Dir: Toa Fraser. New Zealand. 2006. 93mins.
A Fijian matriarch calls her family together for onebig party before she dies in Toa Fraser's agreeable directorial debut which hadits international premiere at the Sundance Film Festival recently before headinginto Berlin's Panorma section.
No. 2,named after the house on the street where the film takes place, also won theaudience award in the Sundance World Dramatic competition section, indicativeof the film's heart-on-its-sleeve good will and family values.
Based on Fraser's 1999 stageplay, the film boasts a predictably grand star turn from 81 year-old US stageand screen star Ruby Dee as Nanna Maria, thegrandmother who dictates the action in the story.
Fraser shows a light touchwith the material and, conscious of the film's stageboundorigins, keeps the camera lively and all the characters larger than life.
Commercially, No 2 is amodest prospect outside New Zealand which will appeal principally to olderaudiences - an octagenarian is the lead character afterall - but it will have a healthy life on the festival circuit and will playwell on DVD and TV. Its English language and Dee's name might help it achievetheatrical sales.
The film starts and finisheswith Nanna Maria, a no-nonsense old soul who liveswith two of her grandchildren and a great grandson in her house in an Aucklandsuburb called Mt Roskill. Waking up in the earlyhours from a dream of a wedding she attended many years previously in Fiji, sheis inspired to demand that her grandchildren throw a party that very day to beattended by all of them. None of her children may attend, only hergrandchildren. At the end of the day, she says that she will announce hersuccessor.
Her grandson Erasmus (Naufahu) and faithful granddaughter Charlene (Blake) who live with her immediately start assembling their cousins.There's the young and flamboyant Hibiscus (McDowell) and the reckless Soul(Emile) and finally, after much coaxing, Nanna'sfavourite, the high-flying businessman Tyson (Horan) arrives with his Danishgirlfriend Maria (Novotny), who that very day is due to head back to Europe.
Although no outsiders areallowed to the feast, Nanna Maria takes a shine toDanish Maria and the two proceed to get drunk together, while the cousinsprepare the feast - killing a live pig, chopping down some trees in the garden,cooking in the kitchen.
As the day progresses,fights break out, Nanna Maria's children all show upto her chagrin and the front door that has been boarded up out of traditionever since her husband died is bashed down. Finally as dusk sets in, the familysits down to eat and hear her decision.
Set in the height of a balmyNew Zealand summer, the film is filled with vibrant colours to match the bigpersonalities on show. Meanwhile, the supporting cast features some brighttalent from Danish up-and-comer Novotny (Stoned,Bang Bang Orangutang) as the alluring Maria.
Others include Emile, afamiliar face from Whale Rider and Once Were Warriors, as the pent-up Sole,to the strapping Horan, who makes a promising screen debut as the handsomeTyson.
Southern Light Films
New Zealand Film Commission
Working Title Films
NZ On Air
Toa Fraser, based on his play