By FEDERICO MONSALVE
Someone once said that to make art that conforms to someone else's standards is not to make art at all, but entertainment.
For Florian Habicht, director of the film Woodenhead, the statement seems to have been fuelling his career for quite some time.
"I would rather try something new than follow the safer footsteps of conventional film-making," he says.
The 28-year-old is about to re-launch Woodenhead after a sellout at last year's Film Festival.
The dark, sexually charged and at times disturbing film is a continental circus with a strong Kiwi flavour.
According to Creative New Zealand, Woodenhead presents an immigrant's perspective on life here.
Habicht arrived in Paihia from Germany with his father Frank Habicht (who was the stills photographer for Roman Polanski's The Tragedy of Macbeth) and Woodenhead holds on to certain verbal traditions of his motherland.
Habicht says he combined elements of his childhood in Germany with his upbringing in the North Island.
"We came here in the 80s and Germany back then was a dodgy place to be, with lots of fear about nuclear war. A year after we arrived Chernobyl happened and it was the best time to get out."
The film, shot mainly in black and white with occasional subtle colours, is a fairy tale for adults that has accordion and tuba players comfortably parading alongside Kiwi caravans amid luscious Northland scenery.
In the story, Gert (Nicholas Butler), a simple man known for keeping his town clean, is asked to drive Plum (Teresa Peters, also the film's art director) to her wedding.
Gert is given a set of strict rules that include pampering the princess, delivering her on time for her nuptials and never, ever, laying a finger on her.
Plum's father, Hugo, sends his faithful manservant Goerdel (voice by Lutz Halbhubner, who played one of the main characters in the German arthouse classic Das Boot) to keep track of the couple's progress.
On their journey Gert and Plum encounter a gallery of hobos, murderers, and 5-year-olds on a car-smashing rampage ... the whole gamut of the grittier, darker elements of the Grimm Brothers' fairy tales and circus freaks begins to simmer.
This is a dark, fantasy-drenched New Zealand. It breathes with the black and white sensuousness of our geography and speaks with a sobering and surreal continental accent.
The result is absurdist, with tinges of French surrealism akin to Jean Genet and the moral sensibilities of Rimbaud let loose in a sex shop.
"I chose the fairy tale because it provides an easy-to-follow plot," says Habicht. "The filming technique was already experimental enough and I wanted to give the audience something they could sink their teeth into."
To explain the unconventional filming technique that won him $25,000 from Creative New Zealand's screen innovation fund, he reverts to yet another fairy tale of how the idea came about.
"I was on a rugby field in the middle of the night," he explains. "Two angels came down from the sky, and as they got closer I noticed they were Rastafarian angels with dreadlocks.
"As they came even closer I realised - oh my God - it was Milli Vanilli, the pop duo. I'm a big fan."
Apparently the pair ordered him to "pre-record all the voices, all the location sounds and all the music".
The result of this Vanilli-like lip synch gives the impression of a badly dubbed film.
Silences become more pronounced, speech is intercepted by awkward movements, and the music, according to NZ Musician reviewer Michael Beggs, is "ethereal and carnivalesque, full of gloomy textures".
The result is impressive, says Ant Timpson, director of the Incredibly Strange Film Festival.
"Given the constraints, they managed to put together a first for New Zealand film - a very tight piece of artwork."
Since filming Woodenhead, director of photography Christopher Pryor has been accepted at the prestigious Berlin Talent Campus.
The film has screened at festivals in Australia and Spain, and the Film Commission is funding a DVD soundtrack package and showing Woodenhead at the American Film Market at the end of this month.
* What: Woodenhead, with live circus performances
* Where and when: Academy Theatre, Friday, 11pm. For additional screening times see Woodenhead
By FEDERICO MONSALVE