Review: ‘Kawa’

A Maori man's long-repressed sexual desires threaten to tear apart his immediate family ties in "Kawa."

A Maori man’s long-repressed sexual desires threaten to tear apart his immediate family ties in “Kawa,” a handsome New Zealand telepic based on “Whale Rider” scribe Witi Ihimaera’s novel “Nights in the Garden of Spain” (its local broadcast title). This agonies-of-coming-out drama is well handled on all counts but may strike some international gay auds as a bit old-hat, as the scenario adds few if any new complications to the once-groundbreaking similar narratives of “That Certain Summer” or “Making Love” decades ago. Still, respectable item should score some offshore broadcast and niche home-format sales.

Kawariki (Calvin Tuteao) is a strapping fortysomething Aucklander who seems to have it all — a successful marriage, a prestigious job (he’s an exec at a company co-founded by his father) and two healthy children. But he also has a secret life that is starting to affect his home and work environs. Spouse Annabelle (a brittle Nathalie Boltt) assumes he has a mistress. Teenaged son Sebastian (Pana Hema-Taylor) somehow thinks Mom is at fault, while for the moment, young daughter Miranda (Miriama-Jane Devantier) remains oblivious to all the unspoken tensions.

Kawa is cheating, but not with another woman — instead, he’s fallen in love with stage actor Chris (Dean O’Gorman) after years of secretly visiting bathhouses for anonymous gay sex. He can’t bring himself to confess what he’s kept repressed most of his life, until a family visit to the seaside home of his tradition-minded parents (George Henare, Vicky Haughton) is interrupted by Chris, who is stricken by the fact that their relationship has apparently hit a dead end.

Forced to come out under duress, Kawa is rejected by all, though the film offers hope that with time, his loved ones might yet reconcile themselves to the man he’s really always been. Ihimaera actually delayed the novel’s original publication for a decade, fearing its highly autobiographical content would be too painful for his own real-life family.

Helmer Katie Wolfe and scribe Kate McDermott’s thoughtful work is well supported by cast, and packaging is attractive, from locations to soundtrack choices.


New Zealand


A Cinco Cine Film Prods., Con Brio and NZ on Air production. (International sales: Corey Tong, San Francisco.) Produced by Christina Milligan, Nicole Hoey. Directed by Katie Wolfe. Screenplay, Kate McDermott, adapted from the novel "Nights in the Gardens of Spain" by Witi Ihimaera.


Camera (color, HD), Fred Renata; editor, Lisa Hough; music, Joel Haines; production designer, Brett Schwieters; art director, Sam Evans; costume designer, Danielle Cormack; sound, Ben Vanderpoel; supervising sound editor/re-recording mixer, Bruno Barrett-Garnier; sound designer, Bruce Langley; assistant director, Anna Gundesen; casting, Stuart Turner. Reviewed at Frameline (World Cinema), San Francisco, June 21, 2011. Running time: 80 MIN.


Calvin Tuteao, Nathalie Boltt, George Henare, Vicki Haughton, Dean O'Gorman, Pana Hema-Taylor, Miriama-Jane Devantier.

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