TIM WONG previews the latest installment of the World Cinema Showcase, compelling in its tenth year.

BRIDGING the 12-month gap between New Zealand International Film Festivals, the World Cinema Showcase is a calculated and deliberate late-Summer institution. More than simply jumpstarting the local film festival season, its strategic positioning affords unique advantages: namely, as a sweeper able to pick up on any missed opportunities its bigger brother was unable to lock down the previous Winter. Those curious as to the whereabouts of Cannes flashpoints such as Catherine Breillat’s An Old Mistress (with the red hot Asia Argento), or the festival’s eventual conqueror, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, will be pleased to know both films screen as part of the Showcase this March and April.

As it does every year, the Showcase also plays the role of cinematic saviour, resurrecting several festival highlights gone too quickly six months earlier. Granted a second chance: Roy Andersson’s absurdist, depressionist vignette of Swedish urban misery, You, the Living; the awfully moving coincidences of Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven; and design conscious documentary Helvetica, where different schools of thought on the ubiquitous font’s aesthetics provide some very entertaining loggerheads. In a wise move, the midnight movie double-header of El Topo and The Holy Mountain demands attendance where the NZIFF’s last retrospective outing – the excellent, if under-appreciated American 70s cinema programme – was less successful in attracting numbers. Sure enough, the mobilization of audiences comes with great difficulty concerning films from the past, invariably within convenient reach via DVD or mouse click. Jodorowsky’s acid western and existential quest respectively though draw their life force from live exhibition, and for cannot be so easily ignored.

All in all, the Showcase presents its strongest and least conservative line-up in years, with acquisitions as diverse as Terrence Davies’ seminal Distant Voices, Still Lives, and Gus Van Sant’s formative Mala Noche, both from the 80s. The programming also gives rise to at least one inspired pairing: Brian De Palma’s hand grenade on the Iraqi war, Redacted, coupled with Bruno Dumont’s well-overdue and similarly divisive Cannes Grand Prix winner (from 2006) Flandres, which follows a group of unresponsive young men conscripted to an anonymous war, where they mindlessly rape and kill under the sand dunes of a suspiciously Middle Eastern territory. More predictably, wide release certainties like The Diving Bell and Butterfly and Todd Haynes’ conceptual Bob Dylan movie, I’m Not There (eerily featuring the now-deceased Heath Ledger) create broader appeal, even if their time in the spotlight will continue well after the Showcase’s conclusion. Admittedly less compelling because of a guaranteed life-life beyond their festival berthings, such films are nevertheless essential to the Showcase’s own existence (now in its tenth year). Those who berate its part-function as a roadshow previewing forthcoming theatrical attractions only need to review past selections now missing in action, and the volatility of local distribution: Lars Von Trier’s Manderlay, for instance, screened in early 2006, resurfacing only as recently as November on DVD, while Dominik Moll’s Lemming, a film of relative commercial arthouse potential (it stars the two Charlotte’s, Rampling and Gainsbourg), has yet to see the light of day since its 2007 appearance.

*   *   *

THE WORLD CINEMA SHOWCASE tours following centres: Wellington, Paramount, March 20 – April 2; Auckland, Academy Cinemas, March 27 – April 16; Christchurch, Rialto Cinemas, April 17 – 30; Dunedin, Regent Theatre, April 24 – May 7. Its website, worldcinemashowcase.co.nz, should be frequented for programme updates. The line-up (as confirmed to date) follows: