The closing night for the Melbourne Women in Film Festival was actually a film from New Zealand, but focusing strongly on diasporan peoples making their home in that country and the challenges that await. It’s as much about creating a future that doesn’t exist, I suppose, as in reflecting some kind of existing multicultural society (as I think NZ is a fair way away from that), but it’s great to see the work on show. I hope some of these filmmakers go on to make their own feature films; I’d love to see them.
I’m not sure this quite hits as hard as the same producers’ earlier portmanteau collections, Waru and Vai, but that’s not to say it’s not great. Indeed, it’s a wonderful tribute to the diversity of filmmaking culture in Aotearoa — or at least, potential filmmaking culture, as I don’t think the small number of films that the country makes each year really fully embraces that yet, but I certainly wish it would. Whereas the previous film Vai went to locations around the Pacific Islands to find stories that were united through the focus on the water, on the connective threads between them, Kāinga is grounded (literally) in the soil of a single home in Tāmaki Makaurau/Auckland, specifically the southern suburb of Māngere.
The film is split into eight segments moving through the years, taking in each decade from the 1970s onwards, before moving forward in shorter increments, as families from different ethnicities move in, the changes in the families and the changes in the home tracking the changes in society, in aspirations and expectations, and the way that things come full circle. It’s about an idea of New Zealand that I still don’t think is fully part of society there, but is something I think it is working towards a bit better than some other countries (albeit haltingly, as we perceive a little in a later segment of the film, where the home is owned by a racist pākehā couple), of embracing cultural difference as a generative source, and a positive one, but it’s comforting to see it in film.
Not all the individual segments fully work on their own (as is natural for any film of this nature), but the vision is consistent, the work of the set designers and actors and all the filmmakers is impressive in just getting it done (all these 10-minute unbroken takes is a flex, carried over from Waru), and most of all it’s a model and an inspiration, I hope, for future indigenous and pan-Asian filmmaking.
Directors Michelle Ang, Ghazaleh Golbakhsh غزاله گلبخش, Nahyeon Lee, Angeline Loo, Hash Perambalan [as “HASH”], Asuka Sylvie, Yamin Tun and Julie Zhu 朱常榛; Writers Shreya Gejji, Golbakhsh, Mei-Lin Te Puea Hansen, HASH, Lee, Loo, Mia Maramara and Sylvie; Cinematographer Drew Sturge; Starring Mya Williamson, Izumi Sugihara, Patricia Senocbit, Eliana Hwang, Sneha Shetty, Masoumeh Hesam Mahmoudinezhad, Dharshi Ponnampalam, Katlyn Wong; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at ACMI, Melbourne, Monday 27 February 2022.
Another film festival I attended in February, my first month in Melbourne, was one with a thematic focus a little closer to home than the Europa! Europa Film Festival, namely the Melbourne Women in Film Festival. It was, I gather, the seventh edition, and it’s not a big festival — there were only a handful of films, along with the screening of an old Clara Law film (itself hived off from a larger celebration of Law’s work that’s been screening over the last few weeks), and a couple of programmes of shorts as well as workshops and discussions. I only attended the opening and closing night films, but both came with unexpected (to me, because I hadn’t read the website closely) free drinks, and a generally celebratory atmosphere which is always welcome! Long may the festival continue.
Focusing on a young First Nations woman, Murra (Shantae Barnes-Cowan), who has been let down by her family — most immediately her drug-using and wildly erratic mother — Sweet As blossoms into a really wholesome film that I certainly hope connects with the right audiences. Murra finds herself pushed into going on a group trip with other troubled kids, where they are encouraged to discover their voices via old-fashioned film cameras that one of the guides, an enthusiastic Nicaraguan guy (Carlos Sanson Jr), is particularly keen on. Naturally this idea of photography as a way into taking control of one’s own story means the pressure is on the film’s cinematographer to capture something beautiful, and there’s definitely a sense of some tourist board-approved visuals here, though I suppose you don’t have to work hard in this bit of Western Australia to find something stunning to photograph. The core of the story, though, remains focused on Murra and the way she first resists and ultimately bonds with the others on the trip, as a sort of coming of age road trip. Perhaps it does all feel a little bit soft pedalled (and it fits rather neatly into a familiar generic framework), but this is ultimately a very hopeful film about restoring connections with other people and with the natural world.
Director Jub Clerc; Writers Clerc and Steve Rodgers; Cinematographer Katie Milwright; Starring Shantae Barnes-Cowan, Pedrea Jackson, Mikayla Levy, Carlos Sanson Jr, Ngaire Pigram; Length 87 minutes.
