During recent years, it hasn’t been easy to be a farmer. Battling long standing droughts and financial hardship, it makes you wonder why they continue to do it. Now, imagine going up against all those odds and have your fellow farmer and love of your life suddenly pass away. How could you possibly continue? Bellbird is a fantastic film that tackles these heartbreaking events.
Set in Northern New Zealand on a dairy farm operated by third-generation farmer Ross (Marshall Napier) and his wife Beth (Annie Whittle), Ross is a man of few words whilst Beth is the polar opposite. She’s always talking, asking him questions, even singing in the local choir group. Although the communication seems entirely one-sided, you can see just how much they adore each other, and their busy daily routines of milking the cattle are simple and autonomous.
Just as you are starting to get into the film, investing in their relationship, writer, director and northern local Hamish Bennett rips your heart right from your chest when Beth heads to town for a rehearsal. Their son Bruce (Cohen Holloway), is seen running down the long grassy driveway with the look of despair and heartbreak in his eyes. You know in this moment; Ross’ life will never be the same.
Left alone to run a busy dairy farm, Ross calls on the help of his son. You would think that being the son of a farmer would make it easy, but Bruce is as close to being a farmer as I am and has to learn everything from the ground up. We are also introduced to a lovely boy by the name of Marley (Kahukura Retimana). Marley offers his help to Ross, free of charge, simply because he wants to learn and maybe because he knows that Ross needs the companionship he yearns for.
Marshall Napier is utterly fantastic as the grumpy bloke that suffers in silence. He plays the role so well with how closed off he is to his counterparts and how his emotions slowly warm and open up as the film progresses. Napier’s role would not have had as much impact if it wasn’t for the loving, albeit, one-sided relationship from Kahukura Retimana in his breakout role. The determination and happy-go-lucky attitude Retimana displays on-screen made my heart so full. It also goes without saying that Cohen Holloway as Bruce, the apprehensive farmer and son is equally as fantastic. Even though he is as far removed from a farmer as you can get, his drive to just be there for his dad is just as heart-warming.
Bellbird is a fantastic film that dives deep into the heart and soul of the human spirit whilst also displaying the importance of mental health and how differently people deal with grief. You would think that the tragedy of losing the love of his life would be enough for Ross to break down. It is not until another tragedy hits the farm that Ross begins to grieve.
My biggest take-away from Bellbird how it showcases the importance of grief and opening up to help from others even if you don’t want it. Nobody could possibly go through such heartbreak and hardship all on their own. By the end of the film, I was a complete mess. My heart was so full with how those closest to Ross rallied around him when he needed it the most. Even writing this review, I am welling up and I urge you to get the tissues ready and give this wholesome film a go.