In a small New Zealand town in the early 20th century, three very different women — a Maori medicine woman, a wealthy, sharp-tongued white housewife, and a controlling housekeeper — are brought together by a scandalous secret, in this complex and mesmerizing tale of culture clash and social mores based on a novella by the author of Whale Rider.

Contemporary World Cinema

White Lies

Dana Rotberg

Based on a novella by Witi Ihimaera (Whale Rider), director Dana Rotberg's latest is a complex and mesmerizing tale of social mores, culture clash, and sheer feminine potency. Set in the early twentieth century in a small New Zealand town, the story centres on the unlikely — some might say unholy — alliance of three women. At first glance, they have little in common but their gender. Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a Maori medicine woman who, despite punitive laws that prevent her from practicing, finds herself the healer of last resort, even for pakeha (white) women. One day she is beseeched by another Maori woman, Maraea (Rachel House), to tend to her employer, Rebecca (Antonia Prebble), the spoiled, caustic wife of a wealthy local businessman. It turns out Rebecca is pregnant — but, given her husband's long overseas business trip, it's evident that the child is not his. Rebecca insists that Paraiti end the pregnancy.

After some reservation, Paraiti agrees, with the caveat that it will take her a few days. Her profoundly difficult task is made more onerous by the constant, intrusive supervision of Maraea (comparisons to Mrs. Danvers of Rebecca would not be misplaced). As the days accrue, so does the estrogen-fuelled energy, culminating in an explosive reveal of secrets, racial tension, and hypocrisy.

Rotberg does a superb job of contrasting the rural Maori community, which embraces and celebrates the feminine, with the sterile social confines of New Zealand's "in-town" white culture of the day. It is the story of these three powerful women, however, each locked in a cage of social stricture that she cannot control, that lingers in the heart of the viewer.

JANE SCHOETTLE

Screenings

Mon Sep 09

Scotiabank 5

Industry
9:30am
Mon Sep 09

Scotiabank 14

Regular
9:45pm
Wed Sep 11

Scotiabank 4

Regular
9:45pm
Sat Sep 14

Scotiabank 11

Regular
9:00am