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Sons For the Return Home

Sons is often funny, often sharp in its insights, welcomely serious in intention and complex in its working out of a tangle of related questions – an important film.

Sons for the Return Home, New Zealand, 1979

Director: Paul Maunder
Production co: Pacific Films
Executive producer: Don Blakeney
Screenplay: Paul Maunder
Adapted from the novel by Albert Wendt
Director of photography: Alun Bollinger
Camera: Paul Leach
Music: Malcolm Smith
Art director: Vincent Ward
Editor: Christine Lancaster
Sound: Don Reynolds
Production manager: Grahame McLean

With: Uelese Petaia (Sione), Fiona Lindsay (Sarah), Moira Walker (Sione’s mother), Lani Tupu (Sione’s father), Amalamo Tanielu (Malie), Alan Jervis (Sarah’s father), Anne Flannery (Sarah’s mother), Malama Masina (Receptionist), Sean Duffy (Sarah’s first lover)

35mm, 117 minutes, R16

Watch the trailer for Sons for the Return Home (9.56MB; 2.43 minutes)

When Sione and his family arrive home to Samoa after fifteen years in New Zealand, Sione’s mother is proud of the university education her son received in New Zealand. She is looking forward to the family settling into a new and more affluent life in their home village. However, Sione is unsettled and is disturbed by his memories of Sarah, the wealthy New Zealand girl with whom he fell in love.

“Beer handles for starters – in the opening moments of Paul Maunder’s Sons for the Return Home, adapted from the Albert Wendt novel, a sinking feeling that the familiar, signposted tour of the Land of the Long White Stereotype is to begin again lifts with the realisation that the pub is English. Joshing a Scot and a West Indian, a comradely Englishman amuses a girl from New Zealand who, invited to comment on the proposition that ‘the policy of separate development is universal’, agrees that New Zealand is no racial utopia. She walks out into a London street and cool piano soundtrack gives way to strumming and warm chanting as the film glides into a Samoan homecoming celebration. One of the two sons of the returning family moves away from the crowd; alone on the beach, he takes out a photograph of the girl and, though he lifts his head to a view of palms and sparking waters, sees Wellington Harbour from Victoria University and relives his first meeting with the girl. The fluency with which director-screen writer Paul Maunder introduces theme, characters and settings displays skill and economy; brisk pace and contrasted moods whet the appetite… Sons for the Return Home is rewarding viewing. Though Maunder can be embarrassing when straining for the poignant or lyrical … he also emphatically holds interest for nearly tow hours and pleases the eye with a professionally shot and edited work. Sons is often funny, often sharp in its insights, welcomely serious in intention and complex in its working out of a tangle of related questions – an important film.” — Tom McWilliams, NZ Listener, 3 November 1979

Sons recalls to mind (on occasions) the visual grace that dominates the work of Indian director Satyajit Ray – especially in the Western Samoan scenes – and these, on the whole, are the best scenes in the film... The film resonates in the mind for long afterwards – there is enough provoking material for local audiences to identify with, and it is satisfying to hear audiences applaud certain scenes vociferously. Sons does not impose an interpretation on the viewer. Rather it cautiously leaves all interpretation up to the viewer – which is what any film that is directed honestly and communicates forcefully should do. The film is an exploration of all attitudes – and it is a potent, yet delicate, example of a director’s commitment. It is unnecessary for me to reiterate then, that everyone who has some sort of social conscience should see it.” — Michael Heath, The Evening Post, 18 February 1980

Sons for the Return Home is an important film dealing in issues that should concern every New Zealander. Maybe that’s a rather stiff and pompous way of stating the film’s impact, but it would seem to be the approach of the board of censors has adopted. Despite some explicit sex and a little raw dialogue, the film’s R16 Certificate is mitigated by the unusual warning that children may attend provided they are accompanied by a parent or teacher… Sons for the Return Home is a human film. It is bound to promote greater racial and cultural understanding, which was surely a large part of the film makers’ intentions, and it leaves a wealth of sharp social observation to chew over. Freely adapted from Albert Wendt’s 1973 novel, the film focuses on the short lived love-affair of Sione, a young New Zealand-bred Samoan, and Sarah an affluent palagi girl… Writer-director Paul Maunder has filled Sons for the Return Home with memorable and telling details…” — Nicholas Reid, Auckland Star, 20 October 1979

“Two contributions to Sons for the Return Home are outstanding. First is the performance of Moira Walker, as the dominant mother of a family that makes its modest pile in New Zealand and returns to build the best European-style home in their village. A teacher at Wellington East Girls’ College, Moira Walker makes her every appearance incisive, from requiring Sione to scrub the pavement outside their Newtown home to denouncing his wish to marry Sarah. It will be enlightening to many that Moira Walker acted in Return to Paradise (1952), which had Gary Cooper in the starring part. Natural skill and experience acquired then are patent in her present performance. Just as notable is the collaboration of Alun Bollinger (director of photography) and Paul Leach (camera) with Paul Maunder (script and director). Recent New Zealand films have consistently displayed professional standards in photography, but the work here goes further: from time to time it adorns and enhances the film…” Bill Taylor, NZ Herald, 20 October 1979

Screenings: Sons for the Return Home screened on 28 March 2007 as part of the Adapted: NZ Literature into Film season.