The Duke of Burgundy, Spring and 600 Miles - NZFF Review
To find a thread connecting all of these titles is to cast a long bow, but suffice to say that all three play with expectations and provide intriguing fare for those willing to invest at the festival.
The Duke of Burgundy, from director of Berberian Sound Studio Peter Strickland, sees the highs and lows of a dominant and her submissive relationship explored - and produces something intoxicating and almost dream-like throughout.
Borgen star Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D'Anna star as the lovers here, but the film's not interested in producing material to shy away from, preferring instead to concentrate on the intricacies of relationships and exploring how long term situations potentially alienate those within.
Encased in this proposition is a wealth of imagery, of style and a repetition of sequences that lead you to question your place in viewing all of this. It all has a habit of going nowhere very stylishly and slickly, but the psychological burn builds to an inevitable climax. Its fetish feel - aloof and occasionally cold – makes it a film to wallow in and to let the rhythms of the story wash over you.
It's almost hypnotic, trance-like and quite endearing in a weird way. Both Knudsen and D'Anna rarely interact with others on a one-to-one basis and the claustrophobia of what builds within feels very natural, real and absolutely stifling.
Strickland's lost none of his eye for the stark imagery and sound - particularly a sequence where lepidoptery comes to the fore as an audience listens to a lecture. With the sounds of butterflies amplified through speakers and a camera panning across the audience who are in their very thrall, it's a perfect allegory for the very sophisticated The Duke of Burgundy; it keeps you captivated from beginning to end, with disorientating trips along the way.
Talking of trips, 600 Miles sees Tim Roth's ATF agent kidnapped in a road movie that subverts from the very beginning.
This Mexican directed movie starts off with a kid in a gunshop discussing the finer details of weaponry, clearly looking to make a purchase, but quickly abandoning the store with his bottle squarely having been lost. The gun-running intentions are clear, but it's only when Roth's suitably grizzled agent ends up on the scene that the gunpowder in this keg is clearly given the light it needs.
As a bond grows between the kidnapper and his victim, 600 Millias feels very much like a succession of day in the life pieces; it provides a dramatic counterpart to the festival's Cartel Land, though curiously it's not quite as incendiary as its true life compadre.
Spring may have one of the most generic titles in the festival programme, but don't let that put you off this - going into this one blind without the benefit of the blurb served me brilliantly giving me a genuine "What was that?" moment that jolted me out of the viewing malaise that I feared was setting in.
Lou Taylor Pucci is drifter Evan whose life is upended by the death of his mother. Heading into a tailspin and realising he's about to self-destruct, Evan heads to Bologna on a whim. Attaching himself to a couple of holiday makers, he divorces himself from their stereotypical holidaymakers abroad boorishness and falls in with the mysterious Louise (an enigmatic Nadia Hilker).
A romance begins between the pair, but along the way, not all is as it appears...and chemistry proves to be a double edged-sword
With the idyll of Bologna in the background and the relatively languid pace of writer-directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead settled in, the whiplash moment of this Before Sunrise style romance comes at just the right moment, fuelling a fire that's hard to quell before the tricky denouement tries to seal the deal.
Both the young leads are mesmerising, gelling wonderfully together, capturing the frailty of lives which have been battered and yet engendering a hope eternal in love; but while the film's ultimate reveal may be polarising, I, for one, appreciated it on another level because of how my expectations were subverted. Granted. I wasn't fully on board with the film's raison d'etre, but I was swept away with how it played out. It's best not to read too much about Spring before going in (even the programme reveals too much), and afterwards, you'll understand why I was coy about this romance and why it's so much more than its awful title suggests.