Bread and Roses - Review 3

August 1993
by Costa Botes


After the no-show of New Zealand features at last year's festival, locally made movies were back with a vengeance. Finance might be tight as ever, but any industry that can encompass the extremes of achievement seen in Bread and Roses and Desperate Remedies has to be in reasonable shape.

Artistically and technically, both films were world class. Desperate Remedies is a debut feature from the directing team of Peter Wells and Stewart Main. The benefit of their long filmmaking apprenticeship is everywhere apparent in the impudent assurance with which this startling, voluptuous work is crafted.

By attacking our prevailing notions of realism on a wide front, this overpowering southseas melodrama succeeds both as a provocative art-political statement, and as witty, sensual entertainment.

By contrast, Bread And Roses, Gaylene Preston's adaptation of the autobiography by Sonja Davies, has its stylistic feet planted firmly on the ground. But there's poetry in the ordinary everyday, and Preston finds it.

Warm, generous, and moving to a fault, this superbly mounted evocation of a life and an era slips through its epic length without a hint of a stumble.

The enthusiastic response by the local audience owes much to the film's dramatic strength, but much also to the welcome shocks of recognition with which we are able to greet all the vital cultural details imbedded in the narrative. I can only take up the common cry. Why don't we get more local drama like this?

Commercial imperatives may always rule the roost – we are, after all, a materialist economy founded as an exploitative colony – but the best reasons for having a homegrown film industry are all cultural.

As we move towards our third century, we have yet to fully debate, let alone resolve, the question of our national identity.

Cinema, produced by visionaries and storytellers gifted as those highlighted here, is a vital further step along that road. It also gives the rest of the world a window into our soul, putting a human face to an otherwise obscure, and perhaps highly dispensable blip on the edge of the map. Do take the opportunity then of seeing Bread and Roses in one piece, on the big screen. Many people did that during this year's Film Festival and were won over by the story's mix of nostalgia, politics, and engaging dramatic writing.

The scale of the achievement cannot be discounted. Preston and her collaborators have effectively put together the equivalent of two feature films. Logistically this is no mean feat.

That the finished result happens to be utterly confident, moving, and memorable is downright miraculous.