By Willow Maclay

Grief has a way of mangling the status quo and turning it strange. It absorbs everything in its path like an all encompassing fog waiting to seep into your blood. We live knowing we are only moments away from it happening to us, but we usually manage to put these feelings away in an attempt to persevere in the face of this corrupting decay. In Waru, grief is reckoned with through eight short films cut together to tell a larger story of how the high mortality rate of children among the Maori affects their culture, and the ways in which a people learn to live alongside death—which is here embodied in the passing of a single child, the eight-year-old title character.

Eight different Maori women inhabit the director’s chair, and while the decision to combine all these short films into one apparently continuous tracking shot minimizes each respective filmmaker’s individual sensibility, the gambit speaks to the unification of the Maori people as a whole. Waru offers a rare justification of the long-take aesthetic, elevating a by-now overused technique from a gimmick into something more vital. The washed-out look of the digital cinematography heightens the sense of grief; the monotone colour palette of greys, navy blues and blacks gives the images an overwhelming, sickly feeling. Beyond its formal ingenuity, Waru is a clarion call for Maori culture (and New Zealand as a whole) to heal itself in the face of a national crisis. In this supremely empathetic film, one small death looms large over everyone and everything.