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.
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.