#NZFF Big Nights at the Civic
When Auckland filmmaker Florian Habicht took up the Arts Foundation’s Harriet Friedlander Residency in New York in late 2009, he was under no obligation to do a jot of work, let alone return with the opening night movie for Auckland’s 2011 Film Festival. It’s hard to imagine a more shining validation of Friedlander’s faith in the regenerative powers of New York City. It’s a Love Story indeed, embracing documentary, fiction, summer, sex, romance, New York and a host of camera-ready New Yorkers in one gregarious, greedy, joyous hug.
Florian’s muse and quarry is the exquisite Masha, romantic fantasy incarnate, first spotted on the subway heading towards Coney Island carrying only a slice of cake perfectly balanced on a plate. Buttonholing miscellaneous New Yorkers, he solicits advice at every stage of the ensuing affair to figure out what could happen next in his film. Even the cranky responses we see crackle with character and perverse joie de vivre.
He’s also consulting a psychic and Skyping dad back home for long-term career guidance. He’s not in Manhattan for ever, and as autumn sets in the film takes on a melancholic undertow. An elderly homeless drunk recalls his boyhood crush: harsh reality and hopeless fantasy constantly jostle and excite each other in Florian’sNew York.
Though presented as a shot-on-the-fly, made-up-as-I-went-along piece of whimsy, it looks like a dream and is cut with wit and dexterity. Already there are so many hymns to New York; why should we be astounded to find another that’s so freshly, contagiously, uniquely in love with the place? — BG
“Although Melancholia, by its very title, declares a mournful state of mind, the movie is, in fact, the work of a man whose slow emergence from personal crisis has resulted in a moving masterpiece, marked by an astonishing profundity of vision. The title, by the way, refers to a celestial body as well as a state of mind: in von Trier’s galaxy, Melancholia is a planet that, scientific calculations confirm, is on a catastrophic collision course with Earth. As such, the impending doom fits perfectly with the mindset of Justine (an alabaster Kirsten Dunst), a bride sinking deeper and deeper into her own terrible depression on the day of her sumptuous wedding party. (Her handsome, bewildered groom is played by True Blood’s Alexander Skarsgård.) Even her protective sister, Claire (Antichrist’s Charlotte Gainsbourg), can’t calm Justine’s mounting terror and foreboding. And Claire, of all people, has something bigger to worry about: keeping a telescopic eye on the situation, she and her astronomer husband (Kiefer Sutherland) know that Melancholia is literally coming closer and threatening to destroy everything. Everything.
I’m not giving away a plot twist: von Trier provides a breathtaking prelude to the coming temporal and psychological apocalypse, set to the grand romanticism of Wagner’s famous ‘Prelude’ from Tristan und Isolde. The lush music blends so completely with the swooning, dreamscape cinematography of Manuel Alberto Claro that sight and sound truly melt into one… The result is a movie acutely attuned to feelings of despair that nevertheless leaves the viewer in a state of ecstasy.” — Lisa Schwarzbaum, Entertainment Weekly
Our Centrepiece celebrates the comeback of a long-time Festival favourite. Aki Kaurismäki’s tender French comedy was a huge hit in competition at Cannes and winner of the International Critics Prize. — BG
“Some wonderful, big-hearted comedy was provided by the Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismäki… Le Havre had all the master’s trademarked deadpan dialogue and delicious nuggets of bone-dry humour, and his compassion for the marginalised and dispossessed, but with something richer and sweeter than I remember from his previous pictures… Le Havre is shot in the French port town, with French actors and dialogue, though Kaurismäki’s repertory stalwart player Kati Outinen has a role. She plays the wife of Marcel (André Wilms), a dignified, stoic man who works as a shoeshiner on the streets. Marcel witnesses an illegal immigrant boy from Gabon, Idrissa (Blondin Miguel), escape from the police and sets out to help him. But a tough cop, Inspector Monet (Jean-Pierre Darroussin), is on his trail, not to mention a mean-spirited local given to making anonymous denunciations.
Kaurismäki’s movie moves lightly but elegantly and quickly, like a little jockey on a powerful horse… Somehow, for all its comedy and absurdity, Le Havre addresses its theme with more persuasive confidence than many a grim social-realist picture… Kaurismäki is a master of making deadpan a subtle, expressive performance mode… What a treat this film is.” — Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
“Finally Cannes delivers some real laughs! …Le Havre blithely portrays life as we might wish it to be, and that is the funniest irony of all.” — Barbara Scharres, Chicago Sun-Times
Based on a classic of British children’s fantasy, Mary Norton’s 1952 novel The Borrowers, this animated feature is the latest source of delight from the estimable Studio Ghibli. It is directed by Yonebayashi Hiromasa, a longstanding Ghibli animator responsible for some of the breathtaking work on Ponyo.
