In Māori, ‘waru’ means ‘eight’, and appropriately this anthology feature is directed by eight different Māori women. Comprised of eight single-take sequences following different Māori women on the morning of a tangi (funeral) for a young boy, also named Waru, every chapter starts with the timestamp of 9:59am, implying that each sequence is happening concurrently.
But this is not a case of following eight different parties who all just happen to be congregating at the same service. While some segments concern people on the ground at the tangi, including Waru’s two grandmothers, others come nowhere near it.
We see his teacher struggle during a school day; a Māori newscaster taking a stand on live TV, against the racist rhetoric of the network in discussing Waru’s death and the Māori culture; and, in the final chapter, two sisters seeking some kind of vengeance. Teased throughout most of these is the implication that Waru died through abusive circumstances, specifically a patriarchal source going by who the sisters target and an outburst by one young woman at the tangi.
The anthology format is used to tell a larger story of how the high mortality rate of Māori children impacts their culture, but also to spotlight that violence and abuse of the vulnerable are not actually symptomatic of a specific people. A community or culture is not inherently responsible for predominantly male entitlement that exerts control and corrupting influence, but accountability en masse is the only way that this toxicity can be appropriately challenged. Silence only enables.
If the relevance of each vignette to the rest isn’t always immediately apparent, they all at least concern someone coming to terms with responsibility: what could they have done? What could they still do? And if any of this sounds worryingly like a potentially stiff diatribe, it is anything but thanks to narrative ambiguity, palpable empathy and formal ingenuity.
Aside from a sorrow-heightening anaemic colour palette unifying them, each chapter, a couple incorporating magical realism, stands out thanks to the details unique to each. Grief comes in all forms, and none of the eight fluid takes of Waru is quite like the other.