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Turei's family are hard-working potato farm workers in rural New Zealand. A talented musician, Turei dreams of his band being the support act for Bob Marley's 1979 tour. But it's a dream that challenges the traditions and values of his upbringing and will set him at odds with his family - particularly his father, a true man of the land. Written by
I'm a sucker for movies from New Zealand, which has produced some great Maori movies over the years, from the brutal Once Were Warriors and the bloodletting colonial-western Utu, to the delightful Boy and the spiritual Whale Rider.
Alas, this one falls well short of its peers. Its portrayal of rural life in the 70s has charm but it strives a little too hard for cuteness, falling into sentimentality and idealization of poor but honest Maori family life. The story fails to fulfill any promise, pacing and direction have problems, but the acting really lets this movie down. The dialog can be unintelligible with accents from a later era it seems, and even Stan Walker's wonderful singing detracts from the movie's authenticity, with Walker's neo-soul style out of sync with the times. Temuera Morrison alone is left to carry the acting, but often has little to do except glare for the camera's gaze. The cinematography is a standout, though Pukekohe is idealized, like the times, as a perpetually sunny rural haven (it was either overcast or raining both times I visited!).
Despite its shortcomings, Mt Zion holds interest for the outsider as a social document of Maori life and marae ritual, even though the movie seems to be made primarily for a Maori audience. There's enough charm to keep you engaged, and Bob Marley's digitized cameo is a curious highlight.
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