NZIFF 2021 mini-reviews (K – M)


Our writers have been watching a ton of films playing as part of Whānau Mārama: New Zealand International Film Festival 2021.

This year’s festival features plenty of gems (even if they might not all be available throughout Aotearoa). Our team of keen reviewers has been busy watching, and rendering their verdicts.

All 2021 mini-reviews:
Latest reviews | A – D | E – J | K – M | N – R | S – Z

See also:
* All our Q&As with this year’s filmmakers
* All our other NZIFF coverage

Karen Dalton: In My Own Time

If you’ve ever listened to Karen Dalton sing you won’t be surprised to find she had a very hard life. Told through the recollections of friends and family and Dalton’s own diary (narrated by Angel Olsen) this film feels like an honest and compassionate portrait of a woman driven very much by her art making, and held back by her struggle with her mental health. This documentary is heartbreaking, beautiful and full of love—much like Dalton’s music. RACHEL ASHBY

The music of Karen Dalton is, I have always thought, like the sort of secret it’s a quiet thrill to share. Made lovingly, with even-handed reverence and honesty, this documentary about a troubled but properly incredible folk-singing anti-hero serves to paint a fuller picture of a life lived two steps ahead of the spotlight. MATTHEW CRAWLEY

The Killing of Two Lovers

A slow-rot art thriller that opens with a man pointing a gun at his sleeping wife and her lover. That moment completely colours the rest of the experience, which mainly consists of said man being a good father and trying to mend his marriage. He’s actually quite likeable, if you ignore the fact he was going to shoot two innocent people, which you can’t, creating a disorientingly tense and gloomy experience aided by tight-grip direction, boxed-in compositions, mind-infesting sound design, sparse editing, and the icy small-town setting. Some may find the ending dull; I found it quietly unsettling. LIAM MAGUREN

Limbo

A Syrian refugee finds himself on a Scottish island, dealing with thoughtless locals and squally weather, the visual metaphor of his unplayed oud lugged with him wherever he goes. Omar is often seen dwarfed by his surroundings, with a whiff of Waititi and Wes Anderson to the mix of dry humour and precise framing, and while the film doesn’t quite reach the heights set by those two, when the storm breaks it is adequately heartwarming. TONY STAMP

Director Ben Sharrock offers a surprisingly uplifting tale, centered on Amir El-Masry’s excellent performance as Syrian refugee, Omar. The Scottish island setting adds a bleak but beautiful backdrop to the lives of a group of male refugees stranded in a literal and metaphorical limbo, with precious little to do. Wry, witty, and reminiscent of existential masterpiece Waiting For Godot, this is a wee gem of a tale, rewarding the patient viewer with its thoughtful, slow-build, charm. ADAM FRESCO

The Lost Daughter

Not sure if fans of psychological thrillers will agree 100% with The Lost Daughter described that way, it’s more an uneasy, unsettling drama where the main mystery lies around what lurks within Olivia Colman’s outwardly polite main character. As you’d expect from Colman, there’s an acting masterclass on offer as the film explores her relationship to motherhood, fleshed out by flashbacks scenes in which Colman’s character is played by an also excellent Jessie Buckley (first-time director Maggie Gyllenhaal has unsurprisingly made quite an excellent actor-heavy film with Dakota Johnson and IRL husband Peter Sarsgaard on board). Bonus—those of us itching to get back into cinemas will cheer one particular scene where Colman snaps and gives rather more than a “shhh” to the absolute worst kind of people in the world… Yes, movie talkers/interrupters. STEVE NEWALL

Mandibles

In which intrepid filmmaker Quentin Dupieux attempts to answer the timeless question, “What if Dumb and Dumber was remade starring the French Bill and Ted? Oh, and a giant fucking fly”…This might not quite be the z-grade gross-out you’re anticipating, but come for the ridiculous premise, and stay for the actually quite sweet and gently funny flick. MATTHEW CRAWLEY

I’ve enjoyed Quentin Dupieux’s music (as Mr Oizo) quite a bit over the years, particularly his debut collection of bangers ‘Analog Worms Attack’, but his movies don’t hit me the same way (I’ve only seen Rubber prior to this one). He has a very particular sense of humour, and translates it well to screen, and I smiled throughout Mandibles (although it often comes perilously close to ‘punching down’), but I’m not sure it amounts to much beyond a series of very French gags. The giant pet fly is cute though. TONY STAMP

