Berlinale 2016: Lee Tamahori's 'The Patriarch' is All Kinds of Wonderful
by Alex Billington
February 14, 2016
I still can't believe I'm saying this. Lee Tamahori, director of Die Another Day (one of my least favorite Bond movies) and other junk like xXx: State of the Union, has actually made a rather wonderful film. I'll admit - I kinda loved it. Maybe because I really had no idea what to expect. The Patriarch, also known as Mahana, is a film about the Mahana family in New Zealand. It's set during the 1960s and focuses on one boy in the family named Simeon, played by Akuhata Keefe who is the only one, out of about 20 members, to ever challenge and speak out against the patriarch of the family, played by Temuera Morrison. It's an uplifting story about how things can change over generations, and it's just as fun to watch as it is inspiring.
On paper, The Patriarch sounds like it's a powerful drama about how one man rules over an entire family. However, the actual movie is much more light-hearted and entertaining, on top of being an engaging drama. Temuera Morrison is stern and strong as Grandfather Mahana, a ruthless ruler of his family and his sheep shearing empire. Despite raising a massive family that spans two generations, all of them fall in line and listen to whatever he says and demands, except for one boy. Simeon is such a delightful, charming kid that speaks up when he needs to and does what he knows is right, despite what the others might say. I connected very deeply with him, and it was genuinely exciting to watch him bring down this patriarch and misogyny.
Right at the start, Tamahori throws us into a "car chase" opening scene but that's the most action we ever get. From there the film often shifts between being playful and amusing to being stern and dramatic, and for some reason this worked wonderfully. I was caught up in it, not necessarily feeling the pain the rest of the family feels, instead feeling the hope and happiness and inspiration from the way this one boy is changing everything. And it's all because he just doesn't care to be told what to do, he inherently knows what's right, and he knows what's good, and that's what matters the most. He stands up to his Grandfather because, deep down, he knows that's right, too. And it's great to see him gain supporters one-by-one as the story goes on.
This story could've easily been told without being so uplifting and fun. It could've been even more dramatic and so intense that the shock of it all would force viewers think about patriarchal families. But that wouldn't have been as effective, and the film that Lee Tamahori did make is much more endearing because it's not like that. The Patriarch is completely satisfying because it is so entertaining, with outstanding performances from an authentic Maori cast that make it watchable. There are a few odd moments scattered throughout (CGI rain in one scene), but they don't detract from the bigger picture. I'm so happy to have come across this film, and I'm hopeful it will find an audience outside of New Zealand, for all the reasons I've mentioned.
Alex's Berlinale 2016 Rating: 8.5 out of 10
Follow Alex on Twitter - @firstshowing