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  • Writer's pictureAlex First

Cousins (M) - 98 minutes

Blood is thicker than water.

The family ties that bind is behind this story of three indigenous cousins forced apart by circumstances beyond their control.

The main narrative is based around one of the three, Mata, whose life has been one of abandonment.

Now, she is left wandering the streets with a glazed expression on her face –


She was but a little girl when she was taken to school by her Maori mother and told she would be picked up, but wasn’t.

She ended up at a place called The Mercy Home for Desolate Children and given an Anglo-Saxon name.

Thereafter, she was illegally adopted – stolen.

That is in spite of the fact that as a girl of about 10 or 11 she was introduced to her real extended family, who attempted to keep her within the fold.

When she later found work, she wasn’t even allowed to open her pay packet, rather that was the domain of her guardian.

Alongside her story is that of her other two cousins – Makareta, who became a lawyer and Missy, a strong-willed, no-nonsense wife and mother, who rules the roost.

Throughout the disparate time frames covered, the constant is these two cousins desire to reunite with their abandoned blood relative on the land that they call their own.

The film covers the 1940s to the present day.

Cousins is based upon the book of the same name written by one of New Zealand’s most prominent and celebrated Maori authors, Patricia Grace and published in 1992.

The screenplay is by Briar-Grace Smith, who also directs, alongside Ainsley Gardiner.

I found it took concentration to follow all the threads in Cousins, especially because it moves this way and that so often.

The full story takes time to understand and appreciate, but the longer the film went the more involved I became.

It is an emotional journey that we – the audience – take alongside the cousins.

It is one rich with Maori tradition and culture.

It speaks to the inequity in not just New Zealand, but in so many nations where native peoples have been disenfranchised.

As an Australian, my mind immediately turned to the horrific tales of the Stolen Generations, with which Cousins has immediate parallels.

Often the best way to relay just what impact such policies have is to focus on one family and that is just what the makers of Cousins have done.

Among the emotions I felt while watching it were intense frustration, anger and disillusionment.

Some of the actors are more convincing in their portrayals of the characters in the film than others, but the meaning behind the verbiage is crystal clear.

The spirit and strength of Cousins is in the unmistakable ties that bind.

Rated M, it scores a 6½ out of 10.


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