Seen at ACMI, Melbourne, Thursday 23 February 2022.
The fourth film I saw at the Europa! Europa Film Festival was the one I had heard a little about (and is from the German-French-Iranian director of 3 Days in Quiberon), but it turned out to be the one I liked the least. However! It is very much a film for Vicky Krieps to further blossom into the grand actress of European cinema that she has threatened to become the last few years. She really is one of the best.
For a film that could easily be a disease-of-the-week mawkish tearfest made for TV, this drama about a woman dying of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis steers clear of a lot of the particular pitfalls of that genre, though it can never entirely escape it. However, it’s about the way that Hélène (Vicky Krieps) come to terms with her future, such as it is, and the way she has to hurt the ones she loves in order to protect both herself and them. Of course, it comes inbuilt with its own terrible additional layer of heartwrenching irony, in that it’s the film’s co-star Gaspard Ulliel (playing Hélène’s husband Matthieu) who died in real life shortly after this film was made. If Krieps reminds me a bit of Julianne Moore, it’s only because she’s every bit as fine an actor as Moore (who hasn’t shied away from similar roles), and indeed has become one of the more dependable European actors in recent years (whether in films like Bergman Island, Corsage or of course the fine-toned comedy Phantom Thread).
Director Emily Atef; Writers Atef and Lars Hubrich; Cinematographer Yves Cape; Starring Vicky Krieps, Gaspard Ulliel, Bjørn Floberg; Length 123 minutes.
Seen at the Classic, Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2022.
Another excellent film I saw at the Europa! Europa Film Festival was this film about a young woman who doesn’t care to take part in society (which is a good and convenient characteristic to have when you’re presumably filming during a pandemic, but I think says a bit more generationally and as a response to the world).
The thing I’ve found in tending to go only to films by women directors in any given selection of film festival films (for want of any other way of narrowing down a list of films I’ve never heard of and may never see again), is that you get to see a range of responses to familiar genres. The subgenre of films about young women who just don’t give a f*ck, often deploying deadpan humour and absurdist premises, is thankfully expanding, and this film reminded me a little of the Spanish film El Planeta or the Korean film Heart, both with “unlikeable” protagonists who are actually compelling in their resistance to narrative expectations. Perhaps there’s also a slight hint of Wes Anderson too in the frontal shooting style and shot-reverse shot dialogue sequences that are so striking and can’t help but imbue a certain humour just in their style, even if the characters are undemonstrative. It makes a nice change, too, from a lot of Italian cinema that I’ve seen that tends towards operatic melodrama, and while there’s certainly a fair bit of shouting and bad behaviour here, I’m left with the sense of disconnectedness from society, a sadness or depression even that its title character is trying to resist. It’s an ongoing process for her, so the film just sort of stops mid-shot, which makes some sense; I hope Amanda is doing well, though it probably doesn’t hurt that she looks a bit like Alison Brie (everyone is rich and glamorous here, and her friend’s home is a terrifying palace to brutalist modernity).
Director/Writer Carolina Cavalli; Cinematographer Lorenzo Levrini; Starring Benedetta Porcaroli, Galatéa Bellugi; Length 94 minutes.
Seen at the Lido, Melbourne, Friday 17 February 2022.
When looking at a catalogue of films such as that for the Europa! Europa Film Festival, where almost every title is entirely unknown to me, and even most of the directors and stars aren’t ringing any bells, you may wonder, how do you select what films to go see? I’d like to say it was because they won awards (like this one, which won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year), but no, it’s not usually that. Obviously if they have had any critical response I do take that into account but for the most part, I don’t know the films, I look them up, and then I go to the ones directed by women or indigenous filmmakers because it’s a way to narrow down a long list of films I know nothing about. And for the most part, you get good results; this one is no exception.
Films about filmmaking are a really pretty familiar topic to any festivalgoer or even casual watcher of movies, because there’s no story filmmakers like to tell more than their own one (I mean, write about what you know is a cliché for a reason). The focus here is on the kids who have been roped into the director’s vision, which appears to be some kind of Kes-like vision of a working class life, particularly Lily and the younger boy Ryan, who play siblings in the film-within-the-film. It takes a little time to get going, but ultimately there’s quite a nuanced take on what’s going on: the film’s director alternately feels like a tyrant, having childish fits of anger on set at his (child) actors’ lack of commitment to the emotion, then a slightly creepy guy setting up a sex scene involving the teenage Lily, and ultimately as a man with quite a complex layered emotional emptiness at his heart who is fairly open about it when talking to Ryan. The young actors have their own struggles with their colleagues, schoolkids and the townspeople, and as it goes on there’s plenty of lowkey angst, but it’s relatable and understandable, and never overwhelms the story. This film won the Prix Un Certain Regard at Cannes in 2022, and I think it’s a strong choice.
