Powerful Portrayals of Human Struggle Two Strong Movies from New Zealand and Macedonia Land Squarely on the World Cinema Map

By David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, March 1, 1995 | Go to article overview

Powerful Portrayals of Human Struggle Two Strong Movies from New Zealand and Macedonia Land Squarely on the World Cinema Map


David Sterritt, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


Lands far from Hollywood are sending films to American theaters, and while the movies vary in quality -- as art, as entertainment, and as statements on contemporary issues -- their presence allows a refreshing change from commercial cinema as usual.

"Once Were Warriors" hails from New Zealand, but the problems it tackles -- domestic violence, racial tension, youth gangs -- have relevance around the world. The story focuses on Jake and Beth, whose 18-year marriage has spawned a host of problems. Many are caused by Jake's outbursts of drunken abuse. Others stem from Beth's lingering doubts about whether she was right to marry him over the objections of her parents, ethnic Maoris who wished their daughter would stay away from decadent white culture.

The movie gains much of its strength from the hard-hitting style of director Lee Tamahori, whose ability to construct scenes of sustained emotional force is greater than one might expect from a newcomer who developed his skills making TV commercials.

Even more impressive are the performances by Temuera Morrison, a New Zealand soap-opera star of surprising depth, and Rena Owen, whose explosive portrayal of Beth won the best-actress award at last year's Montreal World Film Festival.

The movie itself won the best-film award at Montreal and has been praised at other European and American festivals. It isn't a success only on the movie-buff circuit, moreover: At box offices in New Zealand, it has become the top-grossing picture of all time, outdoing even "Jurassic Park" and other high-profile releases.

This doesn't mean it's a masterpiece; as I observed in a report from Montreal, it's less artful than powerful, in the sense that a locomotive or a sledgehammer is powerful. But its cry of anguish over domestic abuse has clearly struck a resonant chord.

"Before the Rain" also comes to American screens with film-festival credentials, having earned major prizes at the Venice filmfest a few months ago. It's in the current Academy Awards race, too, as Macedonia's entry for best foreign-language film.

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