NZFF Day 6

Production still from “Night Shift”

Day 6 began with New Zealand’s Best 2012, a compilation of six short films by young Kiwi directors. Narrowed down from more than 100 submissions, they ranged in subject matter from world travel to the thought process of a man falling 43,000 feet through the air. Many of the shorts dealt with social issues, particularly racism, poverty, and drug abuse. All of them were memorable and moving. 43,000 Feet starred a stats professor (I’m lookin’ at you, dad!) whose fall from the sky was mercifully lacking in “big meaningful messages” but did have a sweet, quirky, sad quality that in some ways reminded me of the movie Stranger Than Fiction. Night Shift took an unflinching look at a tired, reserved airport worker whose distant attitude is explained by the all-consuming spectre of depression, poverty, and homelessness. Lambs took a boy’s-eye view of the issues faced by Maori youth (particularly those created by poverty, drug and alcohol abuse), and Milk and Honey re-lived the Dawn Raids perpetrated on suspected overstayers in Auckland during the 1970s. These last two films were particularly moving since they dealt with unresolved, homegrown issuess – racism and poverty are pervasive in New Zealand, and the population (particularly Pacific Islanders) continues to struggle with issues of drug, alcohol, and domestic abuse. (I’ll write a blog post on this particular topic later.)

My favorite two movies of the night had less to do with social issues though, and more to do with issues of ‘home.’ Ellen Is Leaving followed a cool young hipster 20-something as she prepared to leave behind everything – including her long-term boyfriend – for an international backpacking trip. There’s not much dialogue, but it’s a poignant look at what we do to care of those we love – even when we’re leaving them behind. If that film was about leaving home, then Home was about arriving. Forsaking speech for imagery, the movie followed the journey of a house as it moved from one location to another, to be transformed from an abandoned shell to a family home. Much of camera work was done from inside the house as it trundled along the road, as if the structure itself had eyes and was watching the world go by. Doors open and shut of their own accords, perhaps the remainders of homesick ghosts, and sunlight pours in through the windows to create space and shadow.  It had an absolutely beautiful, poignant, funny, unique point of view, and said far more with imagery than any of the other films accomplished with scripting. Is home the building you live in, or the homeland it’s connected to, or the people who’re in it? And does a home miss you as much as you miss it?

L’exercice de l’État (The Minister) ended the night with a far more jarring, fast-paced French political feature. The film opens with Transport Minister Bertrand Saint-Jean being jarred from a Kubrick-esque erotic dream à la Eyes Wide Shut to attend to the urgency of a late-night bus accident, and the film doesn’t slow down from there. Accompanied by his prim Tina-Fey-lookalike press secretary, the Minister dashes around dealing with unending political crises, the constant drain on his attention from all angles and manner of technological devices, and the subtleties of political backstabbing whilst simultaneously attempting to maintain some sort of professional honor. It’s a fast-paced, whiplashing of a film that certainly does its best to show the unraveling of a character caught up in the political machine.

Unfortunately the film moves so fast and has so many layers of intrigue that I could only follow the most basic parts of the plot – characters whip through with such breakneck speed that you have only a brief moment to discern that they’re important before they disappear again. Plus I could barely understand all of the layers of the French political system – Prime Minister, President, Minister, Secretary… er what? Perhaps it would be more meaningful to those with a deeper understanding of European politics. It’s rather overwhelming. Having said that, the film is a lacerating experience of the all-consuming, soul-destroying grind of high public office. It explores the the aspects of the political system we’re all familiar with: mind-boggling bureaucracy, debilitating political dramatism, the self-serving political egoists versus the slowly worn down honorable ones. Plus it’s set in the modern world of disintegrating economic systems and ever-increasing unemployment. Lots of messages about privatization vs. nationalization, honor vs. power, the individual vs. the collective machine. AND some weird metaphor-filled artistic sequences that seem to have absolutely no connection to the rest of the film. An opportunistic film snob’s paradise! But well made and worth watching anyway :)

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