Janet McAllister on the arts
Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Nose-thumb to sentimental coupledom

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Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.
Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Overheard in the Civic foyer on Saturday night, just before the New Zealand International Film Festival closing film Holy Motors roared into our lives: "Yeah, I hear the record is about 72 or 73." As in 72 or 73 films seen at the festival. I listen to the impressed tones of the speaker - a youth of about 20 - with the nostalgic, silly smile of someone who remembers her own film-greedy salad days, when we loved the festival not wisely but too well.

For the arty young, nothing beats the film fest for scoring points in cultural capital. Mates bragged about going to as many films as bludged money and skipped lectures would allow, and professed undying love for slow cinema they'd fallen asleep watching. (On Saturday, Bill Gosden announced that this year's festival was set to break the 100,000 ticket sales mark. So the number of festival-goers must be either 50,000 busy adults or 5000 competitive students.)

But then, after two or three or six years - due to our over-exposure rather than any weakness in the festival itself - it became a Groundhog Day endurance event.

You knew sure as eggs before opening the programme that Ant Timpson had found at least one Korean shock horror, and that Bill Gosden or proxy had come up with a continental European psycho-sexual drama, an anti-globalisation documentary about Jamaica/the Philippines, and a Wes Anderson film starring Bill Murray as a cuckold (Murray's role of choice since he's left Phil behind in Punxsutawney with Andie McDowell forever).

But this year the enchantment came back; it now feels like catching up with old film friends, seeing how they've changed. There's Wes Anderson, reintroducing me to composer Benjamin Britten in Moonrise Kingdom. There's Marilyn and Jane in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, restored in breathtaking detail on the Civic's oversize screen, revealing all their diamante splendour - and chipped (!) nail polish. There's Proust talking Chilean Spanish in Bonsai (not that I know him personally, he's always on the shelf).

It was astonishing how the contemporary indie films I saw this year were as romantically rigid as the retro Hollywood girdled fluff of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, and without the leavening flirtation. Film-goers get bashed over the head with that stubborn destructive myth: without all-consuming love with "The One", life is nothing. Moonrise Kingdom is a highly enjoyable "souffle of strangeness" (as the Guardian put it) but at heart its colourful Noah's Ark two-by-two motif is conservative, not ironic. It's not that I want to see unhappy couples, but the presentation of other human relationships as enriching wouldn't go amiss.

But - ridiculously - it was the gallant French who rescued me from all the pairing off. Animated wonder Le Tableau starts with a Romeo-and-Juliet type scenario - however, it is not the Juliet character but her best friend Lola who goes off on intrepid adventures with the Romeo, with whom she has a platonic friendship.

And then there's the mind-curdling Holy Motors itself. The flower-munching graveyard and sewer sequence will stay with me in all its lurid glory, and what came afterwards felt flat in comparison. But ultimately more subversive than the beauty/beast pairing was the Kylie Minogue musical sequence. This wasn't homage, but a nose-thumb to maudlin sentimental coupledom. From Monroe to Minogue, well-played.

- NZ Herald

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