“Wellington Film Society opens tonight? You don’t say!”
All over the world it is volunteer organisations like the Wellington Film Society that keep the flame of film art alive so that cinephiliacs like me can get a decent palate cleanser every Monday night after a weekend of Hollywood tosh.
I can’t recommend Society membership highly enough. Your membership fee equates to around three bucks a screening (33 Mondays!) and your membership gets you enough discounts (at the Film Festival and participating cinemas) that it doesn’t take long to pay for itself.
The theme for the week seems to be romance and some of the finest love stories of recent (or in fact any) year have just made their way to our screens. Firstly, The Young Victoria where Emily Blunt (Sunshine Cleaning, The Devil Wears Prada) deservedly takes centre stage for the first time as the eponymous royal. Even reviewers are entitled to a little prejudice, and I wasn’t expecting much from this going in, but I left the cinema full of admiration for an intelligent script, perfectly-pitched direction and consistently able performances from expected and unexpected quarters.
Blunt’s Victoria is a headstrong teenager, frustrated by the competing political interests that push and pull her. Only Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (whose suit was instigated by yet more euro-intrigue) seems to see the real Victoria and offers the new Queen support and independence. The relationship between Blunt’s Victoria and Rupert Friend’s initially nervous but ultimately self-assured Albert is charming, natural and moving and the background of political intrigue and machinations provide necessary (but not overwhelming) context. The Young Victoria is a film that, and I hope this makes sense, is perfectly balanced.
The Wellington Film Festival (sorry, New Zealand International Film Festival, Wellington Branch) is a huge undertaking for the committed cinema-goer. Every year we devour the programme for weeks in advance, scheduling annual leave and long “lunch breaks”, trying to work out what is essential and what isn’t. After 20 years of this, I’ve only just begun to realise that in the search for the essential many other pleasures have been passing me by. This year, before I even looked at the programme, I asked the Festival to choose a stack of DVDs for me, with the emphasis on the unheralded and the unexpected. Thus, of the 13 films I’ve been watching over the last three or so weeks, all but one of them were from the back half of the book (and probably would not have been on my personal shortlist) but all of them had something special to offer. So, is my advice for the Festival to not book in advance but instead choose films at random depending on your own availability and proximity to a venue? Maybe it is.