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james & isey


director: Florian habicht (kaikohe demolition, spookers)



REVIEWER: lyall carter

Genuine New Zealand treasures Isey and James invite us into their lives in the week leading up to Isey's 100th birthday! A Northland celebration of life and aroha like no other!

On Easter weekend a bustling crowd of people, cameras and reporters waited outside the Civic theatre in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland. A resplendent car suddenly appeared as the crowd erupted into woops and applause. Those walking by stopped, craning their necks and readying their cell phones to snap photos of the celebrities about to emerge. But it wasn’t some well known actor or comedian that emerged but a mother and her son, impeccably dressed and ready to party the night away. James & Isey is a glorious, intimate, truly New Zealand film documenting the unique relationship between a mother and a son in wondrous detail.   


Idiosyncratic director Florian Habicht returned to his early home turf of Northland for a documentary about a mother and son. As with his earlier films Kaikohe Demolition and Land of the Long White Cloud, Habicht set out to uncover the character and spirit of locals leading seemingly unremarkable lives. James & Isey is set in the town of Kawakawa, where irrepressible kuia Isey Cross lives with her devoted son James. Habicht encounters the pair in the lead-up to Isey's 100th birthday. Isey explains her worldview and James reveals the spiritual preparations he has made leading up to the milestone celebration. 


James & Isey is a celebration of the relationship between a mother and her son. In that, the story is a universal one but the uniqueness of this story is found in Isey and James both individually and together. We see firsthand James caring for his mother, moisturising her legs, popping her in the car and taking her to the local church to pray. It’s a wondrous thing to behold and in the age of shipping our elders off to rest homes the film is a monument of a beautiful alternative to our current, Western social norm.


The film is pretty crack up as well from James and Isey sitting in a broken down car with Isey pretending to drive it, to her telling James off when he’s ordering McDonald’s and joking with director Florian Habicht (who remains out of shot) that it’s good that he didn’t catch her in the nudie. 


Florian Habicht’s documentary style is to withdraw himself as much as possible, to be a fly on the wall. This allows for the unguarded frankness of his subjects and an unadulterated view of their life. The flipside of this approach is that at times the story can feel like it is lacking shape and that potential narrative goldmines - James' spirituality and that of his people, Isey’s history and the history of her people - are missed opportunities. Perhaps we could just sort all of this out with a sequel?


James & Isey is a glorious, intimate, truly New Zealand film documenting the unique relationship between a mother and a son in wondrous detail.  


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