BELLBIRD gets 5/10 The Kiwi farm life

Directed by Hamish Bennett

Starring Marshall Napier, Cohen Holloway, Rachel House


Setting its sights on a tight-knit community in Northland, New Zealand, Bellbird is a fine enough portrait of a broken family trying to keep themselves together, though it struggles along with little momentum.

Farmer Ross (Marshall Napier) lives a quaint life tending to his flock with his wife Beth (Annie Whittle), as well as their son Bruce (Cohen Holloway) who also spends some gruelling time at his second job, ravaging through dumpsters and selling what can be salvaged. Bruce inhabits a simplicity about his work life that seems both naïve and determined — he’s a go-getter who tries all he can to put himself in whatever work he has.

As soon as we’re introduced to his family, tragedy strikes, which is heavily telegraphed in the kind of way many drama films do when they’re about to kill off a character. This death is met with a seriousness, yet emotionlessness, which is a portent of the rest of the film’s mood.

Although Ross keeps his grieving to a minimum, this death does have a great effect on the work of the farm, with Bruce now taking on more responsibilities, pushing himself beyond his limiting sensitivities. All the while, the grieving from these two seems to be so subtextual, it can barely be registered – and even any commentary on subdued emotions doesn’t resonate.

It’s an incredibly difficult feat to make such a withdrawn and internal character compelling in a film, and Bellbird hardly manages at all. There’s very little to convey about Ross, who is merely shown repetitively as a minimalistically communicative and emotionally withheld fellow, whose one-act show soon becomes mundane.

Thankfully the characters generate more interest the further out from the central story they are. Bruce is similarly unresponsive, but is at least given some opportunities for maturing and growing. His co-worker Connie (Rachel House) is a much needed boost of energy for this lethargic film, though a subplot about her stalking ex-boyfriend seems to just be left stranded.

Although a pleasant film that shows an utmost solidarity in struggling times, Bellbird itself struggles with trying to extract anything out of the mundanity of farm-work other than mundanity itself. It’s admirable for approaching a few difficult themes, but it doesn’t have the conviction to succeed in making them seem insightful or even remarkable to watch.


Bellbird plays at UWA Somerville from Monday, February 10 – Sunday, February 16, 8pm.

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