Over the years, bit by bit, I’ve been able to watch some of the classic New Zealand films, such as Goodbye Pork Pie, Smash Palace, and Sleeping Dogs, but one that always eluded me was Utu. Not that it was hard to elude me, as I wasn’t exactly going out of my way to watch these classics, though I did jump at the chance when they happened to come across my viewing radar. So when I saw at this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival that they had a restored version of Utu playing, I knew I had to check it out.
But, that festival came and went, and I didn’t see it, so I told myself that I would check it out down the track on DVD or Blu-ray, if it happened to find its way in my path that is. So when I looked at the listings at my local cinema recently, I saw that they had continued the films screenings despite the festival having ended, and so as they say, fate stepped in, and it meant I would get that chance to see the film after all.
As I walked into the cinema I guess I wasn’t surprised by the fact there was only one other person there to see it with me. This can be put down to many things, and was clearly nothing to do with the quality of the film, seeing as it’s a New Zealand classic. But with most audience members who would want to see it having seen it during its festival run, or in the following weeks since it was out in normal cinemas, meant I’m sure the demand was low by this point. But I like empty cinemas, so it was all right with me.
I’ve got to admit that the film started a little clunky; from the acting, writing, and directing, but the costume and set design were always spot on. But as this film built and built, so did the quality of the whole filmmaking process. The story moved on and on building tension, and the actors clearly enveloped themselves in this building tension as their performances also grew in stature.
In fact, by the end, I was so engrossed in what was going on that it was hard to even remember I had some negative doubts about it when it first started. This is of course a reminder that books, movies, and other types of storytelling should never be fully judged until the every end. Well, within reason, as there really are some stinkers out there that you know are very early on, and they just never get better.
Utu even had one of those rare moments, a near perfect ending! The white man, the white man with a foot in both his and the Maori world, and the Maori women who represented both the feminine and the ‘other’ tribe mentality, just created the perfect metaphor for the whole film. And when it cut to black, you just couldn’t help think there was no better way to end that film than that!
So, I really enjoyed this film, and though it took a little while to get going, in more ways than one, once it did, it drove you through to the end with baited breath!
9 out of 10 from me!!!