Perfect Strangers - Review 12

11 February 2004
by Graeme Tuckett

Imagine, if you can, for one rose tinted moment, a New Zealand that may well exist in some other, more poetic dimension than this.

A New Zealand where the mist is forever lifting from the bush-clad hills, where every silence is pierced by the cry of an unseen bird. A Nw Zealand in which every boat will run into a storm of biblical proportions within an hour of slipping its moorings. Where every pub has a table of four locals who do little with their lives but look on with malevolence whenever a stranger or a woman walks into the room. A New Zealand where enigmatic strangers come striding from the tree line, a fresh carcass across their oil-skinned shoulders and a wry but rough-hewn philosophy forever ready on their chapped-but-sensual lips.

This is the New Zealand in which directors Geoff Murphy and Vincent Ward plied their trade, where grim but bleakly funny films full of misfits and misanthropes raised a tiny and black-nailed two fingered salute to Hollywood and the organised religion of the three-act story structure.

It's a place where the women were all stout-hearted sheilas, and the men were (mostly) Bruno Lawrence. A place that reached its zenith with the release of Vigil and Smash Palace, that re-emerged briefly but gloriously in The Piano, and is still visible, a palimpsest, in The Locals.

A near forgotten New Zealand which defined itself through uneasy juxtapositions of long-suffering mateship and a fierce desire to be left the hell alone.

Perfect Strangers reaches us like a broadcast from this place. It is a dark and feminised reinterpretation of our pervasive national mythology - an immediately iconic and absolutely bloody delightful piece of filmmaking.

Alternating wildly in tone between brooding and anarchic, flawed, muddy, improbable, infuriating, hilarious, bloodied and utterly unbowed, this is a film to celebrate, to love, to hate, but above all to watch, and watch again.

Kia kaha.