Movie Review: One Thousand Ropes – Serious topic addressed in nuanced display
By Alan Ah Mu
Enthusiastic and appreciative applause of ‘One Thousand Ropes’ arose from the audience at its gala premiere held last night at the Embassy Theatre, Wellington, home of its scenes and that of director Tusi Tamasese.
The movie addresses family violence and the various tangents from it in a suggestive manner that shifts to the corner of the eye the actual physical enactment of the crime while other aspects of it like the impact of it, for example on relationships, receive focus.
Once the nuanced style becomes clear, an appreciation of the artistry behind it emerges. That of a story told through a combination of cultural expectations with shame, violence, packed with supernatural elements.
Scenes appear and then explanations unfold further along subtlety.
Scenes are left to speak for themselves with dialogue limited to the enhancement of them.
A perpetrator of family violence leaves Maea (Samoan for ‘rope’), the father and the main character, home alone, emphasised by a living room full of emptiness. Where the photos of loved ones used to hang, only outlines of the frames show on the wall, his family wrecked by his violence. So alienated has he become that he returns home from a lonely walk to and from a night/day job at a bakery to his sole companion, Seipua, a predatory woman ghost, the result of his other occupation, that of traditional mid-wife a skill he brought from his place of origin, Samoa.
Through massage Maea had exorcised one of his clients of the ghost that stays in a corner of the living room in desperate hope to live again through possession of one of the pregnant patients.
What goes around comes around.
“It’s like a cycle,” director Tusi Tamasese explained.
Heavily pregnant and badly beaten up by her boyfriend, one of Maea’s daughters turns up for refuge.
Played by Frankie Adams, the daughter asks about the ghost and as well as the story behind its presence, Maea says, “She (the ghost) is afraid of me.”
While he remained strong of hands Seipua is.
When a patient is due to arrive Maea orders Seipua off the premises and she goes.
When he injures his hands in an assault of a disobedient younger worker, the ghost begins to threaten – “Where are the women?” she demanded – to possess his daughter. Seipua begins to attack him in his sleep.
One night battle between them ends when Maea threatens to massage the ghost out if she possessed anybody and she sneered how “when your hands have turned to shit?”
When the ghost sneers, “You wife beating thing,” we know of Maea’s past.
“The movie is based on a man who was once a very violent person and he’s trying to mend his ways. But when his daughter returns she brings all the memories of his past life so he has to deal with that,” Tusi Tamasese said.
When the daughter goes into labour and wants to be taken to hospital, Maea advises her not to because the abusive boyfriend, always on the mobile phone asking for her to return, waited there; for her to go back to her bedroom and give birth by herself.
He says to her in effect, “He will take from you what I took from your mother.”
With her father vulnerable the daughter gives birth alone.
Fearful, Maea knocks on her door, after the cries of agony of childbirth had ended, to find the new mother and child well.
In fact the experience makes her stronger.
Prior to her giving birth she had listened from outside the door to the battles of Maea and realises the ghost was getting stronger inside the house.
While the still bandaged Maea is at work she goes and breaks open the grave of the ghost in the dark and pours in boiling water to kill it, as is traditional belief.
It is an act of forgiveness of her father who she frees from his burden in the home.
She leaves his flat but not to return to the boyfriend.
“She doesn’t need to return to her abusive boyfriend,” said Tamasese. “She was free. So they helped each other.”
“I wanted to talk about fa’atosaga (midwifery) and I wanted to write a story about an anti-hero and I wanted to make a picture about ghosts. So a combination of those things produced this story.”