Whiling away those dark winter days

My idea of a winter wonderland is hunkering down in the Regent for the International Film Festival, only emerging for cups of excellent Dunedin coffee. This year, the festival is proud of the number of films it has secured direct from screening at Cannes, writes Christine Powley.

DIRECTORS

Boyhood: Independent film-maker Richard Linklater is known for forming strong relationships with his actors that carry over many productions. With most people it would be a gimmick filming a child's growth over 12 years but Linklater has always had an interest in how time intersects with a story, normally at the other extreme with 24-hour timeframes. Dunedin August 10, 14, Gore August 24

 

Jimmy's Hall: Could you call it a festival if there was no Ken Loach film? Loach is fascinated by the struggle of the individual against authority in whatever form it takes. The new Republic of Ireland of the 1920s was a de facto church state that was deeply suspicious of any modernising efforts. In a true story, returning home with a head stuffed full of strange American notions was enough to tar James Gralton a communist. Dunedin August 3, 12; Gore August 16, 20

 

The Lunchbox: Directing his first feature-length film, Ritesh Batra has made an almost love story based on misdirected food deliveries in teeming megalopolis Mumbai. This has charmed audiences wherever it has been shown. Dunedin July 31, August 1; Gore August 14,16

 

Maps to the Stars: Julianne Moore won a best actress award at Cannes for this, but, putting the rest of the great cast aside, being a David Cronenberg film is what makes this a must-see. Here he returns to the horrors of Hollywood, a topic on which you can never go too large. Dunedin August 13, 16

 

The Young and Prodigious T.S. Spivet: French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet is responsible for the huge hit Amelie, a film that divided people solely on their tolerance of whimsy. He has returned to the whimsy well here but he also has chosen actors such as Helena Bonham Carter, whose brand of cinematic grumpiness is able to cut through all that. Please note: this is a 3-D film. Dunedin August 2, 3, 9; Gore August 17, 21

 

ACTORS

Folies Bergere: Isabelle Huppert will always be seared into our minds for her role in The Piano Teacher but she actually has done plenty of comedy. Wealthy French cattle breeders live a very different life from Kiwi cattlemen. Tinkering around her chateaux palls for Huppert's character and an adventure in Paris seems the tonic she needs, a prescription most of us would be happy to take! Dunedin August 2, 6; Gore August 15, 17

 

Frank: Michael Fassbender has never been afraid to do whatever it takes to make a role work. Here, he spends the movie encased in a plastic head. His fans may regret not being able to see his real noggin but Fassbender found it a pleasant experience. Dunedin August 9, 11

 

In the Courtyard: When you have been a star for as long as Catherine Deneuve, you know a thing or two about keeping people's attention. At this stage it does not really matter what vehicle she is in, it is just fun to watch her. Here recently retired, she is finding it hard to readjust but an unlikely friendship with her building's new manager may be the lifeline she needs. Dunedin August 15, 17; Gore August 22

 

Still Life: Whenever I see Eddie Marsan in a film, I always come away impressed by how good he is. He lacks leading-man looks but it is often his character who sticks in the mind. Here he carries the film as a man whose job is his life. He performs a useful social service but budget cuts mean his role is to go. This is his last case and in true movie fashion it is one that changes his life. Dunedin August 2, 4

 

Two Days, One Night: The story of a woman forced to spend a weekend door-knocking her co-workers in a bid to get them to save her job could easily become monotonous. She knocks on the door, they answer, she asks them to vote to keep her job, they respond, she goes to the next door. Oscar-winner Marion Cotillard turns it into more than just a study in humiliation. Dunedin August 7, 15; Gore August 18

 

SUBJECT

Beloved Sisters: I love a costume drama but some people find them boring. This exploration of poet, philosopher, historian and playwright Friedrich Schiller's life focuses on the two sisters who loved him almost as much as they loved each other. One became his wife; the other wrote the first biography of his life. Oh and the dresses and scenery are lovely too. Dunedin August 6, 9

 

Living is Easy with Eyes Closed: Fifty years on, we tend to forget how important the Beatles were to people. Hours were spent poring over their lyrics trying to work out the inner meanings. Spanish teacher Antonio has been using the Beatles as a teaching aid in his English language classes and when he learns John Lennon is in Spain filming How I Won the War he decides he must meet him. Such were the times, he pulls it off. Dunedin August 1, 7; Gore August 15, 18

 

Love Is Strange: This has a spectacular cast but the selling point is the story of Ben and George, who marry after 30 years together and find what worked under the ''don't ask, don't tell'' regime falls apart when things are spelt out. Dunedin August 4, 5

 

Patema Inverted: Animation is not cheap but when it comes to science fiction it is probably the most cost-effective way to portray alternative universes. Unfortunately most people automatically assume all animation is children's stuff and miss out on something as cool as Patema Inverted. Dunedin August 4, 5

 

The Tale of Princess Kaguya: A Japanese fairy tale that has not yet had its edges rounded off by the homogenising effects of focus-group-driven storytelling. And it is that element of otherworldliness that makes it so captivating to us. Dunedin August 15, 16; Gore August 23

 

DOCUMENTARIES

Sepideh - Reaching for the Stars: Stories of how people navigate the restrictions in their lives are always fascinating. Sepideh is a 15-year-old girl living in Iran with a seemingly impossible dream to become an astronaut. Her family are not happy she regularly spends the night in the desert with her telescope studying the stars, but her ambition is stronger than their misgivings. Dunedin August 9, 16

 

