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Eight Movies You Really Need to See at the 2022 New Zealand International Film Festival

This year's NZIFF highlights span everything from stunning documentaries about French volcanologists through to powerful homegrown responses to colonialism.
By Sarah Ward
August 01, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
August 01, 2022
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If filling your days with big-screen dreams is your idea of heaven, is there any better time than New Zealand International Film Festival time? Aotearoa's cinemas are never short on things to watch, but there's always something special about dedicating every waking hour that you can spare to living and breathing movies from around the globe — and revelling in an event that's wholly dedicated to exactly that experience.

For 2022, that time is now — with the Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival running from Thursday, July 28–Sunday, August 7 in Auckland, and from Thursday, August 4–Sunday, August 14 in Wellington — and then heading around the rest of the country.

Wondering what to see? Feeling spoiled for choice from the fest's hefty full lineup? Eager to explore more than the big-name titles? Here are eight tried-and-tested picks — aka our must-see flicks — that'll get your 2022 NZIFF off to a fantastic start.

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FLUX GOURMET

Flickering across a cinema screen, even the greatest of movies only engage two senses: sight and hearing. We can't touch, taste or smell films, even if adding scratch-and-sniff aromas to the experience has become a cult-favourite gimmick. British director Peter Strickland hasn't attempted that — but his features make you feel like you're running your fingers over an alluring dress (In Fabric), feeling the flutter of butterfly wings (The Duke of Burgundy) or, in his latest, enjoying the smells and tastes whipped up by a culinary collective that turns cooking and eating into performance art. Yes, if you've seen any of his movies before, Flux Gourmet instantly sounds like something only Strickland could make. While it's spinning that tale, it literally sounds like only something he could come up with as well, given that his audioscapes are always a thing of wonder (see also: the sound-focused Berberian Sound Studio). And, unsurprisingly due to his strong and distinctive sense of style and mood, everything about Flux Gourmet looks and feels like pure Strickland, too.

The setting: a culinary institute overseen by Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones), that regularly welcomes in different creative groups to undertake residencies. Her guests collaborate, percolate and come up with eye-catching blends of food, bodies and art — hosting OTT dinners, role-playing a trip to the supermarket, getting scatalogical and turning a live colonoscopy into a show, for instance. Watching and chronicling the latest stint by a 'sonic catering' troupe is journalist Stones (Makis Papadimitriou, Beckett), who also has gastrointestinal struggles, is constantly trying not to fart and somehow manages to keep a straight face as everything gets farcical around him. Asa Butterfield (Sex Education), Ariane Labed (The Souvenir: Part II) and Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed play the three bickering artists, and things get messy and heated, fast — but this is a film that's as warm as it is wild, and stands out even among Strickland's inimitable work. Also crucial: riffing on This Is Spinal Tap.

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FIRE OF LOVE

What a delight it would be to trawl through Katia and Maurice Krafft's archives, sift through every video that features the French volcanologists and their work, and witness them doing their highly risky jobs against spectacular surroundings. That's the task that filmmaker Sara Dosa (The Seer and the Unseen) took up to make this superb documentary about the couple's lives — although, as magnificent as this incredibly thoughtful, informative and moving film is, it makes you wonder what a sci-fi flick made from the same footage would look like. There's a particular sequence that cements that idea, set to the also-otherworldly sounds of Air, and featuring the Kraffts walking around against red lava in their futuristic-looking protective silver suits. The entire enchanting score springs from Air's Nicolas Godin, and it couldn't better set the mood; that said, these visuals and this story would prove entrancing if nary a sound was heard, let alone a note or a word.

For newcomers to the Kraffts, their lives make quite the tale — one of two volcano-obsessed souls who instantly felt like they were destined to meet, then dedicated their days afterwards to understanding the natural geological formations. More than that, they were passionate about analysing what they dubbed 'grey volcanos', which produce masses of ash when they erupt, and often a body count. Attempting to educate towns and cities in the vicinity of volcanoes, so that they could react appropriately and in a timely way to avoid casualties, became a key part of their mission. This isn't the only doco about them — in fact, German director Werner Herzog is making his own, called The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft — but Fire of Love is a gorgeous, sensitive, fascinating and affecting ode to two remarkable people, their love, their passion and their impact. It's also benefits from pitch-perfect narration, too, courtesy of actor and Kajillionaire filmmaker Miranda July.