Mark Hunt – The Fight of His Life

A magnificently gifted fighter blessed with softly-spoken, straight-talking charisma, Mark Hunt is a deserving subject of this biographical doco. Hunt’s life story is at turns grim, inspirational and cautionary—and his ascent to the pinnacle of global kickboxing and mixed martial arts is thrilling to see. Hard to get around the lack of UFC fight footage though, robbing the film of third act excitement. 100% the fault of a spiteful fighting organisation, it seems like there’s nothing else the filmmakers could have done, but it is nevertheless a disappointing end to a very watchable doco. STEVE NEWALL

Mass

Written and directed by Franz Kranz (the stoner guy from The Cabin in the Woods to the likes of you and me) Mass tackles a pretty big (and very grim) topic for a first time filmmaker: school shootings. Joining two sets of parents (Jason Isaacs, Martha Plimpton, Ann Dowd and Reed Birney) in the aftermath of one such event—parents of a victim and parents of the perpetrator—as they sit down for the first time to discuss what one son did to the other. Set in a single room and told in near real-time as the couples have their harrowing conversation, Mass is about as fun as it sounds—but also manages to illuminate an issue that is rarely discussed coherently. With performances as good as you would expect from the likes of Dowd (and an unexpectedly good one from Isaacs!) Mass will likely penetrate deepest in the country where these things are a regular occurrence, but remains a moving, if rough, watch for everyone else. KATIE PARKER

Incredible destructive drama powered by four penetrating performances in one room, heightened by laser-focused direction and editing that allowed the small things (like a passive-aggressive drop of a tissue box) to say so much. Murky and messy in a way that feels painfully natural to its grim subject. Absolutely wrecked me near the end. LIAM MAGUREN

A theatrical four-hander, Fran Kranz’s Mass takes an unshirking journey through the stages of grief. Two couples meet in an American church, six years after a school shooting shattered their lives. Basically a stage play, elevated by an excellent cast, with Jason Isaacs, Ann Dowd, Martha Plimpton, and Reed Birney on top form, as they grind through denial, guilt, loss, and barely-suppressed rage. Raw, brutal, and moving, this finely-balanced drama, with an always human heartbeat, left me emotionally wrecked. ADAM FRESCO

Memoria

So at first I was like, “Woah!”, and then I was like, “Okaaaaay…”, then I was like, “Booooring”, but then I was like, “Holy shit this is amazing”, and then I was like, “Am I still awake?”, and then at the end I was like, “What the fuuuuck?”, but then I was like, “Oh, you know what? That was actually stunning”. This is the exact film someone who prefers the latest Transformers sequel imagines when they’re mocking their friend for loving the NZIFF, in a great way. Tilda 4 eva! MATTHEW CRAWLEY

Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethakul is that film festival favourite—an artist delivering glacially slow, meditative movies, requiring several days, and strong coffees, to mull over. The plot? Tilda Swinton travels to Colombia and notices a weird sound. The result? Love it or, like me, find yourself nodding off, lulled by the hypnotic beauty of a long, slow, philosophical, wandering. Divine or dull, depending on your tolerance for dreamy, art-house oddities, and just how long you’re willing to tolerate Tilda getting her Swinton on. ADAM FRESCO

More dream-weaving mastery from sleep cinema shaman Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Tilda drifts through Bogota, baffled by strange sounds while shopping for plant refrigeration and bonding with an off-the-grid fish-scaler. A serene, liminal third-eye hum, charged with spacious, somnambulant frequencies and (un)earthly vibrations. Best unorthodox ghost story since Personal Shopper. AARON YAP

Midnight

If you’re willing to ignore the plot holes, coincidences, and poor policing, then South Korean writer/director Kwon Oh-seung’s first feature is a blast. A disarmingly charming, and devilishly cunning, serial-killer hunts a hearing-impaired daughter and mum, unfortunate enough to cross his blood-spattered path. Cue high tension chase and escapes, with the pace, taut set-pieces, and slick direction just fast and furious enough to outrun the narrative inconsistencies plaguing the plot. ADAM FRESCO

