You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Berlin Film Review: ‘The Inland Road’

The ruggedly beautiful landscapes of New Zealand’s isolated Otago region provide a scenic backdrop to — and the most unique aspect of — a slender coming-of-age tale.

Gloria Popata, Chelsie Preston Crayford, David Elliot, Jodie Hillock, Georgia Spillane, Stephen Lovatt.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4675370/

In “The Inland Road,” the ruggedly beautiful landscapes of New Zealand’s isolated Otago region on the South Island provide a scenic backdrop to — and the most unique aspect of — a slender coming-of-age tale from debuting feature writer-director Jackie van Beek. The loose, performance-focused drama follows troubled Maori teen Tia (camera-friendly non-profressional actress Gloria Popata), who survives a fatal road accident while hitchhiking and is subsequently sheltered by the car’s driver, despite the objections of his wife. As the physically and emotionally-wounded Tia slowly comes to terms with her turbulent past, her sometimes confrontational presence provokes a crisis in the marriage of her hosts. Further fest action seems likely for this small-scale but strikingly-shot film.

Much like laconic 16-year-old Tia (whose curvaceous body, smoking habit and way with a rifle make her seem more mature than her age), van Beek’s spare narrative only parsimoniously doles out information, something which works against audience identification with and empathy toward her. Apart from an early scene in the hospital following the accident which reveals that Tia’s parents are divorced and her father (Stephen Lovatt) has no room for her in his new life, we don’t get much insight into what makes her tick or why she has left home. Apparently, the curlicue tattoo on her neck upsets her never-seen mother, but we don’t learn why until a low-key reveal near the end of the film.

Instead of returning home with the money that her father awkwardly thrusts at her, the bruised and bandaged Tia turns up at the funeral for Matt, who died in the car accident. There, she sees Will (David Elliot), the driver of the vehicle, whose life she saved by bringing help. Now on crutches, the grateful Scotsman offers her a place to stay at the farm — now run with Matt’s widow, May (Jodie Hillock), who is sister to his pregnant wife, Donna (Chelsie Preston Crayford, the story’s most sympathetic and pragmatic character).

Hard-drinking May is finding it difficult to cope and can’t hide her bitterness and resentment toward her sister and his husband. Not only did her brother-in-law lose control of the car, directly causing Matt’s death, but the couple abandoned the farm to live abroad for many years. Now the distraught May can barely care for Lily (Georgia Spillane), her angelic-looking six-year-old.

When Lily temporarily moves in with Donna and Will, Tia devotes herself to the youngster and makes herself generally useful around the farm. Yet Tia’s assistance barely makes believable Donna’s willingness to overlook her surliness and habit of peeping at Donna and Will’s private life.

Van Beek, better known for her performance in fellow Kiwi directors Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s  “What We Do in the Shadows” graduates to features after making seven award-winning shorts. She takes the unpredictable nature of human kindness in the wake of a tragedy as the underlying theme of her screenplay, but given the film’s privileging of mood over matter, incomplete character development, and sometimes implausible situations, not every viewer will buy in.

While the camera loves Popata (according to the press kit, was selected from more than 2,000 teens who auditioned for the role of Tia), she’s better at suggesting a heedless, directionless youth than one who ultimately learns and changes. Meanwhile, gorgeous, pint-sized Spillane, also a non-pro, is a real find who makes entirely believable her confusion over the loss of her father.

The lyrical, handheld lensing by DP Giovanni C. Lorusso favors intimate closeups of the characters secretly regarding one another or basking in the sun-dappled, autumnal nature. At the same time, blunt jump cuts by editors Luca Cappelli and Tom Eagles disguise the project’s low-budget nature but fail to smooth over narrative gaps.

Popular on Variety

Berlin Film Review: 'The Inland Road'

Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (Generation 14plus), Feb 18, 2017. Running time: 80 MIN.

Production: (New Zealand) A Sabertooth Films Ltd. production, in association with the New Zealand Film Commission, Park Road Post Prod., Sherwood Hotel Queenstown, Ayrburn Farms Estate Ltd., Film Inc. (International sales: Level K, Copenhagen.) Producer: Aaron Watson. Executive producers: Philippa Campbell, Brett Mills.

Crew: Director, writer: Jackie van Beek. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Giovanni C. Lorusso. Editors: Luca Cappelli, Tom Eagles.

With: Gloria Popata, Chelsie Preston Crayford, David Elliot, Jodie Hillock, Georgia Spillane, Stephen Lovatt.

More Film

  • Film director and scriptwriter Vojtech Jasny

    Vojtech Jasny, Award-Winning Czech Filmmaker, Dies at 93

    Czech filmmaker Vojtech Jasny, director of “All My Good Countrymen,” which won the best director prize at Cannes in 1969, has died. He was 93. According to the Associated Press, Slovacke divadlo, a theatre he frequently visited, said that Jasny died Friday, and a family representative confirmed his death to the CTK news agency. Jasny [...]

  • Noelle Anna Kendrick

    Film Review: 'Noelle' on Disney Plus

    What do you get when you toss together Christmas cheer, Christmas kitsch, a fish-out-of-the-North-Pole setup swiped from “Elf,” and a plot that turns on whether Kris Kringle’s daughter, played as a perky naïf by Anna Kendrick, has what it takes to step into her dad’s snow boots? You get a plastic icicle like “Noelle,” Long [...]

  • Scandalous

    Film Review: 'Scandalous: The Untold Story of the National Enquirer'

    When grocery store shoppers snag a copy of Weekly World News (the rag responsible for the refuses-to-die “Bat Child” hoax), they know they’re getting fake news. But when they pick up the National Enquirer, it’s a far more ambiguous prospect. Enquirer headlines are deliberately provocative, shouting details of the private lives of real people — [...]

  • Cynthia Erivo

    Cynthia Erivo Almost Gave Up Singing to Become a Spinal Surgeon

    Before Cynthia Erivo went on to become a Tony and Grammy winner, she nearly gave up singing to be a spinal surgeon. In her “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors” conversation with Alfre Woodard, the “Harriet” star said she had been singing since she was toddler. Her mother noticed she’d hum while eating her food when [...]

  • Alfre Woodard Cynthia Erivo Variety Actors

    How Cynthia Erivo and Alfre Woodard Found Deeper Meaning in ‘Harriet’ and ‘Clemency’

    Cynthia Erivo (“Harriet”) and Alfre Woodard (“Clemency”) sat down for a chat for “Variety Studio: Actors on Actors.” For more, click here. Cynthia Erivo and Alfre Woodard are at the forefront of this year’s awards conversation for two prestige films directed by black women. In Chinonye Chukwu’s “Clemency,” a movie that won the Sundance Grand [...]

  • Rocketman Taron Egerton

    'Rocketman' Hair and Make-Up Artist Talks Transforming Taron Egerton

    Hair and make-up artist Lizzie Yianni-Georgiou sums up “Rocketman” as the story “of a great icon who hits rock bottom. You see the great things happen and he hits rock bottom. By the end, he’s pulled himself together and he’s still standing.” For the viewer, it’s a rollercoaster ride of emotion, but as Yianni-Georgiou says, [...]


    Box Office: 'Ford v Ferrari' Dashing to No. 1 While 'Charlie's Angels' Flounders

    Christian Bale and Matt Damon’s racing drama “Ford v Ferrari” is set to win the weekend box office by a long shot with an esimated $29 million from 3,528 domestic locations. Elizabeth Banks’ “Charlie’s Angels” reboot could land in a distant second in its debut weekend with about $8.2 million, but the second frame of [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content