Over the past 15 years German filmmaker Christian Petzold and his muse Nina Hoss have been crafting an oeuvre of austere thrillers to rival the best, and theirs is one of the greatest director-actor partnerships in cinema today. Petzold continues to finetune a consistently effective formula: slow-building character studies with Hitchcockian suspense and noirish atmosphere which ruminate on Germany’s past and present — Yella (2007) was a surreal meditation on post-reunification capitalism; Jerichow (2008) addressed the Turkish diaspora via The Postman Always Rings Twice; and their best film, Barbara (2012), immersed us in the paranoia and desperation of life under the Iron Curtain. Their sixth collaboration, Phoenix, is a dark melodrama which delves further into Germany’s chequered history and finds the pair at the peak of their considerable powers.
2014 provided two future classic B-movies in the form of The Guest and John Wick, although rather inexplicably neither found itself a theatrical release in New Zealand. Action fans now have cause to celebrate, however, as the former — ostensibly director Adam Wingard’s badass love-letter to ’80s genre flicks — has made its way at last to our cinemas. Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) gives a mesmerising, career-redefining performance as David, a mysterious soldier who ingratiates himself into the lives of a family whose son died in action, with Maika Monroe (It Follows) in her breakout role as the suspicious teenage daughter. A Fistful of Culture has three double passes to giveaway thanks to Rialto Distribution, so if you would like to catch this wicked actioner on the big screen check out the competition details and enter below.
Hou Hsiao-hsien’s The Assassin is unquestionably one of the most staggeringly beautiful films I have ever seen; in fact, so intricate are its period details and stunning its compositions that to simply label it “beautiful” does the film a disservice. It is also one of the slowest and most inscrutable, making it an especially bold choice for the NZIFF’s Centrepiece screening. Unlike Ang Lee, Zhang Yimou and even Wong Kar-wai before him, Hou’s foray into wuxia sees his elliptical style remain completely intact, which may prove maddening for fans of the genre. Cinéastes accustomed to the Taiwanese master’s quiet realism, however, will relish the way his years-in-the-making endeavour meticulously brings imperial China to vivid life.
Esteemed auteur Miguel Gomes (Tabu) delivers the most exhilaratingly ambitious cinema of the year with Arabian Nights, a marathon six-hour triptych which portrays straitened life in contemporary Portugal through a fanciful lens. Just as his 2008 feature Our Beloved Month of August delightfully blurred the line between documentary and drama, this experimental year-long project blends exhaustively-researched fact with fiction to create a more poetic truth, borrowing the structure and narrator of its literary namesake to tell a dozen or so stories inspired by real occurrences. Often dazzling, occasionally frustrating and always adventurous, this unwieldy enterprise feels akin to a sprawling postmodern novel — a Gravity’s Rainbow or Infinite Jest — and as such your mileage may vary, but the overall experience is one not to be missed for intrepid cinephiles.
The New Zealand International Film Festival launches this Thursday in Auckland with a sold-out session of The Lobster, the new film by the Greek satirist Yorgos Lanthimos. If you’re still mulling over what to go to, here are the five films I’m most looking forward to.
The resurgent Joaquin Phoenix makes an unexpected foray into the farcical world of late-career Woody Allen in Irrational Man. He stars as a burned-out philosophy professor who takes a job at a Rhode Island College and becomes involved with a teacher (Parker Posey) as well as a precocious student (Emma Stone), but won’t find meaning in his life until an existential act is committed. A Fistful of Culture has double passes to giveaway to three lucky readers courtesy of Trigger Marketing, and you can find the competition details below.
A Fistful of Culture is beyond excited for the upcoming New Zealand International Film Festival, and if you’re reading this then no doubt you feel the same way, so let’s celebrate together: let us know which film from this year’s programme you are most eagerly anticipating, as well as your preference of Blu-ray or DVD, and you’ll be in the draw to win a mystery Madman prize!
Grab your highlighters, folks: the New Zealand International Film Festival’s 2015 Auckland programme has been unveiled. Opening in bold style with Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster and closing in tears with Australian drama Holding the Man, this year’s festival looks as relevant as ever. Cinephiles can rejoice over the inclusion of 17 exciting titles direct from the Cannes Film Festival, which despite the noticeable absence of Palme d’Or winner Dheepan and critics’ favourite Carol remains an impressive haul. Also cause for celebration is this year’s Live Cinema collaboration with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra: Charlie Chaplin’s classic 1921 feature The Kid and 1917 short The Immigrant. Poring over the selection, a few trends jumped out at me: several of the 2012 festival’s best filmmakers make a welcome return — Miguel Gomes! Joshua Oppenheimer! Pablo Larraín! Christian Petzold! Hirokazu Koreeda!; documentaries are increasingly becoming the most-buzzed titles (The Wolfpack, Amy, Going Clear); and most encouraging is the number of strong directorial debuts from around the globe, including Alex Garland’s Ex Machina; Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe, Ana Lily Amirpour’s A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, Chaitanya Tamhane’s Court, Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, Yared Zeleke’s Lamb and Shim Sung-bo’s Haemoo. Read on for my most anticipated picks of the programme, and be sure to check back throughout the festival for reviews and coverage.
An adolescent in crisis. Intimate, observational storytelling. Powerful naturalistic performances. Lovely magic hour cinematography. This could describe any number of contemporary neo-realist dramas produced in Europe each year, and if you were to reverse engineer such a film The Last Hammer Blow (Le dernier coup de marteau) might resemble the result. Despite its familiar trappings, however, Alix Delaporte’s second feature manages to distinguish itself with an unexpected reserve and emotional impact.
The Alliance Française French Film Festival — a celebration of French cinema and culture which continues to display admirable growth each year — launches its 2015 event in Auckland this week, with César Award-nominee The Bélier Family (La Famille Bélier) opening the proceedings at Rialto Cinemas. This year’s programme boasts several high-profile French-language selections from the 2014 Cannes (The Blue Room), Venice (The Last Hammer Blow) and Toronto (The New Girlfriend) film festivals, among others, as well as a spotlight on The Great War (La Grande Guerre) following last year’s WWI centenary commemorations. You can find my five most anticipated picks of the programme below, and be sure to check back soon for reviews from the festival.