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Mild, mellow and as life-affirming as a soft fall of springtime New Zealand rain, Hamish Bennett’s charming if overfamiliar debut feature “Bellbird” — so named after a species of avian indigenous to the region, which Captain Cook reportedly described as having a song “like small bells, exquisitely tuned” — is a fondly bittersweet tribute to the rural Northland of the director’s childhood.
A portrait of a taciturn farmer father and his dutiful but indecisive son as they try to find a means of communication in the aftermath of bereavement, the film skirts dangerously close to indie dramedy cliché at times. But some astute, understated writing and warm, witty supporting turns rescue the story from tweeness, while the fresh-faced camerawork of DP Grant McKinnon, and the deep wellspring of affection that Bennett clearly has for every one of his flawed but fiercely decent characters make it a pleasantly heartwarming way to spend 96 undemanding minutes.
Couple - Beth - Annie - Whittle - Ross
Long-married couple Beth (Annie Whittle) and Ross (Marshall Napier) live in the upper part of New Zealand’s North Island. They have a well-worn routine whereby during the milking or the mucking-out of stalls Beth will natter away good-naturedly about farm business or her new solo for the local choir, while Ross will grunt occasionally, pretend to be aggravated and turn up the radio to drown her out. It’s not real irritation, though — witness the small moments of loving exchange over the morning sudoku puzzle — it’s more a simple lapse into the comfortable yin-yang roles they’ve learned to play. Indeed Ross is so curmudgeonly and gruff, while Beth is such a sunny representation of one of those older women with a simple knack for happiness, that the rules of the later-life indie drama dictate that something bad must happen to her, because otherwise their stability is such...
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