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Films: U is for...

Utu

Kiwi director Geoff Murphy started out self-funding his own spare-time productions on 16mm. Early efforts included action comedy Tankbusters and Uenuku, the first Maori-language film, followed by Wild Man (1977) starring Bruno Lawrence as one of a pair of conmen finding rich pickings in late 19th century gold mining communities, and Dagg Day Afternoon (1977), a zany vehicle for Wellington boot-wearing kiwi comic Fred ‘That’ll be the door!’ Dagg. Then came a real popular success – Goodbye Pork Pie (1981) sees a jilted husband hook up with a local nutball to drive from top to bottom of the country in a yellow mini to try and win her back, getting into many high- speed run-ins with the law and other New Zealanders along the way. Murphy’s follow upĀ  was even more off-the-wall, a western with Maori rebels led by Te Weke (an acting debut for former trade union leader Anzac Wallace), an ex-army corporal who swaps sides to exact revenge on the colonial government who have reneged on their land agreements and attacked villages. It’s chock full of action and gun battle scenes, shot in a fast-paced, wide-angle style for which the term ‘bravura’ could have been invented. But there’s more to it than straightforward white/black hat fare, as distrust ambiguous motives are felt and held by nearly all the characters. It’s a serious tale, but black humour seeps through, as does a hefty dose of violent slapstick – one memorable running gag sees settler Bruno Lawrence, descending into paranoid obsession after Te Weke kills his wife, trying to invent a Maori-stopping supergun by strapping first two, then four, then eight rifles together, with disastrous recoil results.

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