The Strength of Water

BROODING LANDSCAPES: Kiwi film The Strength of Water is 'engrossing, trouching, and occasionally entrancing'.
BROODING LANDSCAPES: Kiwi film The Strength of Water is 'engrossing, trouching, and occasionally entrancing'.

In a tiny coastal community, twins Kimi and Melody (Hato Paparoa and Melanie Mayall-Nahi) live with their parents on a small poultry farm. It's a tough life, but Briar Grace-Smith's script allows room for a few moments of real warmth and genuineness to flicker across the opening scenes.

The community is knocked ever so slightly from its axis by the arrival of Tai, a troubled young man who has moved into a derelict house a little way out of town. And then tragedy strikes. The family and the village are torn apart, and Tai is widely thought to be to blame. It's a strong setup, and Armagan Ballantyne's debut feature The Strength of Water is equal to the task of turning Grace-Smith's script's promises into an engrossing, touching, and occasionally entrancing whole.

Shot in and around the hills and inlets of the northern reaches of the Hokianga Harbour, Ballantyne and her Academy Award-nominated cinematographer Bogumil Godfrejow make great use of those brooding landscapes, and the isolation that they enforce on the few scattered communities that shelter there. As the screenplay's engines begin to turn, and the story gathers momentum, Ballantyne's grip on her film's pace and its characters becomes ever surer. There are surprises and revelations in this film, but they are unpacked tidily and in the correct order.

And when the story flirts with magical realism and the possibility of a spirit world, Ballantyne deals with these potential awkwardnesses with a pragmatism that saves her film from sliding into whimsy and nonsense.

In the leads, Jim Moriarty and Nancy Brunning give performances that are a lesson in control and nuance, while the newcomers in the cast are collectively astonishing. The Strength of Water is a terrific wee film, it may never get the exposure or international kudos of Whale Rider - with which it is going to be endlessly and pointlessly compared - but I liked it a great deal. Do go and see it.

(86 mins)

Directed by Armagan Ballantyne.
Starring Nancy Brunning, Hato Paparoa, Pare Paseka.

The Dominion Post