Monday, 11 July 2016

NZIFF Preview - Nuts!, Under The Sun, A Perfect Day, The Lure

NZIFF Preview - Nuts!, Under The Sun, A Perfect Day, The Lure

The pull of the New Zealand International Film Festival is just days away, and with it, the promise of good times out of the rain and inside the warmth of some of the nation's finest cinematic establishments.

And treats are certainly in store, as well as some of the more eye-popping elements currently on offer.

One of those slightly more out there propositions is Nuts!, the animated story of American entrepreneur J R Brinkley. Renowned for his ability to improve fertility by grafting goats' nuts to the scrotum, Brinkley became a populist hero and made his fame and fortune. But as ever, The Man didn't like it and came hunting for him.

It's hard not to root for Brinkley in this tale, and the mix of animation, stock footage and talking heads spin a great yarn as the story takes a deeper edge. There's pathos and misdirection as well as some sadder elements - if anything Nuts! has charm aplenty as the web is spun. Don't be too surprised if the simplicity of execution gets you wound up in the story and you find yourself feeling slightly aggrieved when this is over.

Equally aggrieving, but for distinctly other reasons, Under The Sun is a monumental expose of how North Korea's propaganda machine continues to rumble on.

Russian film-maker Vitaly Mansky travelled to Pyongyang to make a film about a school girl who was about to become a fully vested citizen, but what Mansky ends up capturing is a film about control and a peek behind the curtain look which is unlikely to do much to change many people's views about North Korea and its machinations.
Under The Sun

The rub with this film is the breakdown between the filmmaker and those allowing them to do the filming - shots reveal officials fussing over takes and asking them to say something more positive or re-do shots. It's heartbreaking in many ways, because the anti-Japanese sentiments, the way the children are brought up and the continual cycle of manipulation is all caught so matter of fact by Mansky's camera. Shots of routines, workouts, bleak winter days and children fidgeting nervously with their hands and fingers while extolling propaganda in class give the whole thing a downbeat sheen.

There can't be many who didn't suspect life in North Korea was like this, but as we revel in day-to-day freedoms that we take for granted, the prompt from one official to get the child to "say something cheerful" is a depressing note - mainly for the children's future who have to be brought up in this world.

Staying in a world that's been hit by problems, A Perfect Day's aiming for black humour in the Bosnian conflict.
A Perfect Day

The Spanish film features Benicio del Toro and Tim Robbins as part of a group of aid workers trying to move a corpse from a well in a conflict zone. It's an easy task in theory - take out the thing that's corrupting the surrounding well-being of the people (an allegory not lost on the viewers) but the amount of red-tape and problems it poses for del Toro's Mambru and Robbins' B would be funny if they weren't so ludicrous.

Fortunately, director Fernando Leon de Aranoa mines the gallows humour to reasonably exasperating effect throughout; and while the idea that Olga Kurylenko's top ranking aid official would head out among them stretches credibility somewhat, the flashes of the horrors of war that are interspersed throughout ground the film in a horrific reality that never quite goes away.

The one day to go storyline for del Toro's Mambru may have been done before with the likes of M*A*S*H but not once does A Perfect Day's sedentary pace through conflict lose any of its resonance as it seeks not to lecture but to present a sobering reality that aid workers have to face.
The Lure

Sobering reality is perhaps the last thing on the mind of The Lure, a veritable melange of the deranged, body horror, love story and pop video all meshed into one fever dream of lurid trashiness.

When aquatic sirens Silver and Golden are discovered at a water's edge, they're immediately shipped out into a sleazy club that's every bit the salacious joint you'd expect in the Incredibly Strange section (even if it does channel Lynchian elements of the Black Lodge in parts).

When one mermaid falls for the guitar player in their band, all hell threatens to break loose in this Polish first time filmmaker's quest for infamy.  The Lure may slightly struggle to piece it all together in the final strait, but with committed performances, a soundtrack and a chutzpah that deserves commendation for presenting large swathes of dialogue as choreographed pop songs, there's lots to admire in the enticing fishy tale The Lure.

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