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FULL TIME

At the 2021 Venice International Film Festival, French actor Laure Calamy won the Best Actress award in the event's Horizons strand — and mere minutes into Full Time, it's easy to see why. The Antoinette in the Cévennes and Call My Agent! star is phenomenal in this portrait of a single mother's hectic routine, with writer/director Eric Gravel (Crash Test Aglaé) charting the ups and downs of his protagonist's professional and personal situation like he's making a thriller. In fact, he is. Julie Roy, the feature's focus, is stretched to breaking point, and every moment of every day seems to bring a new source of stress. For starters, her job overseeing the cleaning at a five-star Parisian hotel is both chaotic and constantly throwing up challenges, she's put all her hopes on a new gig in market research but getting time off for the interview is easier said than done, and the French capital is in the middle of a transport strike that makes commuting in and out from the outskirts basically impossible.

Also adding to Julie's troubles: the childcare arrangement she has in place with a neighbour, having any energy to spend meaningful time with her children at the end of her busy days, trying to get financial support out of her absent ex and planning a birthday party. All of this might sound mundane, and like the kind of thing that plenty of people deal with every day — and that's partly the point. Full Time hones in on the rush, hustle and bustle to show how fraught this vision of normality is. Every shot by cinematographer Victor Seguin (Gagarine) ripples with tension, and the rhythm amplified by editor Mathilde Van de Moortel (Mustang) is nothing short of relentless. Gravel truly sees Julie, her stresses and the fact that she's at her wits' end, and the marvellous Calamy plays the part like she's living it.

Read our full review.

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HALLELUJAH: LEONARD COHEN, A JOURNEY, A SONG

It took Leonard Cohen years to write his most famous song, and he kept the notebooks to prove it. But for many people, Cohen isn't the first person they think of when 'Hallelujah' comes to mind — and his version isn't the one that instantly plays in their heads, either. For some, the 1991 cover by the Velvet Underground's John Cale is their go-to, helped in no small part by its use in Shrek. For many, the tune will forever be synonymous with Jeff Buckley, with his rendition still gaining greater resonance after he passed away at the age of 30. The list of big-name musicians who've given the song their own spin is hefty, including even Bob Dylan. And, if you've ever watched one of the many, many television talent shows that've become a reality TV staple since the turn of the 21st century, or even just flicked past one while changing the channel, odds are you've come across someone crooning Cohen's hit.

'Hallelujah' wasn't actually a big deal initially, though. The Cohen album it first appeared on, 1984's Various Positions, was even knocked back for US release by his longterm label at the time. That's a decision they'd surely like to take back — but when a song is this powerful, it finds ways to echo far and wide no matter what. Going in, it might seem like a stretch to base an entire documentary about one tune; however, to tell the story of 'Hallelujah', Hallelujah: Leonard Cohen, a Journey, a Song obviously has to span much further than that. Filmmakers Dayna Goldfine and Daniel Geller (The Galapagos Affair) use the track to examine Cohen's life, music, successes, struggles, and ongoing legacy and influence — and if you aren't a fan of the iconic Canadian poet, singer and songwriter going in, or of the song, prepare to be after this detailed and loving exploration and tribute.

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WE ARE STILL HERE

It begins with stunning animation, shimmering with the rich blue hues of the sea. From there, everything from lush greenery to dusty outback appears in its frames. The past returns to the screen, and a vision of the present finds a place as well — and crossing the ditch between Australia and New Zealand, and venturing further into the South Pacific, is baked into the movie's very concept. That film is We Are Still Here, which makes an enormous statement with its title, responding to 250 years of colonialism. Of course, filmmakers in the region have been surveying this history since the birth of the medium, because the topic is inescapable. Combining eight different takes from ten Indigenous filmmakers instantly makes We Are Still Here stand out, however — and this Pacific First Nations collaboration, which opened Sydney Film Festival before coming to NZIFF, isn't short on talent, or impact.

New Zealand directors Tim Worrall (Head High), Richard Curtis (Nanakia), Renae Maihi (Waru), Miki Magasiva (The Panthers), Chantelle Burgoyn (short Tatau) and Mario Gaoa (Teine Sa) add their parts, as do Australian filmmakers Beck Cole (Here I Am), Danielle MacLean (Carry the Flag), Tracey Rigney (A Chance Affair) and Dena Curtis (Back to Nature). Some of their chapters explore heated discussions about whether to fight back, others find understanding in unlikely places, and another heads into the First World War. The same passion — the same determined survey of what it means to live in countries forever changed by James Cook's landing — beats within each, whether peering at the animated stars, trying to survive in the trenches or pondering what might come is earning attention. Understandably, it makes for not just potent but sincere, weighty and moving viewing.

