Versatile director Gaylene Preston (Mr Wrong, Ruby And Rata) has managed to wend her bending way through yet another genre, bringing us one of the notable 'biopics' of this year's festival. Bread And Roses, a four-part drama based on the autobiography of Sonja Davies, New Zealand activist and parliamentarian, went through a seven-year gestation as a television script, and the TLC shows.
Covering a not insignificant slice of New Zealand history around World War II, Bread And Roses is epic cinema with plenty of textural muscle, minus any monumental machismo or conservative nostalgia. Genevieve Picot (Proof), in a lucid and moving performance, plays Davies, who goes from nurse to patient to member of the Hospital Board. Davies battles and survives a snag or two along the way: the army, the medical profession, government bureaucrats, the real demands of motherhood, and the double standards she confronts as a single mother in the 40s.
Throughout the film, Preston keeps her focus clearly on the particular. Her careful attention io detail extends even to the sparse sound composition which accentuates and amplifies the everyday. Despite the depth of Davies' disputes and deprivations, Preston seldom stoops to grand oppositions or sweeping generalisations. Sonja Davies' world is a constant negotiation of struggle and survival, of the persistency of spirit in the face of obstacles obvious and unforeseen. No institution is held sacred (including the labour movement), and in some circumstances even the most unlikely of allies can strengthen a cause.
Overall, Preston's beautifully realised work achieves a poignant sense of the effects of history on human desires, and women's changing expectations in particular.