NZIFF: McQueen, Rafiki, And Breathe Normally, Good Manners

The fourth installment from our team film critics swarming the cinemas of Auckland and Wellington for the 2018 NZ International Film Festival.

See also:

Birds of Passage, First Reformed, Disobedience, 3 Faces

In the Aisles, The Image Book, Apostasy, Brimstone and Glory

You Were Never Really Here, Kusama – Infinity, Transit, Yellow is Forbidden, Piercing, Terrified, The Miseducation of Cameron Post


What’s left to say about sad, angry, dead Lee? The myth is so rigidly forged. Bad boy from Lewisham come prodigy of taste and tailoring who succeeds early with the rich people of fashion and, alienated by the pressures of genius, goes down in a blaze of drugs and suicide. Alexander McQueen’s life and work unfold during the rise of video and much of the footage in Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s McQueen is available and will be familiar to anyone with an interest in the designer or the era. Because of the infamy of McQueen and his work, his are some of the most photographed and broadcast garments and shows of our generation. We know the myth, we know the clothes so what’s left to say of the genius McQueen?

In the face of this familiarity and obstinacy of lore, Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui offer intimacy. McQueen moves chronological through ‘tapes’ each of which centres on one of McQueen’s shows and this structure acts as a useful album of the life and work. However, the originality of the film is the myth-busting that happens through interviews with those at close proximity to McQueen during these times. McQueen’s mother, Joyce, makes it clear that McQueen was not a ‘bad boy’ and her description of his home shows he was provided for intellectually – complicating not only a stereotypical view of art and the working class but the popular depiction of McQueen as a ‘yob’. The interviews with Sebastian Pons, Shaun Leane, Katy England and others from ‘Team McQueen’ complicate the image of McQueen as a lone genius. This celebration of McQueen’s aptitude for collaboration and his respect for atelier workers is a refreshing addition to the story of McQueen. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the film is able to separate the suicide from the work. The final talking heads are heart-breaking but do an outstanding job of breaching the image of the man isolated and destroyed by his genius. Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui frame McQueen finally as a loved, intelligent, hard-working man struggling with illness who created beautiful, challenging fashion. /Pip Adam



Brilliant, hard-working Kena is one of the guys – playing soccer and cards with them when she isn’t working in her father’s shop while she waits for the exam results that will decide her future. Meanwhile she observes the other girls her age, especially the colourful Kizi, from a distance. Kizi is the daughter of the politician her father is standing against in a local election, when Kizi’s friends rip down some of Kena’s dad’s posters the two girls strike up a tentative friendship, under the watchful eyes of the local gossip and her vindictive daughter. As they share their hopes and dreams they both start realising that they want more than friendship. Director Wanuri Kahui provides a wonderfully nuanced take on the coming out amidst dangerous prejudices storyline that is one of the seven basic plots of LGBT movies. Her modern, urban Kenya is alive with colour and possibilities. This is a film that gets everything right, and I look forward to seeing what else she directs.

Rafiki is the third of six lesbian themed films I’m seeing over four days; as we have now been four years without a queer film festival in New Zealand I am appreciating this bounty. / Aquila

And Breathe Normally

And Breathe Normally

And Breathe Normally is my second film this festival that has featured someone going through Reykjavik airport with a false passport. Lára, living hand to mouth and trying not to let it impact her young son Eldar, is relieved to get a trainee job in border control. When she correctly spots a forged passport she becomes witness to the process as Adja, an asylum seeker from Guinea Bissau, is questioned and then detained. When they subsequently keep encountering each other a relationship of trust slowly grows. And Breathe Normally contains powerful moments of decision, in situations where there may be no good outcome possible. Its strength is the empathy with which characters respond to those situations – it is similar to Leave No Trace in the way almost every character is being kind and trying to help – but the system is merciless. The bleak autumn Icelandic landscape of bare rocks and wire fences surrounding housing estates and industrial areas with the only warm note a small red car perfectly symbolises the fragile nature of the security both women seek. / Aquila

Good Manners

The eternal film problem of film reviewing is how to let potential audiences know they really want to see a film without spoiling what it is about. I didn’t take the hint in the opening credits (vaguely reminiscent of the ones for 2012’s Blancanieves) that Good Manners is a fairytale. Initially it seems like a social realist story about cool, competent and very handsome Clara who applies for a job as nanny to rich and entitled pregnant Ana and finds herself expected to be maid, housekeeper and everything else. As she realises how isolated the young woman is their relationship deepens; and then strange things start to happen at the full moon. Good Manners deftly dances through any number of genres, just when you think you have it pegged characters start breaking into song, or a there’s an animated flashback. Intensely coloured setting shots capture Sao Paulo’s beauty as the story moves between the luxury towers and malls on one side of the river and the colourful community of the favelas on the other. Occasionally cheesy in a crowd pleasing way, this is a film that isn’t worried by audience expectations, but runs with the tale it wants to tell. / Aquila

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