imagineNATIVE: Boy

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Dir. Taika Waititi (2010, New Zealand, 85 mins.)

Boy is not what one would expect from a coming-of-age story. Director Taika Waititi chooses to forgo the type of cinematic angst and melodrama the appeals to the MTV crowd; this film has no eyeliner or bubblegum punk. He as instead elected to portray childhood more honestly than most of us care to remember it, replete with a comic disregard for reality over fantasy, sweetness beyond cynicism, and understated poignancy. Boy is a beautiful film and the debut of serious talent.

The performances in this film are amazing. Child actors are usually hit-or-miss, but Boy (James Rolleston), Rocky (Te Aho Aho Eketone-Whitu), and their supporting cast of cousins and schoolmates are all excellent. Taika Waititi pulls double-duty as Boy’s father Alameinn, a role that proves that Waittiti is willing to play something foolish with a measure of sincerity.

One of the most striking things about Boy is its ability to balance childhood and adulthood, to put both on the screen at the same time as discrete elements. Childhood receives no sugar-coating, false nostalgia, or false angst.  The schoolchildren’s sometime nastiness does not come from a malicious place, but an immature self-centred place. Boy’s flirting is not cute so much as it is awkward on a magnitude that normally gets repressed. Though Boy and his family are poor, they don’t know it and therefore do not spend much time feeling sorry for themselves. This being said, Waititi shoots these childhood habits with an adult eye. We notice all the things that Boy and his pals are content to ignore, making Boy an entertaining unreliable narrator.

The cinematography of Boy carries us along with cuts and flourishes reminiscent of Wes Anderson. Both make use of tangential montages and quickly build character and tone, both have a tendency to shoot characters using stationary, and both have very careful and deliberate camerawork. The result is a visual treat that is willing to let the camera tell as much of the story as any character.

Taika Waititi has created something special in Boy. Currently to top grossing film in New Zealand, this is a film that deserves to be distributed across much further shores. In case that does not happen, jump on any opportunity to see this film.

– Dave

(Boy will be playing at imagineNATIVE in Toronto on October twentieth. Tickets are available online or in person.)

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