Review: The Weight of Elephants

The Weight of Elephants would make an exquisite photography book. A large, glossy tome that sat on the coffee table and you could flick through dreaming over the perfectly composed, evocative, flare-tinged images.

But it’s a film, and films (generally) need storylines. It opens with the vanishing of three children – a mystery that serves as a scene-setter rather than a driver to the plot. The menacing disappearance is just another burden (see: title) that vulnerable young Adrian must endure along with an absent mother, stern grandmother, manic-depressive uncle, school bullies, wayward neighbours, etc, etc.

Demos Murphy plays 11-year-old Adrian and does a sterling job of tugging the heartstrings with his warm, wide-eyed sensitivity. A scene where he traps a furry rabbit friend provides a rare, precious moment of childhood joy. At the other end of the emotional register, Matthew Sunderland again shows his aptitude for playing deeply disturbed characters. He’s terrifyingly good as Adrian’s dearest and most dangerous family member.

Daniel Borgman has an eye for the visual poetry of his medium and his directorial debut shows great promise but eventually gets bogged down by the earnest weightiness of the script. It plays out more like a collection of scenes than a cohesive whole, with the main thrust being a layering of increasing hopelessness. If you, as the New Zealand Film Commission seem to, like melancholic beautiful odes to childhood then this is the film for you. Stunning? Yes. Uplifting? No.

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