Seven New Zealand women tell the untold stories of their lives during the Second World War
One at a time, with minimum editorial interruption, seven elderly women face the camera and speak about the impact on their lives of World War II. There are newsreel clips and vivid contributions from the story-tellers' photo albums but what renders these War Stories enthralling is the more fundamental allure of revelation stacked upon revelation. Tales that lead us with such plain assurance to the storyteller's heartfelt truth make spellbound children of us all.
What is discovered in these stories is emotion that has been long repressed in pain, smothered in shame, or disregarded as insignificantly personal in the context of the international disaster of war. The film begins with a tale that is almost familiar, the tragic love story of a passionate young woman and a dashing, daring man that has the patina of an 'oft-told romance. But as the film progresses the tales become more and more unexpected and the feelings much less classical.
The candour with which all these women speak is astonishing to those of us who have seen their generation brush so much sex and death under their carpets. Unlike previous documentaries about the women's War, this is very much a film that is about the men in the lives of its women; and about the enormous disparity in experience separating those who went to war and those who did not. We see how Maori acknowledged that gap and lifted the tapu from their warriors. We see how Pakeha locked it up inside - and tried to make everything good.
Their children, who were expected to benefit from everything good, are now parents themselves. One of them, Gaylene Preston, has dedicated this film to her own daughter. Preston's respect for her 'mothers' and her adherence to the shape and momentum they fiver their stories provide proof of Barry Barclay's defence of talking heads on films: "there's nothing more beautiful than the human face talking from the heart". In her choice of stories and the sequence in which she plays them, Preston sets up a wide-ranging and reverberant portrait of her society. A blankness in the white New Zealand heritage begins to resume the colour and vitality that have been held in the hearts of these women for fifty years.
Toronto, Audience Award, Best Film; Sydney; London; Chicago; Venice; Goteberg; Hong Kong