Every New Zealand Film Festival there are the movies that divide. This year, I saw three films that fall into the either 'love em' or hate em' camp - a bit like Vegemite (sorry Marmite - I'm a Vegemite girl).
From a personal shopper in Paris haunted by the ghost of her twin dead brother, to two Italian women on a caper around Italy to a Polish lesbian mermaid vampire musical (yes, really), read on to find out what dark salty treats you can spread on hot toast and nibble before the end of the festival.
1. Personal Shopper
Summary: Directed by Olivier Assayas, twenty-something American Maureen is in Paris and looking for the spirit of her recently deceased twin brother. She works by day for a celebrity/socialite (who is called Kyra - I thought everyone was saying Keira as in Keira Knightly until I saw it spelt out in the film). By night she is a medium and is ghost hunting her brother's soul to try and speak to him. Somewhere in between, she gets hit on by her boss's German lover, starts receiving random texts and travels to Oman. End of movie.
Overall rating? 2 out of 5
How did I feel when I arrived? Generally optimistic and looking forward to an escapist cinematic spectacular with great clothes.
How long did it take to lose myself in the film? I struggled to stay engaged in 'Personal Shopper' because so much of it seemed so ridiculous. I found Kirsten Stewart's acting, while not poor, ho-hum and cliche with no real depth. It was slow moving and had an odd rhythm that never delivered. The key moment in the movie frustratingly happens off screen (and not in a mysterious or thoughtful way - I mainly felt the goal was to irritate the audience, except for those who will love it for being "avant guard"). Matt and I started to turn to each other and by the end we were whispering, "Oh my God this is terrible" (around when Kirsten starts checking out fake made up YouTube clips about Victor Hugo - PAINFUL AND HAS NO RELATION TO THE WIDER PLOT).
What did I like/favourite scene? The only redeeming feature of the film for me were the amazing clothes (including a trip to Cartier) and the excellent looking German lover, who was sorely underused on screen. I also found the text message element intriguing but guessed withing 30 seconds, like most audience members will, that she ain't texting across the divide.
What’s the takeaway? Living as a personal shopper in Paris can be dreary. Maureen has a face like a sourpuss and is not above playing up to a variant on the manic pixie dream girl trope.
Anything I didn’t like? Slow paced, didn't deliver, some scenes didn't make sense or are never concluded - the fact that some people will LOVE this film and say they GET it - leaving me to wonder if I am a peasant or if the emperor has no clothes. Also, everyone smokes and looks mysterious for no purpose, the dialogue is terrible and cliche, like a student production trying to be arty, only with better special effects. Also, Olivier Assayas permanently looks like he has smelt a particularly bad french cheese if you google him.
How did I feel when I left? Disappointed, wondering why I had wasted 2 hours of my life on watching Kirsten's face. HOW DID THIS MAN WIN BEST DIRECTOR AT CANNES? AND WHY DID THE GUARDIAN GIVE IT 5 STAR???! AM I MISSING SOMETHING??
Ten words or less? Kirsten quit smoking and call ghostbusters.
2. Like Crazy
Summary: Two Italian women meet in Paolo Virzì’s comedy-drama “Like Crazy,” a study of two very different women in a psychiatric institution. Together they go on a wild caper around Italy, slowly revealing their past and selves to one another.
Overall rating? 3 out of 5
How did I feel when I arrived? Generally excited and optimistic.
How long did it take to lose myself in the film? Not long at all. I really found that this movie drew you into the characters quickly and seemlessly. Around the second half of the ride I wanted to get off somewhat. Being in the film with these two highly strung women began to feel stressful and as exhausting as it would in real life.
What did I like/favourite scene? Gorgeous acting, amazing scenery and compelling plot that delivered. I particularly loved Beatrice (Bruni Tedeschi), an ex-Italian socialite with a bi-polar disorder who perfectly personifies the post-Berlusconi blitheness of the elite.
As Variety magazine explains, colour and light are the show-stealer: "Summer light and heat inform the bright, saturated visuals, handsomely capturing the beauties of the Tuscan landscape without turning them into tourist postcards. Flashbacks are sparingly used and shot in more textured, almost lurid colors."
What’s the takeaway? Friendship wins.
Anything I didn’t like? Do not go and see this film with someone who is mentally exhausted, has recently gone through a difficult time or doesn't like sad movies. This film is somewhat harrowing in parts and (like more forgettable films such as Drew Barrymore's 'Riding in Cars with Boys') offers promises of being somewhat funnier which it only partially delivers on. Nevertheless, a great flick.
How did I feel when I left? A bit depressed and sad.
Ten words or less? Mama mia these ladies gotta chill but la vita betta, no?
This film has now finished in Wellington. Check out other screenings around New Zealand here.
3. The Lure
Summary: Two mermaids mysteriously end up at a 70's/80's Polish High-Class Night Club. Seeing potential, the owner of the club gives them work with the resident band, a small family with a handsome young boy, troubled singer mother and an an alcoholic father who drums. These mermaids, however, have a more sinister edge...I won't tell you more because part of the joy of this film is discovering it for yourself.
Overall rating? 5/5
How did I feel when I arrived? Excited and unsure of what I was going to see. I was wary as well because this movie was in the 'Incredibly Strange' section of the New Zealand Film Festival, which always has a reputation for being gruesome and disturbing which isn't quite my jam mostly (Human Centipede anyone?).
How long did it take to lose myself in the film? No time at all due to the gorgeous illustrated opening credits and the sumptuous visual elements of the film. The only moments where I went back to being in the real world were when I turned to the girl sitting next to me and went "OHMYGODICANTBELIEVETHIS'.
What did I like/favourite scene? Too many to pick just one but the musical numbers stand out as being particularly fabulous. Also, in the final scene, your heart breaks.
What’s the takeaway? This is a modern fairy tale told to perfection. With so many moving elements going on (Mermaids/Vampires/Musical singing and dancing numbers/lesbian love/unexplained characters and scenes) this could have been a disaster. But instead, it feels like an empowering surreal romp into the REAL story of the little mermaid. I think Hans Christian Anderson - who wrote the original Little Mermaid to be much, much darker (in short: she dies) would approve of this far more than he would of Disney's take).
Anything I didn’t like? Some plot points weren't fully explained and the first scene of the movie never really links back to the rest of the film, especially because you think it might be the ending (when it isn't).
How did I feel when I left? Uplifted, thrilled, excited and over hyped. Poor tired Matt kept trying to wrangle me to go to bed at 11:30pm as I ran around the kitchen hissing and snarling my wannabe mermaid-vampire fangs. Maybe that's just me though?
Ten words or less? Mermaids feast on human flesh and sing to sexy dances.
This film has now finished in Wellington.