MIFF announced some surprise screenings on the last day. These are films that weren’t part of the festival program and were a mixture of classics – Abbas Kiarostami’s A Taste of Cherry to mark his passing last month – and new films like this New Zealand drama that had just premiered at the NZ Film Festival and been chosen for the New York Film Festival. It’s based on a book by Eleanor Catton, author of the much better know The Luminaries so it has some credentials. Overall it was a pleasant experience though I was left wondering what the film was really about.
Set in a drama school, we see the first year students begin their year, particularly Stanley, a pleasant, quiet young man played by a grown up James Rolleston, the boy of that beautiful film Boy. As per the stereotype of performing arts schools, the teachers push the students to make themselves vulnerable, challenging them to question their pasts and what makes them uncomfortable. Stanley begins a relationship with a younger girl, Isolde, she is perhaps 14 or 15 to his 18, and we find out that her sister Victoria had a sexual encounter with her adult tennis coach when she was 15.
There are a few story threads running through this film: Stanley’s use of Isolde’s story for a drama project without her knowledge; fellow drama student William’s fragile emotional state; the appropriateness of the school’s teaching techniques; and the difference between Victoria and her coach’s relationship and that between Stanley and Isolde. All of these are interesting and explored without a heavy moral hand but the ending left me a little nonplussed. It seemed somehow trite and at odds with the rest of the film. I feel like I missed something, some deeper subtext. Or perhaps not. The producer Bridget Ikin spoke before the film and cited Catton’s book as being extremely difficult to conceptualise as a film. I’m wondering if there was a complexity there that got lost in the telling.
Bechdel test – pass (but only just, for a film with some significant female characters, it was disappointing to see them exist mainly to support the male characters)