NZIFF 2019 mini-reviews (D – G)

Our team of writers are submerged in NZIFF 2019—here are their thoughts on the films they’ve seen titled from D to G.


Daguerréotypes

I encourage you to examine closely every single frame of this utterly charming 1976 documentary by Agnes Varda, as they are composed with the genius eye of a life/art curator. Tiny details, excellent placements and juxtapositions make it an exquisite, entirely compelling watch, her everyday subjects (the vendors on her street) allowing her to capture their melancholia, social interactions as well as their pleasure and pride in simple achievements. -SARAH VOON

Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan

This ANZAC Vietnam War film is impressive, if a bit hit and miss. Much of the combat is brilliantly directed, especially the flourishes that give a great sense of geography. It’s more the non-combat stuff that fails to connect—like the misplaced humour and the overly-sentimental bits, which degrade the gravitas. Also, I don’t know how historically accurate this movie is, but it’s hard to imagine as much recklessness and outright insubordination actually took place as is portrayed. Still, it’s seldom we get to see ANZACs in action on the big screen and rarer still that the action is as good as it is here. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

The Day Shall Come

This was my only true disappointment of this year’s festival, from the first poorly edited scenes through the unfunny gags and occasional dialogue stinkers, which I think were trying to be ironic. It sounded like there were quite a few scattered middle-aged man laughs from the audience, but I didn’t have my new glasses, so I couldn’t accurately and confoundedly figure out which attendees it appealed to. Perhaps it’s just too soon/hard to find humour in America’s bullying authoritarianism and obsession with hunting down “terrorists” for accolades when we are constantly faced with the horrific fallout from this continuing reality. – SARAH VOON

Fans of Chris Morris’s Four Lions may find that The Day Shall Come doesn’t rip their guts out in the same way the earlier film did. It could be a reflection of the times, but I felt I knew what was going to happen long before it did, and consequently lost some level of emotional engagement with the characters. That being said, I still really enjoyed it. The script is witty and leans towards the absurder end of the Morris spectrum, while retaining a definite ‘I’m sure I read about this on twitter’ level of believability. Prescient as per usual. -RACHEL ASHBY

As a huge Chris Morris fan, gotta say this was a real disappointment. The subject matter is definitely in the Morris wheelhouse, as he points out the bleak reality of US law enforcement actively encouraging terrorist tendencies, but he doesn’t hit the target with his usual vigour. Moves along with low-level amusement, punctuated with the occasional big laugh, but not as incisively satirical as hoped. Film’s a bit let down by the cast, especially in FBI office scenes, not really making a fist of the Chris Morris/Jesse Armstrong shit-stirring dialogue and coming off a bit Veep-lite (maybe also a consequence of Morris’s time directing said show, too). -STEVE NEWALL

A madcap yet deeply serious farce about a harmless amateur jihadist who becomes embroiled in a CIA plot that veers dangerously close to entrapment, The Day Shall Come is short, sharp and wonderfully scathing in its critique of cynical US counterterrorism tactics. Genuinely funny and warm-hearted however, this otherwise fun romp is punctuated with a gut-wrenching return to reality in its final moments—and quietly makes a bigger, bolder and graver statement than most contemporary political dramas. -KATIE PARKER

Where Chris Morris’s Four Lions so perfectly skewered British wannabe-extremists, this poke in America’s eye takes on the FBI recruiting a Miami preacher (who talks to ducks) to infiltrate a supposed terrorist cell. Less savage, less daring, less energetic and, sadly, a lot less damn funny than Morris’ brilliant earlier satires. -ADAM FRESCO

Chris Morris’s long-awaited follow-up to Four Lions flips things around. Instead of following bumbling terrorists hilariously screwing up their evil deeds, we follow bumbling FBI agents stuffing up the prevention of evil deeds. But it’s nowhere near as good. Maybe the current state of the world makes it harder to crack up at this sort of thing, or maybe this one just isn’t as well done. There’s definitely laughs to be had and a few examples of amazing dialogue, but overall this is a fairly underwhelming comedy. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

Deerskin

A pleasant tale of murder and insanity, Quentin Dupieux’s latest is as original and absurd as you should expect. There are bigger ideas about self-image, materialism and feeble masculinity, but it can easily be enjoyed for its surface level alone. It has some hilarity, for sure, but this is more of a nice little chuckle fest. I guess in 2020 we’ll see a movie about the jacket in this versus the dress from In Fabric. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

