Waiyirri

By Kiara Milera and Charlotte Rose | Drama
A missionary's wife befriends an Indigenous woman and questions her need to 'save souls'.

In the 1860s, Mary lives in the raw, unvarnished landscape of South Australia, an English missionary's wife trying to bring salvation to the people already living there. But life as a settler's spouse is hard and lonely, with little to no social support, and Mary struggles to have a child.

When her husband leaves on a trip, and Mary suffers a devastating loss, she finds solace in the company of Lacardi, a Ngarrindjeri woman who empathizes with Mary's troubles. With Lacardi's friendship and understanding, Mary questions her directive to "save souls," and learns to find solace in Lacardi's connection to culture, nature and country.

Directed by Kiara Milera and Charlotte Rose from a script written by Kate Bonney (who also plays Mary), this short historical drama has the handsome visuals and transportive atmosphere that many fans of the genre love. The natural settings are rendered with an eye for their striking beauty, full of both beautiful vistas and charming, poetic details, but they do more than tantalize the eye -- they mark the landscape and the Aboriginal Australians who live on it as a presence in and of itself. Combined with a lush, plaintive musical soundtrack, the result is a film that takes many of its viewers to a far-off place and time on a journey of emotional and spiritual growth, built on a foundation of feminine connection and profound respect for the land and its peoples.

Set in colonial-era nineteenth-century South Australia, the plot has several dramatic, even tragic elements, ranging from a menacing soldier to lost and stolen children, and these are structured together with measured, compelling pacing. But while the storytelling doesn't minimize the toll and pain of such events, it has a sensuous, spiritual quality that is equally interested in the sensory and emotional experiences of the two women at the core of the narrative. Beautiful sounds of music and nature are woven with often exquisite visuals, presenting the land as imbued with peace and even magic.

Mary's relationship to this land and the Ngarrindjeri culture nurtured by it is the crux of her arc as a character. Bonney plays Mary with both naive surety and a gentle sensitivity, but those elements are transmuted into a quiet strength as her friendship with Lacardi blossoms. That friendship has its bumps, as Mary must learn to humble herself, especially when confronted with the resentment of Ngarrindjeri toward the settlers, as voiced by Lacardi during a heated moment.

Played by actor Natasha Wanganeen, Lacardi has generosity and empathy, but she also gives voice to the suffering of her people, who are often dehumanized by settlers coming onto their land. When Mary finally understands and witnesses Lacardi's loss and pain, she is finally able to understand Lacardi -- and allow the land and spiritual connection that Lacardi reveres to sustain and soothe her as well.

In the end, that transformation -- along with the film's idyllic tenor and gorgeous interplay of sound and image -- makes "Waiyirri" something like a fairy tale. The magic doesn't come from a prince or a fairy godmother, however. It comes from two people learning from and opening up to each other's unique experiences, and connecting over a truly shared humanity. "Waiyirri" is what the Ngarrindjeri call their idea of "heaven," but the shared earth is where Mary and Lacardi meet and flourish.




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