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 Review archive:  # a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

Vigil - Vigil(Blu Ray) [Arrow Academy - 2018]

Vigil is an arty-yet-never overly indulgent New Zealand film from the early 80’s,  that mixes together drama & coming-of-age genres in a stark rural setting.  Here from the Arrow’s Academy line, we have a Blu Ray release of the film.

From 1984 Vigil was the first full-length feature film from director & writer Vincent Ward(The Navigator: A Medieval Odyssey, Map of the Human Heart, River Queen). Ward is often called “the Antipodean Werner Herzog”- due to his use of lingering landscape shots, obsessions with dangerous filming locations/ risky set-ups, and his filmography that blends together both feature & documentary films.  Through tonally I’d say this comparison is misleading as from what I’ve seen from Vigil- there is more sly-playfulness, a mix of human emotion, and sexual tension present in Ward work, compared to that of  Werner Herzog.

Vigil's setting is a isolated valley farm in New Zealand’s north Island, it’s rundown buildings, and it’s surrounding mountains. The film focuses in on a farming family- husband & wife, their teenage daughter, and the wife’s aging father. Within a short time the father falls & dies, and we get a mysterious bearded stranger walking into the families life- and the unfolding film charts the interaction & effect this stranger has on the family.

As mentioned early Ward shares Herzog passion for landscape & weather, but added to this we get lost of shorts of decaying rural buildings & machinery- which rather brought to mind the likes of Bela Tarr, also quite Tarr like are the hints at sad wonderment that flit through the film's runtime. Visually Vigil certainly has arty learning’s, yet I wouldn’t say it’s all out art-house, as the film's runtime is fairly normal/ standard at around the hour & a half mark. And for the most part, the story unfolds in a fairly even & traditional narrative manner.

The acting from the small cast of four or so players- is like the setting, earthy, real & at times stark. Yet for all it’s often grim & weathered tone, there is humanity, humor, and hope flitting through the films runtime. There’s also an interesting use of the relatively varied soundtrack which moves from bright Tangerine Dream-like 80’s dwells, on to brooding to discordant mood setting, and bleak-at-times hauntingly atonal piano wonderings.  On the whole, Vigil is a memorable & distinctive film- perfectly blending to New Zealand untamed landscape, with compelling & well-acted drama, with the odd arty touches.

The new Blu Ray transfer looks great- really enhancing the vibrate greens & more murky browns of the landscape. The music audio track is nice & defined, though I did find in places find the dialogue level seemed a little uneven- but I guess it all depends on how much they could bring out of the print they where using for this new transfer.

Extras wise we get a worth selection of short features- first off we get a brand new fifteen-minute appreciation of the film by film critic Nick Roddick, who as well as loving the film knew the director well when the film was due to be released. Next we get a fifteen minute on set news report- this comes from long-running New Zealand rural programme Country Calendar- it’s a wonderfully insightful if slight corny( due to regional TV quips) feature, talking to the owner of the farm Vigil was filmed on, selection of local farmers who lent things to the production, and a few of the production team themselves. Finally, we get a seven-minute interview with Ward- this originates from a 1987 TV doc about New Zealand films, and once again it gives an interesting insight into the films concepts & making.


I’m not overly familiar with New Zealand Cinema, save for Peter Jackson’s early gory flicks- so it was great to check one of the more celebrated & respected films from the country. I’d say you’ll have to enjoy darkly moody drama to fully enjoy Vigil- as the arty elements do come second, to the unfolding story....so take from that what you will. 

Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5Rating: 3 out of 5

Roger Batty
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