It tells of the friendship between Sho, a young boy recuperating at his elderly aunt’s house in the country, and Arrietty, a little girl as big as your thumb who lives with her family under the floorboards. Arrietty accompanies her father Pod on ‘Borrower’ expeditions into the house to fetch supplies that the ‘human beans’ will never miss. Though a cat can look mighty fearsome when you’re four inches high, Arrietty’s excitements don’t pack the dark, animist charge of the Miyazaki films. But its exquisitely rendered design, the painterly botanical details of the garden, and the ageless story-book quality of the country house are all the proof anyone could wish for that the master lives on in his successor. — BG
“It is a simply told, beautifully animated delight that, like the best Ghibli films, speaks straight to the heart and imagination of the child in all of us… Yonebayashi and his team have created a world that is both gorgeously detailed and thrillingly realized from the perspective of its miniature protagonists. As Arrietty climbs vines to the roof, plunges on a thread from a kitchen table or performs other feats of derring-do, we have the heart-in-the-throat feeling of not only admiring her pluck, but being in her shoes.” — Mark Schilling, Japan Times
THE KID WITH A BIKE
Belgian brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, already two-time Cannes victors with Rosetta and L’Enfant, this year shared the Festival’s Grand Prix for this gripping emotional drama. Filming for once in summer, and evincing unusual hopefulness, they bring their inimitable tough love to the story of a wild 11-year-old boy rebounding between the judicious care of a kind, single woman (Cécile de France) and the blandishments of a streetwise older boy. — BG
“The opening has the visceral charge of a great chase scene as 11-year-old Cyril (Thomas Doret) makes a mad dash to evade his counselors and flee the children’s home where he has been placed temporarily. In his first screen role, the remarkable Doret bristles with anger and flailing determination; this wiry, ginger-haired kid conveys a desperation that is shattering…
What follows is not a conventional chronicle of a troubled child scarred by abandonment issues, learning to experience the unfamiliar sensations of love and trust, though to some degree, that happens. Instead, it’s a robustly plotted and highly suspenseful battle to save uncontrollable Cyril from self-destruction…
Without ever articulating it in words, the film over and over again illustrates with wrenching effectiveness every child’s primal hunger for parental love and acceptance….
There isn’t a single unearned emotion… Kindness is evident in even the most hurt or exasperated moments of de France’s lovely performance. But then, kindness couched in unblinking social realism is an intrinsic part of how these supremely gifted filmmakers view the world.” — David Rooney, Hollywood Reporter
THE TREE OF LIFE
Where do you begin to describe the wonders of Terrence Malick’s audacious and mind-boggling The Tree of Life, winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival? Referencing his own 50s boyhood, he draws a picture of family life as archetypal as a child’s questions about God, and connects it all to rapturous visions of the origins of the universe and the end of time. We proudly present theNew Zealand premiere screenings on the giant Civic screen so vast a picture cries out to fill. — BG
“The sheer beauty of this film is almost overwhelming, but as with other works of religiously minded art, its aesthetic glories are tethered to a humble and exalted purpose, which is to shine the light of the sacred on secular reality… This specific postwar comingof- age story, quietly astute in its assessment of the psychological dynamics of a nuclear family in the American South at the dawn of the space age, is also an ode to childhood perception and an account of the precipitous fall into knowledge that foretells childhood’s end…
So much is conveyed – about the tension and tenderness within the marriage, about the frustrations that dent their happiness, about the volatility of the bonds between siblings – but without any of the usual architecture of dramatic exposition. One shot flows into another, whispered voice-over displaces dialogue, and an almost perfect domestic narrative takes shape, anchored in three extraordinarily graceful performances: Mr Pitt, Ms Chastain and, above all, Hunter McCracken, a first-timer who brings us inside young Jack’s restless, itching skin.” — A.O. Scott, NY Times
In the late 1930s Waikato leader Te Puea Hērangi held a dream to build seven waka taua for the 1940 centennial commemorations at Waitangi. By 1937 two waka had been commissioned and cameraman RGH Manley engaged to record their building for posterity. The original footage was not printed and remained untouched for almost 50 years, until 1983 when Ngā Kaitiaki Ō Ngā Taonga Whitiāhua The New Zealand Film Archive received permission from Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikāhu to begin work on the nitrate negatives. Repair and preservation took more than 350 hours and several years and in August 1989 work began to construct a new film. Merata Mita was appointed director and, with editor Annie Collins and Archive director Jonathan Dennis, moved to Turangawaewae Marae to edit it. Mita was informed by kaumatua who had witnessed the events and could provide clarity to and guidance in shaping the film. The result is this wondrous feature documentary which premiered at the Commonwealth Games Arts Festival at the Civic Theatre in 1990. — Diane Pivac, Lawrence Wharerau
Mana Waka under the direction of Merata Mita becomes the great gift envisaged by Te Puea Hērangi. Mana Waka is a powerful, beautiful and intensely aspiring film, a monument to hope. — Jonathan Dennis
This screening is an acknowledgement of the late Merata Mita and her contribution to New Zealand’s film heritage. This pristine new print has been made possible by the Saving Frames project, a partnership between the Film Archive, Park Road Post Production and the Government of New Zealand.
