New Zealand drama Fantail is quite similar to this year’s excellent British film The Selfish Giant. Both address the metaphorical prison constructed by modern-day poverty and each is a loose adaptation of an old story; the latter takes inspiration from Oscar Wilde’s short story, while Fantail is based on the Maori myth of the mischievous fantail/piwakawaka as a harbinger of death.
Much like the bird, Fantail is both mischievous and morbid. We spend a lot of time with the amusing late-night petrol store interactions between Tania (Sophie Henderson, who also wrote the film), a white girl who believes she’s Maori, and her regional manager, Dean (Jarod Rawiri). But Tania’s brother, Piwakawaka (Jahalis Ngamotu), finds himself on a dark path after leaving Auckland to pick fruit, and leads the film towards a shocking, violent conclusion.
Fantail is more entertaining than The Selfish Giant – I could watch Kiwis banter all day long – but isn’t quite as insightful. Tania and Dean’s conversations are only loosely connected to the thematic skeleton (and those links, related to cultural identity, are sometimes clumsily emphasised) and the film’s miniscule budget limits its ability to convey a wider community. It’s a quality film nonetheless, and worth hunting down.