Review: Bellbird charming audiences with an ode to the NZ heartland

After a festival season charming audiences here and in Australia, the film Bellbird finally goes on general release here next week.

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. 

We meet 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 (Cohen Holloway), he'd rather carve out a life working at the local rubbish tip, with a keen eye for making one person's rubbish another person's treasure.

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, punctuating proceedings with bursts of genuine hilarity.

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’s just wonderful to watch. 

Four-and-a-half stars.