Martin Scorsese’s great seething vision of 70s New York mesmerises anew in a blazing 35th-anniversary 35mm restoration. The synthesis of talents was extraordinary: Paul Schrader’s script surveys Manhattanthrough the eyes of an insomniac, sleaze-obsessed Vietnamvet and delineates his crackup with wily expertise. Bernard Herrmann’s score wails to wake the city’s dead. Scorsese pours a century of cinema into his vision of urban inferno – and Robert De Niro’s Travis Bickle forever cruises the avenues of our imaginations, a psychopath as tender, lonely and deranged as Psycho’s Norman Bates, but so much more real. — BG
“What can be newly said about this savage, many-headed dragon of the American new wave? You either love it or you love it… Bickle remains an authentic everyman, a walking dumb-as-shit smashup of conservative responses, but also a disenfranchised victim of the corporate-imperial combine, an ex-soldier used to meaningless death, lost in the streets of his own empty freedom. There may not be a more essentially American figure haunting the national cinema.” — Michael Atkinson, Village Voice
“Taxi Driver still stuns! …Hysterical yet sublime, the movie crystallizes one of the worst moments in New York’s history – the city as America’s pariah, a crime-ridden, fiscally profligate, graffiti-festooned moral cesspool… In other aspects, the world of Taxi Driver is recognizably ours. Libidinal politics, celebrity worship, sexual exploitation, the fetishization of guns and violence, racial stereotyping, the fear of foreigners – not to mention the promise of apocalyptic religion – all remain. Taxi Driver lives. See it again. And try to have a nice day.” — J. Hoberman, Village Voice
NOSFERATU, A SYMPHONY OF HORRORS
The Festival’s long-standing, popular and much-cherished collaboration with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra ventures into the twilight zone for a rare Live Cinema screening of F.W. Murnau’s aptly titled Symphony of Horrors. Commissioned by the Cineteca di Bologna, in co-operation with the F.W. Murnau Stiftung in Wiesbaden, Timothy Brock has freely adapted the 1826 four-act opera, Der Vampyr, by the eminent German composer Heinrich Marschner (1795–1861), to create a compelling dramatic score for the Murnau classic. The print, from the British Film Institute collection, has been struck from the restoration by the Münchner Filmmuseum and the Cineteca di Bologna, and it replicates the tints and tones revealed in the nitrate original. — BG
“Nosferatu is the original Dracula movie and still, after 80 years, the scariest. If the film is not called ‘Dracula’, that is simply because Murnau and his screenwriter, Henrik Galeen, having failed to obtain the rights to Bram Stoker’s novel from his widow, calmly pinched the whole plot and changed the characters’ names. The resultant lawsuit rumbled on for years. Still, this piece of sharp practice can perhaps be forgiven, since it resulted in one of the greatest horror movies, not just of the silent screen, but of all time.
The special effects, of course, have long since been surpassed, the dialogue is often stilted, and some of the acting especially Gustav von Wangenheim as the naïve young hero, Hutter – is hammy in the extreme. But none of this matters in the face of what makes this a masterpiece: Murnau’s visionary direction and the chilling performance of Max Schreck in the title role… Filming largely on location, Murnau creates an eerie sense of unnatural forces penetrating the natural world; the uncanny is all the more terrifying for appearing in everyday surroundings…
The Nosferatu of Max Schreck is unforgettably grotesque from his very first appearance… Tall, cadaverous, bald, bat-eared and rabbit-toothed, he moves with short jerky steps, taloned hands close to his sides, as if still holding the shape of his daytime coffin. The effect is all but ludicrous, at once terrifying and pitiable: the creature’s need for blood, for living warmth, is palpable to the point of agony. Murnau, one senses, identified with his monster; Nosferatu is by far the most vividly portrayed character in the film.” — Philip Kemp, British Film Institute
Marc Taddei conducts Timothy Brock’s score. A popular guest conductor throughout Australasia, Marc is currently Music Director of the Wellington Vector Orchestra. His Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra Live Cinema engagements have included an exhilarating The Wind in 2006 and Timothy Brock’s original scores for the Buster Keaton classics One Week and Sherlock Jr last year.
Timothy Brock is a leading interpreter and composer of orchestral music for ‘silent’ cinema, and has been a regular visitor to the Festival, most recently conducting his restoration of Charlie Chaplin’s score for The Gold Rush in 2009.