I think it’s all over – final musings on the NZFF 2013
This post first appeared on Watt to Watch at http://www.stuff.co.nz on 4th August 2013
As I write, the seven venues that have hosted the Auckland film festival should hopefully be packed as keen locals get their final fix of this year’s best arthouse fare. The rush of the last fortnight ended for me last night on something of an ambivalent low, but not before I’d seen three of my overall festival highlights.
As hoped, Joss Whedon’s adaptation of Much Ado About Nothing delivered in spades. Assembling a terrific cast of quasi-familiar faces at his Santa Monica home, he shot the film over 12 days, evidenced in the pace and energy appropriate for one of the Bard’s best comedies. A tale of two sets of lovers, the story doesn’t need repeating here but what matters is that Whedon retains the original language (with imperceptible abridgement) and every single performance is so good you not only know exactly what’s going on in the action but you capture every joke. And boy is it funny. Shot in black and white, the film is a laugh-out-loud delight from go to whoa. Imperative viewing for anyone with a heart and the merest scraping of a wit.
Ernest & Celestine was my only animated outing this year, and the Cannes 2012 film was also an absolute treat. In French (but subtitled of course), Ernest the hungry bear encounters Celestine the kindly mouse, and their unorthodox (and outlawed) friendship gets them in and out of all sorts of scrapes as it enriches both their lives. The drawing is exquisite, appropriately “old-school” in its rendering of a French town where both species live in peaceably separate communities. My seven year old companion loved it, and having spent a good while counting some of the 450 elephants in the Civic Theatre afterwards, I think she’ll be asking to come back next year.
Solid films both but by their nature and subject matter less charming were the excellent Romanian film Child’s Pose and Ulrich Seidl’s PARADISE: Hope.
Having avoided seeing Seidl’s Love film at Cannes last year because I didn’t think I was up for his brutal truths about the pain of the world, I was ambivalent about seeing PARADISE: Hope this year. And while I gather this one is less grim than his previous two PARADISE films, Seidl’s conclusion to the trilogy still expertly instils a feeling of unease and distaste.
13-year old Melanie joins a group of kids at Diet Camp, and while there is plenty of footage of the youngsters doing hapless star jumps and striding through the rain with ski poles, it’s the after hours teenage shenanigans and the natural hormonal instincts of youth that interest Seidl the most. Just as his Love story followed plump, middle-aged sex tourists in Africa, here the scent of potential sex permeates the whole movie. Seidl’s cleverness (or masterful manipulation, if you prefer) is his ability to take his characters right to the precipice of unwelcome behaviour but never quite have them jump off. The sense of audience unease is palpable, but it’s not like you leave the cinema heaving a sigh of relief. Disquieting, certainly, and while narratively a bit unsatisfying, perhaps it’s better he stopped where he did…
Similarly gritty, Child’s Pose showcases an exceptional performance from Luminita Gheorghiu as Cornelia, a bourgeois Budapest mother whose love for her son moves her to incredible lengths to protect his future after he is charged with killing a child. The 34-year old son, by comparison, is a devastating mix of immature, ungrateful and vicious. The story arc and dialogue is painfully realistic, and though it’s not (nor meant to be) a “fun” watch, Child’s Pose is a great film.
The festival’s closing night film was Jim Jarmusch’s luscious Only Lovers Left Alive. I could never be said to actually like Tilda Swinton, but the English actress has been blowing me away for decades, with every performance from the transgendered Orlando to her sweaty-armpitted lawyer in Michael Clayton. Here she plays Eve to Tom Hiddleston’s Adam, two lovers of the night whose dark ways are made considerably less creepy or clichéd by the fact their life story crosses several centuries.
Nevermind Swinton is 20 years older than Hiddleston – their love-match is touching and deeply romantic and full of wit. The kooky cast includes John Hurt as Christopher Marlowe, who laments his best work was appropriated by that damn Shakespeare; Mia Wasikowska as Eve’s naughty little sister; and Jeffrey Wright (there’s a nod to Wright’s breakout film role as Jean-Michel Basquiat in Eve’s choice of travel reading). Jarmusch has crafted a hilarious, exotic, delicious film that is a fitting close to this extremely fine festival.
On a closing note, a few recommendations for those in other centres who are still planning their NZIFF time. My favourite films (not quite in order of ecstasy): Antarctica: A Year on Ice; Which Way is the Front Line from Here?; Omar; What Maisie Knew; The Selfish Giant; Utu – Redux; A Hijacking; Only Lovers Left Alive; Much Ado About Nothing; Gideon’s Army; Dial M for Murder.
I hope that helps you to narrow your choices down!