Directors Lise Akoka and Romane Gueret; Writers Akoka, Gueret and Elénore Gurrey; Cinematographer Eric Dumont; Starring Mallory Wanecque, Timéo Mahaut, Johan Heldenbergh; Length 99 minutes.
Seen at the Classic, Melbourne, Sunday 26 February 2022.
Since moving to Melbourne at the start of February, I’ve already been to films at a couple of small film festivals, so I thought I might cover those this week. One of the festivals was the Europa! Europa Film Festival, which runs in a couple of related (but I believe independent) cinemas in the Melbourne suburbs, the Lido and the Classic. It was a good excuse to visit both these areas and their fine cinemas, which are both very pleasant multi-screen environments, and if I lived closer to either Hawthorn or Elsternwick I’d definitely visit again. The festival itself presents a number of titles from the past few years that haven’t had much of a media profile, the kind of thing that you see at these festivals and then more or less disappear completely, which is a shame because all the films I saw had plenty to recommend them, not least this Catalan film by a woman filmmaker about some men on the job.
This Catalan-language film is made entirely with non-professional actors (the characters have the same first names as the actors), making it all the easier to imagine them as actual handymen, fixing plumbing and electrical issues across the city. Focusing on men with this career is a canny way to incorporate a range of social milieu, whether an upmarket studio, a wealthy home and a flashy kitchen showroom, or the rather dowdier and more lived-in small apartments of the city, with an old man who is keen to let people know about his health regimen, or a home with a harassed father and two impish daughters. There’s no real big plot to speak of, aside from that it’s Moha (Mellali)’s first week with the group, as the older man who runs the company (Pep Sarrà) is retiring; his colleague Valero (Escolar), however, is an aggressively annoying man who is quickly and unthinkingly racist towards Moha and it takes much of the film for him to soften his attitude. Indeed, he’s such an unpleasant bully of a man that it’s difficult to watch what is otherwise a sweet, very low-key film, but the director does her best to keep things moving along with a minimum of fuss and no over-explication of the themes.
Director Neus Ballús; Writers Ballús and Margarita Melgar; Cinematographer Anna Molins; Starring Valero Escolar, Mohamed Mellali, Pep Sarrà; Length 100 minutes.
Seen at the Lido, Melbourne, Friday 17 February 2022.
I’m working through fuller reviews from my list of favourite films of 2022 (here) but among them are a few that I wasn’t expecting, like this gentle, lilting Kiarostami riff in the fig orchards (rather than olives), structured as a series of two-handers between various characters over the course of a couple of working days (or maybe it’s just one, I can’t quite recall). In any case, a fine film with a predominantly woman-centric cast and crew.
This is a rather gentle film with some darker undertones as a group of (primarily) young women come together picking figs in an orchard, or at least I’d say that was the focus of the film, whose single setting means this functions as a sort of chamber drama. Indeed, the group of pickers includes some older women and men, who have a choral role to play, singing and commenting on the kids’ actions, and some young men of various types, including a rather sleazy and opportunistic boss. Throughout the day various pairings of these characters get together and hash things out, and while there is no big reveal or drama to speak of, a number of smaller stories play out in a naturalistic way. It’s all very lovely, though you’ll need to take a moment to get into its rhythms, in a setting — and with a title — suggestive of some Kiarostami films, though this is Tunisian (not Iranian).
Director Erige Sehiri أريج السحيري; Writers Sehiri, Ghalya Lacroix غالية لاكروا and Peggy Hamann بيجي هامان; Cinematographer Frida Marzouk فريدا مرزوق; Starring Fidé Fdhili فداء الفضيلي, Feten Fdhili فاتن الفضيلي, Ameni Fdhili أماني الفضيلي; Length 92 minutes.
Seen at the Embassy, Wellington, Sunday 30 October 2022.
It’s been a while since I’ve posted a non-Criterion Collection review, but as 2022 is done and dusted (well, the year, not my viewing of films from that year, which will undoubtedly stretch out for years to come), it seems like a fitting theme for my first few posts of this year would be to cover some of my favourites from last year. This small British indie film was my favourite, until I eventually catch up with everything else. You can see my full list here though.
