NZIFF 2009: Bright Star / Thirst

Reviews by Hugh Lilly

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Bright Star

Jane Campion, who hasn’t made a film since 2003’s disastrous In The Cut, returns with a solid period piece that is beautifully photographed but moves at an almost unbearably glacial pace. The story is of the poet John Keats and his ill-fated whirlwind romance with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne.

Ben Wishaw gives a great performance as the Romantic poet, and Abbie Cornish, terrific opposite Heath Ledger in Candy, plays his lover with genuine tenderness; her emotion in reacting to news of Keats’ death toward the end is palpable. Paul Schneider (David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls and Sam Mendes’ forthcoming Away We Go) plays Keats’ friend Charles Brown. An erstwhile poet, Mr. Brown is irritable Scot with a penchant for annoying everyone in sight, and Ms. Brawne is often the subject of his tactless jokes.

Shot in Australia with mostly British funds, there is no denying the film’s visual appeal: a soft palette of pastels collides beautifully with verdant landscapes. Although the film is certainly interesting—and frequently witty—it is perhaps a bit long; at nearly two hours, this slow-moving mid-nineteenth century drama risks slipping into tedium.

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Thirst

Park Chan-wook, director of the ultra-violent cult hit Oldboy, the equally violent Vengeance trilogy and the unusual romantic comedy I’m A Cyborg, But That’s OK, returns with a vampire tale unlike any other. An absurd tale of vampiric amour fou, Thirst tells the story of a Priest, who offers to undergo an experimental medical procedure aiming to provide a cure for a disease. The procedure fails, and, through drinking the blood of a comatose patient, the Priest is turned into a vampire. He is called upon to pray for a patient who, it turns out, he knew as a child.

He becomes close again with the patient and his family, and has a love affair with the patient’s wife. From here the story spirals—awesomely—into depravity and insanity as his bloodlust overtakes his once-objective mind. The film’s hyper-stylised camerawork is, particularly in the first third, spectacular. By turns outrageously hilarious and somewhat cringe-inducing—but never a gratuitous gore-fest— Thirst is a welcome rush of energy for a genre saturated by mediocre TV series (Alan Ball’s True Blood) and vapid tweenage abstinence fantasies (the Twilight series).

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For screening times, see the Festival’s website.

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