NZIFF 2021 mini-reviews (N – R)


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

New Order

Writer/director Michel Franco’s dystopian tale of a violent Mexico City coup is a brutal and bloody provocation on the ever-widening chasm between rich and poor. Centred on a high-society wedding bash, ripped apart by city-wide insurrection, this is gruelling viewing, made all the more chilling by a superb cast, and a pace that never lets up. Sure, it raises tough questions without offering any easy answers, and some of the characters are thinly sketched, but this is fable rather than fact. Violent (by pretty much every definition of the word), disturbing, and raw, it ain’t easy-going, but it sure packs a relentlessly bloody punch. ADAM FRESCO

Night Raiders

An Indigenous perspective lends this dystopian thriller a point of difference that might not take it far enough away from Hunger Games/Black Mirror familiarity to heartily recommend, but fans of leanly budgeted genre fare will find enough originality to make this Canada/Aotearoa co-production worth a watch. STEVE NEWALL

Notturno

Features the kind of gut-churning moments you might expect, from grieving mothers and traumatised children, alongside long tranquil stretches that aim to show the beauty of the Middle East. The imagery is stunning, sometimes featuring people arranged into perfectly-composed tableaux, unsettling and mythologising in equal measure. TONY STAMP

A contemplative yet almost impassive picture of life in some of the traumatised and torn-up border areas of the Middle East; from the peculiar serenity of the duck hunter working by the light of burning oil towers, to the impossible heartbreak of hearing children recount to their teacher the horrors of life under ISIS. Filmmaker Gianfranco Rosi spent three years piecing together this extraordinary but occasionally difficult watch, with reminders aplenty of the banality of evil. MATTHEW CRAWLEY

Well gosh darn I wish I got to see this hypnotic portrait of some of the most conflict-plagued countries on Earth at the mighty Civic in Auckland. Don’t expect any narration or titles telling you exactly where or who you’re looking at; instead, prepare to be caught up in the beauty and horror. Also, a warning: I don’t expect many viewers will be able to get through the Yazidi children section with dry eyes. It’s devastating. DANIEL RUTLEDGE

Paris, 13th District

Jacques Audiard’s anthology, set in a Paris high-rise apartment, is shot in a bleak but mesmerising black and white. Based on a series of American short stories (by comic book artist, Adrian Tomine), this is a series of meandering tales of sex and synchronicity, with interesting characters, played by excellent actors, in bittersweet tales of lust, love, and loss. Some may find it a circuitous, slow-going plod, but for fans of cerebral, arthouse cinema, there’s plenty of substance beneath the monochrome surface, as Audiard casts an unflinching eye on what it means to be human amidst the concrete blocks of District 13. ADAM FRESCO

President

An extraordinary account of the 2018 Zimbabwe election from the perspective of presidential candidate Nelson Chamisa, this does a great job laying out its stakes for the unfamiliar, before unspooling like a masterful political thriller. The kind of documentary where you occasionally can’t believe what you’re seeing, and where unguarded expressions caught on camera speak volumes about a country’s clouded history. TONY STAMP

The Reason I Jump

Enlightening. Broadly relays the experiences of non-verbal autistic minds by giving those minds a platform to communicate their perceptions of the world. It may not be super in-depth, occasionally feeling like an elevated TV special, but its grasp for empathy feels tight and profound. LIAM MAGUREN

Riders of Justice

The colour of a Christmas gift is the metaphorical beating wings of a butterfly, setting in motion a stream of violently funny events in this revenge buddy flick from Danish writer/director Anders Thomas Jensen. A bumbling statistician having a bad day becomes convinced an accident was no accident and persuades an unlikely group of dudes, including bereaved army vet Markus (Mads Mikkelsen) to accompany him in his quest. A crash course in Danish could help as the dialogue is rapid fire hilarious and you really don’t want to miss out on the action! SARAH VOON

Tonally weird Danish comedy-thriller sees a superbly hirsute Mads Mikkelsen play an action man-of-few-words coerced out of grief for his dead wife and into a campaign of violent revenge. An odd trio of nerds and tech-heads convince him that he’s mourning the consequences of a deliberate act rather than an accident, and (eventually) off they go to fuck some bad dudes up. Their bickering is a highlight, the action unflinching, and while it can’t reach the heights of the Mikkelsen-starring Another Round, Riders of Justice has its own interesting and unpredictable things to say about masculinity and grief. STEVE NEWALL

Mads Mikkelsen is one of the coolest dudes working in film and his character in this is about as cool as he gets— gloriously bearded, always angry yet always calm, adept at combat, just like the absolute man. There are some terrific stabs of action, but I found the tonal jumps uncomfortable and the statements on both masculinity and coincidence a bit clumsy. I’d happily sit through a much worse movie to enjoy Mads with this beard though. So cool. DANIEL RUTLEDGE

My film of the year, Anders Thomas Jensen’s Danish drama skews John Wick-style Hollywood action revenge movies in a brilliant, funny, and moving meditation on violence. Cheered on by a trio of hapless geeks, Mads Mikkelsen is simply superb, riding for justice after his wife dies in an apparent train accident. Just when you think it’s all about to go Liam Neeson, the rug gets Taken from under you. Jensen’s dark humour and delightful characters have you laughing out loud one minute, then contemplating the all-too-real consequences of our actions the next. Dynamite. Danish filmmaking at its best. ADAM FRESCO

River

Did a river make this? Amazing, at times dizzying footage of natural waterways is accompanied by a very pro-river voiceover that would be unnecessary (like I think most people understand that water = good), were it not delivered by Willem Dafoe, who imbues everything he does with a measure of profundity. Nature-porn that’s a little heavy-handed, but then I guess the time for being subtle about this stuff has long passed. TONY STAMP

Imagine modern-day Terrence Malick making a more watery Koyaanisqatsi, and you’ll soon know whether this might be the film for you. An endless, free-flowing slide-show of eye-popping, awe-inspiring scenery is occasionally interrupted by the narration of God’s gift to voiceovers, Willem Dafoe, and at one point, a meaningful musical moment from Jonny Greenwood and Radiohead. It’s stunning, and of course when the “man bad, river good” conclusion is arrived at, it’s depressing. While the script itself may occasionally veer into “earnest MasterCard commercial” territory, you won’t be there for the truth bombs, rather for the glorious reminder that Earth is massive, and that, well, rivers are awesome. MATTHEW CRAWLEY

Rohe Kōreporepo – The Swamp, the Sacred Place

If you’ve never cried about a swamp, you’ve probably never seen Rohe Kōreporepo. Placing a strong emphasis on Māori voices and perspectives, the film offers a fascinating, hopeful, and often heartbreaking survey of the activism and ecology working to protect Aotearoa’s wetlands. AMELIA BERRY

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