No. 2

Directed by Toa Fraser
Running Time: 93mins
Rated: Rated M
A fine New Zealand film about Islanders and their families living in the Mount Rosskill suburb of Auckland.

At the outset it could be described as a Southern hemisphere Babette's Feast in a suburban backyard. While it does not have the solemn and mystical tones of the Danish story, it has the same message. It is a joy to prepare a feast, to invite those close to us, especially when there is hostility between them, and find that food and celebration are able to evoke love, understanding and forgiveness.

No. 2 is the number of the house in the street where Nana Maria lives. Originally from Fiji (with some evocative scenes and photos from that past), Maria and her husband, who served in Sicily in World War II, settled in Auckland and brought up their family there. Maria thinks it is time for her to name her successor as the one responsible for the extended family and to bequeath her house to someone who is a carer and a giver.

Not that Maria is your sweet little old lady. Far from it. She is a very strong-minded matriarch, dominating her own children though wary of them, but devoted to her grandchildren. It is they who are to obey her sudden summons to have a feast, to celebrate and enjoy living. Veteran American actress Ruby Dee (whose husband, Ossie Davis, died the day she arrived in New Zealand, requiring her to return to the US - but she came back a fortnight later), though very small in stature and around 80, is marvellous as Maria.

The film is not about Maoris. Rather, the islanders, descendants of Europeans who took local wives, are Polynesian. This family is Catholic (with an extraordinary parish priest who is very much the kindly elder) but traces of old traditions pervade their lives and mentality. The family have settled into the prevailing New Zealand culture and lifestyle but still value family. No. 2 celebrates family.

Toa Fraser originally wrote the play for a one woman performance of every role. He has opened it up for a film without any trace of theatricality. It is a film one could recommend anyone to see. Quite an achievement for a first film.


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