A young crew of Auckland City-based "CYFs kids" have broken into your standard multi-level, brushed concrete, million-dollar Waiheke Island bach.
The kids, Tibs, Kenae and Jesse, just wanted somewhere to lay up for a while.
But the seldom-used holiday house the kids were hoping for turns out to be nothing of the sort, as a car turns into the driveway late on the first night and homeowner Jeremy (Colin Moy, In My Father's Den) walks straight into an unplanned and potentially very ugly ambush and hostage-taking.
Director Paolo Rotondo's debut feature is a minor miracle of shoestring film-making. Like the similarly budgeted Fantail (2014), Orphans and Kingdoms takes one well thought through and finely honed idea and works it into a thoroughly satisfying whole.
Although a few of the film's twists and turns are telegraphed a little too far in advance, this is still a story that doesn't always take the easy or expected way forward. Tibs, Kenae and Jesse might not be the one-dimensional wannabe gangsters that a Hollywood take on this plot would have made them, but neither are they simply good kids who just need a bit of understanding. Kenae (Calae Hignett-Morgan, The Dark Horse) especially is a character who defies typecasting, while Jesse (Jesse James Rehu Pickery) and Tibs (Hanelle Harris) both reach the credits with well-defined character arcs and not a single performance mis-step between them.
Orphans and Kingdoms unfolds as a brief, exhilarating and always watchable fable of 21st century New Zealand. This is the wealth gap as drama, in a sweet, tough and extraordinarily likeable film.
Rotondo has put together a talented cast, provided an intelligent script and then teamed up with a terrific local crew. Cinematographer Simon Raby especially has worked wonders here, turning in shot after shot that communicates everything we need to know, so that the economical dialogue can function purely as credible communication between the characters. There's an old saying that good film-making "shows without telling". Raby and Rotondo are there with bells on.
Hunt For The Wilderpeople is burning up the box-office at the moment, and quite right too. It is a hellaciously likeable and admirable film. But in Orphans and Kingdoms we have another New Zealand-made film on our screens that also deserves and will reward an audience.
Hunt it out and have a look. You'll be glad you did.
And one thing more (Spoiler Ahead). That RP16 rating for Orphans and Kingdoms is ludicrous. Every week in this job, I sit through M-rated American drivel that treats the violent deaths of scores of innocent people as just another special effect. But I would happily buy a 12-year-old a ticket to Orphans and Kingdoms. The only reason it's been saddled with that daft – and damaging – rating is because the film includes an intelligent and honest discussion around the topic of suicide. This is my plea to whoever sets the guidelines for these things: "not talking" about suicide clearly isn't helping. So when a film like Orphans and Kingdoms comes along, that treats the subject with honesty and compassion, please don't do anything to take it away from the people who might just need to see it the most. Cheers.
By Graeme Tuckett
April 14th 2016
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