NZIFF 2018 artwork, illustrated by Ken Samonte

NZIFF 2018 mini-reviews (latest reviews)

Our team of writers has whipped up over 150 reviews from NZIFF 2018 – here are their latest.

Animation NOW!

I went to two of the six schedules in this year’s festival-within-a-festival and the international offering is possibly the mightiest I’ve ever seen from Animation NOW. For the hardcore auteur-lovers, the psychedelic Crux and jazz-tastic Cupcake played superbly. For general audiences, Terry Gilliam-tier Wednesday with Goddard and the heart-mending Threads hit their marks just as well. Within that spectrum, homegrown drama Trap danced perfectly within narrative ambiguity while closing short Ugly proved accessibly batshit insane.

The handmade programme didn’t play quite as strong. I’m not that big on rotoscope, regardless of whether it’s done by hand or on a computer, so the likes of Strange Case and Silent London washed over me. And while Deyzangeroo and Evening were crafty in their process, there wasn’t a knockout technique to be found in the realm of Muto (which used street art in stop-motion) or Here and the Great Elsewhere (made painstakingly on a pin-screen). Fortunately, the traditional stop-mo shorts won the day with Laika-level film Lost Property Office and two lovely odes to parents – Negative Space and After All. And The Battle of San Romano is one trippy, spectacular piece of art. -LIAM MAGUREN

The Heart Dances – The Journey of The Piano: the Ballet

Crossing Rachmaninoff director Rebecca Tansley follows The Royal New Zealand Ballet’s preparations for The Piano. Outstanding access, cinematography and editing, coupled with an excellent soundtrack, hold the attention as the creatives wrestle with the cultural quandary inherent in the story they are trying to tell in a company with no Māori dancers. The usual making-of tropes are here, but where things get really fascinating are in watching dancer and Māori cultural advisor Moss Patterson politely but firmly negotiate the quagmire. Fascinating for all the wrong reasons, it’s an object lesson in how creative and cultural partnerships need to be carefully considered. -ADAM FRESCO


Incredible vistas and some of the most pleasing costuming I‘ve seen in recent productions did not make staying in my seat for the entirety of Argentinian writer/director Lucrecia Martel’s Zama any easier…. I’ve never felt so envious of the 8 or so people who decided to call it quits and walk out, but this is a film exquisitely made, and meant, I think, for a certain curious and cerebral audience who can patiently allow the layers to peel back to get to the somewhat oblique finish. Based on a 1958 novel of the same name, Don Diego de Zama is a wholly unlikeable, racist, abusive Spanish conquistador who has endured a lengthy posting in a remote village in Paraguay, but longs to get home to his wife and children. As he perves, slaps and simpers his way through a relatively plotless story, the bigger picture is perhaps a commentary on the distant licensing of disgusting behaviour under the umbrella of colonisation. -SARAH VOON


Dogman takes place in a crumbling Italian seaside town that looks like a set from Mad Max movies, where the inhabitants (mainly burly mafioso) complicate each other’s lives with surplus machismo. Protagonist Marcello initially seems like a loveable bonehead with huge affection for dogs and his daughter, but is he really such a good guy? It’s a question we’re mostly left to stew on. -TONY STAMP

Angels Wear White

The angriest, most devastating film I saw this year. The subject matter is extremely emotionally charged, but Vivan Qu is a such a good storyteller it never feels manipulative, she just relays events and lets their cumulative power take hold. Qu clearly has something to say about being helpless in the face of authority, and when it all hits home during the final haunting shot its effect is overwhelming. -TONY STAMP


Like a fugue state in movie form, Mandy is slippery to get hold of, drifting in and out of your brain like a dream. Its boldest images are its most violent, but getting to them means sitting through long stretches of drawwwwn-out speechifying and hazy imagery that some viewers may find taxing. Really though, it’s tough to complain that much about hallucinatory visuals wed to Nicolas Cage at his most unhinged. -TONY STAMP


It’s a shame about the edgelord poster for this movie, because aside from a few instances of gut-churning cruelty it’s Noé’s most humane, accessible film. Basically a series of long choreographed dance sequences that become increasingly hellish, the camera becomes more untethered as the actors do, making the whole thing uniquely immersive. It’s as close as Noé’s come to making a straight-up horror film, buoyed along by a 90s techno beat as it descends into nightmare fuel. -TONY STAMP

