Contemporary World Cinema

The Patriarch

Lee Tamahori

Patriarch 01

Lee Tamahori and Temuera Morrison — the director and star of the landmark 1994 drama Once Were Warriors — reunite for this powerful family saga about a multi-generational Maori clan farming the vast, verdant hills of New Zealand’s North Island in the 1960s.

Lee Tamahori defies categorization. His films range from the powerful urban elegy Once Were Warriors to the slick Bond adventure Die Another Day and the atmospheric noir Mulholland Falls. But despite the remarkable variety, one thing is consistent: Tamahori has always focused on compelling stories. His new film is no exception: a sprawling historical family drama set in the 1960s on the vast, verdant hills of New Zealand's North Island.

Tamihana Mahana (Temuera Morrison) is the gruff, religious, and unyielding head of a multi-generational family. They farm a vast tract of land that Mahana scrabbled for years to clear and claim. Now prosperous, and a respected member of a community where Maori peacefully coexist with Pakeha (white settlers), Mahana controls his growing family through both fear and love. But Simeon (Akuhata Keefe), Mahana's educated 14-year-old grandson, is equally strong-willed, and when he clashes with Mahana, the old man banishes Simeon's strand of the family from the property. Ramona (Nancy Brunning), the matriarch, defies her husband by providing Simeon's family with a ramshackle house, and this gesture is just the beginning of a war for independence within the family.

Based on the novel Bulibasha by Witi Ihimaera (author of The Whale Rider), The Patriarch boasts handsome photography, finely detailed period design, and an unparalleled collection of performances. The rhythm of the story is expertly calibrated, moving seamlessly between intimate family moments, courtroom confrontations, and high-tension scenes (most notably a knuckle-biter of a sheep-shearing contest), all of which showcase Tamahori's skills as a master storyteller.

JANE SCHOETTLE

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