Living in New Zealand in 1981 amid high racial tension, Willie, a half-Samoan teenager, is coming into his own. With an unpredictable father, Willie spends most of his time working at a department store or taking care of his little brother, Solomon. A chance encounter at work with an eccentric and charming “shopper” named Bennie lures Willie into a world without rules. As Willie begins to find a place in Bennie’s reckless nest of criminals, Solomon grows increasingly vulnerable to their father’s violent tendencies.
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★★★★ review by Simon Di Berardino on Letterboxd
I almost didn’t see Shopping, the debut feature film from the collaborative efforts of New Zealand directors Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland, and post-screening I’m entirely glad that I did. The premise is a familiar one, but like most films that tread proverbial territory, it’s all in the execution of the material as to whether the project will sink or swim. In most cases a familiar narrative transcends it’s echo by coming from a place of personal history, or at least an adaptation of an earnest moment, which seems exactly the case with Shopping. Based upon director Louis Sutherland’s own youthful experiences, the film takes place in 1980 and follows a young man named Willie who gets enticed by a local shoplifting outfit whilst in the midst of a fairly brutal falling out with his father. Willie also lives with his caring yet ineffectual mother and his younger brother Solomon, with whom he shares a protective bond, as Solomon seems unequipped to deal with the trauma that circulates in his home and the town. Willie and Solomon are half-Samoan, and much of the film relies on the undercurrent of tension that floats about the town, occasionally ending in vicious confrontations.
This racial violence gives Shopping a lurking sense of danger, and as Willie slowly falls in with this criminal crowd his presence becomes a locus of turmoil, with some of the members taking issue with him joining their not so merry band of thieves. There are also moments of physical violence that punctuate the experience, from the belt buckle wounds that line Willie’s arm or the knife fights that so immediately erupt at the seedy criminal parties Willie sometimes attends, the violence in Shopping is both extra and intra with each occupying a sense of real menace. Willie is seemingly a good soul, his mother frequently reminding him of his individuality and moral upstanding, but it’s easy to see how such a lifestyle might tempt him so, with the film makers expertly establishing the tension between his fleeing and returning to the nest. Like the flightless magpie that lives in the family’s home or the housefly that Solomon ties to a string, Willie seeks to escape but finds himself tethered to the people that need him most, a conflict that plays out to great dramatic effect. Shopping is one of those great snapshots of youth, a moment of spiritual calamity that sometimes needs a run with the devil to set things straight.
Check out the rest of my coverage of the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival over here.
★★★★ review by Michael Scott on Letterboxd
Shopping became one of those fortuitous festival experiences for me.
In the first draft of my schedule I begrudgingly left it out. It played on me to the point that I ended up shuffling a number of sessions to fit it in, eventually sacrificing Oh Boy after ACMI announced a run for it in September/October.
Then Friday arrived. Work was shitting me. An hour into a half hour meeting I decided I wasn't in the mood for Kiwi retro-drama and tried to swap back to the black and white Berlin hipster flick (which for some reason seemed a more calming option at the time). The MIFF app wouldn't let me change out, the MIFF mobile website wouldn't let me change out and by the time I got back to my desktop, the last tickets for Oh Boy had been snapped up.
Looking at the standby queue I decided the festival gods were pushing me towards New Zealand for a reason.
It turns out they were completely right. I adored Shopping.
Mark Albiston and Louis Sutherland's 80s-set walk down memory lane should ignite fits of reminiscing in a generation of Kiwis. And, if I'm anything to go by, Aussies too. Personally, I took to the film almost immediately, I think it was the disturbing familiarity of beer-bellied man flesh, a sight that is seared into my memories of Saturday mornings, along with ill-fitting jocks and pancakes (don't ask).
Though the overall look and feel of Shopping may resonate across the Tasman, this walk down memory lane is Sutherland's through and through. Like his film's protagonist, Willie (Kevin Paulo), Sutherland was himself sucked into the clutches of a shoplifting gang in his younger years. This first hand experience plays well in the screenplay, adding bite to the standard coming-of-age tropes, and bouncing off ideas of fatherhood, manhood and cultural fidelity.
It may not be as quirky as the similarly framed Boy (the other Kiwi flick, not the aforementioned German one), in fact it is a hell of a lot grittier but there is still a strong sense of the idiosyncratic, especially when it comes to Willie's younger brother, Solomon (Julian Dennison) and I reckon Shopping will resonate all the more for it. The two boys are fantastically drawn and share a very recognisable bond, both in the film's lighter moments but also when the brutal family violence enters the picture. Paulo convincingly covers off on Willie's ingeniousness, adaptiveness and eagerness to latch onto a new father figure, something charmingly supplied by Jacek Koman (well, charmingly and a little dangerously).
Shopping is a wonderful exercise in balance. It is funny without being fluffy; dark without being morbid; and even a little romantic without being wet. In other words, Albiston and Sutherland have managed to capture their memories without scrubbing them clean of life. That's a refreshing thing nowadays.
Thank you festival gods.
★★★★ review by carolyn lewis on Letterboxd
Shopping is a visually stimulating, multidimensional coming of age story set in New Zealand. Willy is part Samoan and is reminded by his abusive father that race will hold him back in life. The film is poetic and emotional in its telling of Willy’s story, there are wonderfully odd characters with their own internal conflicts, great performances, well-written script, and a struggle to find identity in a toxic world; a journey that we’ve heard before, but not from this perspective.
★★★★ review by Benjamin on Letterboxd
Young Julian Dennison might be the cutest thing ever
★★★½ review by Iknow on Letterboxd
Gangster's paradise para el amante del robo de tiendas. Encontré el final algo confuso y es claro que ciertas referencias a las redadas de neozelandesas de 1981 se me escapan. Aún así es notable como mezcla el drama de familia disfuncional con un voluble protagonista que busca hacer lo correcto pero termina siendo seducido por algún maloso ruso neozelandés.
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