Out Now On-Demand
Eight connected stories. One life-changing event.
Eight Māori female directors contribute a sequence to this feature which unfolds around the tangi of a boy who died at the hands of his caregiver.
"We see a single death through the differing lenses of the extended family, community, and in one sharp sequence, national media too. Waru weaves multiple reactions and offers a glimpse into the events which ensue upon the killing of a child and the conflict created among loved ones." (RNZ/The Hui)
Drama, Festival & Independent
Rating: M Violence, offensive language, sex scenes & content that may disturb
Chances are, you’ve never witnessed anything like Waru. This isn’t because of its multi-narrative one-shot structure - comparable to 2005’s Nine Lives - and the actual reason for Waru’s uniqueness isn’t a positive one. With only two feature films credited to female Māori directors, Merata Mita's Mauri and Ramai Hayward's To Love a Māori, the voices of Aotearoa’s native women haven’t been heard enough in cinema. With Waru, the film's eight directors deliver an emotional shout into that silence, and it carries the spread and whaea power of a shotgun.
The film displays eight moments in time, each realised in one shot and starting at 10am on the same day. They all connect to the tangi of a small boy named Waru: a teacher trying to cope with the loss; a mother locked out of her house after an all-nighter; two women on a rural road heading straight into a hornet’s nest. The pacing and dynamics of each scene never stay the same, embedding this latitudinal form of storytelling with a convincing sense of time, place and reality.
Cinematographer Drew Sturge does a hell of a job bringing a visual tonality that ties the tales together. Some elements aren’t so consistent, however. The doses of 2D animation in Mihi add very little and somewhat distracts from an otherwise quietly tense situation. The segment Kiritapu calls bullshit on toxic Pākehā media, which is very satisfying, but the cast surrounding Maria Walker’s performance play their roles with a cartoonish satire that doesn’t fit an otherwise grounded feature.
But one thing that cannot be faulted is the nine central performances. Young Acacia Hapi makes an almighty impact as Mere, a quite girl who takes a stand. Kararaina Rangihau and Merehake Maaka effortlessly carry a shipping container’s worth of emotional weight as Waru’s grandmothers, making grim debates in regal fashion. For me, however, the total knockout of Waru is Tanea Heke as Aunty Charm, who juggles distress and command (as well as humour) with levels of authority and vitality rarely matched by any other supporting performance in New Zealand film history.
RogerEbert.com (Nick Allen)
Stuff.co.nz (Sarah Watt)
NewsHub (Kate Rodger)
Stuff.co.nz (Graeme Tuckett)
NZ Herald (Dominic Corry)
Narrative Muse (New Zealand)
NZ Listener (Peter Calder)
Newsroom.co.nz (Darren Bevan)
Waru has been lauded as a great New Zealand film, but that’s an oversimplification and you need to be prepared for the practicalities. It is eight connected short films, with different writers, directors and performers in each. That has the inevitable consequence of producing eight very different pieces, some of which are superb.
I went into Waru knowing what the central event was, so expected it to be tough to watch and it was, though, at times, that was more about the variation in quality on the screen than the topic. It is important to provide opportunities to make films, how else will people learn? What’s unusual here is that we see intelligent, beautifully crafted work alongside writing and or performances that were genuinely disappointing. The contrast between some shorts was jarring.
Should you go and see Waru? Absolutely, yes. Will you have to forgive it periods of awful cliche and direct exposition in the mouths of characters? Yes. Does it redeem itself with simplicity, complexity, honesty, courage, power and leave you with a haunting personal challenge? Yes.
There are countless stories of child abuse throughout the years on the news. Waru explores this social issue through 8 different perspectives, perspectives that weren’t directly affected but were still affected majorly by the event of the childs death. In saying this we weren’t shown the mothers, fathers or anyone too close’s perspective. Through this we as an audience still felt the emotion in these eight characters because they still were affected and in different ways, this shows the ripple effect. Like other reviews have said the best part is the 8 mana wahine or the 8 wahine toa who were behind the camera. As an aspiring wahine maori film maker myself, I only aspire to make film as raw and impacting as waru was not only for me but my whanau and friends who watched with me. These maori women to have full ownership of the way the narratives were portrayed and showed maori without completely blaming this social issue on maori. Like it was said in Waru, this isn’t a maori issue but a new zealand issue and making that clear throughout.
Lastly the camera shots, there was no quick cuts but one complete take of the shot. This being done, only added more emphasis on the kaupapa. In no sense did it seem fake, like it was actors being told to say this and to do that but it felt real to the audience. The effect on the camera also added to the emotion the audience felt, in some narratives it looked semi foggy and in the last narrative was black and white.
I would definitely recommend this film to everyone in New Zealand, its time to open our karu (eyes) to the reality that we live in and start to do something about this. This film is thought provoking and allows us to korero about such a haunting issue in Aotearoa.
A story that needs to be told.
We've seen it in the news but not like this. Waru takes the delicate topic of child abuse and weaves the many narratives into a beautifully crafted piece of cinema. It's unapologetically raw and it should be! It allows us to see the stories of how such a tragic issue can ripple from the immediate whānau, to the community and throughout the nation. The best part is it has 8 mana wāhine in the directing seat, allowing Māori to take ownership of a narrative that we so often have our name dragged through the mud and plastered on anything 'child abuse' in this country. WE get to tell the story.
