Sunday, 29 July 2018

Apostasy: NZIFF Review

Apostasy: NZIFF Review

With its title talking of abandonment and the central setting being about a family of three women in the thrall of Jevohah's Witnesses, it's easy to see where this film is heading.

But what's different about Daniel Kokotajlo's drama is just quietly it unfolds - no remedial soundtrack outside of actuality, this Brit-set story of Alex (Molly Wright), a Jevohah who was given a blood transfusion when she was young and whose anaemia throughout her life has been problematic.

Turning 18, Alex's world changes when she finds her beliefs challenged by her older sister's romance with a college boy uninterested in their religion and by a mother (Happy Valley's Siobhan Finneran) whose unswerving devotion is at the cost of everything.
Apostasy: NZIFF Review

Without giving too much away, Apostasy's close up framing of Alex, its shots of prayers and of doubts given voice do much to take you into the largely unknown world of the Jevohah's Witnesses, and the challenges the younger elements probably face daily.

Questioning religious doctrine, and shining a light on an elusive community, it would be easy to cast judgement, but what Kokotajlo's film does, aside from pulling back the curtain on his own experiences within the church, is to provide much insight into the complexities of some religions, beliefs and doctrines that seem like madness to those on the outside.

Wisely, Kokotajlo manages to hold off from judgement, leaving the audience to make those leaps while providing reasons why things are done the way they are within - it's a sensitive approach to what could be a tricky subject, and it's carefully and deliberately executed.

Crossing the boundaries of a coming-of-age story where the children register their doubts and fight back against their parents with a sensitive tale of keeping faith when everything around you changes, Apostasy is made up of two mightily impressive performances. Firstly, Molly Wright's inwardly unsure Alex, whose close ups reveal the problems of her doubts on the doctrine; and secondly Siobahn Finneran's Ivanna, the mother whose life has been dictated to by her beliefs - there's tragedy in each of these performances, delivered with calculated precision by both actresses.

Ultimately, Apostasy, while trying not to do so, does pass judgement, but it's only through the projections of the audience - one final take-your-breath-away moment aside, the drama is internalised and viewed from external perceptions. It's a clever and fascinating way to approach a largely unknown community and its revelations and insights give light to the human struggles of faith.

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