directors: Ainsley Gardiner and Briar-Grace Smith
starring: ana Scotney, Rachel House, Tanea Heke and Briar-Grace Smith
REVIEWER: lyall carter
Set over six decades, Cousins is a dramatic and powerful story of three cousins who spend a lifetime in search of each other, separated by circumstances yet connected by their whakapapa
During the Christmas holidays I visited the Treaty grounds up in Waitangi. I don’t think I’ve ever visited a place that has elicited such an emotional response in me. Some of the reasons I know, some I don’t. It could just feel the weight and importance of the place in my bones.
The same could be said of my experience of Cousins. Some of me understood why I had such a reaction; other parts not so much. Cousins is one of the most important New Zealand films of the last decade that teaches us of our collective past while leaving us with a glimmer of hope on the horizon of our future.
Mata, introverted, watchful, a seer of spirits, the child of a Māori mother and an abusive Pākehā (white) father. Makareta, raised to be the princess of her tribe, spoilt and educated in both worlds. Missy, cheeky, insecure and often overlooked, the heartbeat of her family.
Stolen from her whānau, placed in an orphanage and watched over by a vengeful guardian, Mata lives out her childhood in fear and bewilderment, saved only by her wonderful imagination. Back on the land, cousin Makareta flees an arranged marriage and Missy takes her place as bride, amalgamating the land and taking on the mantle of kaitiaki (guardian). However the pair never give up hoping that Mata will come home.
In most ways Cousins is pretty straight forward narratively with the story told in a series of flashbacks throughout the film. It only becomes more complicated when parts of Mata’s story, who is a seer of sorts, starts to become quite poetic and ethereal in places. It takes a little getting used to, separating the truth from the poetic embellishment. There are also some minor plot holes or jumps in the narrative that feel a little rushed. With a little longer run time, this would have helped to iron them out.
However the true emotional weight of the film lies in the institutional and personal racism that the film exposes. It's raw, harrowing and yet, as I sat there dumbstruck I learnt some of the horrors of even our recent history. It hits you like a ton of bricks.
But the glimmer of hope that this film leaves you with is found not only the ending of the story, which I won't spoil, but in who has been telling it - wahine Maori. Finally, they have their platform to not only tell their stories but to shine as well. This has to only be good for our nation and for our world.
Cousins is one of the most important New Zealand films of the last decade that teaches us of our collective past while leaving us with a glimmer of hope on the horizon of our future.