Adventures In Celluloid

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

Dominic Corry: Sightseeing serial killers at the Film Fest

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A scene from Sightseers, a film showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Photo / Supplied
A scene from Sightseers, a film showing at the New Zealand International Film Festival. Photo / Supplied

We are now more than halfway through the Film Festival and my mental state is starting to become affected. I'm finding myself viewing everything through an aesthetic prism. It's interesting.

After seeing Room 237 last week, I was very much primed to watch Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic The Shining, even if it was the 119 minute version, and not the 142 minute 'US cut' as originally advertised in the festival programme.

It was a predictably heady experience beholding the film on the big screen, the only true medium for Kubrick's broad canvas compositions.

Later that Friday evening, I was back in The Civic for Sightseers, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley's follow-up to Kill List, which played to a divisive response at last year's festival.

A young couple played by Steve Oram and Alice Lowe (who are also credited with Sightseers' script) take off on a caravan holiday around some of England's most exciting attractions - anyone up for the Pencil Museum? - and find themselves falling ass backwards into becoming serial killers.

Sightseers is a consistently hilarious black comedy that superficially appears to have little in common with Kill List. But Wheatley's talent for brilliantly observed character moments comes through loud and clear, as does his proclivity for dark humour centred around extreme violence. An instant classic.

On Saturday afternoon I took in Otto Preminger's sumptuous 1958 melodrama Bonjour Tristesse, starring the great David Niven as a playboy lounging it up at his villa on the French Riveria along with a daughter played by Jean Seberg (A bout de souffle) and a girlfriend played with much vitality by French siren Mylène Demongeot.

Seberg gets restless when an old friend of her dead mother's turns up (played by From Here To Eternity's Deborah Kerr) and sets about undermining the elder woman's nascent relationship with her father.

I love any film centred around the idle beautiful, and this is a particularly luxurious example. Although this was set in France, it was easy to imagine the events of this movie taking place just around the corner from those of The Talented Mr Ripley.

Niven demonstrates once again he can do anything Cary Grant can, charm-wise, but with some actual humanity thrown in. The extreme symmetry of Seberg's face can be distracting, but she has great chemistry with Niven - almost too great, considering he's playing her Pa, but that's kinda the point.

Demongeot, meanwhile, is immeasurably charming and gorgeous, and I am deeply ashamed to have not been aware of her before seeing this film.

With this and Gentlemen Before Blondes, I am tempted to discern that the theme of this year's classic film selections is ridiculously beautiful women. I am not complaining.

Later that evening it was up to the Sky City cinema for New Zealand's Best 2012, a collection of six of the best of the short films submitted for this year's festival, as chosen by Kiwi filmmaker Roger Donaldson (Sleeping Dogs; Species).

All six films demonstrated considerable filmmaking poise, with half of them presenting hard-hitting social themes while the other half took a lighter approach.

The highlights for me were Thomas Gleeson's Home, in which the transportation of a house across the country takes on a magical quality; Campbell Hooper's 43,000 Feet, a typically slick outing from the Special Problems folks in which a man ponders his existence while plummeting to the earth from the titular height and Sam Kelly's Lambs, which dwells on the limited life options for a young rural Maori kid.

This last film recalled another stellar short playing at this year's festival Hamish Mortland's heartfelt Suni Man, which screened before My Brother The Devil.

Following a day off to give my butt cheeks a little relief, I took in the dour '90s-set IRA drama Shadow Dancer on Monday afternoon.

Andrea Riseborough (Brighton Rock, Made In Dagenham) plays a reluctant IRA operative who is forced into becoming an informant for an MI5 agent played by Clive Owen.

Riseborough is a large-eyed and expressive actress, but I struggled to get behind her character's plight, and I found myself wanting to see more of her hardcore IRA brothers played by Aidan Gillen (The Wire) and Domhnall Gleeson (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows). Plus the film's overstated colour metaphors (Riseborough spends much time on screen in a blood-red coat) got tiresome very quickly.

Owen is as intense as ever, but the plot gives him little to do apart from fret. Gillian Anderson turns up as his boss.

Next up was This Ain't California, a documentary screening as part of the Incredibly Strange section of the festival.

The film gathers together the remaining members of an '80s East German skate crew for a look back at their time shredding the streets on the wrong side of the Berlin wall, and their reminiscences are backed up by a remarkably thorough amount of archival footage.

The film inevitably evokes Stacy Peralta's iconic 2001 documentary Dogtown and Z-Boys, and even has its own gifted and tragic blonde centrepoint (ala Dogtown's Jay Adams) in the form of a dude named Denis aka Panik.

But as the title suggests, the location of this story brings a potent undercurrent - the guys couldn't get proper skating equipment in East Germany so they had to make their own skateboards, while the stark East Berlin concrete architecture was a skater's delight. We even hear from a former Stasi agent who spied on the skaters.

* How's your film festival going? Seen any of the above? Thoughts? Comment below!

Follow Dominic Corry on Twitter.

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