Review: White Lies (Taukiri Huna)

Whirimako Black in White Lies

White Lies (Taukiri Huna) comes from New Zealand. Matters of life and death are set against the culture clash of Maori and colonial in the early 20th Century.

Essentially a three hander, White Lies (Taukiri Huna) stars Whirimako Black as the Maori medicine woman Paraiti. She’s quiet and almost regal in bearing. She is a healer who represents the Maori traditions and culture in a world beset by violent, oppressive colonialism.

A Maori maid, Maraea (Rachel House), asks Paraiti to come to the wealthy home of her mistress Rebecca (Antonia Prebble).

Antonia Prebble in White Lies
The lily-white perfection of the rich man’s wife.

Rebecca reveals her pregnancy and asks Paraiti to end it. Rebecca is actually quite far along – well past when a request like that would normally be made. Both Rebecca and Maraea insist that the baby must be gone before the man of the house returns from an extended trip.

At first Paraiti refuses. Later she returns to the house and promises Rebecca she will solve her problem for her. She begins an extended stay in the home where secrets are the norm. Rebecca’s secret is easily guessed, but Paraiti has some secrets of her own that aren’t so obvious.

Rachel House, Antonia Prebble and Whirimako Black in White Lies.
Paraiti discovers the reason for Rebecca’s porcelain skin and the secret between Rebecca and Maraea.

This film is careful and deliberate. It’s contemplative with serene music and quiet action. We see the traditional Maori practices around birth and death in detail. We follow Paraiti through the beautiful forest and beside the lake as she wanders with her horse and her dog in search of the herbs and plants she needs.

Themes of identity, oppression, colorism, abortion, tradition, and family are unrelieved by humor, action, or cheerful music. I thought the film had a majestic grace and weight, but I don’t think it’s for everyone. There is no happy ending. It was written and directed by Dana Rotberg, based on a novel by Witi Ihimaera.

Currently streaming on Amazon Video, White Lies (Taukiri Huna) is a mix of English and Maori. Parts of the Maori essential to the plot are subtitled, but many prayers and songs are not.

Images via the White Lies Facebook page.

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