State of the nation
Director Lee Tamahori and actress Rena Owen tell Anwar Brett about Once Wer) Warriors, a hard—hitting film from New Zealand.
Adapted from a controversial bestselling novel. the Maori drama Ora-e Were litirrinrs won great acclaim on the festival circuit around the world. performed respectany at the US box office and broke all records on release in New Zealand. A searing. passionate. rnuiti-layered film — adapted from the book by Alan Dtrff — it weaves a realistic human drama into the wider issue of a dispossessed. disenchanted people trying to come to terms with their place in a society that is alien to their culture.
‘When we came to do this film. it posed all sorts of challenges and had quite an extraordinary power all of its own.‘ explains director Lee Tamahori. ‘lt had great pain but great character too. and seemed to be about all our lives rather than just Maori lives. It seemed a natural for film.‘
influenced by the work of Ken Loach. Tamahori's film touches similar themes to Ixidybird Ladybird. and his early instinct was to follow the social realism path that the British filmmaker had trodden so successfully with a series of slow—burning. highly memorable dramas since the l96()s. ‘l'd always admired Ken.‘ he continues. ‘l'd grown up on his films. and when i came to do this I asked myself what it was about them that made them work. It seemed it was always the style. he didn't give a damn about stars. just give him a camera and he‘d shoot it.‘
‘But then I realised that if I tried to clone Ken Loach with this him I‘d end up being a pretender. So i stayed away from all those social realist techniques.
but I felt i could still stay true to their
origins. I wanted to ruake the film more
cinematic so that people felt like they
there: about fifteen zoom shots from : Sam i’eckinpah. bits of Sergio Leone and a lot of Loach too.‘
' my craft 1 really wanted to make the
were watching cinema rather than television. When I look at the film now I can see the different influences in
One thing that 'l‘amahori picked up from Ken Loach was the use of non- actors in key roles. a necessity in a film which is almost exclusively cast from the Maori community, which itself contains only a small number of professional actors. For the key role of Beth. loving mother and abused wife. the filmmaker cast stage—trained Rena ()wen — briefly glimpsed in the disastrous Ra/ra Nai last year — who delivers a performance of rare bravery and strength.
‘lt would have been very easy to play Beth as a victim.‘ the actress explains. ‘but i wanted to avoid that. The script was very, very realistic and that meant that i couldn’t afford to be seen to be acting, but after ten years working on
played by a self~taught actor who is
Q best known for an easy-going role in a domestic soap opera. And even he is far from being the stereotyped villain of i the piece. thanks to the director's llavouring of a more rounded and
character was coming from.' adds
Once Were Warriors: ’vivid, believable and harrowing’
most of this role.‘ in contrast Temuera Morrison. who plays Beth‘s violent husband Jake. is
complex characterisation. ‘l’eopie had to understand where this
‘I was always overwhelmed by how much women in abusive relationships love guys like Jake.’
'l‘amahori. ‘even though he may have been reprehensible in everything he stood for. By the end of the movie it was imperative to me that you actually had some feeling about what he was. He was always our Stanley Kowalski. and there are deliberate echoes of that in the character. but you had to understand that otherwise he‘d be just a cardboard villain. Anyone can fly into a rage and beat people tip. but you have
to understand his inner dilemmas and what dilemmas are driving him.‘
‘There are guys like that.‘ ()wen agrees. ‘When they're good they're
i good and when they re bad they re bad.
i was always overwhelmed by how much women in abusive relationships love guys like Jake.‘ It is this complexity and apparent contradiction in the sort of film where such stereotypes are common currency that makes ()IIH' Ht’l't’ ll’arribrs such a vivid and believable ~ and harrowing — experience.
‘When you come across the sort of stuff and read this sort of material there's only one approach to it.‘ enthuses 'l‘amahori. ‘You have to take it head on and be completely uncornpromising. But when we went to some film festivals and found our film and Ladybird Ladybird were being shown back to back, we couldn’t believe it.‘ he chuckles at the thought. "I‘hey were just asking for people to slit their wrists.‘
()Ilt't’ Were Warriors opens in Scotland on Friday 14.
unnat— The sound of sﬂence
It’s rare enough (but not entirely unheard of) for a Tunisian woman to direct her first feature film within the context of a national culture that still treats women as second-class citizens. The country’s cinematic infrastructure is still in the development stage, yet Moufida Tlatli’s remarkable debut offering The Silences Of The Palace has gained wider international success than any North African film in living memory. Although it takes place in unfamiliar surroundings, it’s the emotional communicativeness that has undoubtedly brought Tlatli’s film the exposure - acclaim at last year’s
The Silence: Of The Palace: ‘remarkable debut'
Cannes, a slot in Time magazine’s 1994 Ten Best list - it undoubtedly deserves.
Set in the ornate residence of Tunisia’s last royal family, the Beys, during the turbulent build-up to independence from the French in 1956 (and the abolition of the monarchy
unchallenged sexual rights over their
that went with the new republic), its
enclosed environment contains a feudal society in microcosm, where the all-powerful princes had
serving women. As Tlatli’s protagonist Alia, born illegitimater to a servant, looks back on her adolescence in these heavily circumscribed conditions, memories of her mother’s plight — torn between encouraging her daughter’s musical talent and protecting her from the lustful rulers - throw a poignant personal sidelight on the progress of both feminine and national liberation struggles.
A graduate from Paris’s IDHEC film school, former editor Tlatli’s move into direction was, in fact, spurred by a traumatic event in her private life. ‘My mother fell very ill and the last five years of her life were spent in complete silence,’ she recalls in quickfire, slightly-accented French. ‘During that time, I became very close to her and it made me ask a number of
questions about my own life, about the communication between the generations and the silence that surrounds women’s lives.
‘It was the need to explore all these unsaid things that gave me the strength to take on this project, and it seemed to me that in order to understand the position of Tunisian women today, you needed to go back to the time before independence and the institution of women’s rights. For me, the lives of the female servants, toiling under unquestioned male domination, were very symbolic of the experiences of all the other women in the country. When I look back on the relationship between my mother and father, or my aunts and uncles, it perhaps wasn’t quite as extreme as in the royal household, but the basic values were very similar.’ (Trevor Johnston)
The Silences Of The Palace opens at the Edinburgh Filmhouse on Friday 14.
'22 The List 7—20 Apr 1995