The Silent One (1984)


New Zealand. 1984.


Director – Yvonne Mackay, Screenplay – Ian Mune, Based on the Novel by Joy Cowley, Producer – Dave Gibson, Photography – Ian Paul, Underwater Photography – Ron & Valerie Taylor, Music – Jenny McLeod, Special Effects – Ken Durey & Alan Maxwell, Makeup – Leslie Vanderwalt, Production Design – Ian Rabbit. Production Company – Gibson Film Productions/NZ Film Commission/South Pacific Merchant Finance Ltd


Telo Malese (Jonasi), Anzac Wallace (Tasiri), Rongo Tupatea Kahu (Taruga), Pat Evison (Luisa), George Henare (Paui Te Po), Anthony Gilbert (Assake)


A child is washed up in a basket in the Cook Islands. He is reluctantly taken in and adopted by a tribe where his being a deafmute is considered a bad omen. Isolated, Jonasi, as he is named, befriends and gains a mystic communion with a white sea turtle. However, the turtle is also regarded as a bad omen by the tribe. When Jonasi steps in to protect the turtle, he becomes ostracised.

This New Zealand-made production, shot on the New Zealand protectorate of the Cook Islands, is such an earnestly nice production that one feels reluctant to fault it. While not many people went to see The Silent One when it came out, it does have a small group of critical admirers. As with many such productions of its type, the film’s featuring of an ethnic cast and delving into native lifestyle has given it a certain critical respectability that has blinded many to its faults. It is not a particularly great film – think if Jonasi were a white kid, the story would only be a banal one about alienated youth.

Nevertheless, the depiction of Jonasi’s deafness is well done – the way director Yvonne Mackay suddenly cuts to silence in the middle of dances and jeering crowds aptly portrays the confusion a deaf person must find at things we take for granted. The film works reasonably well, although the acting is too simplistic to carry it more than adequately, and the hint of reincarnation at the ending is banal. It is very nicely photographed, both above and below water. For some reason, the sea turtle’s voice is dubbed as the sonar cry of whales.

The Silent One has many similarities to the later New Zealand-made Whale Rider (2002).

Director Yvonne Mackay has worked in New Zealand television but this is the only feature film she has ever directed.

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