As it stands : : NZIFF

Local theatres, chain cinemas, and far-too-big-for-a-movie arenas alike have all played host to a wonderful selection of films this year at the film festival. Buffs and first-timers, festival loyalists and eventfinda perusers have all found a little solace in this years festival in Auckland. Still making its way around the country, the NZIFF stood up to the test this year - here are our top films (a few of many) that we've seen over an awesome (and emotionally draining) two and a half weeks.

1. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Adèle Haenel (left) & Noémie Merlant (right) in "A Portrait of a Lady on Fire"

Holy f***ing wow. Mainline intimacy. Céline Sciamma came in here with a film that; while having its picking of awards at Cannes [only nudged from the Palme d'Or by Parasite]; took the hearts of many in an wholly important story that seemingly invents love.

Set in the late 1700's, Painter Marianne is sent to prepare the bridal portrait of Héloïse, a young french woman promised to marry due her to sisters passing. The bold performances of the aforementioned could reform the stone will and burn desire in the jaded, even empower the asexual, a testament to definitions of vulnerability, unspoken romanticism, and human intimacy. The gorgeous screenplay is precise to every detail, leaving no stone unturned and is masterfully curated; while the narrative pushes boundaries of intimacy and emotion. With a small script and even smaller cast, Portrait is the twitch that indicates frustration, the duck feet that signify a smile, or the dilation only noticeable from a few inches. This is no light hearted watch and engrossing to the end; where art and emotion lovingly fight, thats where Portrait lives. Pairs well with a box of tissues and a red wine that whispers sweet nothings.

2. mid90's

A little less romantic and a whole lot more masculine, Jonah Hill's directorial debut see's him parcel up 90's nostalgia in a nod to A Tribe Called Quest and a salute to the skateboard. For any kid that wasted evenings trying to perfect an ollie, picked up bruises from a brother or strapped their hands to a 40-oz of liquor only to hear an earful of it the next morning, this one is for you.

Layered beneath that is the juggling of a number of different narratives around masculinity, peer pressure, and youth. The kind of film that sits in the sunlight of its own humility, Hill [seemingly determined to erase the memory of Superbad] speaks through Stevie (Sunny Suljic, look out for this kid) as he manoeuvres finding and falling out of friendships, family, animosity, acceptance. Stevie finding his way through a 90's Los Angeles through skate culture can resonate with probably 80 percent of the hetero males in the room - it speaks to an uncanny injustice that the machismo of teenage male angst can bring upon a kid. While some holes fell this film short of the spectacular, this is an impressive first outing for Hill, and turns from a really fun watch to a more-significant-than-you-were-prepared-for classic.

Sunny Suljic (left) & Na-Kel Smith (right).

3. This Changes Everything

For the gender, politics and media students, this doc will ring home in the way that your inner worst fears and favourite dinner table conversations will. For those who haven't heard of Alison Bechdel or the Geena Davis institute, this will be an upending watch as we follow Geena Davis' career research and the statistical validation of gender discrimination in Hollywood (among other narratives and injustices).

"We have so few opportunities to feel inspired by female characters", summises why this film has been made, and this movie takes on no small feat in unpicking this issue, researching the intricate history of Hollywood, taking risks in interviewing the right and wrong people, unlocking data on media representation down to the screentime, and packaging that in a digestible and effective format. Big ups to letting data do the talking, and putting an immovable object in the way of discrimination in media.

4. La Belle Époque

Set in the modern day, La Belle follows Viktor (Daniel Auteuil), an apparently struggling sketch artist, comic and father, as he negotiates his way through a diverging marriage, his sons Oedipus complex, and declining career health. Maintaining his lowly characteristic wit, Viktor ends up on the raw end of modern romantic drama. Commercially, this film has pulled off a satisfying and thought provoking attempt at unravelling the riddle of memory; La Belle Epoque hits home on one point and does it well. Tempering the nature of memory, longing, or love, in the intangible place called nostalgia, we often find less time for our own love, which is where La Belle Epoque comes to a fulfilling finish.

Daniel Auteuil & Doria Tiller

5. Bellbird

"I know you miss mum, I miss her every day too, if we miss her together, it feels a little bit easier than doing it by ourselves"

Cohen Holloway as Ross in Bellbird.

In any NZIFF it is worth the time to stagger into an NZ film, the plethora of choice of which we had an abundance. Bellbird, set in Northland farming country, follows the widowed Ross (Marshall Napier); as he and his son Bruce (Cohen Holloway) struggle with the loss of the woman in their life. As they deal with the nuances of their own responsibilities and masculinities that come along with dairy farming life; we see a bearing-all of the ego. This film will disarm you with its heart and unknowing wit. With its finger on the rural pulse and beautifully shot and directed by Hamish Bennett, Bellbird is an ode to a strong farming community, New Zealand rural masculinity, and whanau. Pairs well with a little knowledge about dairy farming (or at least some respect) and a Lion Brown.

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