|The New Zealand International Film Festival is now underway and the GLBT content is stunning. Here is a rundown of the festival’s five queer feature films, which you may just want to check out.
Bernie USA, 2011, 104 mins
Synopsis: Reunited with his School of Rock director Richard Linklater, Jack Black has his best-ever role and meets it with inspiration and amazing restraint. Playing a real-life, world-famous-in-Texas character (you can see Black meet him if you stay for the credits) he provides a wonderfully full portrait of a closeted small-town guy who has sunk his enormous personality into round-the-clock, upbeat, apple-pie niceness. Blessed with a golden singing voice, attentive to anniversaries, generous with gifts, Bernie Tiede was an assistant undertaker so popular with the old ladies of Carthage, Texas, that when he confessed to murdering one of their number, nobody in town was prepared to listen. And if he did it, they say, victim Marjorie Nugent (a sour, purse-clutching Shirley MacLaine) had it coming.
The fun is in the details and the way Linklater kids the notion that Bernie = community spirit. An East Texas native himself, Linklater has enlisted actual townspeople to provide pungent opinion and unreliable commentary in a mock-doc fashion no sane outsider would contemplate. Matthew McConaughey as the county prosecutor looks great in a Stetson and cuts a scathing dash through the protestations of Marjorie’s defamers and Bernie’s fans.
What the reviewers say: “Black sings, dances and charms his way around a character whose larger-than-life personality almost demands parody. Yet the wonder of Black’s performance here is its empathy and balance: inasmuch as he can disappear into any role, he dissolves into this one with no hint of mocking remove. It’s a beautiful thing to see… Shamelessly predisposed toward its subject, Bernie is an eccentric delight.” — Jeannette Catsoulis, NPR
Beyond the Hills Belgium/France/Romania, 2012, 150 mins Synopsis: Romanian director Cristian Mungiu won the Palme d’Or in 2007 for 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days. Cristina Flutur and Cosmina Stratan shared the Cannes Best Actress Award this year for their extended and mesmerising pas de deux in his new film. They play former friends reunited and then slowly driven apart by differences in faith.
What the reviewers say: “Set largely in Voichita’s monastery, a windswept outcropping of buildings in the deep countryside, the story unfolds in atmospheric bits and narrative pieces. Alina and Voichita are lifelong friends, having grown up in the same orphanage. Alina, the stronger, more stubbornly independent of the two, has returned home after a stint working in Germany thinking that she and Voichita will go off together. Mungiu, who prefers that viewers come to their own conclusions, never makes it clear if the women are lovers…
Running two-and-a-half engrossing hours, Beyond the Hills explores the push and pull between the collective and the individual, between faith and free will. Voichita insists that she wants to stay at the monastery, where she and some dozen other nuns – along with chickens, boxes of bees and a kind of Greek chorus of incessantly barking dogs – live without electricity under the strict religious supervision of a priest. With mounting desperation and increasingly violent outbursts, Alina tries to change Voichita’s mind.
Believing in a world of absolute good and evil, and confused by Alina’s passion, the nuns and priest respond by trying to ritualistically drive out the Devil, an ordeal that effectively pits one woman against a millennium of religious orthodoxy.” — Manohla Dargis, NY Times
Keep the Lights On USA, 2012, 101 min
Synopsis: Ira Sachs’ New York-set story teases out the light and shade at play in a sexually charged, decade-long love affair between a Danish filmmaker (Thure Lindhardt) and the erratic, demanding American boyfriend (Zachary Booth) he tells himself he can save. It’s a compelling, uncomfortably incisive picture of love sliding into self-sabotage à deux. Sachs (Forty Shades of Blue, Married Life), now married to Boris Torres whose paintings grace the opening credits, has made no secret that the story is drawn from his own experience. It is his own missteps, not those of his erstwhile partner, that are recollected to most clarifying and salutary effect.
