TL;DR – A powerful story of exploitation, honour, family and what it means to be free and does it come with a price
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
Review – Recently I was able to go along to the Pasifika Film Festival here in Brisbane put on by Event Cinemas, the NRL, Screen NSW and West Sydney University. It was a really interesting insight into Pacific culture and stories, the universal medium of expression. There was a selection of fascinating films from right across the Pacific and I was able to so see the amazing Mercenary of which we will be talking about today.
Mercenary is a film from New Caledonia and is a story of exploitation, family, the damage of honour, the price of freedom and the persistent role of racism. The story behind Mercenary is the story of Soane (Toki Pilioko) who is going nowhere in New Caledonia but after playing Rugby for all his life he is given a chance by Abraham (Laurent Pakihivatau) to play Rugby professionally in France. Unfortunately for Soane, his father Leone (Petelo Sealeu), does not like that idea, even less so when Soane disrespects him by disagreeing with him in front of Abraham. If it was not clear that part of the reason that Soane wants to leave is his overbearing father, then it is when Leone punishes Soane by brutally whipping him with an electric cord leaving huge gashes across his back which remain for the rest of the film. In this one scene, we see an insight into what motivates both Soane and Leone, a theme that will continue throughout the film. This is the theme of freedom and honour, what is the price of our freedom, and what happens when we become trapped by our honour.
However, as Soane arrives in Paris and is immediately rejected in the airport by his potential coach because he was no big enough, he gets a crash course in exploitation, both from Abraham who is only in it to get money and the French teams that sees him only as a piece of meat to be used on the field. Here we get to the heart of the film, as Soane tries to navigate his team’s need for him but also their disrespect of him and the other foreign players, trying to find love with Coralie (Iliana Zabeth), and finding how to relate to home where his brother still lives and Abraham still looms.
There is so much power in this film from its themes to the way some of its shots are staged, to that final scene which had the entire cinema holding their breath in anticipation. How do you deal with the notion of home, where you have such mixed feeling about it, but then people go out of their way to make you unwelcome in your new place. How do you deal with a club that only cares about you winning and not your health, so they are fine with giving you ‘magic pills’ to help out your performance (though this leads to one of the most amusing scenes in the film). Also, it should be said that from what I can see there is one sequence at the start of the film where they actually kill a pig on screen (if this is fake then this is a very convincing fake) and that will be confronting for a lot of people.
One of the reasons that this film works as well as it does is that the lead Toki Pilioko gives a masterful performance. He has to give such a range of emotions throughout this film, from anger to fear, from laughter to exasperation. You see this in what might be one of the most powerful Haka I have ever seen on screen by one person, his voice reverberated around the cinema, you can help but be emotionally affected but it, to the point that a number of the people in my screening applauded after, and they were right on the money here. Also halleluiah, finally someone in a movie that knows how to run away from a car that is chasing you whilst you are on foot.
If you are a fan of sports films then this is a no-brainer to go see, but more than that if you are a fan of human stories than this is a film to see. It has a strong cast, is expertly staged, and tells a powerful story, what more can you ask.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Sacha Wolff
Written by – Sacha Wolff
Music by – Luc Meilland
Starring – Toki Pilioko, Iliana Zabeth, Mikaele Tuugahala, Laurent Pakihivatau, Petelo Sealeu, Bessarion Udesiani, Omar Hasan & Mathias Dufaud
Rating – It is unrated at the moment, but I would suggest it would be similar to the Australian MA15+