NZIFF Review - To The Wonder and Frances Ha
Terrence Malick returns to the New Zealand International Film Festival just a couple of years after the Tree of Life polarised so many.
This time around, rather than taking on the big mysteries of life, he's choosing to concentrate on the nature of love, in To The Wonder with a piece centreing on Ben Affleck and Olga Kurylenko's relationship and how it plays out. It starts off romantically as the duo journey to Europe on a train. With no inclination for explanation, we're thrown into the middle of their relationship and left to observe; Affleck is near mute and Kurylenko's voiceover gives us snapshots of a life, a love and a budding world of dreams. As time goes on though, the romance cools, the pair split amid a visa issue and Affleck falls back for former girlfriend played by Rachel McAdams. However, once again, that dream falters and the original duo reunite. Intertwined with their life and love is a priest played by Javier Bardem whose purpose in life is drifting away from his calling.
Once again, Malick displays a real propensity and skill for a lyrical liquid narrative, blessed with some wonderful imagery which captures the life within our grasp; but for some, the fluidity and lack of real structure may prove a stumbling block as it rambles on to its conclusion. The overall feeling of To The Wonder is more of an experience, a live picture book than a conventional film - a spiritual journey rather than a scripted pathway. An orchestral score soars early on as the trio all search for something - and while Affleck and Kurylenko's characters seem to get the most closure, Bardem's priest is a little neglected and on the outside of the film rather than being more fully embraced. To The Wonder is a film to be seen and discussed but it may not be one whose snapshots of life and love are anything more than fleeting moments of celluloid; haunting definitely but lasting, not entirely.
Frances Ha is Great Gerwig's contribution to hipsterdom. And quite frankly, it feels in places like it tries too hard to be as cool as it wants to. Gerwig is Frances, a dancer in New York, whose bohemian and drifter lifestyle means she moves from flat to flat and life to life after her soulmate Sophie (Sting's daughter) decides she wants to move out to an address she's always wanted to go to. Devastated from the split, Frances finds her life lacks focus and meaning as she moves from one address to another, always trying to get on and always seeking some form of validation from her friends and suffering from a lack of being able to move on in life. Shot in black and white and deliberately going for a certain audience, I personally found Gerwig's Frances and her ilk insufferable and annoying; that's not to say though that Gerwig isn't astoundingly good in the role; this flighty girl is quirky and therefore awkward in places. During a massive run to get cash from an ATM, Frances falls over while dashing back - for no reason other than to emphasise her awkwardness. It's these try hard moments which are peppered throughout which irritate rather than endear. Which is a real shame as there are moments of dialogue and banter which sparkle and shine with naturalness and freshness, fully encapsulating the feckless nature of youth and the nether years when we flounder between no longer being a child but not quite an adult as we make our way through the world. A Christmas jaunt home to Sacramento with family gives Frances some warmth which is lost during other dinner encounters with flatmates and friends thereof, but as a series of snapshots of life in New York, there will be those who utterly adore Frances and her quirkiness; unfortunately, I am not one of them and was left irritated by the shallowness of the film, and the annoying nature of Frances.