One Thousand Ropes, from critically acclaimed writer and director of The Orator Tusi Tamasese, is a gritty Wellington-set domestic drama starring Frankie Adams and Uelese Petaia. LAUMATA LAUANO gives her take. Look out for Tusi and Frankie in the next issue (SPK69) of SPASIFIK magazine out soon. Slight spoilers ahead.
One Thousand Ropes is the story of Maea, played by Uelese Petaia (Sons for the Return Home), a former boxer who’s trying to face up to his past, his daughters, and deal with the aitu (spirit) living in his home.
Maea works as a baker and a traditional healer who uses traditional Samoan fofō (massage) to help women through their pregnancy and childbirth as he tries to atone for his violent past, which saw him isolated from his family and living alone.
One day Ilisa, an estranged daughter, played by Frankie Adams (Shortland Street, Wentworth), arrives on his doorstep having been beaten by her partner.
Maea is at a crossroads, tempted to fall back into old habits by seeking revenge.
The film doesn’t try to glorify Maea or make him a symbol for all men in his situation, but simply portrays someone in the aftermath of a violent past trying to live life, day by day.
He is not a hero, how can he be after what he used to do, however this also does not make him a demon.
A multifaceted character, Maea is human and is portrayed as such with a calm stillness by Petaia.
The real hero, it seems, is Ilisa who’s struggling with her own path.
Ilisa is someone who’s come from an abusive background, leaving the violence of her father, only to enter into a violent relationship.
Adams plays Ilisa with dead-almost defeated- eyes that seem to change as the film progresses and her bruises fade.
The bilingual film will resonate with many New Zealand-born Samoans and Pacific people in general.
The relationship at the centre of the film sees Maea speaking in Samoan to his daughter Ilisa while she, like many of us, responds in English.
Despite the inclusion of supernatural elements, One Thousand Ropes doesn’t try to be more than a film about a man and his daughter’s journeys and the repercussion of past actions.
Tamasese manages to strike the right amount of tonal balance between the film’s subject matters and possible conflicting genres, without overwhelming the audience.
Set primarily in the cramped spaces of Wellington’s Arlington Apartments, we’re drawn in by what’s not said, and the silences in between the lines delivered impeccably by the well-chosen cast.
A cultural film rooted in urban New Zealand, with supernatural elements that don’t make the film seem unbelievable, One Thousand Ropes is a study of Samoan culture within the harsh light of urban Aotearoa.
At the start of the film there’s a scene where a home-birth takes place, juxtaposed against a TV depicting an animated Maori myth about Maui slowing down the sun.
Maea may be a traditional healer, but even he urges a family to take their daughter to a hospital, despite their pleas in not wanting the public shame of her unwanted pregnancy.
On screen and stage, Samoans in New Zealand are generally known for their comedy. But there’s no doubt One Thousand Ropes provides themes that Samoans, and Pacific people in general, can relate to.
As the film’s director Tusi Tamasese has said, Samoans don’t have to be making only comedies.
“It’s good to laugh at ourselves, but it’s also good to study ourselves under the light.”
Something he succeeds in doing with One Thousand Ropes.
One Thousand Ropes
Opens: March 23
Where: New Zealand and Samoa
Duration: 98 minutes