Down and out with a New Zealand hustler
by Molly Templeton
SQUEEGEE BANDIT: Directed, shot and edited by Sándor Lau. Produced by Lau and Rhonda Kite. Music, Dave Goodison. Featuring Kevin “Starfish” Whana, MC Zodiac, Tony McGifford, Viani Paulo. Not rated. 75 minutes.
Squeegee men — the fellows who hang out at stoplights, waiting to wash windows for tips — aren’t a very common sight in Eugene. But Squeegee Bandit, a documentary by recent Eugene arrival Sándor Lau, stretches to become more than a story about a man and his moneymaking hustle. It’s one of those stories that’s horribly familiar and yet still only belongs to one person: Kevin Whana, the bandit of the title, a fast-talking, hot-tempered but generally well-intentioned Maori man of indeterminate age who, like so many others, has slipped through the cracks of society. He washes windows in South Auckland, New Zealand, and seems to make a decent chunk of change doing so, but some of his stories are so outlandish it’s impossible not to wonder if there’s a bit of exaggeration at work. He lives here and there, wondering if his 30 homes in a brief stretch of time is enough to set a record; he mentions women in his life, but the last one went to jail after stabbing her mother in the head.
Whana has a violent streak and an impulsive one; both contrast with the chipper, chatty, energetic person he becomes while wielding his squeegee in traffic. As he swings between angry and peaceful, lover and fighter, he narrates his personal history in choppy bursts constantly punctuated with variations on fuck; meanwhile, Lau employs old footage (from film both fiction and non) to use Whana’s story to illustrate the larger story of the Maori people and to relate their troubles to the similar issues that plague the indigenous people of the U.S. and Australia. (One of Whana’s friends describes New Zealand as a place where the tenant has evicted the landlord.) Sometimes the editing is a little heavy-handed (jumpy cutting and dashes of color, combined with certain moments in the soundtrack, work too hard to elicit the proper reaction), but it seems unfair to come down too hard on Lau when the point is so valid and the subject such an uncommon one for many viewers. New Zealand, for that matter, so rarely figures in mainstream American film (beyond appearing as Middle-Earth in The Lord of the Rings) that Lau has (probably rightly) assumed his subjects’ accents might be impenetrable to viewers; every word is subtitled and some slang helpfully translated. With its compelling, sympathetic, frustrating central figure, Lau’s film opens a window on a universal yet unfamiliar segment of a lesser-seen part of the world.
Squeegee Bandit screens as part of the Eugene Celebration at 4 pm Sunday, Sept. 14, at DIVA. Sándor Lau will take part in a Q&A session following the screening. See www.eugenecelebration.com for more information.