Watching brief
Peter Calder at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland

Watching Brief: 'Life' goes on

Terence Malick's  The Tree Of Life . Photo / Supplied
Terence Malick's The Tree Of Life . Photo / Supplied

The Civic was packed for the second and final screening of the new Terence Malick film The Tree of Life yesterday afternoon.

I'll keep my powder dry on what I think about it until it returns at the end of next month on general release, though you may infer something of my attitude from the heading above.

I was interested to note that the smattering of applause at the end was half-hearted and almost drowned out by the nervous babble from those who seemed relieved it was over.

But I am not sure that I have ever seen the cinema used so precisely to evoke the pain of a son's longing for the impossible - the unconditional love of a remote father.

It's a familiar enough subject for the cinema because it's such a archetypical male experience but Malick's approach nails it, distilling the malaise of childhood into remembered flashes rather than linear narrative, because that's the way memory works.

It's also a feast for classical music lovers: Francois Couperin, Bach, Brahms, Gorecki, Holst, Mahler, Smetana and Tavener are on a partial list that I located and the soaring Agnus Dei from the Berlioz Requiem, which I had never heard, makes a fitting accompaniment to the final scene, which I will not spoil here.

My only other film yesterday was the Dardenne brothers' The Kid with a Bike, surely their best since The Son. Festival director Bill Gosden described it to me as "so concise"; he was referring to its brief running time, but it's an apt word to describe the way it deals with its subject matter (I am just noticing now, as I write that it has much in common in that regard, with the Malick).

Its conciseness consisted in how quickly and yet how deeply it etched into our consciousness its main character - fiercely energetic performance from the young redhead star Thomas Doret. The two remaining screenings - at the Bridgeway tomorrow and the Civic on Saturday - should be on your must-do list.

I don't imagine that it will make any difference since I've been banging on about it for years but it makes me feel better, so bear with me as I grumble about latecomers. At the screening I went to of the Iranian film, A Separation, one couple turned up 45 minutes late! The film was more than a third over.

They constitute an extreme (and pathetic) case, I know, and I don't necessarily advocate the rigid position adopted by Woody Allen in Annie Hall when he refused to go into a screening of Ophuls' four-hour Holocaust documentary The Sorrow and the Pity (which he'd seen several times before) because it had been running for two minutes.

But I wish that, for just one week, festival organisers decided to enforce the condition of sale printed (yes, I know it's hard to read; that's why they call it the small print) on the back of the ticket which says: "Late arrivals may result in non-admittance until a suitable break in the performance".

Yes, I know the wording is clumsy but the meaning is clear. And if a few people went home with unused tickets word would quickly get around and behaviour would change.

It'll never happen, of course: it would be breaching the rights or harming the self-esteem of the latecomers. Never mind the rights of those who got there on time.

So I'll settle for saying to the latecomers: here's a guaranteed way to arrive on time. Leave home (or wherever you are before the movie) 10 minutes earlier than you intended to. That's it. Works every time.

Oh, and one more thing. When you enter the darkened cinema and peer around, don't say in a loud voice: "Oh, it's started already". It's bloody annoying. And we already know.

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