Bellbird

M
Offensive language
New Zealand
2019
Hamish Bennett
96
minutes
English
spoken

Writer-director Hamish Bennett’s tender, often funny picture of life on a Northland farm delights and moves in equal measure, underplaying fundamental life dramas with a refreshing, truthful lightness of touch.

Ross (Marshall Napier) is the third generation on the small family dairy farm and he’s determined that son Bruce (Cohen Holloway) will follow suit. Young Bruce, however, makes for a squeamish farmer and would be perfectly content to stick with his job reinventing abandoned treasures at the town dump.

These are men of few words. “Mum used to do the talking for both of us,” Bruce explains to his friend and boss, Connie (a wryly observant Rachel House). The loss of that wife and mother infuses the men’s dogged continuation of farm routine with poignance – and a dawning sense of her legacy gently pushing the two of them forward.

The sweet comic wisdom of the film lies in showing how father and son, apparently at cross purposes, respond to each other’s unspoken needs – and in seeing how the local community, starting with Marley, the cocky Māori kid next door (newcomer Kahukura Retimana), watches out for them. The shared emotional intelligence in the men’s performances is a joy to behold, the perfect corrective to any of us who mistake the undemonstrative for the unfeeling. Grant McKinnon’s cinematography quietly exalts the immanence of whenua and seasonal change in country life.

Ross & Beth, Bennett’s short prequel to Bellbird, scooped the prizes at NZIFF’s New Zealand’s Best short film competition in 2014. Check it out if you need any further persuasion to catch our premiere screenings of the year’s most deeply charming debut feature.

( NZIFF 2019 )