NZIFF 2015 in review

Belief: The Possession of Janet Moses

Fascinating and disturbing re-enactment of the accidental murder of a Wainuiomata woman by her Maori family as they tried to lift a curse from her. Even handed doco leaves the reality of things open – the crux really is belief, what we believe to be true, and how that allows us to act – there is no doubt the family genuinely believed what they were doing was for the best. The film is really about putting you in the room with the extended family for five days as they stamp and chant and try to drive the spirit out. Intense, probably essential viewing for New Zealanders, and anyone interested in the clash between traditional/spiritual beliefs and the modern world. (From the director Q&A there is definitely more to the story, but this holds up.) Also works as a straight up horror movie about people going insane.

Victoria

Shot in one take, starting at about four in the morning, as a young women meets some guys at a club and things end up going in a very unexpected direction. Really solid and enjoyable. Big recommendation; try to avoid spoilers.

Inherent Vice

Stoned surfer private investigator in the 1970s takes a shaggy dog trip through the conspiracy haze of the day. Adapted from a Pynchon novel, lots of fun and very well done but not really having a discernable point.

The Colour of Pomegranates

Famous 1969 Russian/Armenian film. A sort of impressionistic/symbolic biography of an artist that unfortunately pretty much plays like the most excessive and pretentious student art film of all time. Punishingly bad with a few striking images.

The Assassin

Chinese period piece about a female assassin in 7th Century or so China. Looked pretty great, didn’t really seem that interested in telling its story, extremely stylish and very enjoyable however.

Alice Cares

Doco about trialling Alice, a robot with AI in it, to hang out with elderly people with dementia both as companionship and to help keep track of their lives for them. As proof of concept, it works. Alice has a realistic face and expressions, and talks well enough and naturally enough and follows up enough that a relatively normal conversation is possible. She can look things up online and remember information and help people do exercises. This is like an early cellphone, in terms of AI, so we are heading in this direction. Still somehow uncanny and discomforting conceptually. You are left wanting there to be more going on in Alice herself, and it is somehow off that there isn’t, once you have bonded with her a little. A necessary glimpse of our changing world and what is coming. Big big recommendation.

10000 Years Later

CGI animation, set 10000 years after present day. More of a kids movie than I expected. The story is trite and the characterisation lacking, but its environmental etc themes are apt. overall, pretty cheeseball with some excellent design. Would recommend watching it with the sound off and your own soundtrack and improvise your own story.

Embrace of the Serpent

Awesome. Mostly black and white film about two explorers, one following the journals of the other, travelling in the jungle in search of ayahuasca, and their encounters with the same shaman across time. The film is based on real accounts, including that of Richard Evans Schultes, who, among other things, introduced magic mushrooms to the West. Gets very surreal. But yeah wonderful and huge recommendation if this sounds remotely your kind of thing.

The Look of Silence

Companion piece to The Act of Killing (which was my film of the year of 2013, and remains the most striking and necessary film I have seen in years), returning to Indonesia and the aftermath of the mass killings of the 1960s. This film follows Adi as he seeks to engage with the men who murdered his brother, among a million others, and offer them forgiveness.

This screening had a Q&A with Joshua Oppenheimer, the director, which was fabulous.

I don’t really know what to say other than these two films are totally necessary and about the highest example of the documentary art, especially in terms of their real world impact; they have opened a dialogue for change within Indonesia that continues to gain momentum.

Tale of Tales

Inconsistent, opulent, byzantine melange of fairy tales with dark and unexpected twists. Totally worth a look, though somehow unsatisfying as a whole.

Cemetery of Splendor

Woo. The way Apichatpong Weerasethakul (director of Uncle Boonme Who Can Remember His Past Lives) blends the mundane and the supermundane is an achievement of the greatest artistry. His films are gentle, meandering and bizarre. So strange and lovely, and quietly unsettling. This one is set in a makeshift hospital with soldiers struck down with a sleeping sickness, and follows a woman volunteering there. Somehow from there we drift into a world with looser boundaries. Goddesses stop by for tea. The openness of Thai culture to the spirit world grounds the weirdness. Glorious and not remotely like anything else in film, I will keep going to this guy’s films. Challenging in unexpected ways.

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