Vai is a heartfelt expression of pan-Pacific solidarity

by James Robins / 12 April, 2019
RelatedArticlesModule - Vai movie review

Nine film-makers’ reflections on the lives of Pasifika women creates a stirring drama.

Two years ago, a small but urgent New Zealand film called Waru stunned and stirred audiences with its anthology of eight stories, each shot in a single take, united around a common theme: the death of a young boy. All were directed by Māori women. Its stylistic freshness was matched by an intense emotive power.

Vai is something of a cousin to Waru, woven from the same cloth, made by the same producers. Here, eight scenes written and directed by nine Pasifika women are set in seven island nations. This time, we actually see the titular character, Vai (which, despite differences of language, means “water” throughout Polynesia). The film begins when she is aged eight in Fiji, refusing to be bundled off to Aotearoa with her mother, and follows her through to her final chapter as an 80-year-old kuia.

Each episode contends with the idea of home, of belonging. Throughout, “New Zealand” is a name sometimes uttered with fear and apprehension, or conjured up as a distant, imperceptible land. It’s a place of prosperity, perhaps, but where deep ties of family and community are less firmly felt. “We will all be forgotten,” Vai’s grandmother weeps.

What astounds is the unity of voice: that eight stories, each with their own approach, theme and set of characters, can be assembled into a coherent and stirring whole. Together, they deliver a unity, a confluence of existence, of people bound together amid turbulent seas. It’s an expression of pan-Pacific solidarity, the distinctions of each culture elevating the whole.

Voice is critical to several scenes – in song or as a defiant shout – as is its absence. Two of the best moments are those in which Vai barely speaks at all: one in Samoa in which she struggles with a ritual she feels is not her own; the other in the Solomon Islands, a melancholy moment among bobbing boats, laden with longing and regret.

Though not as indignant or visceral as Waru, Vai is still astonishing and heartfelt and essential viewing.

IN CINEMAS NOW

★★★★1/2

Video: Vendetta Films

This article was first published in the April 13, 2019 issue of the New Zealand Listener.

MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage

Latest

Scott Morrison: How a 'doomed' PM stormed the country with one killer line
106291 2019-05-26 00:00:00Z World

Scott Morrison: How a 'doomed' PM stormed the coun…

by Bernard Lagan

As Australia’s tourism tsar 13 years ago, Scott Morrison oversaw the rollicking “So where the bloody hell are you?’’ ad campaign.

Read more
What you need to know about knee replacements
105774 2019-05-26 00:00:00Z Health

What you need to know about knee replacements

by Ruth Nichol

Replacement knee joints are giving thousands of Kiwis decades of service, but don’t rush to get one.

Read more
How a hit romcom took indigenous Aussie star Miranda Tapsell back to her roots
106072 2019-05-25 00:00:00Z Movies

How a hit romcom took indigenous Aussie star Miran…

by Russell Baillie

Miranda Tapsell tells Russell Baillie how she came up with Top End Wedding and why its Northern Territory setting means so much.

Read more
The link between cardiovascular health and dementia
105915 2019-05-25 00:00:00Z Health

The link between cardiovascular health and dementi…

by Nicky Pellegrino

New research into the brain has found that cardiovascular ill health is linked to cognitive decline and dementia.

Read more
Following the call of New Zealand's abandoned freezing works
106317 2019-05-25 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

Following the call of New Zealand's abandoned free…

by John Summers

John Summers wonders if his abiding interest in New Zealand’s abandoned freezing works is actually a long farewell to his grandfather.

Read more
Tech Week: Time to celebrate Aotearoa’s own overlooked moonshot
106359 2019-05-25 00:00:00Z Tech

Tech Week: Time to celebrate Aotearoa’s own overlo…

by Peter Griffin

“We bow down to this idea of Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos going to Mars, when here in our own country, we had the equivalent."

Read more
Kiwi composer John Rimmer: An instrumental figure
106331 2019-05-24 11:09:35Z Music

Kiwi composer John Rimmer: An instrumental figure

by Elizabeth Kerr

Contemporaries and students are paying tribute to composer John Rimmer and his musical legacy.

Read more
Why Caroline Easther is thanking her Lucky stars
106325 2019-05-24 10:39:21Z Music

Why Caroline Easther is thanking her Lucky stars

by James Belfield

Well-known drummer Caroline Easther has stepped out front with a debut solo album.

Read more