04 August 2009

Film festival round-up

Land of the Long White Cloud (NZ, 2009)

The irrepressible Florian Habicht, who made the parochial festival favourite doco Kaikohe Demolition a few years back, has returned to the North Island's Far North to record another vernacular tradition. Observing a long-established 5-day snapper fishing competition, Habicht and his crew try to tap into the laconic spirit of individualism exhibited by the hardy fishermen. This being the Far North, there are plenty of idiosyncratic characters vying for the grand prize of $50,000 for the largest snapper. But the film is more about people than it is about fish: Habicht delves into his subjects' personal philosophies and finds plenty of locals happy to open up in front of the camera. Habicht wasn't able to attend the Wellington screening due to illness, but in an email message read out by the film's editor, he confided that the most traumatic occurrence of the film project was when his young assistant camera operator revealed that she was so young that she'd never heard of Milli Vanilli!

OSS 117: Rio ne répond plus (Lost in Rio) (France, 2009)

With the tongue-in-cheek caperings of the legendary agent OSS 117 turning Brazil upside down in search of a rogue Nazi loon, the spirit of 1968 - well, the reactionary, borderline racist, uniformly misogynist and frequently self-important spirit of 1968, anyway - rides again. The split-screen montages are particularly hilarious, and Jean Dujardin is perfect as the preening, swaggering 117, cutting a swathe through the bevy of bikini-clad lovelies, fending off the advances of long-haired hippies and constantly dogged by vengeful Chinamen who are legendarily terrible shots. It's like an Austin Powers movie, but actually funny.

Wendy and Lucy (US, 2008)

Simple yet surprisingly effective and affecting, Wendy and Lucy succeeds due to its honest, minimalist approach and the strong performance of Michelle Williams as Wendy. You can read it as a parable of the downturn, or just a fine story about a woman looking for her lost dog, whatever. There are no big lessons on offer, but the quiet dignity displayed in this tale of hard times in Oregon just goes to show that a little human kindness can go a long way.

Adventureland (US, 2009)

A memorable and enjoyable teen comedy drama set in an amusement park in 1987, Adventureland is a cut above the average teen filler, and boasts a quality cast of lead and supporting actors, with comedian Kristen Wiig impressing as a quixotic fairground manager. With Martin Starr's entertaining performance as a droll philosophy student forced to slum it as a ride attendant, it's as if Freaks & Geeks never left us, they just grew up a few years. And extra marks for playing Don't Dream It's Over during the fireworks scene, director Greg Mottola.

Van Diemen's Land (Australia, 2009)

A stylish and visceral glimpse into Tasmania's convict past, beautifully shot on a low budget and in challenging wilderness conditions, Van Diemen's Land is a proud addition to the ranks of Australian indie cinema. And don't forget, it's based on a true story - the grisly events depicted actually took place. A true festival find, topped off nicely with the presence at the Auckland screening of the director Jonathan Auf Der Heide and lead actor Oscar Redding, who were pleased with the turnout for their film and answered plenty of questions after the screening.

Moon (UK, 2009)

A loving homage to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which also features a pot-plant named Ridley in a minor role, Moon punches above its weight as a classy if slightly mannered sci-fi drama with the odd comic touch. Sam Rockwell is excellent, as is the use of Chesney Hawkes' immensely cheesy '90s hit "I Am The One And Only", which is presumably its only use in the science fiction context. A solid directorial debut for David Bowie's son Duncan Jones (formerly Zowie Bowie).

In the Loop (UK, 2009)

Public servants will find much to snicker about here, as will fans of innovative swearing techniques. The lack of any sympathetic characters is also particularly rewarding in this wicked satire of the allegedly unprincipled machinations at the heart of British and American government processes. Quotable quotes are too numerous to mention, so all I can really say is that In The Loop just has to be seen and relished. Plus Chris Addison's character would surely win an award for the most fatuous excuse for infidelity ever.

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