A Brief Commentary & Film Review of
“The Inland Road”
By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director
This film was Mountain Shadow's selection for January, 2018
Donna: “You need to go home to your own family.”
Tia: “I can’t.”
It has sometimes been said that home is the one place you can always go, and they can’t kick you out. No matter how wretched you’ve been, what you’ve done, or failed to do, there is presumably a bond of kinship that cannot be broken.
When it is broken, however, the estranged and the outcast can find themselves lost and forsaken, on an unfamiliar road with an unknown destination. And, it can be an interior journey as much as it is an exterior one.
Journey, home and homecoming are universal themes, portrayed time and again in a stock story line. But they can be all the more powerful when depicted with characters who were once total strangers; but now find themselves thrown together by misfortune that becomes the catalyst for a semblance “family” where one never existed before. Such is the story line in Jackie van Beek’s film, “The Inland Road.”
Teenage runaway Tia hitches a ride on an isolated country road on New Zealand’s south island. When a car accident occurs with fatal consequences, the 16-year old half-Maori girl is still left with nowhere to go. She is rejected by both of her parents, who have split up themselves. Temporarily taken in by the family of the crash victim, Tia slowly begins to build relationships with a fellow crash survivor Will, and his pregnant wife Donna.
Meanwhile, Donna’s sister, May, is mourning the death of her husband who was killed, Donna’s bereaved six-year-old niece Lily also comes to stay with them on their sheep farm. With this set-up, Tia begins to observe what a normal family home life might look like.
But the accident has thoroughly disrupted any semblance of normalcy for these lives. Will is wracked with a sense of guilt over an accident that cost his brother-in-law’s life. He can’t work the farm on crutches while a broken leg is mending. His wife has to tend to the sheep as she vacillates between hospitable kindness and wary resentment over Tia’s presence. May’s raw grief is filled with the familiar outbursts of anger and despair.
Donna’s soon-to-be parenting skills will be immediately tested; dealing with an adolescent trying to bridge the precarious gap between childhood and young womanhood. Even sweet little Lily – depicting the angelic paragon of the childhood innocence Tia has left behind – is ultimately found to be caught up in her own form of bereavement.
The Inland Road is a quiet and subtly poignant film. It is what I sometimes call a slow burn kind of film; that builds to one final scene where a choice to made is a pivotal moment upon which everything else hinges.
To my way of thinking, it is also representative of a quintessential foreign film. The characters portrayed seem normal, credible and authentic. There’s no glamor, glitz or hype. Some films claim to be “based on a true story.” But which aren’t when you think about it. And this fictional tale is about as true as it gets. The little joys and deep sorrows, human failings, temptations and small triumphs of ordinary lives are lived out.
And, in the end, one simple, touching moment between a woman with a heart and a homesick girl will create the opportunity for a little human kindness to pave the way home.