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PIGGY

Hell is other people in Spanish horror film Piggy, an observation that's been made countless times on-screen. Hell is also today's always-online world, another familiar statement (and one that Sissy, see above, also serves up). Still, a movie doesn't need to trade in completely new observations to stand out — which this bullying-revenge film definitely does in a plethora of ways. Sadly, its title stems from the taunt slung in its protagonist's direction much too often. A resident of a small, sleepy Spanish village close to the Portuguese border, Sara (Laura Galán, Unknown Origins) is called other names, too, none of them kind. She's also almost drowned by her tormentors during a trip to the local pool, where they're as cruel as anyone can be about her body. That experience comes with consequences, however, when a kidnapper strikes. Sara is a witness, the three mean girls that've made her life miserable go missing, and the right next step isn't straightforward.

Galán is astonishing in Piggy, reteaming with writer/director Carlota Pereda after also starring in her 2018 Goya Award-winning short of the same. This full-length expansion is a vicious marvel, too — and it isn't afraid to get brutal either thematically or physically, or to plaster gory sights across its imagery. Indeed here, seeing a murdered corpse weighted down at the bottom of a public pool isn't a pretty vision, unsurprisingly. That said, it also pales in comparison to the nastiness continually thrust Sara's way, and to everything the film sinks a knife into about being a woman today in the process. Piggy is also astonishingly stylish, using its Academy-ratio frames to ramp up the sense of claustrophobia to an immersive degree. Pereda has enjoyed stints behind the lens since 2008, spanning television, shorts and features, but this immediate must-see deserves to put her on the path to a great genre career.

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LOST ILLUSIONS

Stop us when Lost Illusions no longer sounds familiar. You won't; it won't, either. Stop us when its 19th century-set and -penned narrative — written by acclaimed novelist Honoré de Balzac almost 200 years ago, and brought to the screen now by filmmaker Xavier Giannoli (Marguerite) — no longer feels so relevant to life today that you can easily spot parts of it all around you. Again, that won't happen. When the handsome and involving French drama begins, its protagonist knows what he wants to do with his days, and also who he loves. Quickly, however, he learns that taking a big leap doesn't always pan out if you don't hail from wealth. He makes another jump anyway, out of necessity. He gives a new line of work a try, finds new friends and gets immersed in a different world. Alas, appearances just keep meaning everything in his job, and in society in general. Indeed, rare is the person who doesn't get swept up, who dares to swim against the flow, or who realises they might be sinking rather than floating.

The person weathering all of the above is Lucien Chardon (Benjamin Voisin, Summer of 85), who'd prefer to be known as Lucien de Rubempré — his mother's aristocratic maiden name. It's 1821, and he's a poet and printer's assistant in the province of Angoulême when the film begins. He's also having an affair with married socialite Louise de Bargeton (Cécile de France, The French Dispatch), following her to Paris, but their bliss is soon shattered. That's why he gives journalism a try after meeting the equally ambitious Etienne Lousteau (Vincent Lacoste, Irma Vep), then taking up the offer of a tabloid gig after failing to get his poetry published. Lucien climbs up the ranks quickly, both in the scathing newspaper business — where literary criticism is literally cash for comment — and in the right Parisian circles. But even when he doesn't realise it, his new life weighs him down heavily.

Read our full review.

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ALI & AVA

All plot, all the time: that's how some filmmakers craft movies. Every scene leads to the next, then to the next and so on, connecting the story dots so that event A plus event B (plus event C, event D, event E and more) neatly equals wherever the narrative eventually ends up. Clio Barnard is not one of those writers or directors. Every scene always leads to the next in every film that tells any tale, no matter who's spinning it, but much of what happens in the Dark River and The Selfish Giant helmer's movies doesn't change, shift or drive the plot at all. Indeed, her features often have storylines that seem straightforward, as the tender and tremendous Ali & Ava does. But that uncomplicated appearance — including here, where a man and a woman meet, sparks fly, but complications arise — couldn't be more deceptive.

In Ali & Ava, that man and woman are indeed Ali (Adeel Akhtar, Killing Eve) and Ava (Claire Rushbrook, Ammonite), both residents of Bradford in Barnard's native West Yorkshire. He's a working-class landlord — a kind and affable one, noticeably — from a British Pakistani family, and was once an EDM DJ. She's an Irish-born teacher's assistant at the school where one of Ali's tenants' children attends. Frequently, he's on drop-off and pick-up duty, because he is that helpful to his renters. So, when the skies open one day during his school run, Ali offers Ava a ride home rather than seeing her walk to the bus in the pouring rain. They chat, click, laugh, bond over a shared passion for music and slowly let their guards down. But what would a romance be, especially an on-screen one, if the path to love truly was effortlessly smooth?

Read our full review.

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The Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival runs from Thursday, July 28–Sunday, August 7 in Auckland, and from Thursday, August 4–Sunday, August 14 in Wellington. For more information and to buy tickets, head to the festival website.

Published on August 01, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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