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Goodbye Christchurch: New Zealand International Film Festival

The Christchurch leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival ended on 20th August. Initially, I had endeavoured to see (and had purchased tickets for) 13 films, but I was defeated by a rather debilitating head cold, meaning I ended up seeing only a fraction of the films on my list. C’est la vie – sometimes we are defeated by illness, sometimes it is scheduling.

Nevertheless, this year’s NZIFF has served up some interesting fare, including world premieres during the Christchurch leg of the Festival. There were a few films in the schedules of the Auckland and Wellington branches of the Festival that never made it down to the mainland much to my chagrin…although one of the ones I was most disappointed about missing, NZ film Mega Time Squad, is hitting NZ cinemas August 30th so I can’t be too grumpy. The 4K restoration of Wings of Desire also helped soothe my disappointment greatly.

So, owing to the fact that I had a head that felt like cotton wool and I was downing apple kombucha to try and feel better, here are some mini-reviews of the films I saw at NZIFF Christchurch 2018:

McQueen

McQueen

Many people I spoke to who had McQueen on their viewing list for NZIFF could recall where they were and what they were doing when they had heard the news that Alexander McQueen had taken his own life. I am one of those people. Such is the impact that Alexander McQueen had on the fashion world and those of us who are passionate about it. And while Alexander McQueen is sadly no longer with us, filmmakers Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui have created a sumptuous film full of life, colour and motion – a celebration aurally and visually of a life taken too soon. Michael Nyman’s beautiful score wraps around the film like the most beautifully fitting garment, and what would have been static artefacts in the real world (photographs, greeting cards, sketches) are animated and brought to life.

This is no dusty portrait of an artist – it’s a celebration of a life and of a career. We are taken through five pivotal collections that truly showcase the genius and creativity of McQueen, taking us from the visceral, grim and deliciously macabre 1992 graduate collection Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims to the breath-taking and ethereal Plato’s Atlantis. All of this is interwoven with footage and interviews with McQueen himself, his friends, family and colleagues, as well as footage of his delightful mentor Isabella Blow.

Be prepared to have your heart blown wide open with inspiration and break simultaneously. McQueen is a powerful portrait of a troubled but magnificently talented designer. ★★★½

Westwood

Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist 

Following on from the theme of fashion on film and again one of my ultimate fashion heroines is Vivienne Westwood in Lorna Tucker’s brilliant doco Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist. But don’t expect Westwood to regale you with extensive tales of life with Malcolm McLaren and the Sex Pistols- this is not one of those documentaries, and rightly so. What ensues is a brilliant, often intimate look into Vivienne Westwood’s life and the worlds she still inhabits as punk, icon and activist.  It’s also an energetic look at the business of running a fashion empire, especially when the head of that empire is very reluctant to expand in a world that craves expansion. If you adore Vivienne Westwood before seeing the film, you will adore her even more afterwards- she remains a breath of fresh air in a world of cloying sameness. ★★★½

Wings of Desire

Wings of Desire (4K restoration)

Confession: I find it hard to be impartial about Wings of Desire. It’s a film I have loved for many years for so many reasons, and to see it on the big screen and newly restored in 4K was, for me, close to perfect happiness. The black and white sequences are crisp, which in turn makes the colour sequences pop even more. It is sublimely dream-like; giving viewers the intimacy of knowing what angels can hear and see in Berlin before the fall of the Wall.

The human experience is ambrosia to angels – our inner monologues a symphony, our everyday interactions a balm for their souls. More recently I have found myself comparing it to Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive; and while that film is about vampires in the modern world, it has a similar pace and commitment to chronicling the human experience through the eyes of otherworldly beings.

If you can experience it on the big screen, make sure you do. ★★★★★

Leave No Trace

Leave No Trace

Winter’s Bone director Debra Granik is back with a remarkable tale of a father and daughter living peacefully and successfully off the grid in Oregon until the intervention of social services. Will (Ben Foster) is an alienated veteran, but his care of daughter Tom (played by the incredible Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie) is paramount. And while they live outside of the societal norms of a house with four walls, this is by no means an unfulfilled, desolate life. What Granik does beautifully is paint a portrait not only of the life of Will and Tom and the challenges they face when society encroaches, but also of people around them, living simple, honest lives. There’s no Hollywood glitz or pretence here – there are faces worn with the weight of the stories they carry with them. Without doubt this is Ben Foster’s finest agnd most emotional performance thus far, and Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie is magical as a daughter who finds herself increasingly burdened by the weight of her father’s need for escape. She is well and truly a rising talent. ★★★★★

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