Waru: NZIFF Review
Eight independently told stories over one 10 minute period, linked by one single tragedy, but not so highly strung together it feels stretched.
That's the premise of the Maori female director-led Waru in an attempt to both stimulate discussion on child abuse and other Maori issues.
At the centre of it all is Waru, a boy killed in circumstances fully unknown, yet depressingly familiar, and whose opening words over a black screen "When I died, I saw the whole world" hint at the heartbreak of tragedy rippling through a community stricken by various forms of grief and guilt.
From there, the 8 female directors take on varying stories; from an aunty setting up the kitchen at the tangi, to a school teacher at a local kindy where Waru was and ending with 2 sisters on the road, the film's poignancy is evident in its subtlety and its execution.
Each vignette, grounded in a reality that's all too depressingly common, has a different director and story thread, but they're all intertwined with the common theme - and all bar one, they're more than successful at delivering what needs to be said having gone their own path and eschewed the usual trope of seeing the same story from different sides. Using singular shots and swirling around the locations, Waru's team of helmers make great fist of both time constraints and revealing a complete story.
While the great majority of the film works on its subtleties and imbues its subject with the gravitas that's needed and adds in some typically Maori humour, it's sad to note that the ever-so-slightly over-the-top section on the media handling of the case feels like the only section which is slightly fudged. It's the only story that slightly betrays the tone and feels like its extremist approach, while with valid points to raise, could have done it more with a shade less vitriol.
Elsewhere, the story involving two grandmothers, a marae and a challenge for Waru's body is utterly emotionally devastating, a powerful calling card over what a short story can deliver when helmed and written with utter precision. It's an electrifying commitment to culture, clashes of guilt and apportion of blame and self-examination in the light of tragedy, and in many ways, it feels uniquely New Zealand.
Having led us through the darker edges, the final short, with Miriama McDowell, proffers up a degree of frustrated hope and Waru concludes with much discussion to be had. Granted, there are a few moments when there's a bit of lecturing that's aimed at the characters (and by extension, us) throughout, but Waru's greatest strength lies in its subtlety of execution - its portmanteau approach makes this collection of thematically similar shorts both a damnation of societal ills and a template for discussion for change.