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2YC 18 July 1976

Page history last edited by PBworks 16 years, 2 months ago

5th Wellington Film Festival Review


As the film festival flickers into the mindless middle distance, our eyes once more adjusting to daylight and a world that does not have subtitles stretched across its bottom half - you are probably already wondering what happened - what you really saw in those two blurry celluloid weeks. There were 31 films involving 17 countries, excepting New Zealand. The only local feature which could have been shown - Paul Maunder's Landfall, winner of the Gold Prize at last years Shiraz Young Film Makers Festival - is owned by television. Neither channel it seems wants to screen it themselves, and yet no one else is allowed to either. So it remains shamefully unseen.


This year was a good year - only 7 films were inconsequential and pretty execrable, three unsatisfactory or merely feeble, 8 mildly interesting, 8 worth seeing and four were superior achievements...


There was actually an abundance of things worth seeing this year - I F Stone's Weekly was a bit rough as a film but as a document it is extremely reviving and affecting. It is Stone himself that makes this film glow - tearing his papers in half, ferreting through files, nosing out the truth.


A Touch of Zen brought out only the most adventurous or dedicated for this Ming dynasty epic. It starts slowly but accumulates excitement and interest leading to an impassioned, heroic and entirely stimulating ending. There's some ravashing settings - especially a bamboo forest where the opponents dive-bomb each other. Parts are heavily overdone (particularly in the mist and fog region) but to dismiss it as maybe just a superior Kung Fu flick does it a momentous injustice.


Russian cinema of late is finding new strengths. Oddballs - a delightfully pleasant 19th century Georgian peasant comedy is concerned with the building of a sky flyer - a sort of room sized hen that will, and finally does, glide gloriously through the boundless azure.


Stavisky is at once a disappointment when placed beside Resnais' other films, especially Hiroshima Mon Amour - one of the cinema's great works of art, but its glitteringly precise images of a scandal that rocked France in the 1930's are deceptive - covering an exactingly fashioned, subtly detailed study - however Gatsbyish it looks - which expands in equal proportion to the thought a viewer is prepared to give it. It seems too a national disgrace that Resnais should have had to wait six years to set up a film, any film.


Miklos Jancso's Elektreia is contained within eight one-shot sequences each lasting up to 12 minutes, editing is limited to 12 cuts and it was filmed on the barren Hungarian pustra. Within this form, almost the same in all his 10 major films, the camera has the freedom of perpetual movement - weaving, gliding through and round the actor's rituals which too are equally familiar - whip cracking men, naked women, horses, flares, peasants linking arms and dancing. Though this adaptation of the Greek original often lapses into preciousness, it is still both powerful and exciting. Jancso - like Electra's firebird - repeats, but also renews his forms with each new film.


Souvenirs d'en France, a title that can apparently be translated variously, is a nicely pompous family chronicle. It is very inventive, extremely witty and the early parts especially utilize wonderfully outmoded styles and techniques.


The Belgian/Tunisian The Son of Amr is Dead! was a densely complex mood piece searching aspects of responsibility, experience and identity. Though its lingering images are perhaps too calculated, its richness lies in a sound and image river-of-consciousness carefully allying sounds (European and Tunisian) to and with images new or repeated. A ritual of survival, widening in perspective with the scenes in the South Tunisian desert village.


With Welfare Frederick Wiseman has made another exceptional, intense documentary. Though very long, its a carefully structured investigation into the enclosed world of what is ostensibly called 'assistance' but is closer to being a catastrophe buried in responsibilities, eligibilities, technicalities, requirements - frustrating cycles of helplessness for both staff and supplicants - a network of bureaucracy protecting a form that's unstable, unusable, incomprehensible, hopeless. The cameras only go outside the building once - but briefly - for the rest its almost three hours of continuous, overlapping, densely packed and complicated conversations and a constant stream of faces.


Now, giving real value to the 60 or so hours spent in the shadowy pit of the Paramount, we get to what I consider to be the superior achievements. There's Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo's film Winstanley, a totally, authentic, exacting, uncompromising and fascinating study of a digger conmunity in 17th century Surrey - a precarious experiment in communal living. Made austerely and extremely beautifully in black and white, on a budget of nothing, it returns to the patterns of the great silent cinema. It is one of the most impressive accomplishments in British film.


Amongst other things, this festival celebrated the dazzling resurrection of the German cinema, trampled out of existence during the 40's and 5O's. Ludwig - Requiem for a Virgin King is the beginning of Hans Jurgen Syberberg's inmense investigation into the hidden side of German history. This phenomenal investigative mass for Ludwig is mounted in a highly stylized fashion which is both entertaining and vastly fascinating. Syberberg deals with constantly shifting historical, mythological and time perspectives. Cinematically it is enclosed, incestuous, intense and the most original work in the festival.


Wrong Movement, directed by Wim Wenders and written by Peter Handke after Goethe's Wilhelm Meister, was a journey of loneliness, secret needs and dreams reaching into peoples fears. Its characters are the dead souls of Germany past and the panicked, aimless souls of Germany present. Perhaps the most considerable work of the festival - its melancholy, complex relationships reflect aspects of experience that are not only applicable to Germans. The whole production - the penetratingly acute script, the hazy music and photography, the acting and the subtle direction - combines in a richly superior achievement.


And lastly, with Werner Herzog, Germany has found the new Murnau. Any misgivings over his earlier work Aguirre, the Wrath of God are swept away by Kaspar Hauser or Every Man For Himself and God Against All a haunting work, dedicated to Lotte Eisener, the great film critic and historian who fled Germany in the 30's. It begins with the stunning image of wind sweeping long grass and relates the story of a mysterious innocent who, locked alone in a cellar until he was 17 and then freed in 1828 by his Caligaryish captor, was found standing in the middle of a surprised Nuremburg. Filtered with fragments of dreams and intangible thoughts, it is the film I found most singularly appealing.


- Jonathan Dennis, The Critics, 2YC, 18 July 1976.

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