Amer­i­can An­i­mals, and a rare five-star rat­ing for New Zealand movie Ver­mil­ion.

A group of women with the force of lived ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind them make for a wise, sweet, mov­ing film.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - RE­VIEWS — DAVID LARSEN

Ver­mil­ion Directed by Dorthe Sch­eff­mann Opens No­vem­ber 8

Talk to peo­ple who have made films in New Zealand, and one thing you’ll tend to hear is that the de­vel­op­ment process can be very drawn out. If you want Film Com­mis­sion fund­ing — which you do, be­cause you can’t eas­ily make a full fea­ture for less than the cost of an Auck­land house — you have to jump through a rig­or­ous se­ries of hoops, which of­ten in­volves mul­ti­ple screen­play rewrites over many years. This is one rea­son New Zealand di­rec­tors’ first films can some­times seem at once over-cooked and un­der-writ­ten: the process went on too long and the orig­i­nal clar­ity of vi­sion got lost.

I know noth­ing about the spe­cific de­vel­op­ment process of Dorthe Sch­eff­mann’s Ver­mil­ion, which she wrote as well as directed, but it ap­pears to be the rare counter-ex­am­ple: a story that ben­e­fited from spend­ing a long time in its maker’s head, where ev­ery char­ac­ter was pared down to his or her es­sen­tials, with noth­ing left out and noth­ing ex­tra­ne­ous shoe­horned in. I was struck by the ex­cel­lence of the act­ing, the mu­sic, the cam­era work, the vis­ual ef­fects, the edit­ing and the art di­rec­tion, but none of these nec­es­sary con­tri­bu­tions could have caught fire with­out such a re­strained, in­tel­li­gent screen­play.

Jen­nifer Ward-Lealand plays Darcy, a com­poser and per­former whose suc­cess­ful ca­reer has left her less time to spend with her daugh­ter Zoe (Emily Camp­bell) than either of them might have pre­ferred. Two close friends, Sila (Goretti Chad­wick) and Sarah (Theresa Healey), have picked up the slack, and Zoe, now in her twen­ties, thinks of her­self as hav­ing three moth­ers. Sch­eff­mann stakes ev­ery­thing on her cast’s ca­pac­ity to make us care about these four women and un­der­stand what it means when Darcy starts try­ing to be more in­volved in Zoe’s life: a gam­ble that turns out to be no gam­ble at all, be­cause Chad­wick, Healey, Camp­bell and es­pe­cially Ward-Lealand fall upon their roles with hun­gry cries. I can’t re­mem­ber when I’ve seen this many strong, com­plex, well­re­alised women — es­pe­cially older women — in a New Zealand film.

Other key el­e­ments in­clude Darcy’s mu­sic, which needs to have stature and per­son­al­ity and ac­quires both cour­tesy of Don McGlashan; Maria Ines Manchego’s gor­geous cin­e­matog­ra­phy, which makes the most of the film’s few but ex­tremely well-cho­sen lo­ca­tions; and Jon Bax­ter’s vis­ual ef­fects. When I first re­alised that Darcy has the neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion synaes­the­sia, where senses cross-con­nect in un­usual ways, and that the film was go­ing to try to show us the colour pat­terns she sees when she plays mu­sic, I think I groaned au­di­bly. But Bax­ter’s min­i­mal­ist, weirdly beau­ti­ful ef­fects are a coun­try mile from the de­signer kitsch we usu­ally get in these sit­u­a­tions.

Sch­eff­mann’s writ­ing is a gift to her per­form­ers, de­lin­eat­ing char­ac­ter and story cleanly while trust­ing them to do the work of bring­ing both to life. Although the film is deal­ing in emo­tion­ally charged mat­ters, the di­a­logue is light rather than heavy, el­lip­ti­cal in a way that at first seems pseudo-pro­found but grad­u­ally re­veals it­self to be the real thing. The char­ac­ters have the force of lived ex­pe­ri­ence be­hind them. This is a wise, sweet, mov­ing film and it made me cry.

Film, page 82.

ABOVE— The char­ac­ters in Ver­mil­ion are strong, well-re­alised women, and the cin­e­matog­ra­phy is out­stand­ing.

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