"Three journeys. Together. Apart. Their paths woven across time."
Here is another feather in the cap of the New Zealand film industry. COUSINS is an impactful, family driven, social drama taking us into lives of three cousins, Mata, Missy and Makareta who are inseparable as youngsters then cruelly forced apart in an era of indigenous injustices.
Renowned New Zealand author Patricia Grace wrote a moving novel of the same name in the early nineties. Writer/Directors Briar Grace-Smith and Merata Mita have been working with Grace for over 10 years developing a screenplay. It is a work of fiction even though there is a "based on actual events" feel to the story. Mita in particular, talks of the many stories shared with her by people who experienced similar tales as these depicted in COUSINS.
At the centre of COUSINS is Mata, played in three time phases by three actors, as are Makareta and Missy. Mata is taken away from her home and roots. She's lied to, which causes her a lifetime of anxiety. She is withdrawn and timid. Our journey with Mata is heart wrenching (marriage and child care) with smatterings of warmth (workplace and reuniting) along the way.
Gardiner and Smith have crafted a heartfelt, thoughtful film. The casting is immaculate considering the seamlessness with which we identify with each cousin from era to era. The message attached to the injustices entwined with stolen generations so topical in Australasian history is never preachy. Cousin Missy, played by Rachel House, was never developed to the extent of the others. House as Missy never quite attracts our attention as she should. It's a minor criticism for an empathetic film of some substance.