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Holly Hunter in the 1993 Oscar winner, 'The Piano.'

Mr. Movie: Films from New Zealand

New Zealand is the site of some wonderful films. Almost all of Lord of the Rings was shot there; the scenery is simply breathtaking. But that trilogy is science fiction; let’s look at films not only in, but about, this little-known country.


Hunt For The Wilderpeople (2016) is billed as a New Zealand adventure comedy-drama. I could not have said it any better. Left an orphan, Ricky goes to live with foster mother Bella and her taciturn husband Hec. Bella dies, and the child welfare people want Ricky back. Neither he nor Hec are keen on this, so they take to the woods and for most of the movie hide out from the authorities and meet interesting people. Aussie Sam Neill is good as Hec and newcomer Julian Dennison is just fine as Ricky. Oh, by the way: Who or what are the Wilderpeople? I have no idea. 


Whale Rider (2003) is a terrific film that was in my top 10 for 2003. It is the life-affirming story of a young girl growing up in the Maori culture, which does not allow girls much room to grow. The young heroine fights back with courage and elan. It is a heart-warming film that should be seen by every young (and not-so-young) woman (and man!).


Once Were Warriors (1994) is a devastating look at what increasing urbanization has done to the Maori culture and New Zealanders in general. The father’s traditional role as unquestioned head of the house has to give a little when he’s not making the living. With universal application, this fine little film gives us enough to think about for weeks. 


Heavenly Creatures (1994) is directed by Ring Cycle’s Peter Jackson and is based on a true story. Two young girls form a perilous friendship including a dangerous private world inhabited only by them. When separation is threatened by their parents, they take extreme measures. Melanie Lynskey and the better-known Kate Winslett (Titanic) are superb as the two girls. Trivia note: One of these girls grew up to be British mystery writer Anne Perry!


Angel At My Table (1990) is director Jane Campion’s affecting study of New Zealand poet and author Janet Frame, a quiet child misdiagnosed as mentally ill and sent to an institution for eight years! The fact it is a true story only adds to the emotional wallop of this excellent movie. 


Finally, there is the intriguing and utterly weird The Piano (1993), also directed by Jane Campion. Sam Neill and Harvey Keitel join Oscar winners Anna Paquin and Holly Hunter in the story of a mail-order bride (Hunter) who is apparently mute by choice and who loves only her piano and her daughter (probably in that order). 


All of the films in this article(including the whole Lord of the Rings cycle) are available on DVD. The Ring cycle is fine for 8 and up. The rest are for adults only.