This is one hell of a movie.
I was one of the lucky Americans who was able to view The Great Maiden’s Blush before its United States distribution.
It’s a complicated New Zealand story featuring complicated characters, and it left me with complicated feelings. This I know: Maiden’s Blush was made with mastery and intense beauty.
The actors stood out first. The film’s cast includes real people. You know the kind. They aren’t the nipped, tucked, plumped, shaved, gene hoarders that stud the firmament of modern American Hollywood. So that was great.
My eyes locked immediately on Miriama McDowell (The Dark Horse, The Patriarch), who plays Bunny, a convict of an unknown crime who is clearly very troubled. Her screen counterpart is Aila, a pianist and gardener, played by Renee Lyons (Super City, Jake). Aila and Bunny find themselves in a neonatal care unit in a hospital. They’re both single women who have each recently delivered babies, but neither of them appears thrilled with their situation.
Cue the crazy.
Piecing together these two women’s stories was like watching one of those wacky multicolored potholders being made on a little red plastic loom. It all makes sense in the end and it doesn’t have to be pretty.
Through a series of flashbacks, we learn that Bunny loves muscle cars and is into drag racing. She also taxis around a famous Russian opera singer in her spare time. Aila is a concert pianist who has a complicated relationship with her piano tuner. And she tends a glorious flower garden full of heirloom roses. She recites their botanical names in French when she needs to relax.
In addition to the immensely complicated relationships inherent in the story, themes like heirloom roses, pianos, operas and cars are so very distinctive; it was almost too much. I couldn’t look away. Yet I had to know what happened next. The film was incredibly stressful. There was crying and screaming, and trying to escape from the hospital, and abortions, and lying. I legit broke out in hives.
I even took some pictures:
Writing and directing team Andrea Bosshard (Hook, Line and Sinker, Taking the Waewae Express) and Shane Loader (Hook, Line and Sinker) appear to have poured all of their creative energy into this piece and yes-anded each other to the extent that this is quite literally a movie about everything.
(Yes, and. is an improv comedy term where team members engaged in a scene go along with each others’ ideas, responding to each new twist with a cooperative “Yes! And?”.)
Through all of this, The Great Maiden’s Blush touches on women’s subjects that are usually left off screen. I truly appreciate that. For example, it’s no secret that a great many pregnancies are unplanned. I’d like to posit that The Great Maiden’s Blush approaches the idea of unplanned pregnancy in an honest and pragmatic way that discourages shaming. I can get behind a story that, completely without judgement, urges women to make choices that are right for them.
By the time The Great Maiden’s Blush ended, I was in impressed awe. This is such a beautiful piece. It’s carefully written, gorgeously acted and closes with an open ending that leaves the audience hopeful.
But I also laughed a little at the whole ordeal. Its plot twists are the same brand of silliness you’d find in an American soap opera. I almost don’t know if this movie was brilliant or a hot mess. Or both.
I believe this is an important film for both feminists and movie buffs to see. Only a select handful of films have made me feel so much. The story was powerful and the acting gorgeous. The characters were accessible, and I very much enjoyed the New Zealand setting. The editing and pacing were a bit slow for me. While the music and cinematography were perhaps more emotional than necessary, I certainly appreciated the beauty of them.
I’m very much looking forward to finding more of Bosshard and Loader’s works floating around in our crazy world.