After a year of watching fairly unchallenging films at the cinema (sadly I missed my city’s annual film festival), it’s nice to see one that properly challenges audiences. Which is, I suppose, one way of saying it’s slow and sad — and thus probably not for everyone — but I think it has depths to it, and I miss a film with depths. Texturally, it reminds me of the early work of, say, Lynne Ramsay and that’s not just because its period setting reminds me a little of Ratcatcher in its lugubrious mood (though where that film went back a few decades to the 70s, this one takes us back to the 90s). Partly too that’s the way that the evocation of the era doesn’t rely on period hairstyles and music, but rather on some far more oblique signifiers of the era like the grain of the camcorder films (though, okay, there’s also the “Macarena”).
However, the more resonant aspect of the film is that sadness that haunts its tale throughout, though is never explicitly reckoned with. There’s the feeling evoked by the dark, heavily strobing club dancefloor sequences that punctuate the narrative, the emptiness of the video framings being watched by someone looking back on this period of life, and the quiet moments in the story of a young dad and his 11-year-old daughter on holiday in Turkey that are punctured by the dad’s attempt to be upbeat and positive. (It should be said up front that the darkness isn’t anything to do with sexual abuse, so don’t go in worried about that. The relationship between these two is clearly loving and strong, in both directions.) But there are strong hints throughout of the elegiac nature of this 90s holiday, and the way it resonates in the present, such that in a sense this is a coming of age film that goes beyond the innocuous flirtations on the beach or the innocent kisses by the poolside with teenage boys, into more delicately shifting psychological territory.
I imagine it will hit a long more strongly for those who are parents, but it feels beautifully cathartic in a way that relies on the audience to make the connections and draw out the emotional threads, and that’s just a nice change of pace.
Director/Writer Charlotte Wells; Cinematographer Gregory Oke; Starring Paul Mescal, Frankie Corio; Length 101 minutes.
Seen at Penthouse, Wellington, Sunday 11 December 2022.
In marked contrast to the very long and very melancholic films screening at any given film festival, not least last month’s Whānau Mārama – New Zealand International Film Festival, is this Japanese film. It has a short running time and a very high concept, so there’s not much to it (certainly not much in the way of budget) but it’s made with love, an old-fashioned amateurism with all the etymological meaning of that word, and the enthusiasm shows.
This is undoubtedly a slender film, and not just in its concise running time. It’s a classic high concept premise elaborated on a shoestring budget (the closing credits show behind the scenes views of the filming setup) and feels rather like an extended short film in some senses. Like any time travel film, thinking about it too deeply is probably a mistake, but it throws so much energy at the screen that it’s hard to find time to do that thinking. Generally, it has the feeling of a farce put on a theatre company (which it may well be, after all) and the narrative follows its repetitious journey with small changes each time until eventually it’s all you can do to keep up with the almost infinitely recursive loops of time it creates. It’s as clever as it is silly, and would outstay its welcome if it were any longer, but it has a certain something.
Director/Cinematographer Junta Yamaguchi 山口淳太; Writer Makoto Ueda 上田誠; Starring Kazunari Tosa 土佐和成, Aki Asakura 朝倉あき, Riko Fujitani 藤谷理子; Length 70 minutes.
Seen at the Embassy, Wellington, Monday 15 November 2021.
Again travelling around the world, and at any film festival I always try to make space for some African films. Whānau Mārama – New Zealand International Film Festival featured a few of these, and though my favourite was probably Lingui, the Sacred Bonds by Chadian master Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, this Ivorian film certainly is diverting. I didn’t fully understand it, but there’s a deep and tangible sense of mystery to it that’s quite compelling.
This is a strange and oblique film that has a certain intense power despite (or because partly because of) its sense of mystery. It’s the mystery perhaps of religious observance, with a hint towards a ceremony where servant and master are reversed as it is in the prison which is the film’s setting. Here it seems the prisoners are in charge (though still prisoners) and where when the red moon rises a storyteller holds court and takes them through to a new day where order is (violently) restored. We follow the young man who becomes the Roman, or storyteller, and the unmoored narrative feels sometimes as close to science-fiction as it does to folk tale: certainly all the names and titles, ancient enmities and conflicts, a sense of impending doom (or perhaps release), could be from any given fantasy film set in any era, although this one is also firmly in ours. I don’t really have many of the tools necessary to fully engage with it (plus it was late and I was quite sleepy) but it certainly has something compelling to it.
Director/Writer Philippe Lacôte; Cinematographer Tobie Marier Robitaille; Starring Koné Bakary, Isaka Sawadogo, Steve Tientcheu; Length 93 minutes.
Seen at City Gallery, Wellington, Friday 12 November 2021.