Little known 1984 drama, Vigil probably won’t ring many bells for people reading this but it was an important film for New Zealand cinema as it was the first from there to play in the competitive section of the Cannes Film Festival that year. Not only that, it received a standing ovation from it’s audience.
With that in mind, it’s no real surprise that Arrow Video have done their usual great job of rediscovering and remastering this cult curio with added extras for this release. And releases like this from the company are more than welcome as little seen gems like Vigil, and others from around the world deserve to be seen by a new audience. Perhaps even an old audience that missed them first time round. And Vigil is a prime example of the type of film that could have easily slipped through the net when it was first released 34 years ago.
Telling the story of eleven year old, Toss (Fiona Kay), a young girl that lives with her family on a sheep farm in New Zealand. Her life gets turned upside down when her father (Gordon Shields) accidently falls to his death and a mysterious stranger, Ethan (Frank Whitten) suddenly appears. Ethan soon starts working for the family and quickly bonds with them. Particularly Toss’ mother, Elizabeth (Penelope Stewart). But Toss doesn’t trust Ethan, believing him to be the devil and swears to protect her family and their home at any cost.
Vigil deals with death, grief and change. As Toss reaches puberty and her thoughts and feelings are tested, we see an interesting, potentially very risky bond with Ethan at one point and thoughts of a potential future career as a ballet dancer. All whilst dealing with the tragic death of her dad. But where director Vincent Ward’s film differs from others at the time is it’s arty symbolism. Using the surrounding fields, trees and hills to his advantage, Ward’s shots of Toss in amongst the trees and branches give off an image of struggle resulting in quite an eerie, atmospheric feel at times which occasionally transport the film from standard family drama into something more interesting and powerful altogether.
Although no masterpiece – it feels a bit too slow at times and Ward’s style definitely won’t be for everyone – Vigil was a big step forward for New Zealand film making at the time, as film critic Nick Roddick discusses in an appreciation piece made especially for this release on the extras. It is an interesting watch as Roddick looks at the impact Vigil had on cinema in New Zealand after it’s release and also offers an insight into Vincent Ward himself.
Also on offer in the extras is an episode of the New Zealand TV series, Country Calendar, which is an on-set report showing the making of Vigil and the hard work that went into making it as well as the job opportunities it offered to the local community. Add to that the obligatory trailer and a first pressing only illustrated collector’s booklet which has new thoughts on the film written by critic Cameron Gray and you have a decent little package that’s well worth the time of cult cinema lovers and collectors, despite it not being as expansive as some of Arrow’s other recent releases.
Vigil is now available from Arrow Video.