International Film Festival: Movie bonanza ahead

By Barney McDonald

From high-brow fare to the incredibly strange, there's something for almost every movie fan at this month's International Film Festival.

A scene from Florian Habicht's film Love Story. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Florian Habicht's film Love Story. Photo / Supplied

After the debacle of Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier humiliating himself with ill-conceived comments at the Cannes Film Festival in May, we can safely celebrate the annual return of New Zealand's own premiere film festival - by watching the film Von Trier was attempting to promote.

As the closing night film of the 43rd Auckland International Film Festival, Melancholia will delight fans of the challenging and unwittingly controversial "persona non grata" director.

Starring Kirsten Dunst, it's a cerebral and sensual disaster movie that shares little in common with Armageddon or Deep Impact, though the latter's title surely sums up the affect the film is having on those who haven't chosen to boycott it in response to Von Trier's tacit endorsement of Hitler at Cannes.

At the other end of the spectrum, thematically and temporally since it's the opening night film of the fest, Kiwi director Florian Habicht has Love Story, a typically unorthodox feature that thrusts the 36-year-old centre stage, in a manner of speaking.

The return is two-fold, since Habicht spent 2009 in New York on an Arts Foundation residency, ostensibly kicking about the Big Apple but also turning his experiences, perceptions and location into a quirky romance with the city and a statuesque brunette called Masha.

As is always the case with the festival, not only do many of the films delve into the past, it also plunders history to show former cinematic glories.

This year we're in for several treats, including restored prints of Federico Fellini's stylish 1960 classic La Dolce Vita and Martin Scorsese's troubling vision of seedy 70s New York, Taxi Driver.

Even more exciting is the festival's presentation of a German horror movie that continues to cast a sinister shadow over audiences and filmmakers alike, including the 2000 feature Shadow of the Vampire, which gave a fictional account of the making of this spectral masterpiece.

Accompanied by the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for its only Auckland showing, 1922's Nosferatu, A Symphony of Horrors is F. W. Murnau's chilling rip-off of Bram Stoker's Dracula, made all the more creepy by Max Schreck's nightmarish performance.

Made just five years later, Metropolis is another giant of German cinema, albeit one that languished 25 minutes shorter than its director, Fritz Lang, intended until a worn 16mm print of the complete version was unearthed in Buenos Aires three years ago.

Fans of this dystopian vision of the future can enjoy the 2002 restoration plus the added footage, all to the tune of a new recording of the original score.

Better yet, wait until November, when the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra presents a live performance to the film. That way you avoid the indignity of sitting through 150 minutes on SkyCity Theatre's tortuous seats.

With the Incredibly Strange Film Festival now entrenched in the bigger festival, originator Ant Timpson has assembled yet another motley selection of spurious cinematic achievements for connoisseurs of blood and lust, bad taste and bawdy jokes, trolls and hobos.

This year, Timpson skews heavily towards horror and violence, leaving NZIFF director Bill Gosden free to titillate less-primal impulses.

The happy result? High-brow fare like Terrence Malick's The Tree Of Life, such compelling documentaries as Brother Number One by politicised Kiwi filmmaker Annie Goldson, Being Elmo: A Puppeteer's Journey and films about Formula One great Ayrton Senna and the Jamaican cricket team's trouncing of England and Australia in the late 70s.

*The New Zealand International Film Festival runs July 14-31 in Auckland. For details and bookings go to nzff.co.nz or ticketek.co.nz

*Follow us on Twitter to be notified of Peter Calder's daily festival blog.

- Herald on Sunday

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