Bellbird review

Local cinephiles have been soaking up the first week of the NZ International Film Festival and among the vast array on offer are 13 new local feature films.

One of those is called Bellbird, which will return to cinemas later in the year.

Northland teacher-turned-filmmaker Hamish Bennett follows up on his award-winning short with a feature-length ode to the deep slice of the NZ heartland he calls home - and what a treat this is. 

It's the story of Ross, a taciturn dairy farmer quietly, almost sullenly, wading through the many muddy seasons of the farming calendar, from milking to mating to calving, determined that his just as reticent son Bruce takes on the farm when he retires.

As for Bruce though, he'd rather carve out a life working at the local dump, with a keen eye for making one person's rubbish another person's treasure.

The small rural community their family has belonged to for generations is a constant soft pulse, the personalities who populate it a constant joy in this film.

It's the classic Kiwi connection of man and son, talking without talking, studiously steering clear of each other's pain in order not to ignite their own, and Bennett cleverly lets the sights and sounds of the farm do some of the talking for them. He punctuates proceedings with bursts of genuine hilarity.

There is such power in gentle and authentic storytelling and Bellbird personifies this.  

Tenderly breathing life into grief and healing by giving the story and its players permission to breathe themselves and infusing it with that special kind of real Kiwi humour.

It was just wonderful to watch. 

Four-and-a-half stars.