RED, WHITE AND BRASS, New Zealand, 2023. Starring John-Paul Foliaki, Dimitrius Schuster-Koloamatangi, Ilaisaane Green, Mikey Falesiu, Haanz Fa’avae-Jackson, Nathanial Lees. Directed by Damon Fepulea’i. 85 minutes. Rated PG (Mild coarse language).
A cheerful entertainment. It is from New Zealand – specifically the Tongan community of New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington. Red and white are the colours of the Tongan flag. And the brass is for the brass band which performed before the match.
The setting is the Rugby World Cup of 2011. For those who do not live in the rugby world or who haven’t remembered who won the Cup, the expected spoiler is that Tonga defeated France. And the match was played in Wellington.
At the beginning, we are told that this is a true story, more or less. And, in the final credits, the explanation is given that it is a fictional story based on the events and the central characters of the Finau family. And, as with so many films these days, happily, there are photos during the final credits, one side of the screen the film characters, the actual characters on the other side.
It seems everyone in New Zealand is rugby-mad. But, with Tonga excelling itself in the matches, and watched eagerly on television by the Wellington community, and with Tonga making the finals, it is no wonder that everybody wants to buy tickets for the match as soon as they become available. But, how to pay for them? The central family is the Finau family. The father is pastor of the church, a benign man but whose word is the final word. Except, of course, for the mother, the genial matriarch who always gets what she wants. And the son is Maka, exhaustingly exuberant (Foliaki, in his only film so far with no immediate information about his performance background). He commands the show – but is not always reliable, prone to burst out, raising money in the church for the tickets, getting in tangles with members of the congregation, buying fake tickets from a local gangster, Terrance (with his mother persuasively demanding the refund), forever making bad judgments. He relies on his rather upwardly mobile dapper friend, Veni (Schuster-Koloamatangi).
It is hard to believe what actually happens. There is the need for a brass band to introduce the Tongan team. Maka rounds up everyone he can, including the gangster Terrance, and relies on an actual musician to train the group. There are some entertaining rehearsals, comic mess-ups, and a great performance at the end.
The moral Maka learns is that there no place for the self-centred individualist, rather, as with the rugby team, achievement is in teamwork.
We always seem to like ‘the show must go on’ films, music, performance, comedy. And here it is, cheerfully, in under 90 minutes.
Released 22 June