Redemption (2010), Directed by Katie Wolfe, Written by Tim Balme, Renae Maihi & Katie Wolfe, Based on a short story by Phil Kawana

By Margaux Williamson

(I went to a program of shorts called “Moonshine” at the ImagineNative Film Festival with my friend Kerry Barber who was in town from the Yukon. We sat in the middle of the seats at the Jewish Community Centre. The program was a mix of funny and serious. This movie was on the serious side. Something the filmmaker said in the Q&A afterwards stuck with me for awhile.)


Two older Maoris teenagers sit on a couch. They are in a dark run-down room. Outside the windows, in bright light, we see a rural community that also looks run-down. We are guessing the “Redemption” in the title refers to a whole troubled community here, somewhere in New Zealand. The teenagers speak intimately with each other. They are kind and gentle with each other. They have already taken some drug that they are waiting to kick in and are now smoking joints. They don’t seem like the partying kind of drugs, more like the kind of drugs that are paradoxically used for survival. The lighting and camera movements are seductive as are the two actors. A man walks in while they are smoking a joint. He is wearing jogging clothes. He looks at them with disappointment. They look back at him with a bit of shame. They soon go outside to the very bright outdoors and then back into another dark structure. This is probably the girl’s bedroom. 

The first thing they do is cover all of the windows with blankets. The girl does some more drugs. Then they get on the bed. On the bed, they take off each other’s clothes. It looks like something they have done many times before. Then they begin an elaborate ritual where they each take turns blowing gentle on each other’s wounds and scars. The girl has them all over her back and the boy, all over his legs. This also looks like something they have done many times before.

Other things happen and then morning comes. The boy wakes up and runs across to the kitchen in the blinding light of the outdoors. He makes tea. The kitchen is also very bright. At the last second, he thinks to put the teacup on a saucer and walks back out. Back in the bedroom, he sees that the girl hasn’t made it through the night. She has died, presumably from too many drugs. After some time, the boy cuts across the skin over his heart with a piece of the saucer that he had broken earlier and says goodbye by putting a touch of his blood on her lips. He goes back outside like this to tell the man in the jogging suit what has happened.

During the Q&A that followed the screening, the director, Katie Wolfe, mentioned that the man in the jogging suit was in the movie because the people funding the project thought that there needed to be more hope in the movie. She said that she had added this man who wasn’t doing drugs and who was jogging as a concession to this request.

Her answer seemed funny to me – and she seemed to find it a bit funny too. It seemed funny to me because hope was the primary element at the heart of the teenager’s story. The hope involved two people who think that they might be able to heal each other through this secret ritual of blowing on each other’s wounds. It isn’t the most practical act of healing, but it’s certainly the most elaborate act that a child could dream of. It involves two people who don’t know how to fix each other but who are trying very hard to do so. It almost seems like it could work – if they concentrate hard enough.

I like that Katie Wolfe was obliging and added the jogger. I think she used it to the movie’s advantage even if it doesn’t technically add what was perceived to be missing. I like the idea that if the heart of a project is truthful and strong, you don’t need to vigilantly protect it from new or foreign elements.

Here, the jogger mainly benefits the story by adding a bit of contrast and a small amount of comic relief. The jogger always looks a bit upset and irritated. His body is frustratingly less beautiful than the teenagers who are not exercising. His jogging outfits are somewhat defiant and… well… everything about him is less dramatic. He is also engaged in an activity of hope, just a more practical and grounded one – but no less difficult. His presence mainly reminds us that hope is the main activity all around.

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