Land doesn’t belong to us, we belong to the land. This film follows three cousins whose stories are woven across time as they are separated by circumstance. The story shifts between decades to tell Mata Pairama’s story of separation from her culture and her cousin’s quest to find and return her to her land. There’s a lot of characterisation packed into the short run time; Mata Pairama has issues with identity due to feeling adrift from her culture, while Makareta Pairama, the mature and staunch self-described ‘spoilt one’, battles with the preferential treatment and education she receives compared to others. There’s a conflict between her seemingly concreted destiny and the independence she yearns for during the 1970s feminist movement. The third cousin, Missy, is hardworking and underappreciated. Throughout the course of the film, her courage puts her in a situation she is unprepared for where she finds love and appreciation.
The film is spiritual. Panning shots of Māori land coupled with a melancholy score and themes of belonging make the movie prayerful and introspective. Admittedly, the more connected you are to the theme and culture, the more this movie will be for you.
There are moments that caused me to tear up… not due to any outright displays of emotion or sadness but for the unconscious realization that I have never seen my language spoken in a movie like this before. It is exactly how it might be used in real life, exactly how it might be spoken on a marae, exactly how my Nan might use it. The dialogue shines during these moments. The cast offers a moving vulnerability, especially near the end.
The film addresses many Māori issues; land confiscation, state seizure of indigenous children, homelessness, and mental health. The issues are impossible to fully tackle in such a short time. I wish Cousins was a little longer so audiences could hear more of the films whakaaro on these subjects.
It is a beautiful film. Directors Ainsley Gardiner and Briar Grace-Smith urged us, before the screening, to find and apply our own meaning to the film. I find comfort in knowing I’ve found mine. Hopefully, you will find yours.