Seventeen-year-old boxer Jim carries the hopes and dreams of his father on his shoulders, but his growing relationship with local takatāpui Whetu forces him to confront the truth about his sexuality and choose his own future.
Parental pressure, sexual perplexity and small-town bigotry are the simmering undercurrents of Kiwi filmmaker Welby Ings’ beautifully shot feature debut, featuring Oscar-nominee Tim Roth.
Seventeen-year-old Jim (Jordan Oosterhof) has his sights on professional boxing glory under the relentless tutelage of his alcoholic father (Roth), but his path to hometown sporting heroism is unexpectedly complicated when the young boxer begins to fall for outcast takatāpui Māori schoolmate, Whetu (Conan Hayes).
The young pair’s relationship of self-discovery threatens to take them beyond parental disapproval or career derailment, when the spectre of homophobia violently punctures the rural town’s sepia-hued facade of tolerance. Shot against the black sand backdrop of Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland’s West Coast beaches, Punch presents a vision of rural Aotearoa New Zealand life in which parochial attitudes and nostalgic aesthetics sit discordantly alongside modern youth culture and progressive ideals.
Roth may be the celebrity draw here, but it is the compelling performances of the young leads that propel this rustic coming-of-age tale. Between the local sporting politics, high school complexities and social suffocation of country life, Punch tells a story that is both intimately specific to Aotearoa and as universal as the youthful yearning for liberation. — Adrian Hatwell