Judge P.S. Colbert's ancestors were an ignoble tribe of warriors from the County Cork.
"In every Dream Home a Heartache"—Brian Ferry, Roxy Music
A "coming out story" for agoraphobics.
Facts of the Case
"Once upon a time, there was a handsome prince called Kawariki Williams. He had everything anyone could hope for. He fell in love with the beautiful Princess Annabelle. All the bells in the kingdom pealed out on their wedding day. Their home was a shining fairy galleon…a ship, spun of dreams and laughter. Kawa and Annabelle had two children. Well, the shining fairy galleon was headed for the second star from the right. We'd lost our way."
Kawa is the cinematic equivalent of a Fabergé egg with a stress fracture; a film of opulent beauty and artistic skill, marred by cracks in its foundation that render it, if not worthless, then certainly something of lesser value.
The title character, played by Calvin Tuteao (Once Were Warriors), seems to excel in every area. Well-built and ruggedly handsome, equally triumphant in business and sport, Kawa is clearly adored by his gorgeous wife Annabelle (Nathalie Boltt, District 9) and their beautiful children, Sebastian (Pana Hema Taylor) and Miranda (Miriama-Jane Devantier).
Equally adoring are Kawa's own parents, particularly his father (George Henare, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), a Maori tribal chieftain nearing retirement and proudly ready to pass on the title to his son, confident that by doing so, the noble tribal unit will endure.
But Kawa has a dark secret that threatens to shatter his picture perfect existence.
As the film opens, Kawa, after tucking Miranda in with a favorite bedtime story, jogs downstairs, and—after bidding his wife good night—out the door. Is he heading home to the apartment that he's been staying in for the past six weeks? Perhaps he'll stop along the way, paying a visit to that all-male sports club he belongs to; the one with the extremely popular steam bath.
Yep, Kawa is gay! This won't be much of a shock to those following the film thus far. Heck, the picture and the "coming out story" subtitle on the DVD box are a dead giveaways. But oddly enough, it sure falls like a ton of bricks on everyone he knows when the truth comes out.
Let's just back up and think about this for a second: A theoretically happy married man (with children, no less) has taken a separate residence for himself, and gets away with being gone for six weeks without even giving an explanation as to why? Does one really have to be married to realize how unbelievable that scenario is?!
Head-scratching challenges to common sense plague Kate McDermott's screenplay (an adaptation of Whale Rider author Witi Ihimaera's novel Nights in the Gardens of Spain) from start to finish. First and foremost, there's an almost obstinate resistance to address exactly what "being gay" means to Kawa. Aside from some bath-house tableaux, and a late night discussion between Kawa and his lover (an actor, played by Dean O'Gorman, in the film's strongest performance) that takes place in the afterglow, there is not only almost no sexuality in this film, but little there is confines itself to one flashback scene involving Kawa and his wife!
Of course, there's much more to being gay than sexuality, but Kawa stays just as mum on this subject. I couldn't help also wondering about Kawa's children. As the twenty first century chugs forward, it's becoming increasingly evident that younger generations are much less inclined to stigmatize homosexuality than their elders, but these kids aren't even shown reacting to, much less reflecting on the drastic changes taking place within their own family dynamic.
Hollowed out by a perceived sense of decorum, Kawa almost seems designed to be a "gay film" for "regular folks" who just don't believe that such subject matter makes for fit conversation in polite society. All of which begs the question of why the subject was ever broached in the first place. Couldn't the inevitable results of Kawa's actions (inert as they may be) have just as easily resulted from him having an affair with another woman? The mind boggles.
Wolfe Video, which specializes in presenting LGBT-themed films, has done a commendable job with a clean and vibrant standard definition 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, along with two audio options" Dolby 5.1 Surround or 2.0 Stereo. There is a bit of Maori vocabulary sprinkled throughout conversations, which gives the film an exotic authenticity, and English subtitles automatically appear to both identify and define these words. Wolfe has supplied closed captioning, which I highly recommend to viewers unfamiliar with the beautiful but very strong Kiwi accent. The set's weakness comes in the form of extras, or lack thereof. Trailers for this and other Wolfe Video presentations are Bonus Features? Come on.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Despite its considerable short-comings, I quite enjoyed Kawa; owing to its gifts, including strong ensemble work from an extremely talented cast, an infectious musical soundtrack, and the breath-taking New Zealand scenery (primarily shot around Auckland and Mangawhai, Northland), lovingly captured by cinematographer Fred Renata.
Worrying about how to evaluate a film that so clearly missed its mark while simultaneously achieving an individual greatness made this one of the most difficult reviews I've ever had to write. I suspect that much, if not most of the credit must go to director Katie Wolfe—a prolific TV director down under, making her feature debut here—who not only kept things moving smoothly and quickly, but more importantly, exhibited a unique skill for lyrical storytelling that makes her one to watch out for in future.
A noble failure, perhaps, but not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Wolfe Video
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