New Zealand International Film Festival preview
This article first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 14th July 2013
So many films, so little time! The annual NZIFF may be the greatest thing about winter, but a cinephile’s stress levels rise considerably when faced with a heavily-highlighted festival programme and the creeping awareness that one simply can’t see everything.
From my own list of 37 will-sees and a handful more may-get-luckies, I’ve picked out some of the films I’m particularly excited about. Roll on Film Fortnight!
At a slumber party many moons ago, I sat in transfixed horror through Dario Argento’s masterpiece Suspiria. Never again, I vowed, my memory to this day swimming with images of barbed wire and a lot of blood. Well, I am going to see it again, as Italian prog-rock band Goblin reprise their original soundtrack, live at the Civic Theatre on Friday 19th July. It can’t possibly be as petrifying this time round…
The NZIFF programmers excel at devising special events that put paid to the “I’ll catch it on DVD” mentality, whether a 1920s silent flick screened with live orchestral soundtrack or a restored Scorsese legend from 1973 projected onto the big screen where it belongs. This year one such gem is Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder 3D which the director actually shot in 3D back in 1954, though most audiences have only seen it in 2D. Now beautifully restored, you’ll never get this chance again so grasp those glasses and step back in time.
Joss Whedon, whose brilliant take on the horror genre delighted fans of Cabin in the Woods last year, is back with something completely different – a modern-day adaptation of Shakespeare’s spiky romantic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. Set in contemporary Los Angeles while retaining Will’s original dialogue, the cast includes actors from Whedon’s various television shows. The lovers’ timeless banter couldn’t be better served.
Yet more of the Bard comes in the form of New Zealand film Romeo & Juliet: A Love Song – here set in a campground just out of Auckland, and the script arranged in song. The cast of colourful characters should transpose superbly to such a location, and I cannot wait to see how it works (and sounds). Or, if a Kiwiana pop-opera doesn’t take your fancy, perhaps the restored local classic Utu Redux will. Whether you saw the 1983 original or not, you’ll be enchanted by this true director’s cut of a Maori soldier’s quest for vengeance in the 1870s. See it on the Sunday, and you get the added bonus of a Q&A with director Geoff Murphy afterwards.
Heading overseas for some gritty realism, my film festival experience wouldn’t be complete without some heavy narratives guaranteed to leave my thoughts provoked for days after. What Richard Did sounds right up my alley – an Irish lad with everything going for him commits a brutal act that brings his life crashing down. Also sporting great reviews from abroad is Omar, a tense thriller about a young lad caught up in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict of the West Bank, which won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes film festival.
Audiences who adored Asghar Farhadi’s award-winning A Separation (and I’ve yet to meet anyone who didn’t) will be flocking to see his latest film, The Past. Berenice Bejo from The Artist plays the estranged Parisian wife of an Iranian man who visits to sign divorce papers and go on his way. Said to be as enthralling as A Separation, Farhadi has cast my favourite actor Tahar Rahim (A Prophet) for good measure. I love it already.
For a bit of light relief with heart, I’m looking forward to Noah Baumbach’s (The Squid and the Whale) latest tale of life, love and those still searching for themselves. Frances Ha follows the eponymous heroine around New York City, filming her kooky antics in black and white. I’m hoping it will evoke those charming 90s slacker movies many of us grew up on. Plus, it’s got Adam from Girls in it.
And then there is the wealth of documentaries! I can already recommend Pussy Riot: A Punk Prayer for its incredible behind-the-scenes portrait of a criminal justice system that will make you glad you live in New Zealand. The fact that camera access was granted is astounding given Russia’s seemingly hyperbolic response to a punk rock protest act. The film provides extraordinary insight into not just the basis for the criminal case against them, but the lives and families of three gutsy young women who went to prison for their beliefs.
Another woman with a fascinating life is actress/director Sarah Polley, who turns the camera on her own family in a mission to unearth some home truths about her mother. Stories We Tell is gripping in its exploration, but equally entertaining thanks to the warm, honest performances of Polley’s siblings and father. Surprises abound.
Hopefully equally enthralling although less benign, I’m intrigued by The Captain and his Pirate, a documentary which interviews both the hostage and the hijacker from a real-life drama. The captain re-enacts his experience in a German psychiatric hospital, while his erstwhile captor speaks from a Somali desert. Like most documentaries, I anticipate it teaching me about a world I hope never to enter for myself.
Having once planned to be a criminal lawyer and been asked constantly how I could defend rapists and murderers, Gideon’s Army should be a fascinating watch. Set in America’s southern states, this portrait of public defenders dealing with the grim day-to-day offers a realistic narrative. Yes, even the worst offenders deserve a fair trial. The film is bound to be equally upsetting and inspiring.
After two weeks of wonder and emotional tumult I may need a holiday, so if anyone has a bach I can borrow, please get in touch!