If there was ever a film for film fans who celebrate indigenous voices across the world to watch and amplify, the new intergenerational narrative Cousins, out of New Zealand, is it. It is the 4th title of 2021 being brought to cinemas through Ava DuVernay’s indie film distribution and resource collective ARRAY, which does more than just say they are dedicated to celebrating people of color and women in film globally, they prove it substantively by their releases.

Visually beautiful, well-acted, and emotionally resonant, Cousins finds a way to feel sprawling and intimate at the same time, all within its tight 98 minutes. That such a deeply affecting story can be told so well should chiefly be credited to two things; the writing and the performances. Screenwriter Briar Grace Smith, who also co-directs and stars in the film, and her mother, award-winning writer Patricia Grace, who penned the novel on which the film is based, bring the tale to life. The ensemble cast of age-diverse female performers embody their characters so fully and so well it is hard to imagine anyone else in their roles.

Three Maori girls, cousins in the Pairama family, become very close as children, protecting and helping each, though they are very different in personality and demeanor. Mata, an introverted child of a Māori mother and Pākehā (English) father, gets sent away to live apart from her cousins and all those she loves, and this severing of all the ties to family causes a sadness that alters her permanently. Makareta is the spoiled child who straddles both Te Ao Māori (the Māori world) and Te Ao Pākehā (the English world). Extremely independent and strong-willed, she strains against being bound by the expectations of family. Throughout her life, she never gives up the search for Mata. The third cousin Missy is above all driven by duty to the land and family, and is the heart of the Pairama clan. Spanning decades, Cousins weaves a theme of loss and connection through all three stories of these women both as told separately and as part of a fiercely loving family.

To read the review in its entirety, go to the AWFJ.org site HERE.