Reviews and notes
World Premiere - 7th Wellington Film Festival 1978
Karemoana was the final destination of Manfred Signal, retired teacher of drawing, whose life was dedicated to nursing her dying mother, and instructing generations of young girls in the art of accurately depicting shadows. But now her mother has died and Manfred feels free to break away and begin life anew. She journeys 'up north', and begins to settle in her idyllic island home in a little white cottage near the sea. She had looked forward to savouring the feeling of aloneness, but her first long night in her new home is one of terror.
- preface; A State of Siege.
This, without all doubt, is the most sensitive and intelligent film that has ever been made in New Zealand.
I have been more than an admirer of Janet Frame since earliest childhood and have carried some of her books with me in many countries. So it was with a great sense of exaltation that I responded to the subtleties of the film, and the utterly dominating, even shattering performance by Anne Flannery, an actress New Zealand should be more than proud of.
Here is a film, in less than an hour, that is evocative, terrifying and after three viewings, I am positive it is a landmark in New Zealand film making.
For giving this film a qualified (and therefore emotive) rave, let me say that Alun Bollinger's photography, the Chopin Mazurka (so hauntingly played by John Cousins), the whole production team plus the many investors, have a film that they should be proud of. I hope that this film will be seen in Europe and America, and also, more importantly, in this country.
Janet Frame's works are, to me, what New Zealand is all about: the quiet madness that pervades, the loneliness and frustration in an element of sometimes blatant mediocrity - but, most of all, a will to survive these seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
In Malfred Signal, the quiet transient-thinking art school mistress, there is now a chance to learn to see, and stare at what she chooses until the end of her life. For it is the "room two-inches behind the eyes" where she lives in her lonely bach on the hill overlooking the sea, surrounded by her pale reflective paintings and the unutterable silence of now being so terribly alone.
The film's power is undeniable, dialogue minimal, and visually the use of dark colours - especially and specifically blue - is a contributing factor to the many moods presented. Anne Flannery's soliloquy on the phone to an unheard neighbour (held in one shot) is indescribable. Her voice breaking into a hollow rasp of despair as she concludes with "Hullo? Are you there? Hullo? ..."
Here is a film about interior landscape, of dreams and memories, death and awakening. These reflections presented belong to one woman's creation - and, above all, the film's tense nature holds you close to this beautiful form of madness, that is by its own unrelenting definition one we all must have experienced.
All that now remains to be said is that A State of Siege
MUST be seen by all who live and care about the nature of our existence in New Zealand. It is Vincent Ward and Timothy White who through sheer hard work, and sincere dedication, have produced something extraordinary that defies comparison to anything done here before.
- Michael Heath, The Evening Post, 22 July 1978.
Screening with IN SPRING ONE PLANTS ALONE
Weblink: A Film Review by The Lumiere Reader of our screening.
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