Our delightful Ebert & Siskel wunderkind Thomas Giblin is back for part two of Craccum’s NZIFF commentary.
The rebranded Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is underway, after much doubt surrounding its viability due to Covid-19. Fortunately – as we have a competent government – this year’s festival has gone ahead smoothly, albeit for a few technical issues of my own fault when attempting to stream this year’s programme from home. Film fans are still flocking to the (limited) theatre screenings, as showcases of True History of the Kelly Gang and The Truth were both packed to the brim. Others, however, are snuggling up under a blanket to enjoy the luxury of being able to stream this year’s programme at home.
Could this be the future of the film festivals in a world plagued by Covid-19? A hybrid festival is undoubtedly more accessible. Festival director Marten Rabarts highlighted this in referring to his own experience as an adolescent living in the Coromandel and not being able to access the film festival as Auckland was 3 hours away. So there seems to be an innate desire to continue the festival as a hybrid which is wonderful, as cinema should be for all and not the few.
The 2020 Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival is something special, but the 2021 iteration possibly more so. What does the future hold? Only time will tell. For now, we can just enjoy what films are available to us in the company of loved ones or in the warm embrace of solitude. So here are my thoughts on what I’ve watched so far that you can enjoy them both with loved ones or in the comfort of solitude.
True History of the Kelly Gang
Justin Kurzel directs a confused punk-inspired reimagining of one of Ned Kelly the most notorious figures in Australian history that never seems to find its feet. George MacKay as a crazed Ned Kelly that serves as one of the few highlights of the film. The physicality of MacKay is brilliant, almost too brilliant as the rest of the films fails to rise to his level. True History of the Kelly Gang seems more suited to a theatre rather than the big screen for its non-period costuming, strobe lighting and unwavering commitment to the spectacle is rather underwhelming for a film that had so much promise.
Halina Reijni in her directorial debut delivers a cat and mouse film between a therapist and a violent sex offender that never really delves deep enough into its themes to shock. Lead actors Carice van Houten and Marwan Kenzari are standouts, but the script doesn’t back them up as it’s painfully shallow and unsubtle. It never develops a grip on its subject matter, and that leaves it feeling problematic where it shouldn’t. Fortunately, Houten and Kenzari make Instinct worth it, just don’t expect it to be anything truly remarkable.
My Extraordinary Summer with Tess
“When the very last dinosaur on earth was dying, would it have known it was the last one?” utters the lead child actor in a film that offers a surprising amount of depth. At moments it becomes a little bit silly and cheesy, but as a kids film, it is something one wouldn’t mind seeing again on a rainy day when you’re feeling down.
The biggest disappointment of the festival so far comes in the form of Hirokazu Koreeda’s first feature to follow his Palme d’Or-winning Shoplifters. The Truth isn’t a bad film by any means, but it doesn’t offer anything of real substance. It is competent filmmaking which features competent acting, but never does it truly move you. Mediocrity is a cardinal sin in filmmaking and in The Truth, and Koreeda is guilty. But, at least it’s a film you can watch with your parents.
A young offender turned priest played by Bartosz Bielenia delivers a star-making performance in a film that delightfully pokes fun at the Church. It shifts genre and tones effortlessly for an experience that is hilarious but yet horrifying. Piotr Sobociński’s camera gives this film another layer by capturing Bielenia in soft shades of green and blue that give him a christ-like aura as he convinces this small town of his legitimacy as a priest. Corpus Christi is one of the most engaging films I’ve seen of this year’s festival so far so make sure to catch it if you can.
Last and First Men
My favourite film of the festival so far and it’ll take something special to knock it off its perch. Last and First Men stands as a testament to Jóhann Jóhannsson’s genius and as a testament to a man gone too soon. It is truly remarkable, but the less said about this film, the better as it’s something you need to experience. Watch it now, or you’ll miss out.