To be able to distil the elements of Kiwi life into one movie is quite a special skill but writer and director Hamish Bennett has done just that in Bellbird – a total gem of a movie.
Set in Northland, on a dairy farm, this tale of a broken family’s life has all the markers of a Kiwi classic,; stoic men, strong women, beautiful landscape, much left unsaid but with a huge beating heart underneath its skin.
This film is understated, carefully crafted and gently lifts you up and carries you along. Beautifully acted by the cast, Marshall Napier carries the weight of this film lightly on his shoulders as Ross, the gruff, hard-working farmer but it’s his stillness and subtleties that tug at your heart as he slowly but surely breaks.
Cohen Holloway is fantastic as Ross’ son Bruce, who is also lost but in a completely different way. The light and fun is brought by the ever-brilliant Rachel House, whose character Connie helps to bring out the life in both Bruce and eventually Ross. And a special mention for Kahukura Reitimana as Marley, who lights up scenes as he seeks out male mentors.
The joy and pleasure in this film comes from its bravery to keep things quiet, low-key but packed with heart and emotion. If you were to ask me what happens, I could tell you the story but really to fully engage with it, you simply have to sit back and let it wash over you.
The French call it ‘je ne sais quoi’, maybe Kiwis would call it wairua or spirit but Bellbird fits comfortably into the weird and wonderful family of NZ film alongside Boy, Meet The Feebles, Goodbye Pork Pie, Vigil and many more.
Written, directed and acted with a light touch, Bellbird is a beautiful Kiwi film that warms the heart, makes you laugh, draws the odd tear and leaves you feeling great. Everything you want from a movie. I couldn’t wait to get out and tell other folks to go and watch it, so seek it out, settle back and enjoy!
Reviewed by Mike Hales.