COUSINS – A Review by Cynthia Flores
Cousins is a fantastic new film about the sacred belief that shared Whakapapa (genealogical links) can never truly be cut. No matter the distance, time, or heartbreak. It was adapted from the best-selling novel written by Patricia Grace, by co-director and the actress that plays older Makareta, Briar Grace Smith. It’s a layered story that reflects the journey of the three cousins, created and shaped by living in 1940’s to present day New Zealand.
The central character for the film is Mata (Te Raukura Gray, Ana Scotney & Tanea Heke). Each actress that plays her at different ages is spectacular. Mata is introverted, watchful, and a seer of spirits. She’s the child of a Māori mother and an abusive Pākehā (English) father. Next is the eldest of the girls Makareta (Mihi Te Rauhi Daniels, Tioreore Ngatai-Melbourne & Briar Grace Smith). She is driven and spoiled. Makareta is educated in the ways of both Te Ao Māori (Māori world) and Te Ao Pākehā (English world). She is the pride of her family. Then there is the youngest of the trio, Missy (Keyahne Patrick Williams, Hariata Moriarty & Rachel House). She is cheeky yet dutiful. Missy is the heartbeat of the Pairama family.
Each of the girls’ lives plays out tenderly on the screen. Orphaned Mata believes she has no whānau (family) and lives out her lonely childhood in fear and bewilderment. She navigates love, loss, and disconnection from her whānau (family) and whenua (land). Makareta flees an arranged marriage to study law and begin the search for her missing cousin. She must shoulder family disappointment and western education as she continues her relentless pursuit of Mata. While Missy, who stayed behind, grapples with family duties. She must embrace her role as kaitiaki (guardian) of the land and yearns for her cousin Mata to return. As the years’ pass and land surveyors begin to encroach on their property, time is running out. The promise made when they were children of bringing their stolen cousin home seems more unlikely than ever. That is until a chance encounter changes everything.
Of all the incredible acting in Cousins, Tanea Heke, as the older Mata, stands out most. She has the fewest number of lines in the film, but she holds the screen and breaks your heart with her simple look and anguished eyes. This film is lush and epic in its scope and humanity. I was unaware that the native Māori people of New Zealand were treated as severely as the Native American tribes here in the US. This film is a real eye-opener. It’s also a tribute to the brave women of the indigenous world.
I give Cousins a 5-star rating. I’d give it a 10-star rating if I could. Nevertheless, it’s a must-see movie this year and should be remembered at Oscar time.
Directed by: Ainsley Gardiner, Briar Grace Smith
Written by: Briar Grace Smith, Based on the novel by Patricia Grace
Selig Rating: 5 Stars
Running Time: 1hr 38min
Digital Premiere Release: July 22nd Netflix
Starring: Tanea Heke, Ana Scotney, Rachel House, Chelsie Preston Crayford
The Selig Rating Scale:
5 Stars – Excellent movie, well worth the price.
4 Stars – Good movie
3 Stars – OK movie
2 Stars – No need to rush. Save it for a rainy day.
1 Star – Good that I saw it on the big screen but wish I hadn’t paid for it.