Adventures In Celluloid

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

Dominic Corry: Finishing the film festival with the fantastic Fantail

4 comments
Movie blogger Dominic Corry was blown away by the low budget Kiwi movie he saw last at the NZ FIlm Festival.

Sophie Henderson in New Zealand drama 'Fantail'.
Sophie Henderson in New Zealand drama 'Fantail'.

Well that's the Auckland leg of the film festival done for another year.

I caught three last films during the weekend, the first one being Kiwi director Stephanie Beth's timely documentary Us and the Game Industry.

With a focus on the independent side of the gaming industry - particularly That Game Company, the developers behind acclaimed titles Flower and Journey - this documentary engages the currently fruitful debate around whether or not games constitute art while following the progression of Journey.

Beth also touches on how game creators insert their own personality into their products, and the role of the player in defining a game .

As watchable and entertaining as it generally is, Us and the Game Industry can't help but feel geared towards non-gamers. The interview subjects here are articulate and interesting, but footage of developers waxing lyrical about the philosophical intentions of their games fills innumerable gaming websites.

Maybe it was designed to be an entry point for people who've never had anything to do with games, but speaking as a very casual participant in the world of gaming - far from a niche concern these days - I felt like there was little here I hadn't heard many times before.

I had a serious conflict on Saturday night, and my love for Hitchcock meant I had to bow out of the official closing night screening of Jim Jarmusch's new film, Only Lovers Left Alive, which by most accounts sounded pretty great.

I instead went to see the 3D re-issue of Alfred Hitchcock's 1954 potboiler, Dial M For Murder. The film was made during the initial 3D craze in the '50s, but has since been seen mostly in the 2D format via re-releases and home video.

With 3D currently enjoying an upswing, the film has been restored to its original dimensions in the modern Real D format.

Dial M For Murder isn't one of Hitchcock's masterpieces, but it's a very tight little thriller with great lead performances from Ray Milland and Grace Kelly.

He plays a former tennis pro who is planning to murder his unfaithful wife (Kelly). After his brilliantly devised plot doesn't go to plan, he improvises an even more ingenious workaround.

Set almost entirely in a London apartment, Dial M For Murder doesn't seem like a typical candidate for three dimensions, but I felt the format enhanced the tension. I'm generally not a fan of 3D, but the novelty value of its presence here allowed me to appreciate the film in a way I hadn't before.

The film is clearly based on a play, and the extra spatial awareness complemented its theatrical nature. Plus I can't say I've ever before been able to determine the true curvature of Grace Kelly's lips. Now that I have, my life is better for it.

I'll see any Hitchcock on the big screen, and the packed house for this screening shows that there's still a local audience for his work.

My final film festival experience came on Sunday afternoon, and it proved to be one of the most encouraging of the year.

Funded with money from the Escalator scheme, which promotes low-budget local filmmaking, director Curtis Vowell and writer/star Sophie Henderson's comedy drama Fantail feels like one of the freshest New Zealand films to come along in years.

Displaying an emotional assuredness rarely seen in debut films, Fantail is an often-hilarious and occasionally devastating look at a young woman named Tania (Henderson) who works the night shift in a Manakau service station.

Henderson developed the script from her one-woman stage show, and it's clear she knows her character inside out. Tania's affected Maori vocal intonations are jarring at first, but you soon realise that they're just as jarring to the characters in the film

She's blonde and blue-eyed, but Tania been brought up thinking herself Maori. She's close to her brother Pi, (as in Piwakawaka - Fantail, played by newcomer Jahalis Ngamotu) and together they dream of flying to the Gold Coast to find their Maori father.

Tania has a good relationship with her co-worker Rog (Stephen Lovatt) and the film's funniest moments all involve her interaction with Dean (Jarod Rawiri), Tania and Rog's new regional manager who keeps showing up during Tania's all-night shifts.

I love films that are predominantly set in a retail space - but a Kiwi Clerks this is not. Tania's emotional journey touches on widely accessible concerns regarding identity, family and culture, but everything feels born out of something specific to New Zealand.

That said, it's very easy to picture an international audience embracing this film - the insights, performances and mood are all world class. Beyond Henderson's deeply felt portrayal, Rawari garnered many huge laughs as the hapless Dean, who can't turn down a dare. Lovatt and Ngamotu are both fantastic also.

The shifts between light comedy and dark drama are sometimes a little sharp, but by the time they occurred, I was very much in Vowell and Henderson's hands, and was willing to follow them anywhere.

Dramatic New Zealand cinema could be said to suffer from a surfeit of self-seriousness at times, and Fantail shows how such grimness can be offset by a comedically compelling context. It's a tricky line to balance on at the best of times, but this film gets there. The love and goodwill in the film gets you through the tough parts.

Most significantly though, Fantail goes far and beyond any movie's most important goal - getting you to care about its characters and what happens to them.

The crowd at yesterday's world premiere was clearly having a ball - I just hope this film gets the chance to find the wider audience it deserves.

Incidentally, while I didn't see nearly enough films to present a comprehensive overview, my favourite movies at this year's festival were Computer Chess and Upstream Colour.

Did you catch Fantail? Thoughts? What has impressed you this year? Comment Below!

Have your say

We aim to have healthy debate. But we won't publish comments that abuse others. View commenting guidelines.

1200 characters left

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n6 at 21 Aug 2014 06:11:59 Processing Time: 669ms