Escher: Journey to Infinity

An above-average biography for Escher nerds only. By pairing his own words with spot-on visual representation, this film gives a very good understanding of a rather practical man. It’s super refreshing to see such a revered artist whose considers his creations a product of mathematical curiosity rather than emotional expression, which makes it all the funnier that Woodstock hippies embraced the art of a total square. -LIAM MAGUREN

The Farewell

Cuts so goddamn deep and close to home, difficult to remain objective but Wang has a terrific, patient eye, Awkwafina should be in everything. Wise, bittersweet and funny as all get out. -AARON YAP

Fire Will Come

A compelling premise; a man returns to the suspicious residents of his countryside home after serving two years for arson. A pair of incredibly cinematic faces (Amador Arias and Benedicta Sánchez) and strikingly rendered rural scenes are unfortunately not enough to make up for the film’s emotional intangibility. -AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

Fly by Night

This cops-n-robbers thriller with a heap of characters feels too brief and basic to compel. Undercooking its better personalities and subplots, this film’s more interested in the uninteresting dumb shits that create conflict by being dumb shits. A shame really, as the filmmaking’s competent and a reworked script could have led to something enjoyable. -LIAM MAGUREN

For Sama

Totally floored me. An intimate portrait of resilience and endurance, resistance and love. “Will she blame me for staying? Will she blame me for leaving?” A love letter from mother to daughter in the middle of besieged Aleppo could have easily turned sentimental. Instead, Waad al-Kateab plainly presents pregnancy, birth and motherhood punctuated by the horrors of war from inside Aleppo’s last standing hospital. There’s a scene that made me feel physically ill and made me cry with joy and relief within seconds. I’ve never written this about a film before, but: everyone should see this. -AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

It’s one thing to watch or read a news item about the Assad regime attacking Syrian civilians with chlorine gas, or Russian bombers systematically destroying every hospital in Aleppo. It’s something quite different to experience an intimate portrait of five years living in that conflict-plagued city condensed into a feature-length film. This is an extraordinary documentary, both one family’s video diary of the war and a fly-on-the-wall journal of the last hospital in Aleppo before it fell. Utterly harrowing and absolutely essential. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

The Gangster, the Cop, the Devil

A fast-paced, serial killer action thriller from South Korea, this one is refreshing in how straight-ahead and uncomplicated it is. It’s gorgeously shot in a neon-drenched, Michael Mann kind of way and Ma Dong-seok is immensely endearing as a mob boss forced to work with cops to bring down a ‘devil’. The plot grows a little weak, especially when it resorts to really silly coincidence to help the good guys out, but this is a solid crime flick that’s highly entertaining. -DANIEL RUTLEDGE

If you love stylish Korean action movies, then this delivers, but for a remake of a movie centred on the promise of a gangster and cop teaming up to track down a serial killer, it should have been way, way better. Let down by a predictable plot and male-centric characters, it’s a slick, entertaining, been-there, done-that, genre rehash. –ADAM FRESCO

Possibly this Korean bloodsoaked, action-packed popcorn pastiche was set in 2005 specifically so they could indulge in unfettered pulpy gangster violence, cheese dripping one-liners, flip phones, digital cameras and the use of the word “Retard” as an insult. As guiltily entertaining as watching a splice of early Die Hard and Brooklyn Nine-Nine, though with nary a strong female lead in sight, director Lee Won-tae really goes all the way with the cliché narrative. Just let go and enjoy, no thinking required. -SARAH VOON

Genesis

Two charismatic lead performances from Théodore Pellerin and Noée Abita propel this warm coming of age triptych following three teenagers through the ache of first love. A nuanced and compassionate film with a really interesting structure. Will be thinking about this one for a while. -AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya

A woman in her early 30s, unemployed and living at home, incites the patriarchal wrath of the church, police and town thugs when she dives into a river and catches a holy cross in a religious competition reserved for men. A slightly scruffy script with a lot of loose ends left dangling, God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya is held together by Zorica Nusheva’s charismatic performance in the title role. While many of the characters and themes in this satire lean towards the cliché, the scenes between Petrunya and the local police are infuriating in their realness. Real also is the horror of watching a crowd turn on a woman, a thread of violence that slices through the farce. -RACHEL ASHBY


NZIFF 2019 mini-reviews index:

Latest Reviews | A – C | D – G | H – L | M – S | T – Z