Reporting Directly From The New Zealand International Film Festival #4

It must be a horrid thing sitting in the dark through hundreds of thought-provoking films from all over the world just to pass judgement for the benefit of Witchdoctor readers. We gave PAUL ROSE this most demanding of jobs.

 

 

 

Monos has won accolades and awards at film festivals across the planet and for one very good reason: it’s a damned good film.

High up in the mountains of a South American country we find a ragtag teenage militia under the command of The Organization who are guarding an American prisoner, Doctora, played by Julianne Nicholson. Bored and with little to do, the kids, with nicknames like The Dog, Rambo and Boom Boom, spend their time playing games and creating strange rituals to keep themselves occupied. Being teenagers, jealousies and sexual tensions are everywhere.

One day, The Messenger from the Organization appears on horseback leading a conscripted milk cow. So now, not only do the kids have a human hostage to guard, they have a cow too. After a night of hijinks and drinking around a campfire, something happens to the cow and the hierarchy of the gang is suddenly thrown into turmoil. After a military ambush and an escape attempt by Doctora the gang and prisoner make their way down the mountain and into the jungle.

I don’t want to give away anymore of the plot, but suffice to say not everyone makes it out of the jungle alive.

Colombian director Alejandro Landes has put together a cast of both well known and novice actors and created a very powerful film, one that looks at the chaos and futility of war through the eyes of adolescents. It’s a story of love and survival, but not for the faint-hearted. Many critics have compared this film to Lord Of The Flies and Apocalypse Now. I would add Deliverance to the list, because like that film the tension grows slowly at first, but builds and builds till you are gripping the armrest of your cinema seat.

It’s very hard to find fault with Monos: the cast are superb, the cinematography is out of this world and a special mention has to go to Mica Levi who has written a score which is both lush and disturbing, and which brings the film to life.

Monos starts off slowly, but the pace, along with the score, ends up roaring along like the river that runs through the jungle. A tour de force of a film, it will hopefully get a general release after its festival run. If you get the opportunity to see this film don’t miss it. Rating – 9/10

 

Port Authority is a coming of age film set in the underground kiki ballroom scene of New York’s Harlem.

The film opens with Paul (Fionn Whitehead) arriving at Port Authority on a bus from Pittsburgh, where he expects his half sister to be waiting for him. She’s a no show. Wandering around looking for her, Paul comes across a bunch of queer kids practicing voguing on the station stairs. This is the first time he claps eyes on Wye (Leyna Bloom) and is immediately besotted by her beauty.

Shortly after this encounter Paul sasses some guys in the subway and is rescued from a sure beating by Lee (McCaul Lombardi) who offers him a bed in a homeless shelter and work emptying apartments of the worldly goods of people who can’t pay their rent. Paul recognizes one of the tenants as one of the voguers from the Port Authority. He follows him one night to a rehearsal room where there’s a ballroom practice session underway, but tell him he’s unwelcome as he’s a white guy. Wye is there and follows him outside. They end up eating pizza slices and she invites him to the next rehearsal, saying she will vouch for him.

We find out that Wye lives with eight members of her House in an apartment designated for only three tenants, and eventually they get used to Paul hanging around. With Wye’s help, Paul is eventually welcomed into the scene, and all the while he hides where he’s hanging out from Lee and the rest of the repo crew. Naturally, the House and the Repo Crew will eventually cross paths.

Paul and Wye fall badly for each other and a relationship begins. This is where the film falls a little flat, as it’s obvious to the cinema audience that Wye is transgendered, but this apparently comes as shocking news to Paul. He eventually accepts her and a romance blossoms; one which is fraught with danger, not only because they are a mixed race couple, but also because one of them is a cis gendered white male and the other a transgendered black woman.

Port Authority is Danielle Lessovitz’s directorial debut and she’s done a decent job of it, although I got a bit tired of some of the overlong hand held camera shots and some of the pacing was a bit off. But it’s great seeing a transgendered person playing the role of a transgendered person for a change and both Bloom and Whitehead give very strong performances in the lead roles.

If you’re a fan of Pose, you’ll probably enjoy this film, although it’s a love story and could have done with more ballroom scenes. Rating – 7/10

 

At the start of High Life, Monte (Robert Pattinson) and his baby daughter are the last people alive on a spaceship hurtling towards a black hole.

The rest of the film plays out in flashbacks. We learn that the spacecraft is a prison ship that held about a dozen young, healthy inmates and that Monte was one of them. They are supervised by Dr Dibs (Juliette Binoche) who is using them as guinea pigs for her fertility experiments. She harvests the males’ sperm and injects it into the female inmates in the hope of producing a fetus for her homemade incubator.

This is director Claire Denis’s English language debut and her first science fiction film. It really is awful. Robin Pattinson is more wooden than a tree, and the set is cheap and nasty, as are the costumes. The interactions between the prisoners and the doctor are violent and degenerate. The film is riddled with sexual abuse, including brutal rapes, some of them with foreign objects. There are three scenes where male characters assault female characters with their fists.

The big question is why? What’s the point? I honestly can’t answer those questions. If you want to see a woman get repeatedly punched in the face while being raped in front of her fellow prisoners then this film is for you. Otherwise, stay the hell away.

I watched High Life at a sold out Film Festival screening at the Hollywood Cinema in Auckland. At the end of the film the screen fades to black in silence before the credits roll. At this point one of the audience let out a loud and long groan, while the rest of us laughed hysterically. It was the best part of the screening as it meant we left the cinema happily, chatting about the steaming pile of space doo-doos that we had just been subjected to. Rating – 0/10

* High Life screens at the following theatres from September 13:

Auckland Academy Cinemas, Rialto Newmarket. Wellington Roxy Cinema. Christchurch Lumiere Cinemas. Hamilton Hoyts Metro. Dunedin Rialto Dunedin. Regionals Basement Rotorua, Starlight Cinema Taupo

 

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