Friday, June 29, 2012

Jay's Movie of the Week #26: Kawa

Perfect for pride month is this coming out story I reviewed for DVDsnapshot. Also, the occasional glimpses of New Zealand remind me I'd love to travel there one day. It just looks beautiful.

Official Synopsis:

When successful businessman Kawa (Calvin Tuteao, Once Were Warriors) finds the courage to tell his wife and kids, his parents and his traditional Maori community that he's gay, the struggle he endures is not an easy one. A powerful coming out movie, Kawa is a gorgeously cinematic drama that tells the transcendent tale of bravery, love, family and pride.

Our Take:

Witi Ihimaera's semi-autobiographical 1995 novel “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” reflected his experiences coming out as gay in 1984. This is worth nothing in regards to Kawa, the filmed version, because the supporting characters' reactions to it seem outdated and melodramatic in 2010.

When the story starts, Kawa has already begun a process of embracing his gay identity. Devoted to family and obligated by birth to be a leader in the Maori community, he's rebelling against the life he feels he's “supposed” to lead. Having moved out, he's also started moving on from a very confused wife by exploring both bathhouse trysts and courtship with a local actor. Kawa is keeping a safe foot in his old life to avoid drama, but slowly self-sabotaging his way out.
Constrained by a low-budget, Kawa remains fairly well written and acted. At under 80 minutes, the first half's quiet build gives way to emotional outbursts and a rushed, forced, downright silly climax. He leaves wife Annabelle in the dark to the point of cruelty, and her response returns it in kind. His parents are drawn in unrealistically broad strokes, especially the mother, while the lover is more plot device than person. There are nuanced moments here for each character which clearly needed more time to play out. In the end, this calm, handsome film is an honest look at a necessarily selfish journey. Kawa does what he must while trying his best to minimize the inevitable pain that changing his life will cause his family. The drama is in finding the balance between happiness and self-sacrifice.

Special Features:

The DVD offers English 2.0 Stereo and 5.1 Dolby Surround Audio options and English subtitles (especially helpful in translating Maori phrases sprinkled in the dialogue), along with the trailers for Kawa and several other releases from Wolfe Video.


The story of a married Maori man coming to terms with his repressed homosexuality, Kawa is a well-made domestic drama which quietly rushes through an emotional journey. Worth a watch, but it hits some awkward spots along the way.

Overall Picture:
Movie: B-
Extras: C

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