Nasty nocturnal deaf-sploitation nailbiter favours stabby, savage jolts, unrelenting pace and shambolic cat-and-mouse mayhem over sound logic and rich characterisation. Kinda silly all-up—felt like half the running time was devoted to breathless foot-chases—but sporadically exciting in the moment, with neat twist ending administering an extra visceral kick to warrant enough of a recommendation for thriller fans. AARON YAP

The latest pulse-pounder from South Korea is just relentless, barely allowing an audience room to breathe during the chase sequence that makes up most of its runtime. It’s more cartoonish (and less graphic) than the likes of The Chaser or I Saw The Devil, but those are both good reference points, and similarly this rounds out a long stretch of edge-of-seat tension with a bloody satisfying conclusion. TONY STAMP

Frantic pace and some heart-stoppingly tense sequences mean that this Korean cat-and-mouse thriller almost gets away with more than one implausible moment. The silence experienced by two deaf women as a sadistic killer toys with them, as well as the obstacles they face in seeking help and being understood, are mined for plenty of uncomfortable entertainment here, in this strong debut from writer-director Kwon Oh-seung. STEVE NEWALL

Millie Lies Low

A star-making performance from Ana Scotney clinches this tense character drama about a little white lie that spirals out of control. A clever script expertly taps into postgraduate dread, that unmoored period so neatly referred to as “finding yourself”. What’s a little deception when you aren’t even sure who you are at your core? Fitting for a film about an architecture student, Millie Lies Low utilises urban Pōneke masterfully, grounding the drama in a firm sense of place, familiar yet recontextualised in all its grit and glory. A strong feature debut from director Michelle Savill. AMANDA JANE ROBINSON

Unfolds with a generous amount of (sometimes excruciating) long takes focused firmly on Ana Scotney’s face, and boy is she up to the task. An incredible performance in a film that throws you into its milieu before catching you up; crackingly paced, beautifully shot, deeply moving and often very funny. Slightly shocked there isn’t more buzz around this one, but I assume there will be soon. TONY STAMP

This, after her work in Cousins and The Breaker Upperers, really hammers home just what a star Ana Scotney is. Amusing and charming enough with plenty of dramatic scenes to pull lightly at the heartstrings, Millie Lies Low is solid. But years from now when she’s massive in Hollywood, what I’ll remember this film for is being the first that was entirely Scotney’s and just how impressively she knocked it out of the park. DANIEL RUTLEDGE

Everyone’s saying it, which won’t stop me: Ana Scotney is exceptional here, her performance elevating this tale of a young woman working through the consequences of an impulsive decision (to bluff her way through a prestigious trip to New York she hasn’t actually taken). Scotney’s presence has always been a boon to films she’s appeared in, here she sells the complexity, humanity and vulnerability of Millie, showcasing dramatic and comedic chops to an extent that it’s impossible to imagine this without her. Hard recommend. STEVE NEWALL

The Most Beautiful Boy in the World

A cautionary and creepy tale of celebrity, Björn Andrésen was just sixteen in 1971 when he was cast in director Luchino Visconti’s Death in Venice. Kristina Lindström and Kristian Petri’s documentary shines sympathetic light on the young boy who grew into a tragic adult. Exploited by an industry and artists who didn’t give a damn about the lives they trampled, no matter how young, this is a shocking, sad, and sickening documentary that shines a spotlight on child-abuse cloaked in the guise of “art”. ADAM FRESCO

Mothers of the Revolution

Escape from your COVID anxiety into the nostalgic dread of nuclear winter. All jokes aside, this film is a compelling portrait of a group of young mothers in Wales who took to the streets, and to Greenham Common, to protest nuclear armament. It’s a remarkable story of people power, idealism and solidarity in the face of massive existentialism. Part of me wanted to spend more time learning about the individual women involved, but really this is a tale of how individuals became a group, and groups became a movement – so perhaps that is besides the point. Watching it in lockdown made me high-key emotional, and yes I did give my mum a call after it was over. RACHEL ASHBY

Murina

I didn’t know Cliff Curtis was going to show up in this Croatian coming-of-age drama but I’m so glad he did, bringing with him a warm, elusive charm that’s sorely needed. Gracija Filipović is a young woman becoming aware of the effect she has on those around her, and as she starts to find her independence the film becomes an increasingly desperate thriller, with director Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović making some very pointed observations about gender roles along the way. TONY STAMP

All 2021 mini-reviews:
Latest reviews | A – D | E – J | K – M | N – R | S – Z