This film haunted me, but in a very good way, people. Being haunted by a film doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a terrifying experience; it can mean that whatever you have witnessed or experienced will stay with you for a long time. I think Fantail will stay with me until I die an old lady, warm in my bed. (Yes, I stole that last line from Titanic.)
This type of cinematic experience is rare, and it should be celebrated, even if it makes you feel uneasy at times. Because that is what movies are meant to do, right? They’re meant to shake you up a little bit and make you look at the world differently.
I can honestly say that I am changed from this experience, so I will make a very bold statement: this is not only the best film I have seen all year (which is a lot), but it is one of the best films I have seen in my 28 years.
*...but then I pick it back up because I have more to say*
Tania (Sophie Henderson) works the night shift at a local petrol station, where a majority of the film takes place, as odd characters drift in and out. Her brother, Piwakawaka, often accompanies her to work, where he and Tania eat/steal whatever they want.
They both have to look after their sick, diabetic mother, but Tania’s dream is to save enough money to take her brother to Dreamworld in Australia and to go find their father.
Henderson is not only the star of the film, but she wrote it as well. I have very recently started to associate myself with the word “feminist”, and as I watched Fantail, my girl-pride, for lack of a better word, was overflowing. Sophie’s Tania is deeply flawed, but it was because of those flaws that she became endearing to me. I could empathise with her, and empathy is what makes us attach to a story.
Without giving away too much, there’s a scene near the end of the film that left me clutching my heart as if I were due for an attack. Henderson’s acting was beyond incredible. In that one moment, I thought to myself, “that is what actors strive to achieve their entire career”. And here is this little-known actress from all the way down in New Zealand who has managed to display the human condition in all its complexity.
New Zealand movies, and when I say New Zealand movies, I don’t mean Lord of the Rings. I mean the movies like Once Were Warriors, Dark Horse, What Becomes of the Broken Hearted, Hunt for the Wilderpeople, House Bound. All of those movies have something in common. They address poverty in New Zealand. All the characters that feature in them are from lower income communities, and they show another side to the clean, green image of New Zealand that is so often advertised.
When I was watching Fantail it reminded me of the first time I saw Once Were Warriors. I witnessed a part of my culture that I hadn’t seen before, and I didn’t want to confront any of it. However, as I got older and as my career focused on analyzing film, I realised the immense impact that this type of storytelling has.
Not everyone’s upbringing is the same, and we won’t all be able to relate to every film or character we see. But a great film will allow us to connect to the emotions of imagined possibilities. I was able to imagine what life was like for Tania and Piwakawaka, in a way.
Because of that, Fantail brings an audience together regardless of creed, colour or upbringing. That is not an easy feat in the movie making world.