Review: One Thousand Ropes is profoundly moving

One Thousand Ropes
One Thousand Ropes is released this week

After impressing audiences at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year, New Zealand film One Thousand Ropes arrives in cinemas for local audiences, and is most certainly one of our stories well worthy of the telling.

Strong, powerful performances anchor Tusi Tamasese's second feature, his vision once again brought to life by gifted cinematographer Leon Narby.

Tamasese has the instinct to let Narby's dreamlike pictures breathe, to find their own life, allowing his characters and their story to do the same.

Like Tamasese's first award-winning film The Orator, One Thousand Ropes is once again rooted in his Samoan culture and told mostly in his mother tongue. There is one significant difference between the two; the filmmaker sets his latest story not in Samoa but in Wellington.

And it immediately struck me how important stories like these are, stories which show who we are as New Zealanders, the myriad cultures which identify us as one, yet each with their own very distinctive heartbeat and voice.

At the centre of this new tale is Maea (Uelese Petaia). A traditional healer, he is visited by local pregnant women, caring for them on their journey to motherhood.

The fractious mix of the old and the new, modern healthcare and support versus the traditional methods of midwifery is both insightful and thought-provoking, as Maea tries as best he can to straddles both worlds.

He also works in a local bakery, kneading the fresh dough and trying to keep the peace between his two co-workers - one an aggressive older bully, the other much younger, and growing stronger.

It's clear Maea's past haunts him, and when his estranged daughter Ilisa (Frankie Adams) arrives on his doorstep beaten and pregnant he must confront those demons, and so must she.

There is a palpable evil lurking in Maea's home, and his daughter is convinced that evil must first be faced, before they can banish their own ghosts.

There are many strands to this narrative, all woven together in a gentle and very compelling way.

It's about family, and redemption of course, it's about new life, and death; all coming together to form an intimate, confronting and haunting story which I found profoundly moving, otherworldly yet deeply rooted in the here and now.

Four stars.