BRANNAVAN GNANALINGAM reports from the Wellington Film Society. This week: priming Rain of the Childen.

VINCENT WARD is probably the closest figure to an auteur in New Zealand, which means even his noble failures (such as River Queen) are worthy of consideration. His visual palettes and the understated yet complex moods are brilliantly constructed, and he was able to maintain these tropes even within his mixed American career. Given the release of Rain of the Children, the Film Society in a nice piece of foresight, screened two of Ward’s earlier films – A State of Siege based on a Janet Frame story, and In Spring One Plants Alone, the documentary that forms the basis of Rain of the Children.

A State of Siege tells the story of Manfred Signal, a woman who after the death of her mother escapes up north to isolation and peace. A retired art teacher and widow, whose later life had been dominated by caring for her mother, she tries to use the new surroundings to escape the drudgery of her past life. However, the isolation brings up new terrors, a kind of banal horror. She’s a fascinating character – torn beween old lives and new aspirations. Ward films his story with an uncompromising minimalism (which initially takes a while to get used to, and Ward arguably takes a little too long to set up the scene) with dark colours, little dialogue, and long silent moments. The film moves up to a devastating conclusion with the phone conversations.

In Spring One Plants Alone is Ward’s documentary on Puhi and Niki, a mother and son carving out an existence in the isolating beauty of the Uruweras. They’re wonderful and tragic figures – Puhi the elderly, hunchbacked woman (Rain of the Children explores her heartbreaking story) and her schizophrenic son, potter about their daily businesses, heading into town for a haircut or an iceblock. The detached way in which Ward films his characters manages to lend the film an emotional resonance that isn’t mawkish or forced. It’s also compassionate too – little moments of light are thrown into the overwhelming sadness. In Spring One Plants Alone is a classic piece of New Zealand filmmaking, and arguably our greatest documentary.