Film review: White Lies (Tuakuri Huna)

CLEAN BREAK: From left, Rachel House, Antonia Prebble and Whirimako
Black in Kiwi drama White Lies. Whirimako Black, best known as a
singer, is a fabulous presence on screen.
CLEAN BREAK: From left, Rachel House, Antonia Prebble and Whirimako Black in Kiwi drama White Lies. Whirimako Black, best known as a singer, is a fabulous presence on screen.

WHITE LIES (TUAKIRI HUNA) (M) (95 min) 

Directed by Dana Rotberg. Starring Whirimako Black, Antonia Prebble, Rachel House.

Based on Witi Ihimaera's novella Medicine Woman, White Lies takes place in a small town in the early years of the 20th century.

Paraiti (Whirimako Black) is a Tuhoe woman much versed in medicinal herbs and poultices. She is revered by her own people, but such is her reputation, that even a well-to-do Pakeha woman might call on her services if the stakes are urgent enough.

And urgent they are. Rebecca (Antonia Prebble) is the young wife of a wealthy local businessman. He has been in England for some months, but Rebecca is pregnant, and anyone with even a rudimentary grasp of mathematics and biology can work out that hubby is not the daddy.

Paraiti is called in by Rebecca's fearsome housekeeper to end the pregnancy. Which is something that Paraiti, who has devoted herself to preserving life, is very unwilling to do. White Lies plays out very much like a theatrical three hander.

Within the confines of Rebecca's grand house, the three women draw out each others truths. There are deep secrets at play, and demons to be confronted.  

At the centre of this story, Black is a revelation. She is a fabulous presence on screen, powerful, still, and utterly composed. Around her, Rachel House and Prebble are not always kindly served by Dana Rotberg's script, and their English dialogue lacks the resonance of Black's te reo o Tuhoe.

Outside the house, a few supporting characters are poorly written and credulity straining.

But for Black's performance, for Ihimaera's well-wrought plotting, and for Alun Bollinger's wonderful cinematography, White Lies is still a very easy film to recommend.

The Dominion Post