Film Review by Kam Williams
Adaptation of New Zealand Novella Revolves around Skeleton in Family Closet
It is New Zealand in the 1920s, a time when race was a hot button issue. And the idea of mating across the Maori-Pakeha (European) color line was still terribly taboo.
For this reason, Paraiti (Whirimako Black), a native midwife, has surreptitiously been summoned to the home of Rebecca Vickers (Antonia Perbble), a wealthy white woman whose husband is out of the country on business. "I am carrying a child that I cannot have," she quietly announces, adding, "I will pay you handsomely for your assistance."
However, the medicine woman is rather reluctant to perform an abortion, because she has been trained to use her skills to heal, not to end a life. In fact, the idea of terminating a pregnancy is so repugnant that she tries to change Mrs. Vickers' mind.
After all, despite delivering many a baby, she herself was never blessed with a child. "I know women who would kill to have a baby," she says, before suggesting, "Your husband will forgive you," since "beauty softens any man's heart."
But the cold-hearted matriarch will hear none of it, for she is hiding a deep secret which she has apparently only shared with her trusted maid and confidant, Maraea (Rachel House) . Uncompromisingly pro-life, Paraiti proposes that she be permitted to induce labor prior to the patriarch's return. That way the infant might be adopted without Mr. Vickers ever knowing it existed.
Thus unfolds White Lies, a skeletons-in-the-closet affair directed by Dana Rothberg. Rothberg also adapted it to the screen from the novella "Medicine Woman" by Witi Ihimaera, the author of Whale Rider. This film slowly builds its tension around the scandalous secret Rebecca's obviously hiding, and it all comes out in a big reveal during a very dramatic denouement.
A deeply moving reminder of man's inhumanity to man in less enlightened times.
Excellent (3.5 stars)
In English and Maori with subtitles
Running time: 99 minutes
Distributor: ArtMattan Productions
To see a trailer for White Lies, visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5TmzTQoMidc