Film Festival: First weekend’s top picks

Julian Assange
Gore Vidal

The International Film Festival has kicked off in Auckland and then goes on the national circuit until late in the year. The Auckland offering over three weekends and the days in between is nearly 180 films, making it necessary to do some picking and choosing.

This selection will focus on those of particular interest to NBR ONLINE but remains highly selective as well as subjective. To boil down the first weekend’s viewing to 10 is arbitrary and some have later screenings in the festival. Note: I have only been able, so far, to view one of these (Gore Vidal) so all final judgments are subject to viewing.

Three real-life history makers 
We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (Sat, 11am)
The rise and fall of Julian Assange is still hot news, with WikiLeaks’ support for renegade spy Edward Snowden, who is also seeking asylum in dodgy South American country if only someone will let him. Film-maker Alex Gibney is one of the genre’s best and most prolific (Enron, Freakonomics and Client 9 have been at previous festivals). “It’s also a war movie, a conspiracy thriller, a farcical political satire and, finally, a tragedy,” one critic says.

Gore Vidal: The United States of Amnesia (Sun, 6pm)
Though his political views are standard leftist misanthropy, Vidal differs from the boring likes of Chomsky, et al. For a start, Vidal looks and acts upper class, with a lifestyle to match (including an opulent villa overlooking Ravenna). He is too clever by half and gets the better of William Buckley in some of the historic material. The droll cynicism will wear you out but Nicholas Wrathall has some great interviews.

Hannah Arendt (Sun, 11.15am and 8pm)
A dramatisation by German director Margarethe von Trotta (Rosenstrasse) of Arendt’s assignment for the New Yorker to cover the Eichmann trial in Jerusalem and of her life with her literary mates back in America, such as Mary McCarthy. 

Two cult favourites
Blancanieves (Sat, 3.45pm)
The Artist has a lot to answer for but Pablo Berger’s 1920s-set silent melodrama based on the Snow White fairytale has wowed the European critics. Snow White is a bullfighter’s daughter, the dwarves are travelling toreadors and the wicked stepmother is a gold-digging dominatrix. The soundtrack isn’t silent, though, and is full of flamenco music.

Lines of Wellington/Linhas de Wellington (Sat, 3.30pm)
If you lasted through Mysteries of Lisbon a couple of years ago, then this will be a doddle. Chilean-born Portuguese director Raul Ruiz died before completion but it was finished by his widow, Valeria Sarmiento, and still runs nearly three hours. Set during Napoleon’s invasion of Portgual in 1810, John Malkovich plays General Wellington.

Best of (the art) business
The Best Offer/La migliore offerta (Sat, 4.15pm)
Unlike most countries, Italians do a good job at examining business on film – think the remarkable Il gioiellino (The Jewel) based on the Parmalat scandal and seen here a couple of years go. The Best Offer is about an auction house and is in English, with Geoffrey Rush as a dubious art dealer.

In the House/Dans la maison (Sat, 6.30pm)
French director François Ozon always produces luscious visuals from sexy stories with casts to match. No one who likes the bilingual Kristin Scott Thomas will want to miss her playing an art dealer who wants to rev up her jaded marriage.

Two for the heart...
The Past /Le Passé (Sun, 6.45pm)
If you rated A Separation as the year’s best film in 2011, as I did, then persuasion won’t be needed in seeing how director Ashgar Farhadi goes with another exotic marital drama, though the action has moved from Teheran to Paris. The dazzling redhead has been replaced by The Artist’s Bérenice Bejo, who is entangled with both an Iranian ex-husband and a new French Arab boyfriend.

Frances Ha (Sat, 9.15pm)
Though not in my opinion as good as Brit Maring (coming during the week in The East), Greta Gerwig (Damsels in Distress, Lola Versus) is all the rage for her Indie work. Here she is a late 20-something Brooklyn dancer with low prospects of a job or relationship.

...and one for the mind
The Gatekeepers (Sun, 1pm)
Tickets are selling fast for this documentary in which six former heads of the Shin Bet secret service agency talk frankly about, well, everything all other Israelis talk about – except these men have never gone public before.

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