NZ IFF 2020 Day 4

Something I’m enjoying about the at-home experience is the somewhat relaxed cadence of viewing, compared to my more normal festival experience of rushing from one side of Wellington (and the Hutt) to another, trying to catch them all.

Day 4 whipsawed between a pleasant but realistic fiction (and highlight of the festival) and a real but difficult film I couldn’t make it all the way through.

Mijn bijzonder rare week met Tess / My Extraordinary Summer With Tess

One of the things that normally has me running, screaming, from films is “coming of age”; whatever its origin, it’s become a description of “director wants to film teens rooting” as often as not, and I’ve associated increasingly with pervy blokes looking for an excuse to get underage tits on the screen.

That’s not universal to the niche, of course, and this is one of the delightful exceptions: Tess is a wonderful, uplifting, and good-hearted film. There is a delightful air of Tove Jansson that I can’t quite pin down to the two odd kids whose characters lead the film: one part perhaps is that Sam’s eccentricity is blandly accepted by his rather more orthodox family, while Tess’ mother stands out as much as her daughter.

The two kids’ performances are absolute treasures: they are wonderfully naturalistic and true to any number of pre-teens I know. The story of the film has a weight to it, but dealt with deftly and lightly, and the resolution feels both uplifting and sweet without ever becoming saccharine. Tess is a real highlight of the festival, and I’m going to be re-renting it to watch with my own family.

Seishin 0 / Zero

Make no mistake: this is a brutal documentary. I had not seen Soda Kazuhiro’s earlier piece covering Dr Yamamoto Masatomo and his pioneering work with mental illness in Japan, so I didn’t have a lot of context for this work.

The opening hour is more fascinating than anything else, with Masatomo working through the fact of his retirement with his patients and colleagues. Many of his patients are extremely anxious, having been with him for decades, and devastated at the idea of losing him; he deftly navigates the waters, offering compassion and admiration for the work they’ve done over the years, and triaging which of them can be eased over to other colleagues, and which he will commit to a few more post-retirement communications with them to ease their troubles.

The second part, though, I found unbearable. Not because it is bad, bad rather because it is a very well-made, intimate piece of work about the reason why Masatomo is retiring: his beloved wife, who he has known since high school, and he praises as always having been far smarter academically than himself, is rapidly becoming senile. She is often forgetful and needs significant care - and tragically it is obvious that however hard Masatomo tries, he is a man of his generation: their house shows the signs of an eighty-something man who has never really been responsible for it in his life. We also see the glimpses of how hard Yoshiko’s life has been, and how far gone she already is, and how amazing she once was, as an old friend shares memories with her: as mothers, they spent so much time together, with Yoshiko teaching her how to manage an investment portfolio - something that was a mystery to her husband - raising a family, looking after her own mother, and also looking after patients when they stayed at the Masatomo household.

Masatomo himself admires his wife, but seems somewhat surprised by the scope of the burden he’d imposed on her during their life together, and the sadness of watching this once-brilliant woman able to do little more than nod and murmer at her still-healthy friend was the point at whic I couldn’t watch more. This is a very fine film, but because it is a very fine film, I found it entirely too hard to see through. I would also have to note that as it became clear how far gone Yoshiko is, I became decidedly uncomfortable with my participation in it: I doubt she could have offered any meaningful consent to her role now, and I have to wonder whether the younger, still competent, