Bellbird: DVD ReviewHamish Bennett's follow up to his award-winning short Ross and Beth from 2014 is a crowd-pleasing, quietly restrained film about life on a Northland farm.
Marshall Napier is Ross, the third generation farm owner, who's left devastated after a loss and who tries to find what's next in his life. Recently returned to his life is his son Bruce (a dramatic and poignant turn from Cohen Holloway, who shines throughout), who works in the local dump but who's gradually coaxed back onto the farm and into family life in general.
Bucolic and beautifully shot, Bennett's film is a small restrained movie about relationships and reconnections, that taps into the rural way of few words.
If Bennett overdoes it with the cutaway shots which depict life on the farm, it's seemingly about building an atmosphere and a sense of location within Northland that goes to explain Ross' connection to the land and his community.
Suffused with charm, and lovely wry one-liners (particularly from Rachel House), Bellbird has a heart that's hard to deny, as it negotiates grief in a typical she'll be right mentality.
Its leads are where the film's strength are, and Napier deserves as much credit as Holloway, for bringing to life a Kiwi type that's prevalent in the community. In truth, it's more about what's unsaid than said as this slow-paced family drama unfolds, but Bennett's wise enough to pepper his script with heartland humour that will prove a winner with audiences.
Newcomer Kahukura Retimana also deserves mention for neighbouring Marley who injects a level of care into how he tries to look after Ross; there's much of the film which speaks to how communities try to care for their own, something city dwellers may ruefully gaze upon as they view this low-key relationship piece.
Ultimately Bellbird wins by its gentle restraint, and its affectionate celebration of the quieter moments of life, and of what comes next when the worst happens.