What makes this movie even more mean, are the solid performances by all the wāhine toa in the film. They take our emotions on a rollercoaster ride of laughing at Charm's assertiveness over steam pudding, to the truly poignant scene between the two kuia. A special mention to Acacia Hapi, who plays Mere, for delivering a powerful scene that truly hits hard. The continuous camera shots are something many of us wouldn't have seen before, which gives even more credit to the cast.
The movie will leave you both haunted and comforted, allowing us ALL to have important kōrero about what is happening in our country.
A punch in the heart
Waru is a movie that examines the fallout and impact of child abuse on the community. The story blows the viewer away with its raw honesty and powerful displays of acting. This is a story set in the Maori community but it affects everyone around Aotearoa. This movie brought me to tears and has made an indelible mark upon my heart. This is a must see, timely and visually potent movie that is astounding.
NZ MOVIE MAKING AT IT'S BEST
KUDOS TO THE 8 FEMALE DIRECTORS OF THIS POWERFUL AND MOVING NZ MOVIE - IT IS ALWAYS UP-LIFTING TO SEE NZ MOVIES BUT EVEN MORE SO WHEN TALENTED WAHINI ARE INVOLVED. MEMORABLE
It is beautifully devastating! Such a powerful film for us as woman, for us as people and for us as a country. I had the privilege of watching Waru at the Hokianga Film Festival where there was also an open discussion with one of the directors, two of the actors and the community – And what an incredible korero it was! Ma te pa ka taea te whakatipu te tamaiti - It takes a village to raise a child. Child abuse is our problem – Start a conversation, reach out and offer support, be the change you want to see!
A bit of a mixed bag
A bit of a mixed bag. From a technical point of view the shorts are excellent and there are some powerful moments . But the short form is also what hinders it, with things feeling forced and unearned. Surface level comments which never delve deeper (much like my reviews). Also some questionable dialogue and acting. But each of these filmmakers are very promising and I hope have a bright filmmaking career ahead of them, here's to NZ supporting female directors. I note some of the audience laughing at an unintentionally funny drunk character, says quite a bit about NZ drinking culture.
"When I died, I saw the whole world."
These are the first words we hear in WARU, whispered in voice-over by the titular character, a young Maori boy whom we will never meet - because he has been murdered. His tangi, taking place on a rural marae, is today; the consequences and implications of his death, we realise with sobering clarity, will resonate for years, possibly generations, through those who have survived him.
Rest assured that this is not a re-run of Once Were Warriors' sledgehammer melodrama. Rather than dramatize the abuse of an innocent, which could amount to exploitative sensationalism even in the most careful artistic hands, WARU takes a more oblique, nuanced, and altogether persuasive approach to this subject matter. The film is comprised of eight chapters, all set on the morning of the tangi but taking place at various locations, and each observing how this tragedy has impacted, or might impact, different women on the periphery of Waru's story.
Aunty Charm is running the marae kitchen as mourners arrive; Anahera is teaching Waru's classmates at the local school; Mihi is stuck at home, her car broken down, her call to WINZ on indefinite hold; Em is staggering home after a night on the piss; Kiritapu is a mainstream news show's token brown compliment to a scummy Mike Hoskings-type host; Ranui and Hinga are Waru's great-grandmothers and conflicting kaitiaki of his departing spirit; Mere, a tween cousin to Waru, watches over her little brother as he plays on the marae grounds; sisters Titty and Bash, in the final chapter, wrestle with the agonizing dilemma of knowing what needs to be done - but not knowing if they have the strength to do it. Note here: there's not a bad performance in the bunch.
Each chapter, written and directed by a different film-maker (all wahine Maori!), is realised in an unbroken take approximating real time, the action choreographed around a fluid-moving camera. This format serves some of the stories better than others but, on the whole, it's immersive, and an effective "uniform" for the convergence of voices and viewpoints. Each story tackles it's literal subject(s) head-on, but there are layers of pertinent subtext, too: the ways that racial stereotyping can sour even well-meaning efforts to bridge cultural divides; the boundaries of responsibility we draw between ourselves and others; and, of course, how establishing "whodunit?" in cases such as Waru's may set the wheels of legal justice turning, and appease our collective shame by presenting concrete targets for scorn and judgment, but also permits us to stop short of answering the larger question "why does this keep happening here, and what can we do about it?" In keeping with this last theme, the film lets its characters throw a lot of blame around, but boldly refuses to confirm the true identity of Waru's killer (or killers). The tone is appropriately sombre, but hope, courage, love, and a distinctly Maori sense of humour sparkle faintly even in the most emotionally wrenching scenes.
Films about such grave social issues mightn't fall into the broad category of "entertainment", but WARU is absorbing, powerful, and absolutely essential. It's from, and about, here-and-now. I couldn't stop thinking about it all night after I left the theatre, and it sprang right back to the forefront of my mind the minute I woke up the next day. It feels like an instant classic of our national cinema.
WARU screens as part of the New Zealand International Film Festival.