We recap our favourites from the first week of the New Zealand International Film Festival 2019.

The Farewell

Concise and delicately comedic, The Farewell takes an big-hearted approach to the tension of living in two worlds - in Billi's (Awkwafina, excellent) case, feeling disconnected from her Chinese heritage, having grown up in America. Lulu Wang sketches out her characters in The Farewell beautifully, analysing the big personalities and high emotions that make families so difficult, but so essential. (George Fenwick)

The Farewell. Photo / NZIFF
The Farewell. Photo / NZIFF

The Wild Goose Lake

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Chinese filmmaker Diao Yinan has crafted an exquisite-looking, at times frustratingly over-complicated noir that generally makes up for its convoluted narrative and stock-standard characters through its lush, evocative camera-work. Goose Lake is an ode to inventive image-making, at the expense of a clear script. Screens again July 31, Hollywood Avondale (Tom Augustine)


Cold Case Hammarskjöld

Cold Case Hammarskjold by Mads Brügger. Photo / NZIFF
Cold Case Hammarskjold by Mads Brügger. Photo / NZIFF

For a film, it's a deeply encapsulating story, Brügger proving a master at commanding your attention as he pulls every disparate strand together into one tight knot. Yet, as a piece of journalism, it veers too far into the conspiracy theory genre. Director Mads Brügger has crafted something entertaining, chilling and totally captivating, but by presenting a conspiracy theory as the answer to a murder mystery, he makes it easier for his entire project to be disregarded. Screens again July 30, 31, ASB Waterfront Theatre (Ethan Sills)


The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao

The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao. Photo / NZIFF
The Invisible Life of Euridice Gusmao. Photo / NZIFF

A lush South American melodrama about two sisters separated by patriarchal 1950s happenstance, this film is often squirm-inducingly grim, but compensated by the vivacity of its lead performances and some lovely camerawork. An old-fashioned but fleetingly powerful exploration of lost opportunities. Screens again August 3, ASB Waterfront Theatre (TA)


Manta Ray

Rasmee Wayrana and Aphisit Hama in Manta Ray. Photo / NZIFF
Rasmee Wayrana and Aphisit Hama in Manta Ray. Photo / NZIFF

Manta Ray takes a hypnotic look at a politically urgent topic... it's intellectually challenging, with much of the story lying in what's left unsaid – but for those lulled into Aroonpheng's sensual rhythms, a moving, heartbreaking tale of human connection is on offer. Screens again July 26 and 27, Event Cinemas Queen St (GF)


The Hole in the Ground

Seana Kerslake in The Hole in the Ground. Photo / NZIFF
Seana Kerslake in The Hole in the Ground. Photo / NZIFF

Dense, atmospheric Irish horror film about a mother (Seána Kerslake, wonderful) who becomes convinced her son has been replaced by an imposter. Parallels to The Babadook abound, but this film escapes its more stereotypical horror trappings through inventive set-pieces and an exquisitely mounted feeling of escalating dread. Screens again August 2, Event Cinemas Queen St (TA)


Litigante

Carolina Sanin (right) in Litgante. Photo / NZIFF
Carolina Sanin (right) in Litgante. Photo / NZIFF

Litigante acts as a telescoped window into one woman pushing against the odds to keep her head up and love her son the best way she can. In that regard, director Franco Lolli succeeds; while it doesn't do anything similar films haven't done before, Litigante nails the way life just happens sometimes, illustrating one woman's struggle to stay afloat with authenticity and grace. Screens again July 21, Academy Cinemas (GF)
Bellbird

Bellbird. Photo / NZIFF
Bellbird. Photo / NZIFF

An immensely charming, kind-hearted Kiwi drama as modest, patient and full of good humour as the characters that populate its story. Director Hamish Bennett captures the quiet dignity of its characters as they grapple with tragedy and new beginnings with subtlety and, occasionally, flashes of quiet transcendence. (TA)


The Nightingale

Aisling Franciosi in Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale. Photo / NZIFF
Aisling Franciosi in Jennifer Kent's The Nightingale. Photo / NZIFF

With its lengthy runtime and shocking, graphic violence, criticisms of The Nightingale are warranted. But if you can stomach it, Jennifer Kent's sophomore feature delivers a gut-punch message about the cost of violence and the futility of revenge - as well as a no-holds-barred indictment of colonisation and white male violence. Screens again August 2, Academy Cinemas (GF)