Review: The Ground We Won
THE GROUND WE WON (M)
Directed by Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith ★★★★★
Christopher Pryor and Miriam Smith's last film was How Far Is Heaven, which followed the lives of three nuns living in Jerusalem, on the banks of the Whanganui River.
Pryor and Smith's method was to simply live nearby and interact with the community every day. At the end of a year, with a few hundred hours shot, the long process of editing and shaping the film began. It took months, but something crisp and insightful emerged. How Far Is Heaven found friends and glowing reviews all over the world.
The Ground We Won is Pryor and Smith's follow up. The film makers' tactics were similar, although the subjects – on the surface at least – could not be more different. And while Heaven attracted some international acclaim, I don't think anyone is prepared for just how much of a sensation this film is going to be, once the word spreads and distribution starts.
Reporoa sits in a valley about halfway between Taupo and Rotorua. It's a town of a few thousand people, several thousand cows, and a couple of proud and parochial rugby teams.
The Senior A team endured a wretched 2012 season. The next year things were looking better. The season started with a win, spirits rose and a couple of new young blokes joined up. In the changing sheds, the team bus and the unhinged, beer-drenched team bonding sessions, the two townie film-makers and rugby neophytes were recording it all.
Teammates Peanut, Slug, Broomy and their comrades drink, talk, harangue and play out all the ways in which men learn to trust each other without ever really having a conversation.
There's the guts you show on the paddock, but being able to hold your beer without turning into a dickhead is the real test. Not all of the blokes will pass (you could argue none of them do), but the directors are not in the business of judging.
Shooting in black and white wasn't an obvious choice, but it works superbly. Stripped of the familiar greens, the New Zealand landscape becomes a fresh and alien place; a suitable setting for a view of our country many New Zealanders will never have seen.
The Ground We Won is a startling, ferociously intelligent, disturbing, heart-warming and hauntingly beautiful piece of film making.
It is an instant national classic, an unfiltered portrait of a culture, a weirdly refracted love-letter to and from rural New Zealand, and the only excuse you will ever need to watch a Kiwi documentary on the big screen.
If I see a more effective, provocative or entertaining film from anywhere this year, I'll be amazed.