New Zealand Dominion - May 1991 - by Costa Botes


There is nothing veiled about the politics in Barry Barclay's 'Te Rua', the festival's only New Zealand-made feature.
It is a gutsy work, but unlike Merata Mita's disappointing 'Mauri', this film's anger does not render it unintelligible. To the contrary, Barclay is most clear-sighted when he lets his passion go. Issues and drama meet head on in several memorable spine-tingling scenes.
The subject is spirituality and the objects in which it is vested.
The right of one culture to appropriate, or exploit another culture's most sacred totems, in this case three ancestral carvings, is challenged in serveral ways -- diplomatic, moral, emotional.
Both sides are tested: The German museum authorities who have held the carvings of a South Wairarapa tribe for decades and the tribe whose various factions, young and old, traditional and Eurocentric, finally have to work together to achieve their goal.
It is interesting that Barclay not only succeeds in the complex task of constructing a narrative with a communal protagonist. With a clever bit of stylistic sleight of hand, he also manages to appropriate the cinematic apparatus into the Maori traditon of oral storytelling.
He thus effects a neat solution to a much-debated cultural problem.
The absurdist Brechtian street theatre played out in the film's latter stretches is another wonderfully cheeky stylistic pinch, particularly given the setting of the action and the Maoriness of the puppetmaster controlling the action (Wi Kuki Kaa in another finely shaded performance).
There are some blemishes, principally relating to pacing. Barclay's cross-cutting narrative sometimes just has to cram too much in for comfort.
I am also left annoyed and unconvinced by the message implicit in 'Te Rua', that Europeans have lost their connection to things spiritual. That is, to be Pakeha is to be spiritually bereft.
Still, part of 'Te Rua's' success must hinge on the impact that it creates.
I think it could well function as something of an intellectual hand grenade on the European festival circuit and that's not a bad thing at all.

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