Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

NZIFF begins! Five films to check out

The seasonal gods having rammed home the point that it’s well and truly winter, we can once again cheer up in the face of the expertly-curated New Zealand International Film Festival which kicks off in Auckland this week, before making its annual expedition around the country. With an action-packed fortnight ahead, here are some of the treats we have in store.

The documentaries are often the highlight of any film festival, and certainly fall into the “catch it while you can” category, since few make it back for a general release. This year’s crop is no exception. Whether your thing is art fraud or human rights atrocities, you’re in for a treat.

Art and Craft is an expertly constructed exploration into the life and crimes of prolific art forger, Mark Landis. Well, if you consider painting a perfect reproduction of a classic artwork and then gifting it away a crime. Even the experts featured differ on the extent to which they believe Landis is a menace to the art world whose clinical compulsions must be stopped. The documentary is fascinating both in its character examination (Landis’ sad background and ensuing life story is just begging for a cinematic retelling with some young Oscar nominee as the lead) and its structure: as one scene follows the investigators who are hot on his trail, the next cuts to Landis in his cluttered apartment, caught in the act, paintbrush in hand. Bittersweet yet unmissable.

With opening titles which shamelessly evoke many a gritty TV crime drama, E-Team’s on-the-ground portrait of four members of the Human Rights Watch Emergencies Team gets its worthy message across effectively. Interviews with battered survivors of crimes against humanity (often perpetrated by their own governments) are interposed with archive newsreel which shows just how often an E-Team report has made it to the headlines and even to the White House. It’s inspirational stuff, none more so than when we see these quiet warriors for justice back at home in Paris, New York or Geneva, snatching moments of ordinariness with their own families before shooting off again to fight the good fight.

Reaching for the Moon isn’t a documentary, but it is based on the real-life love story of American poet Elizabeth Bishop and the radical Brazilian architect who upended her literary and emotional world. Australian actress Miranda Otto portrays the prickly Bishop with aplomb, pitching her uptight sensibilities against the flamboyantly free Lota (Gloria Pires) as passion blooms in the most exquisite setting of Lota’s Rio home. Melodrama (perhaps inevitably) ensues but this pseudo biopic never fails to enthral.

Passion, teasing but repressed, is at the heart of Roman Polanski’s latest stage adaption, Venus in Fur. His cinematic rendering of Carnage was notable for cramming four Oscar-worthy actors into a New York apartment to tear each other apart over their children’s dispute. Here Polanski raises the bar by situating the entire hour and a half on an empty Parisian stage where two players, the director (Mathieu Amalric) and the would-be leading lady (Polanski’s own wife, Emmanuelle Seigner) audition each other for a play. The conceit is frequently provocative and endlessly intriguing.

And finally, if you think an engaging two-person show is a cinematic feat, be prepared to marvel at a film which 85-minute running time simply constitutes one man in his car. Tom Hardy sports a Welsh accent and a slowly-unfolding backstory as the titular Locke, a man under pressure from all quarters of his life who must project manage said pressures via his mobile speakerphone on a night-time drive from Birmingham to London. The plot is gripping as revelations are delivered gently, but it is Hardy’s characterisation which is magnetic as the camera barely leaves his face.

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