Festival Review: Mahana / The Patriarch (2016)

The Patriarch

The moving portrait of a Maori family seething under the lash of a ruthless patriarch, Lee Tamahori’s Mahana takes heart in a young man finding his way.

This Land Is Mine

by Mark Wilshin


CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Set within three generations of a Maori family in New Zealand in the 1950s, Lee Tamahori’s Mahana is a deeply moving film with a wide scope. Touching on subjects such as the rivalry of Maori families, the empowerment of sons, daughters and wives from the yoke of an all-powerful patriarch as well as the development of an intelligent teenager crossing boundaries and finding his voice, Mahana creates a society in microcosm of discipline, respect and obedience torn apart by a young firebrand. The autobiographical links are clear, from the intellectual interest in books and old desks to Jimmy Stewart quotations and trips to the cinema to see The 3:10 To Yuma or the latest Elvis flick. But torn between an education that encourages him to speak his mind and a domineering patriarch that demands him hold his tongue, Mahana is the battle over a soul that risks seeing him either withdraw (as his parents have done) or becoming a pillar of the community, holding his family together and uniting Maoris under one cause. The key to this overthrow of hatred and tyranny is Simeon’s (Akuhata Keefe) courage – to stand up to his grandfather (Temuera Morrison) and to speak the truth, divulging a long buried secret so that the two rival families may move on together. And with exceptional performances from Temuera Morrison and Nancy Brunning, Tamahori ekes out every emotion, turning even the annual sheep-shearing competition into an emotional bid for work, pride and self-worth. But with only a slight nod to the tensions between Maoris and the wider community, Mahana restricts its focus to the struggles within the Maori community. And while it might be far removed in both time and space, Lee Tamahori’s film is both a powerful and affecting universal depiction of independence and the struggle for empowerment.

Mahana is now showing at the 66th Berlin Film Festival

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