This post first appeared on Watt to Watch, http://www.stuff.co.nz on 24th July 2013
Well, we may only be five days into the festival, but I can comfortably declare that the award for Most Handsome Newcomer goes to Adam Bakri in Omar. Crikey. When this chap runs from police across rooftops, it’s less the fancy parcour from the Bond movies and more the breath-holding desperation of someone in real peril.
In only his second ever screen acting role, Bakri is in every scene of this excellent West Bank thriller and although he’s aided and abetted by a terrific cast, his natural charisma oozes movie star. If anyone in Hollywood has any sense left, we should be seeing him in thrillers and action movies pretty soon. (If not – Adam, call me!)
Omar is your average Palestinian lad, who is incited to violent rebellion against the occupying Israeli army. He’s unfailingly loyal to his two best friends, and also has a thing for his mate’s sister, Nadia (Leem Lubany, also in her first screen role, also utterly captivating). The couple’s encounters are surprisingly (and refreshingly) chaste as two parallel stories unfold; the burgeoning love affair, alongside the fallout from the young men’s attempted revolution. Omar is soon faced with a Hobson’s choice: Take one route and he loses everything or take the other and he loses everything else. Omar is tight in its storytelling, the performances uniformly superb, and the final revelations quite devastating.
Next up, no heartthrobs, but instead a curious little “essay film” that might even be considered a tribute of sorts to an otherwise bland Auckland suburb.
During my years spent living in England I would race to New Zealand films in anticipation of feeling that frisson of recognition – whether on seeing Aotearoa’s very distinctive light, or a familiar setting that would provoke happy memories of home. As I currently live on Auckland’s North Shore, watching Oracle Drive was a bit like that – only less exotic.
Local filmmaker Gabriel White went to Albany, and he filmed the sorts of things many of us drive past every day but never stop to notice. White’s voiceover gets whimsical about billboards and the origin of street names, while cars circumnavigate roundabouts and a distant black-clothed figure appears and disappears from frame. Special effects and an abstract bedroom-produced-like soundtrack lend dissonance as well as greater perspective to a sprawling suburb which used to be just poo-ponds, but is now so much more. Albeit mostly new-build homes with ugly Grecian columns. And a long motorway. Anyway, Oracle Drive unashamedly embraces the abstract and will delight those with broader minds and a meditative temperament.
One of the festival’s most eagerly awaited films has been delivered straight from Cannes, and based on the director’s last film, audiences should be snapping it up greedily. The Past is Asghar Farhadi’s latest film after A Separation, and once again the Iranian writer/director has crafted an exquisite family drama that effortlessly layers nuance over the top of subtle, credible performances.
Berenice Bejo (much less glam than in her breakout movie The Artist) plays Marie, a Parisian woman whose estranged husband visits from Tehran to sign divorce papers. From the opening moments it’s evident they still know each other well, as they communicate wordlessly through airport glass, although we the audience cannot discern what’s being said. But it is soon clear things at home are in strife, as Marie attempts to forge a new life with her boyfriend (A Prophet‘s Tahar Rahim, brilliantly inscrutable as always) while battling her daughter’s strong-willed opposition.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that movies over two hours (or even more than 100 minutes, as seems to be the trend) are “too long”. Farhadi has a lot of story to tell, and it takes the full 130 minutes for our protagonists to travel the winding path towards truth and resolution. No one does moral dilemma quite like Farhadi, and his writing is, as ever, spot-on in describing how real people behave in realistic (though horrible) situations. The Past rightly delivered Bejo the Best Actress prize at Cannes, and it will deliver New Zealand audiences yet another enthralling cinematic experience.
COMING UP: I’ve plenty more to look forward to as the week rolls on, including Which Way is the Front Line from Here? a documentary about the late photo- journalist, Tim Hetherington, made by his friend and colleague Sebastian Junger. I’ll be girding my loins for the Chinese crime drama A Touch of Sin and drinking in the quirky coming of age indie flick Frances Ha before Friday night’s Kiwi rock opera Romeo and Juliet: A Love Song which sets the most famous love story of all time in a Kiwiana campground. Mint.