”
When a review contains a sentence which opens, “A director more capable than Tamahori…” it’s clear the writer had little love for film.
Other brickbats offered included descriptions of the film as “soap opera … overblown Maori pot-boiler … could double as feature-length travel advertisement… clunky and predictable … little here to distinguish this production … wallpapered with overwrought music … plot points are as glaringly unsubtle [as] Grandma Mahana’s facial tattoos”.
Mahana premiered at the Berlinale and is due to open here 3 March.