New Zealand Film Festival 2013

As an aspiring filmmaker, my attendance at NZFF in recent years has been poor. I often give the excuse that working in the arts leaves little time for leisurely viewing but in truth I have just been slack. This year I have tried to rectify this by gorging on this year’s festival. Here is what I thought of what I saw:

Like someone in love

Like in his previous film, Certified Copy, Abbas Kiarostami explores the nature of authenticity in relationships in this film about a prostitute in Tokyo and her elderly client. The film has little to no exposition, but we discover that Akiko is in a violent relationship and finds shelter with Takashi, a retired professor.

The film compares how things are perceived to their actual reality, if that reality exists. Takashi is mistaken for Akiko’s grandfather by her lover Noriaki, who asks for his permission to marry her. This mistake is also made by Takashi’s nosy neighbour. Neither Akiko nor Takashi correct these mistakes. The lack of exposition means that as the viewer, you can almost forget for a second the nature of the relationship between the two protagonists. It seems that the characters themselves almost forget too, as it is Takashi Akiko calls when Noriaki turns violent once more.

The film also looks at authenticity in images. Akiko tells Takashi that she has often been compared to a famous Japanese painting, of which he has a print on his wall. She poses for him is the same posture as the woman. Noriaki finds a flyer of Akiko advertising her services, but is unsure whether or not it is her. Neither of these images seem to have captured the “real” Akiko any more than the film we are watching. Akiko is at once a character of high art and a streetwalker; A beloved grandchild and battered woman. The composite aspects of this character reflect the composite aspects of all people. Kiarostami has simply put her together in a unique way.

It is a beautiful and thought provoking film, which raises more questions than it answers.

The Best Offer

I saw this film straight after Like someone in love, so it is not surprising that I saw similar themes. Geoffrey Rush stars as Virgil Oldman, an eccentric head of an auction house who works makes money on the side by telling people that original works are forgeries and then buying them cheap. He then falls for Clare, a young agoraphobic heiress who has inherited a large art collection from her parents.

Virgil’s first encounters Clare as a voice over the phone. She is a mystery which he must solve. Even when he meets her face to face she seems to be a creature of his own creation. He dresses her and makes her over. Alongside this makeover of Clare, Virgil finds pieces of a automaton, which he has his confidant Robert rebuild. The parallels between the building of the robot and the building of Clare are obvious. She is something to be built as much as the automaton. As he is making her over, Clare cries “You think I’m a monster”. That she is a monster is made clear by the twist at the end.

Antarctica: A year on ice.

This film appealed to my aspirations. A closet filmmaker makes an independant film on homemade equipment about a subject close to his heart. It is basically an essay film about his love of the icy continent. The film itself captured the tedium and frustration of the winters in Antarctica, as well as the comradery of those staying for them.

Pussy Riot a punk prayer

When the Pussy Riot affair first began, I bought a T-shirt which says “Free Pussy Riot”. With this film, I was very pleased to see what has happened in the interim to these brave women. I have the utmost respect for them as artists and as women. Free Pussy Riot!

Becoming Traviata

I probably enjoyed this film the least of all the films I saw at this years festival. Not to say that I didn’t enjoy it, just that I enjoyed others more. I found the film a little indulgent and long. As someone who works in the theatre, I didn’t find any revelations in the rehearsal room of La Traviata and I found the film to have little structure. What I did take away from the film was an appreciation of Natalie Dessay, the actress playing the role of Violetta. The level of skill she brought to the role, both as an actor and as a singer was breathtaking. It is a quality of performer that we don’t see in this country.

Mood Indigo

I thought this would be my favourite film of the festival and I wasn’t disappointed. It is a film for filmmakers and students of film theory. This is clear in deliberate references to both surrealism and the French New Wave. The film is in fact deliciously French, set in Paris and starring Audrey Tatou and Romain Duris. It references Jean-Paul Satre, under the guise of Jean-Sol Patre. There seems a lot of joy in this return to France for Gondry as his previous films The Green Hornet and The we and the I were English speaking and made in America.

I grew up on a diet of Gondry music videos including Bjork, Foo Fighters and The White Stripes, so this was a joy to watch.


The man I sat next to at this film asked my way there were so many young women at the screening of Blackfish I attended. At the time I didn’t have an answer. On reflection I think any film about the suffering of animals is bound to bring out young women. In fact every young woman I have told about the film since I saw it has made the exact “awww” face that I wore throughout the screening. The film tells the story of Orca at Seaworld and other parks and particularly of Tilikum, a large male whale who (apparently out of frustration) has killed two of his trainers over 20 years.  As a film itself, there was little to differentiate it from other exposee films, however the content was heart-wrenching and has stayed with me ever since.

Much ado about nothing

Joss Whedon and friends made this film in his backyard while on hiatus from filming The Avengers. And this film could not be more different from that one. It has a delightful feeling of everyone involved doing it for fun. It is very plain, shot in black and white with handheld cameras and no tricks. The acting is good, although Shakespeare in the mouths of fast-talking Whedon regulars such as Fran Kranz and Reed Diamond is at times a little hard to grasp. All in all though, it was a fun experience and a good example of filmmaking for the sake of it.



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