NZIFF Preview - Hotel Coolgardie, A War, Le Ride
With the launch of the Auckland leg of the New Zealand International Film Festival not far away, it's all hands to the programme as cinephiles scour the world's selection of filmic treats.
Likely to do for Aussie outback pubs what Wolf Creek did for Australian outback tourism, doco Hotel Coolgardie follows two Finnish backpackers who wind up working at the titular pub after losing all their cash in Bali.
But much like Wolf Creek, it's no less hellish for the duo in Pete Gleeson's fly-on-the-wall piece that shows tolerance is always on the slide as these so called "fresh meat" take to life behind the bar in a baptism of fire that would see many an HR rep running for the hills, unable to sway those perpetuating the sexism and abuse within.
And yet, despite the crassness of the Aussie locals, there's something eminently watchable about the proceedings as it reveals the reality of small towns, where everyone knows your business, where drunk patrons do their best to sleep over with the staff and where there's apparently no such thing as a free ride.
Horrifying on many fronts, Hotel Coolgardie's strengths are its honesty; none of what transpires feels less heart-in-mouth than a horror in many ways, but what Gleeson's managed to do is show the reality of a small town and the sociological traits that lie within; many of which will feel familiar to many in New Zealand no matter how much they may feel shame or deny it. No male in this piece comes off well at all - and the girls' saintliness is only further excelled by the way they deal with what goes on.
Though one suspects tourism to the Coolgardie area won't exactly be on the rise after this hits the circuit.
Equally calm and measured, though no less devastating is Krigen (A War).
Tobias Lindholm's drama takes a look at life in Afghanistan for the boys serving there and also back home where the families have to negotiate life.
While the men tackle the constant threats of IEDs and uncertainty in an Afghan province, the women are dealing with no less volatile situations back on the domestic front that include kids accidentally swallowing pills.
While Lindholm carefully orchestrates events by gradually building up back story, the flesh on the bones of this tale is one of the moral ambiguity of conflict when Game Of Thrones star Pilou Asbaek is forced to make a heat-of-the-moment decision that lands him back in court. Switching from war zone to war court may have crippled any other drama, but due to the gradual drawing out of suspense and the grounding of actual reality, what transpires is no less gripping than previous film fest fave A Hijacking and The Hunt (to which Lindholm contributed a screenplay).
Le Ride sees Phil Keoghan take on his own Amazing Race.
Shorn of the majority of the glamorous trappings of the TV show, Keoghan's desire to demonstrate a little known Kiwi's achievements of the world stage is admirable in its intent.
For many, the name Harry Watson means nothing; but after Le Ride, Keoghan's hope of restoring his name to the annals of history may have taken a large leap. Mixing the Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman ethos of the Long Way Round with a road trip in France, Keoghan and his mate Ben Cornell are determind to follow Watson's path from the 1928 Tour De France.
With a bike that was from the 1928 ride (ie no real gears).
While some of those roads are long gone, this doesn't stop the duo from instigating "the story that has to be told" and setting out on the trail. Mixing archive footage, present day suffering (Keoghan even insisted on keeping to the 1928 diet of bread, cheese and wine) and plenty of lashings of camaraderie and good nature, Le Ride is a journey well worth taking.
With the typical Keoghan charm in the face of growing adversity (from cracks on the bikes to being outbiked by someone in their 60s who took part in the original race), this is never less than genial - and while less is known about Kiwi Harry Watson than any other of any of our more prolific sports exports on the world stage, Keoghan and Cornell ensure that his profile is raised considerably in this piece that quietly salutes his achievements.
Le Ride's greatest achievement will come from being on the NZIFF circuit - granted, Keoghan's high profile should see many more through the doors than simply those within the biking community, but a wider audience will leave feeling they've had access to a story they would normally have never glimpsed into.