Dominic Corry 's Opinion

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

Dominic Corry: The best films of the festival

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A scene from Sound of My Voice, one of the best films to screen at this year's Film Festival. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Sound of My Voice, one of the best films to screen at this year's Film Festival. Photo / Supplied

Well that's that for another year. I attended 29 sessions at this year's Film Festival, and I thoroughly enjoyed a significant majority of them. Before I wrap up my festival experience as a whole, allow me to detail the last few films I attended.

On Friday afternoon I took in the highly anticipated French film Holy Motors from avant garde director Leos Carax (The Lovers on the Bridge).

The plot as it were concerns a man played by Denis Levant who is driven around Paris in a stretch limo to various "appointments". Each appointment requires him to dress up (the limo is a moving changing room) and perform a series of increasingly bizarre/mundane tasks.

First up he's a bag lady begging on the streets of Paris; then he's a Gollum-esque motion capture artist acting out a sex scene between two demons; then he's an overgrown leprechaun who eats flowers, bites off a girl's fingers then kidnaps a model played by Eva Mendes. Then it gets really weird. And Kylie Minogue turns up.

Never dull, and filled with many familiar cinematic tropes for the viewer to latch on to, Holy Motors was a nice dose of weirdness that stood in welcome contrast to the other films I took in at the festival. My selections this year were pretty conservative overall, so it felt right to watch something so committed to being confounding.

There are some pretty provocative images in Holy Motors - three or four people walked out of the screening I attended during one particularly full-on scene. Anyone who's seen the film will know which part I'm talking about.

I wouldn't say I felt a deep connection to Holy Motors, but it was a nicely lush evocation of dream logic.

On Saturday evening it was time for the film I was perhaps looking forward to above all others - Sound of My Voice, starring (and co-written by) nascent American indie queen Brit Marling (Another Earth).

She plays Maggie, the enigmatic leader of a small cult based in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley. Maggie claims to be from the year 2054 and there are strict screening measures taken around anyone who wants to see or talk to her.

Our protagonists are a young pair of do-gooders who infiltrate the cult with the aim of exposing the lies it is founded upon. But wouldn't you know it, the lines start to get blurred when they find themselves falling under Maggie's spell.

I love stories about cults, and I love it when the indie film model is applied to a genre story. Sound Of My Voice is a quiet, gentle film that endeared itself to me with its lack of hyperbole. It's grounded; low-key storytelling, but never appears to cut any budgetary corners.

Presenting a serious film with (potentially) sci-fi elements in this quiet manner helps Sound Of My Voice leapfrog over innumerable bigger-budget offerings in terms of impact and suspension of disbelief.

Marling is simply hypnotic, and her performance really keeps you guessing as to Maggie's true nature. I can't wait to see what she does next.

On Sunday night I attended the event that forms the centrepiece of each year's festival - the screening of a silent film with live accompaniment by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra.

This year the film was Alfred Hitchcock's landmark 1929 thriller Blackmail, which was made at the tail-end of the silent era and thus exists in both sound and silent versions.

It's a classically Hitchockian tale (from a time before there was such a thing) about a young woman who strays from her policeman boyfriend with a man she is subsequently forced to murder. As her boyfriend tries to cover-up her involvement, they come under pressure from a local reprobate who witnessed her crime.

It's amazing how easily one slips into line with the silent film style of storytelling. I was completely swept up in the tale within minutes and totally forgot about the live orchestra playing below me. I instantly came to appreciate the extreme expressiveness unique to silent films, and how it can evoke emotion just as strongly as a sound film, albeit in a different manner. Plus it's great fun just sitting back and appreciating the faces on display.

Many of Hitchcock's trademark storytelling devices are present in Blackmail, especially in how he uses the environment to cast doubt and guilt upon his characters. Some of the set design elements are dazzling, as seen in this astounding staircase ascension. You just couldn't get that effect in a widescreen film.

The use of shadows in Blackmail is highly effective as well - the composition of what's on screen has a role to play in every scene. It all culminates in a tense action finale at the British museum that's up there with such classic Hitchcock climaxes as those from Vertigo and North by Northwest.

Blackmail was preceded by a 1917 Charlie Chaplin short called Easy Street. It was a bonafide hoot. I can't imagine a better way to utilise the grandeur of The Civic than screening silent films with a live orchestra. It was a thrilling experience, and a perfect capper to the festival.

I was out of the country for the 2011 festival, so I came to this year's event with a little bit more enthusiasm than usual. That didn't stop me from getting movie fatigue (really, it's impossible not to), but I never lost site of the richness of the films I was taking in.

As I mentioned earlier, my choices were relatively conservative this year, with plenty of dramas and comedies, and not a heck of a lot of weird little films from the far corners of the Earth. The pendulum will swing back in the other direction next year.

The single film I was most dazzled by at this year's festival was The Cabin In The Woods. But that felt like a mainstream film wedged sideways into the festival, so it wouldn't feel right to call that my pick of the festival.

The single festival experience that most rocked my world was probably seeing the silent 1926 Norwegian film The Flight of the Airship Norge over the Artic Ocean play out at the SkyCity Cinema with piano accompaniment and spoken translations of the intertitles.

But that hardly qualifies as a contemporary film, so again, it wouldn't feeel right to name it as my favourite. The same applies to Bonjour Tristesse and Blackmail, both of which I adored.

So I think I'm gonna have to cite either Sound of my Voice or Sightseers as my picks of the fest. They both ruled. Although Your Sister's Sister made a real impact on me too. And The Hunt was amazing. This is difficult.

I didn't make it to as many documentaries as I usually like to, but the ones I saw - The Imposter, Room 237, This Is California, Undefeated and West of Memphis - were all excellent. Searching for Sugar Man, which played at the programme launch for the festival, was hugely inspiring also.

The films I most regret missing this this year include digital filmmaking documentary Side By Side (had tickets, fate intervened), gonzo Danish comedy Klown, Werner Herzog's pair of death row docos, Frederick Wiseman's Crazy Horse, Last Days Here and the Platige Image collection.

It's been a heady 18 days of intense movie-watching and my mind hasn't really allowed anything else to enter - apparently there is some sort of sporting event occurring at the moment? But I wouldn't change a thing about it (except for missing Side By Side, gutted), and I can't wait for next year.

* How was your film festival? Highlights? Lowlights? Comment below!

Dominic Corry

Film critic Dominic Corry celebrates, clarifies and justifies his love for all things movie.

One of New Zealand's most vocal and enthusiastic film critics for over ten years, Dominic's cinematic opinions can also be heard on radio and seen on television. His list of favourite movies is always evolving, but is generally likely to feature The Lady Vanishes (1938); Vertigo (1958); The Parallax View (1972); Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); Aliens (1986); Midnight Run (1989); Metropolitan (1990) and Primer (2002). He also reviews snack food.

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