4 stars
Mahana (aka The Patriarch) is set in Gisborne, a provincial town on the north island of New Zealand, in the 1960s.
Lee Tamahori (Die Another Day) has returned home after two decades making movies in Hollywood to film this story of families and their dirty laundry which, thematically at least, is in a similar vein to his 1994 masterpiece Once Were Warriors. Here it’s not a man and his wife who are at war but two feuding families, the Mahanas and the Poatas, sheep shearing dynasties with a dark, unspoken past that festers below the surface like an infected wound. A dramatic opening scene shows the two families racing to a funeral along parallel country roads, each car full of occupants determined to get to the church first. This sets the tone for the rest of the film: the warring sides compete not just in the shearing shed but in all facets of their lives, even if the younger members are unaware of the origin of this obsessive rivalry. The plot centres on the head of the Mahana clan, Tamihana (Temuera Morrison - Once Were Warriors), a stern disciplinarian who brooks no challenges to his authority, and his volatile relationship with his free-thinking 14-year-old grandson Simeon (Akuhata Keefe). When Simeon discovers an old photo of his grandmother Ramona (Nancy Brunning) with another man he begins asking questions to try and understand the reason for the longstanding family vendetta. John Collee’s terrific screenplay is based on Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera’s novel, Bulibasha: King of the Gypsies, and is an authentic portrayal of a family saga set in a rural paradise that suffers from a man-made toxic atmosphere. Brunning gives a wonderful performance as a Māori matriarch, replete with traditional facial markings, who lives in the shadow of a bully who’s not prepared to allow any of his kin the chance to be themselves. Tem Morrison and young ‘Augs’ Keefe are both very impressive as the old “leader of the pack” and the undeveloped emerging one. Satisfying on every level, Mahana may be seen as a slightly old-fashioned movie because it refreshingly harks back to the kind of family saga that was popular in earlier times. In this case, though, it’s a welcome return.


Previewed at Sony Pictures Theatrette, Sydney, on 23 November 2016.

Temiera Morrison
Akuhata Keefe
Nancy Brunning
Jim Moriarty

Lee Tamahori

John Coulee




103 minutes

December 8, 2016
The Patriarch (2016) on IMDb
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