Published Jan 26, 2013The 1950s saw a wave of Polynesian immigrants flocking to New Zealand to fill the plethora of vacant unskilled labour positions. Sadly, as the national economy fell apart over the years, so too did the desire to allow the Polynesians to remain in the country, causing racial tensions to soar as raids and random checks on immigrant homes ensued.
Shopping, the debut feature film from Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, is set in 1981 as the immigration woes take their toll on a biracial family. Centered on the teenaged Willie (Kevin Paulo) we quickly realize how tough things have been growing up the son of drunken white New Zealander Terry (Alistair Browning) and Samoan mother (Maureen Fepuleai). Willie is repeatedly reminded that his dark skin dictates that he has to work harder if he wants to stay out of trouble.
When not working at a local department store, Willie provides care for his younger brother Solomon (Julian Dennison), affording the youngster with the loving and nurturing male relationship their father is incapable of providing. Most importantly, Willie takes the brunt of the physical abuse from their father and keeps Solomon safe from harm.
With the boys' mother being a remote presence in the family, compounded by the cultural isolation of being ethnic and the volatile abuse from their father, a feeling of sadness and brutality is frequently juxtaposed with scenes of the brothers gleefully playing on their bicycles and swimming in a nearby public pool.
A chance meeting at the local department store with Bennie (Jacek Koman), a European immigrant that shoplifts for profit, leads to Willie covering for his indiscretion, being accepted into Bennie's misfit group of thieves and subsequent involvement in their robberies. Willie at last feels as though he is a part of something rather than being an outsider, regardless of the illegal activities and wrongdoings.
The dilemma that arises isn't one of lawman morality; rather, the issue becomes one of the parental obligations that Willie has for Solomon when presented with the opportunity to run off with this gang and embrace the lure of reckless abandon.
While many of the elements of the story are familiar, the setting of the isolated village north of Wellington, New Zealand is unique to Shopping and highlights the rawness of the era while emphasizing its authenticity. This coming-of-age tale is propelled by the genuine performances from Paulo and Dennison, which are reason enough to excuse the occasional issues of clarity within the narrative. (New Zealand Film Commission)