The General

Upon hearing festival director Bill Gosden, a man known for his calm collectedness, unable to contain his glee at re-screening Buster Keaton’s silent masterpiece, it was evident we were in for a treat. Having somehow missed discovering this treasure my entire life, I’m pleased to report that this now 92-year-old gem absolutely took me for the ride Mr Gosden swore it would. Who knew Ricky Gervais didn’t invent the awkward glance at the camera? Who knew surrealist comedy wasn’t invented by Spike Milligan? Who knew an audience in 2018 could applaud so loudly at a gag’s expert payoff? Yowzers, when it comes to action pack laugh-fests, there’s nothing new under the sun, it was all taken care of in 1926! Far more complex a setup and plot that I anticipated, and with real stunts that would make Tom Cruise chicken out, I predict Buster Keaton’s future is bright… -MATTHEW CRAWLEY

Sign ‘o’ the Times

Henceforth I demand this review be known only as this symbol:


The Ancient Woods

The tendency to anthropomorphise will find plenty of ‘characters’ in the vertebrate and invertebrate cast (eg: crows are arseholes; field mice are optimistic idiots; snakes are… well, snakes) – however, all pleasingly uneditorialised via the absence of any narration. Enough to confound and silence a very loud matinée (read: boomer, sorry mum) audience. Cripes. -SARAH THOMSON


The overly showy elements of Noé’s previous work were, for the most part here, apparently relegated to an exhaustive regime of pre-shooting rehearsals and improv. explorations. The result is an almost entirely believable horror film, particularly for those in the creative industries, with an unrelenting tension build and some astonishing ‘acid-riddled’ performances. -SARAH THOMSON

Cold War

Beautifully shot, feat. two of the most horribly watchable (read: swoon) romantic leads a period film could ask for, remain glued as the pair navigate patriotic duty, personal integrity, European wartime borders and one another. Watch the throne, Rick & Ilsa. A clear vision and a stillness of performance elevate many moments that in lesser hands would have rendered as pastiche. Tissues/sleeve needed. -SARAH THOMSON

Shut Up and Play the Piano

On the tin: an irreverent take on ‘bad boy’ contemporary pianist, Jarvis Cocker collaborator and indie album producer, Chilly Gonzalez. Upon opening: an indulgent reminder that, more often than not, it’s only the rich who get to attempt reinvention and/or make art. Sigh. NB: Need reminding of how truly tone-deaf early 2000s electropop-rap was? Yr welcome. -SARAH THOMSON

Monterey Pop

It’s 1968. The Who are destroying their stage full of gear, Hendrix is sacrificing his guitar with flaming inspiration, Janis Joplin is flooring her audience with a soul shriek that’s never been matched since, Otis Redding is howling the night into a frenzy and Ravi Shankar is restoring it all with his hypnotic finale… That’s just a little bit of the kind of history made and captured on film here. Not to mention the endless parade of of-the-era outfits, noodling oddballs, and Brian Jones wandering around like a weirdo. If you haven’t seen this, I guess you just better see it. -MATTHEW CRAWLEY

Sign ‘o’ the Times

Bonkers Prince-directed concert film, with songs from the album of the same name, was a great way to wrap up the fest. Am-dram theatrics are perplexing, continuity jumps from Rotterdam live footage to Paisley Park do-over are vexing, but you can’t take your eyes off of Prince. Awesome, and would not be the same if a “true” concert pic. The batshit ideas – all part of it. -STEVE NEWALL

Cold War

As this black and white film, shot in Academy ratio, opened with villagers singing folk songs in post-war Poland, little did I know I was in for one of the most invigorating experiences of my festival. Beautifully lensed and blessed with disgustingly photogenic leads, Cold War is a ripping romance that sparkles with humour and fizzes with chemistry as two musicians come in and out of each other’s lives through the years. Sounds ho-hum, but rips along and reaches right into your heart for squeezes both gentle and much more crushing. -STEVE NEWALL


Watching Noé, you’re aware something awful could happen at any moment, and the director spends time sowing dread in the first act (after an awesome opening dance number). When things start going off the rails, Climax becomes a gripping horror, fueled by drugs and unencumbered by rationality – its dance rehearsal studio a prison the film circles around as tension builds and bad shit inevitably goes down. The final 15 or so minutes was a mouth agape bad trip brought to life. Awesome music throughout, and a bonza lead performance by Sofia Boutella. Suggested alternate title: Step Up 2 the Cid. -STEVE NEWALL


Cold War

Having never seen Pawlikowski’s earlier work, all I knew going in was his famed aesthetic rigor—and what perfect images they were. Just as impressive was the precision of the story; an epic, turbulent romance across post-war Europe; my favourite of the festival. I haven’t stopped thinking about Joanna Kulig’s face since. -AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

Cold Water

Oh Olivier, what a master. After years of music licensing mishaps, I’m so glad this film has been restored. There’s one shot in particular that hasn’t left my mind; the morning after a party at an abandoned country house, all the girls running down a hill to lift their skirts and pee on the grass. What is it about French teens? Something exquisite. -AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

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