Friday, April 13, 2018

Fa’afetai Hibiscus and Ruthless: film review

Monthly I write a film review for Touchstone (the New Zealand Methodist magazine). Stretching back to 2005, some 135 plus films later, here is the review for March 2018.

Fa’afetai Hibiscus and Ruthless
A film review by Rev Dr Steve Taylor

A year on from the Hollywood-isation of Pacific cultures that is Moana (see review in Touchstone February 2017), Hibiscus and Ruthless offers rich intercultural film making. Told with humour and generosity, this is cinema that engages the contemporary complexities inherent in coming of age in multi-cultural New Zealand today.

Thematically this a film about the intergenerational pressures of education. New Zealand born Samoan director, Stallone Vaiaoga-Ioasa describes how classic Samoan parenting prioritises learning. But a message sent with concern – “Whatever you do, do it well” – is not always heard as a message love. For Hibiscus (Suivai Pilisipi Autagavaia), aided by her childhood, Palangi, friend Ruth (Anna-Maree Thomas nicknamed “Ruthless”), Samoan parenting is received as a strict set of rules.

Central to Hibiscus and Ruthless is the kitchen table. It marks time and sets boundaries. Every New Year’s Eve, while the neighbours celebrate with fireworks, Hibiscus’ household gather around the table to hear the message of proper planning. Salamasina, the mother, lays down the rules: work hard, pass University, organise family weddings and stay away from boys.

Every day ends with a cup of tea, shared around the same table. As the rules are strained by the enterprising Samoan men interested in Hibiscus, the dynamics around the family table become increasingly tense. In the growing void of words, silence preaches volumes.

Hibiscus and Ruthless is the second film directed by Stallone Vaiaoga- Ioasa. His first, Three Wise Cousins (2016) was self-funded. A single film trailer, the strength of Pacific networks and the power of Facebook ensured a box office success. The profits that resulted were invested in Hibiscus and Ruthless.

Hibiscus and Ruthless is made, set and shot in New Zealand, all within fourteen days. With little fanfare, we are reminded of the diversity of Auckland, from the University campus and Albert Park, to the volcanic cones and Onehunga Foreshore. While Auckland is present, what is surprisingly absent around the family table are Samoan men. Hibiscus is parented by woman, her mother Salamasina (Lafitaga Mafaufau) and grandmother (Yvonne Maea-Brown).

Religion is present, albeit in dialogue rather than visual iconography or characterisation. We are spared the bro’Town stereotypes of angry ministers preaching moralism. Instead, Ruth offers what is a common secular critique, in which the missionaries bring Jesus, only for Samoan’s to have their Sunday’s stolen for the entirety of their lives. A line comically delivered, it diminishes the social and identity forming role played by the church in Samoan culture, in which faith is entwined with family and feasting.

Most gratifying is the applause that Hibiscus and Ruthless is gaining from my Samoan colleagues, particularly Pacific woman. The accurate portrayal, mixed with the easy humour, is making the kitchen table, a place of tension in Hibiscus and Ruthless, a post movie place of intergenerational conversation. For gifts of humour, the unhibited acting of Anna-Maree Thomas and Vaiaoga-Ioasa’s passion for film, I say fa’afetai (thankyou).

Posted by steve at 08:37 PM | Comments (0)

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