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Film Festival Day 6, 30/07/2014

This was my first tight-squeeze day — five minutes to get from the Embassy to City Gallery.  In the end, I caved and caught a taxi — even if I’d made it between the venues in something comparable to five minutes, I wouldn’t have been in a state to watch the movie.

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In Love is Strange, a loving couple decides, after living together for forty years, to finally get married. Unfortunately, they’re a gay couple, and the Catholic school that one of them teaches at is forced by the bishop to fire him – “don’t ask, don’t tell” not being restricted to the military, apparently.

One thing that I liked was that they were shown as ordinary people, and although the crisis was caused by prejudice, everything else that happened was just the sort of consequences that happen to an older couple when the main breadwinner unexpectedly loses his job. (Well, the sorts of things that happen in America, like scrambling to find health insurance.) The priest running the school was sympathetic, there was no random vileness directed at the couple (though one teen did call something that he didn’t like “gay”), and the crises were mostly about family, and how hard it is to be away from your partner.

Indeed, the stereotype I objected to most was the gamers that were ahown – I don’t know of anyone who wears a dopey helmet to run a game.  On the other hand, they were also a gay cop couple that had regular parties, so it’s not like roleplaying was completely othered.

It was not a film full of shocking swerves, but it kept faking me out about the way it was going to go.  I liked it.

* * *

Gagarin’s village was occupied by the Nazis, and he initially trained as a metalworker; the first man to walk in space grew up in a place where horse was the main way of getting around; the engineer who worked on the launch of Sputnik said that the advantage that the Soviets had in the space race was that their nuclear weapons were heavy, so they needed big rockets for their missiles, which meant that they didn’t need to faff about with multistage nonsense to get the first satellite into space, they just bunged it on their giant rocket and went.

An Invincible Defeat interviewed members of the Soviet space race that I assume would still be feted and inaccessible if they had been in comparable the U.S. programme.  They did such a lot, some of it by brute force, that it’s amazing to think how much was simply left to rot when the Soviet Union fell.

I’m certainly not sad that the Soviet Union fell; but I’m sad about the good and impressive things that fell away with it.

* * *

What are you hoping for?
Do you believe in God?
If it was your birthday, what would you want for breakfast?

These were three questions that a reporter colleague of Jane Brown apparently asked everyone he interviewed.  (Has anynoe made it into one of those daft Facebook memes yet?)  When the makers of Looking For Light: Jane Brown asked her these same questions, she said that she wished she knew more about her origins, but that she fancied that she had left it too late.

You will have seen a Jane Brown portrait photo at some point.  The iconically craggy, melancholic portrait of Beckett; pictures of Churchill and Mick Jagger, Bjork and the Queen.  All in black and white, almost all with natural light, and all with an eye for shape and texture.  And most of the early ones for the newspaper The Observer.

Many people in the film said that she was so good at getting portraits because she was unthreatening — a small, unassuming woman who was polite, but whose “elbows were as sharp as anyone else’s”.  The filmmakers certainly invited you to believe that part of the reason for her gift with people was how she was handed around from house to house, and had to learn to ingratiate herself into different families.

But however she did it, she made beautiful pictures.  And she came across as really nice, to boot.

* * *

Under The Skin was a film that I wish I could have watched cold – that someone I trusted could have said, “Hey, you’ll enjoy this, just go.”  If I could have started as confused as Upstream Colour, and gone on from there, I wouldn’t have been busy fitting what I saw into the narrative as I’d already had it told to me, or trying to work out who was an actor and who was simply a bystander.

Scarlett Johansen is really good; there’s more full-frontal male nudity than female nudity; there’s plenty of implied larger world built with the most minimal of hints.  And while they depict the hunt well, they also show how confusing and dangerous the world is all by itself.

I liked it, but I don’t saw it the best way you could.  And that’s why I disagree with the Idea Channel’s stance on spoilers.

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I’m always a bit leery of collections of NZ shorts, like NZ’s Best 2014.  Perhaps it’s being burnt by the 48 Film Festival collections, but I will often go to feature films over short collections.

I’m glad I went to this one.

Eleven worked really well with its child actors, but you could see the rest of the story from about half-way through.  U.F.O. also had a good young actor, and good make-up/effects, but felt a little static.  I liked the way that School Night captured the whole, “I’m not old yet!” thing. Over the Moon was very well done, with good effects and a fun story that didn’t make a lick of sense.  Cold Snap had another good child actor, and a nice complete story.

But I think my favorite was Ross & Beth, a quiet story about a old dairy-farming couple.  The events weren’t hugely surprising, but the characters were satisfying.  While they were all good in different ways, this was the one I gave my “1” for the audience rating sheet.

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Did Human Capital have a happy ending?  I guess the answer to that depends on whether you think people you don’t know are real or not. I think many of the people in the movie would say yes to the first, and not understand what you’re asking in regards to the second. Even minor characters clearly show that they are seeing other people in terms of their function for that character – girlfriend, muse, opportunity.

The film shows the same sequence of events from different characters’ points of view, and is moderately successful in shifting your sympathy around. Most of the time, I found myself hoping for something good to happen to a character not because of sympathy for them, but because of the likely fallout for those around them.

It was good, but felt a little slow.

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