Alive Inside: We all know music is powerful stuff, so the idea it could be used to reach out to Alzheimer's patients and even bring them back to us for moments of time instinctively seems right. The number of miraculous transformations this film documents make it a powerful advocate for a change in the way we treat the elderly. Dunedin August 7, 10

 

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden: An 80-year-old mystery that caught the world's attention before the more pressing concerns of WW2 caused it to be forgotten. Three different sets of European settlers made their way to the Galapagos Islands. They all had different motivations and did not particularly get along. Then, in a short space of time, there were three disappearances and what was ruled an accidental death. This documentary tries to unlock what really happened all those years ago. Dunedin August 7, 12; Gore August 19

 

The Internet's Own Boy: The Story of Aaron Swartz: We have ambivalent feelings about boy computer geniuses. On one hand, we hold them in awe; on the other, they arouse feelings of unease. Just what are they getting up to among the gigabytes? The American Government shares our anxieties and can respond very aggressively to what it considers breaches of security. Aaron Swartz was very young but he had huge influence on the internet. When his youthful idealism came up against government desire for control, something had to give. Dunedin August 11, 13

 

Tender: Anyone who has read Jessica Mitford's dissection of the American funeral business The American Way of Death will have an interest in an alternative to the commercialisation of funerals. Australia's Port Kembla is an old-fashioned working-class industrial town which is attempting to create a not-for-profit funeral service to meet the needs of the town's battlers. Dunedin August 11, 16

 

The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness: The first film of Hayao Miyazaki's I saw was Spirited Away and ever since the festival has brought us regular samplings of his work, often retrospectives. But all things come to an end. The master is 73 now and has been calling every film his last for the past 10 years. This documentary looks at his acclaimed studio Ghibli and the sensibility behind it. Dunedin August 9

 

National Gallery: I am a sucker for museums and art galleries. The National Gallery in London is one I know well, so I will be seeing this as a way of getting reacquainted with an old friend. Dunedin August 12, 16

 

The Great Museum: Other people have bucket lists that involve jumping out of planes or climbing mountains. My bucket list is all the international museums and art galleries that I would like to visit when I have the time and money. Anyone with a similar bent will be sold on the title, just as I was. Dunedin August 1, 2; Gore August 16, 20

 

Jodorowsky's Dune: We all love a story of epic failure and there is nothing more epic than the wrong-headedness that goes into trying to get a big budget movie up and running without the budget. If you thrilled to Lost in La Mancha, this story of how visionary director Alejandro Jodorowsky tried to film the unfilmable science fiction Dune is a must-see. And yes, I know David Lynch filmed it in 1984 but that basically proved Dune is unfilmable. Dunedin August 7

 

Dior and I: Fashion likes to present itself as an art form but in reality it is a high-stakes business. When John Galliano had his famous meltdown it was great gossip fodder but a business catastrophe for the House of Dior. They immediately hired Raf Simons to design the upcoming collection in a seriously abbreviated time-frame, hoping to save the label. This is the documentary of that high-risk time for Simons and Dior. Dunedin August 9, 10; Gore August 23, 24

 

KIWI CONNECTIONS

Aunty and the Star People: Director Gerard Smyth, who gave us When a City Falls about Christchurch, has turned his attention to a ''saint'' living in plain sight in Wellington. Jean Watson never set out to be a secret. She wrote the book Kurunai Illam: The Story of an Orphanage in 1992, detailing how she helped found an orphanage in southern India, but it failed to gain much public awareness. Undeterred, Watson has just kept on giving what she can. Dunedin August 14, 15

 

Housebound: Kiwi Gothic gets another spin and why not when we are so good at it? A few weeks ago Roy Colbert wrote a column about the treasure that is Rima Te Wiata and while you would not go to Roy for dietary advice if you were a diabetic, he is on the money when it comes to talent. Te Wiata is the hopeless (or so her daughter thinks) mother who imagines her house is haunted. When forced to live at home, the know-it-all daughter starts to find Mum is not so clueless after all. Dunedin August 15; Gore August 13

 

Pulp: a Film about Life, Death & Supermarkets: Kiwi director Florian Habicht turns his off-the-wall style to 1990s Britpop band Pulp. Most documentaries would stick firmly with mouthy frontman Jarvis Cocker. Habicht is just as interested in finding out what Sheffield pensioners have to say about their city's famous sons. One of those rare times when the sensibilities of the film-maker and subject are in alignment to an uncanny degree. Dunedin August 7, 14; Gore August 15

 

JUST BECAUSE

Kumiko the Treasure Hunter: Festival favourite Fargo falsely claimed to be based on a true story and people who believed that went searching for the suitcase full of money. So in an echo of that, this tale of one of those fortune hunters also claims to be based on a true story. Kumiko, a lonely Japanese office lady, finds a video of Fargo and immediately senses that she is fated to find that money. Dunedin August 3, 5

 

In Order of Disappearance: Snow-covered landscapes always look so clean, which is why film-makers love setting bloody crimes in them: all that snow really makes the blood pop. A revenge rampage in the snows of Norway takes advantage of the fact we assume Norway is such a wholesome country. Here a Swedish snowplough man working in the remote mountains of Norway sparks a war between Norwegian and Serbian crime gangs by seeking revenge for his son's death. Dunedin August 1, 4


The New Zealand International Film Festival screens in Dunedin at the Regent Theatre and Rialto Cinemas from July 31 to August 17, and in Gore at SBS St James Theatre from August 13-24. All films, dates, times and venues are listed at www.nziff.co.nz.


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