What the reviewers say: “Erik and Paul are complicated, confidently realized creations, and there’s plenty of human commonality to be found in their relationship, no matter what gender you are or whom you go to bed with. But Sachs has clearly decided that there’s no point in pretending that gay society and sexuality aren’t distinctive in many ways…
Like Andrew Haigh’s Weekend, another recent film that feels like a step forward or a step away from the ‘queer cinema’ of the 90s, this isn’t a movie about identity or coming out or facing oppression. It’s an unstinting relationship drama – perhaps consciously modeled on Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage – about two guys who fall in love in the most tolerant and diverse metropolis in America, surrounded by supportive gay and straight friends, and manage to screw it all up with drugs and craziness and horndoggery…
Out of lost love comes a terrific work of art; it’s the oldest story in the world, but it always feels new when it’s done right.” — Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com
Farewell, My Queen France, 2012, 100 mins
Synopsis: The last days of Marie-Antoinette (Diane Kruger) and the royal court at Versailles are seen through the eyes of a servant (Léa Seydoux) in a spectacular French historical drama that is subtly inflected with modern intelligence. Much of the film was indeed shot at Versailles and director Benoit Jacquot keeps the action within the Palace, immersing us in a gilded world supremely unprepared for the fate advancing towards it.
What the reviewers say: “Based on a novel by Chantal Thomas, the concise screenplay traces the routing of France’s 18th-century aristocracy from the perspective of the decadent blue bloods themselves but more often from the point of view of their downstairs maids, who are smartly individualized and believable. Maybe the film’s biggest intuition is casting the brooding, modern face of Léa Seydoux in the role of Sidonie Laborde, the haughty young reader to Marie-Antoinette who becomes embroiled in the Queen’s love affair with Mme de Polinac (Virginie Ledoyen).
Living in the forlorn poverty of the servants’ quarters, the girl is thrilled to be called into the presence of the beautiful, glamorous Marie- Antoinette, played with teary-eyed passion and, yes, more than a touch of laughable frivolity by a charismatic Diane Kruger.” — Deborah Young, Hollywood Reporter
“The personal dynamic is greatly enhanced by lavish period details… Jacquot uses a shrewdly minimalist approach, at once capturing the vast overabundance of affluence that surrounds the Queen in every corner of Versailles… The architecture isn’t just a framing device; it represents a state of mind.” — Eric Kohn, indieWIRE
Your Sister’s Sister USA, 2011, 90mins
Synopsis: Straight Iris (Emily Blunt) and gay Hannah (Rosemarie DeWitt) are Seattle sisters with different accents – and different game plans for the same man, Jack (Mark Duplass) – in this boundary-nudging new comedy from writer/director Lynn Shelton, whose Humpday turned heads in 2010. It’s exactly a year since the death of his brother Tom and Jack still feels he’s not coping. Iris, who was Tom’s ex, offers Jack the keys to her father’s island cabin (in the wooded paradise of Puget Sound), unaware perhaps that her sister is also there nursing a broken heart – and a plentiful supply of tequila. Shelton delivers quick-witted banter, classic bedroom farce and a feel for an authentic emotional dilemma with a pleasingly naturalistic touch. This film is great fun, and beautifully performed, with Duplass as the man in the middle underplaying his every blunder very deftly indeed.
What the reviewers say: “A captivating examination of criss-crossing relationships permeated by incisive performances… The three actors are flawless… Effortlessly naturalistic dialogue is where Your Sister’s Sister particularly registers. From an opening sequence in which Jack punctures rose-tinted recollections of his brother at a memorial gathering to vegan Hannah trying to impress Iris and Jack with her dairy-free pancakes, it’s always insightful, probing and gloriously amusing… A lovely example of what a surefooted filmmaker can achieve with a game and talented cast and a generous, heartfelt story – demonstrable proof that small pleasures can be the most satisfying.” — Matt Mueller, The Guardian
The New Zealand International Film Festival will visit Auckland, Christchurch, Dunedin, Hamilton, Hawke’s Bay, Masterton, Nelson, New Plymouth, Palmerston North, Tauranga and Wellington between now and October. To find out when the films listed above are showing in your neck of the woods, head to the festival’s website here. Jacqui Stanford - 20th July 2012