By Ross Bembenek
How does one reconcile his past, a past in which he’s inflicted so much pain, so much hurt, that his own family has abandoned her, leaving hom broken and alone? Tusi Tamasese’s Samoan-language drama One Thousand Ropes brings this question to life in vivid, emotional detail.
Uelese Petaia portrays Maea, a former fighter turned baker and midwife. He is haunted by the abuse he inflicted upon his wife and children, leaving him alone and estranged from his family. Also haunting him is Seipua, the spirit of a dead woman clinging to life. His life is lonely and mundane until his daughter Ilisa shows up on his doorstep, pregnant and badly beaten by her boyfriend. Together, the two confront their past, try to mend the broken relationship, and move forward.
This film does a wonderful job of showing the violent, hyper-masculine environment of the Samoan ghetto that Maea inhabits, and it does so without ever showing violence onscreen. The focus is instead on the ramifications of violent acts committed against one’s family, which was something I appreciated. Oftentimes, films only show the acts themselves and not the long-term effects on the victims. One Thousand Ropes showcases in an unflinching manner the effects Maea’s former abuse had on his family. As his past haunts him throughout, Maea tries his best to make amends not only with his family, but also with himself. And as a midwife, Maea hopes to bring new life into this world.
Thematically, this film is absolutely brilliant. In addition to that, the performances are stunning. Uelese Petaia provides Maea with a level of solemn remorse, while also maintaining a certain level of poise, giving Maea an unspoken power. In addition, Frankie Adams does a wonderful job as Ilisa, Maea’s pregnant daughter. Tusi Tamasese’s direction provides the film with a nice flow, never leaving a dull moment in a relatively quiet story. The writing (also done by Tamasese) is also superb. It fleshes out each character and gives them each their own defining traits and characteristics. Cinematographer Leon Narbey’s camera work is exquisite, with intimate close-ups that showcases character emotions and vivid symbolism throughout the film.
Not often does a film deal with themes such as domestic abuse without ever showing the abuse onscreen (at least not this well, that is). However, One Thousand Ropes combines well-executed direction and cinematography with a gripping, heart-wrenching performance from Uelese Petaia to showcase a man’s regret and heartbreak in superb detail. They don’t need to show the violence; it is apparent in Maea’s actions, in his demeanor. One Thousand Ropes is a beautiful look at the way one can reconcile with himself and with others, even if he has done horrible things in the past. At its core, the film is one of redemption. A broken man tries to find his way and reconnect with his family and himself, all while dealing with his inner demons that haunt not only himself, but those he was violent towards in his past. To see if Maea’s attempts are successful, you’ll just have to see the film for yourself, which I strongly recommend you do.