Film festival in the skies


Long-distance international travellers are more dependent than ever on in-flight entertainment. Unless you can afford lie-flat sleeping, sitting upright and watching a screen is the only alternative.

Reading books or newspapers are long gone, although occasionally you see Kindles or iPads. The back-of-the-seat screens offer all types of movies and TV, plus video games and puzzles.

I took Qatar Airways for its longest flight out of Auckland, a journey lasting more than 16 hours, plus another six hours from Doha to London after a brief change of aircraft. Sleep was sporadic between meals, and I clocked up an amazing number of movies.

On the first leg, leaving Auckland on a late Sunday afternoon, I saw eight full movies until arrival at Doha at 11.30pm local time. A mad dash followed through Hamad International Airport, with what seemed to be thousands of others going through the transfers, security, and finding new departure gates.

Arrival at London Heathrow before dawn on the Monday was a breeze by comparison. I must have slept a little as I managed only three movies on that leg, including Steven Spielberg’s autobiographical The Fabelmans.

I had missed its original release, though it is now available to rent online. But the big in-flight rewards come from movies that aren’t well-known blockbusters. I opted for the subtitled selection from Europe and South America. These were some of the highlights:

From Argentina and Chile came 1976 or Chile ’76 (2022), a drama set during the military coup, about a doctor’s wife who covertly takes care of a wounded revolutionary at a remote beach settlement.

Germany offered two brilliant comments on its past and present. In Einem Land das es Nicht Mehr, or In a Land that no Longer Exists (2022) recreates the alternative culture of fashion and pop music under the communist regime, just months before its collapse in November, 1989.

Tausend Zeilen or A Thousand Lines (2022) is a dramatisation of a real-life fake news scandal involving a journalist at Der Spiegel in 2018. His stories about victims of oppression were imaginary, but were published and won awards because they fitted the left-leaning media narrative.

The softer side of German filmmaking was evident in two comedies, the terminal disease romance Sterne unter der Stadt or First Snow of Summer (2023), and the domestic mayhem of Der Nachname or Family Affairs/Family Matters (2022) in which related couples quarrel during a holiday on the mid-Atlantic island of Lanzarote.

Norway provided another real-life adaptation, Gulltransporten, or Gold Run/The Gold Transport (2022), about how 50 tons of reserves were smuggled to Britain as the Nazis invaded in 1940.

The Catalan-speaking area of Spain was the setting for two dramas about the struggle for survival as outsiders buy cheap farm land in a hard-up, high country area. Suro (2022) focuses on a cork-tree plantation and the use of illegal migrant labour, while As Bestas or The Beasts (2022) examines a clash between locals and a French couple setting up an organic farm.


Dumb Money


Financial hijinks on Wall Street seldom make boring viewing. This is no exception as director Craig Gilllespie (I, Tonya) goes straight for the jugular in events involving a company called GameStop. For a few crazy weeks in late 2020 and January 2021, it had Wall Street’s hedge funds in a tizz as they lost billions on “shorting” the stock – buying options in the hope of it falling in value. On the other side, thousands of punters, using a low-cost, day-trading platform called RobinHood, sent GameStop to dizzy heights, making those “short” options worthless. Billed as a clash between the economic classes, the narrative offers a simplistic version based on a variety of individuals who bought into the hype, briefly becoming rich, before the bubble bursts. Paul Dano and Seth Rogen lead an energetic cast, who are even more manic than those depicted in The Big Short (2016), the best of the Wall Street movies.

Rating: Mature audiences. 104 minutes.

L’Innocent/The Innocent
(Palace Films)

French thrillers are noted for their rapid pace and countless twists that leave you guessing for a conclusion. When the ubiquitous Louis Garrel, a prolific actor and now director of his third movie, is suspicious of a just-released criminal (Roschdy Zem) who has caught the fancy of his widowed mother (Anouk Grinberg), it’s obvious that nothing will be straightforward. Despite the assurances of a rushed wedding, and financial backing for her florist shop, Garrel maintains a close watch on his stepfather with the help of his girlfriend (Noémie Merlant). Their sleuthing is soon exposed, forcing them into a heist plan that goes badly wrong. Garrel’s direction overcomes some of the more unlikely parts of the plot by giving full rein to his veteran cast members (Zem and Grinberg also worked with director and dad Philippe Garrel) as well as Merlant, last seen in Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Tár.

Rating: Mature audiences. 99 minutes.

The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar

If you were underwhelmed by Asteroid Story and French Despatch, as I was, then Wes Anderson has treats in store via Roald Dahl, whose Fantastic Mr Fox (2009) remains one of the director’s best adaptations. Four of Dahl’s stories have been packaged into a visual feast by Anderson and his cast of regulars, now including Benedict Cumberbatch. As the titular Sugar, Cumberbatch plays a London playboy who learns to see the world more clearly with his eyes closed, thus ensuring him gambling success. The story is narrated directly from the text, with Ralph Fiennes sitting in for Dahl, while Anderson adroitly moves the candy-box scenery around his characters. This 39-minute episode is a main course to the three 17-minute side dishes: Poison, with Cumberbatch and Kingsley combatting a deadly snake; The Swan, a gut-wrenching tale of bullying; and The Rat Catcher, with Richard Ayoade as the narrator, Fiennes as the “rodent operative”, and Rupert Friend as a mechanic.

Rating: Parental guidance advised. 90 minutes.


Posted in ,

Nevil Gibson

Reader Interactions

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *