Merata Mita, New Zealand 1988, 99 minutes PG
Disconcertingly, Mauri's central theme of birthright is most thoroughly expressed through a man, Rewi, whose claim on it is insecure. The true nature of his spiritual transgression is the secret that is held in suspense until the end and gives the film its peculiar edginess. As played by Zac Wallace, the mysterious Rewi is a force-field of jumpy, bottled-up energy. The other young Maori man in the film, Willie, leader of a city gang who visit the marae, is also spooked, under threat. Female power in the film is not so clouded. Eva Rickard, as Kara, represents the ideals of a Maori woman's courage, wisdom and harmony with the natural world to perfection: her performance is richly informed by her own great personal mana. She calmly dominates the film as she imparts a sense of their mauri, their 'life-force', to the troubled younger characters — and, it maybe hoped, to us as well. Women in this film embody nothing less than destiny: this is strikingly true of Kara's niece Ramari whose actions absorb conflicting forces in her world and restore harmony to the land and the people. There are passages in Mauri that are more passionate in their feeling than anything else in New Zealand cinema. The emotion is so raw at times that it doesn't seem ready for public consumption. It's embarrassing and the actors tackle it head-on. Other sequences have a satisfying dramatic fullness. The ending is breathtaking. Graeme Cowley's cinematography not only captures the wild and intense beauty of the coast around Te Kaha, but also evokes the sense of a land inhabited by tribal history. Mauri is a rich brew, not a smooth one. Even at its most frenzied, it is easily the most interesting feature made in New Zealand this year and an imposing statement of elemental female power.
- Bill Gosden, Wellington Film Festival, 1988.