›› Kawa - aka: Nights in the Gardens of Spain
a film by Katie Wolfe.
2010 | 80 mins | New Zealand.
principal players: Calvin Tuteao / Kawariki, Nathalie Boltt / Annabelle, George Henare / Hamiora, Vicky Haughton / Grace, Dean O'Gorman / Chris, Pana Hema-Taylor / Sebastian, Miriama-Jane Devantier / Miranda, Robert van Mackelenberg / Jack and with Geoffrey Snell as Walter.
Adapted Synopsis: "Cue the life of forty-something Kawa; a successful New Zealand businessman with a loving wife, adorable children and parents only too proud of their Maori son. Only his heterosexual lifestyle is but a façade, that of a mask so as to hide his true sexual orientation. It is one that he has worn well; loving his family by day, only to spend time out at the local gay sauna, if not in the arms of his boyfriend Chris. That is, until his father's retirement dictates that Kawa become the next tribal chieftain. It is a position that comes with great integrity. Only how can he accept such a revered post, when he is forever living a lie?"
Based on the novel Nights in the Gardens of Spain by Witi Ihimaera of the Whale Rider acclaim, this emotional feature is and by no surprise, an immensely poignant drama that wonderfully showcases the difficulties faced in coming out of the married man closet and of finally telling those you love, the gay truth.
Thus and in effect, this is the story of family and the stark ramifications that coming out has on the family unit; be it your parents, your wife and your children alike. It is one that is vividly played, perfectly illustrating how individual members hold differing views on the sexual diversity of life and her cue a doting mother whose love for her son is soon to turn to hate, whilst conversely Miriama-Jane Devantier as Kawa's young daughter Miranda has only sweet affection for her father. Yet the film is too full of the characteristics of the television melodrama that it is, even if Calvin Tuteao is excellent in the lead role, wonderfully depicting the courage it takes to finally let your homosexual heart run free, only for same-sex sequences to be few in number, with his boyfriend Chris, a delightful performance by Dean O'Gorman, aka Fili of The Hobbit trilogy fame, all but AWOL mid act.
The moment of truth between a son and his father in Kawa.
On a personal note, the scenes between Kawa and Robert van Mackelenberg as the elderly gay gentleman of the piece yearn for more dialogue, as too does the relationship between Kawa and his son Sebastian; a notable void in the acceptance corner, in particular given the actor playing the role is none other than Pana Hema-Taylor, aka Nasir of Spartacus' gay love story credit.
Gay father, straight son - friends forever? in Kawa.
Bottom line, we've seen this all before and frankly with more bite, than here, even if performances and production values are universally good. Such however does not diminish its central message, a "to thy own self be true" theme that is played loud and proud by director Katie Wolfe. Indeed and in the end, what differentiates this work for those that have gone before is its Maori angle; that of traditional customs and the cultural conflicts therein, together with lush vistas of the New Zealand coastline in all of its stunning beauty. And those are simply breathtaking.
Gay Visibility - overt.
Nudity - from the waist up.
Overall - file under ... 3+ stars.