The Listener at the NZ Film Festival: David Larsen’s diary

By David Larsen In Now Showing

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A war epic. Was there a war epic? Napoleonic, cast of thousands? I have this sense that I was excited… no, wait, this huge flood of memory thing just happened. I was not excited, I was ecstatic-bouncy-thilled. I walked out glowing and I met festival director Bill Gosden in the foyer and I literally patted him on the back, and then went off and hid under a rock and tried to tell myself I hadn’t just been ridiculously patronising. It was one of those dream festival moments when being there is a walking-on-air pleasure: big screen experiences as thrilling as anything you had as a child. It was a great feeling, but it’s no wonder I’d forgotten it, because it happened, um, yesterday.

Behind the Candelabra

But first thing yesterday. It was a four-film day. Film one was my favourite film of the festival, film two was easy, pleasant and mostly harmless, film three was a magisterial full meal for the intellect, and film four was my favourite film of the festival, and also of all time. It was a pretty good day.

I’ve been meaning to write something about the experience of being at the festival, and there keeps not being enough time, what with all the, you know, films. And the getting to them, and the writing about them, and the basic cooking-cleaning-and-actually-I-washed-some-clothes-today life maintenance. Intending to write about the experience of being at the festival and then not doing it represents the experience of being at the festival rather well.

Snapshots: Opening night, Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra. Rob Lowe’s first appearance. His appearance! It takes most of the audience five seconds to register who it is. Then the Civic explodes. This comes under “legitimate trivial pleasures”: being surrounded by people who understand why what you just saw is outrageous.

Day Two, killing time between Ginger & Rosa (visually gorgeous and so well acted, yet still, so far, my one real letdown) and Suspiria (not really my thing, but fun to be there). Walking past the library, I’m stopped by two people vaguely my age who want to know where The Academy is. They’re standing right outside it, so that’s easy; and it hits me that these are two people who have at least some interest in film, and are now going to know where one of Auckland’s best and most adventurous theatres is, because the festival sent them there.

We Steal Secrets: the two elderly women next to me chat merrily on. I politely ask them to stop. They smile, and do: no fuss, no mild look of affront, no need to ask a second, third, fourth time. Pure decent behaviour. This makes me so damn happy I could kiss them both. I confine myself to thanking them.

Ginger & Rosa

Day three, waiting in The Academy for the start of Persistence of Vision: the people next to me are arguing about We Steal Secrets. The people behind me are comparing festival programme covers over the years. (Consensus: last year’s was clever but they prefer this year’s. The one with the car boat remains their favourite).

Day three, end credits of Mud: the guy next to me leans over and says, “I’ve been to every festival since the second one – 1960-something, was it? – and I tell you what, you’ll remember a film like this 40 years from now”. He farms. He had to miss a film this morning because a lamb was having a bit of trouble.

It is now one week into this festival and I have not had a single cell phone shining in my face during a screening.

I keep bumping into friends and finding they’ve been to about as many films as I have, and hardly any of the same ones.

One of my friends had twelve films booked for the opening weekend and caught a terrible cold and had to miss all of them.

I am eating a lot of burritos and burgers. I will pay for this. Exercise and good nutrition resume week after next.

My cat is is expressing his displeasure at my continued all-day absences in increasingly pointed ways. Yesterday he attacked a tomato and left its corpse next to his food bowl.

I have come out of a film thinking I am unlikely to see anything better this year four times this week.

Films do not vanish from memory as more films pile on top of them, but they do recede: that experience you have in crises and at festivals, of time having less density than usual as you move through it, but more density as you reach back for memories. It’s morning and you blink and it’s evening, but a day ago is a week and a week ago is two months. I can call yesterday morning back to mind very well, but it requires conscious effort. To help myself do this, I have been taking a lot of notes.

If the man next to you is tall, grey haired, and driving you crazy by scribbling all through the film, ask him politely to stop. He will.

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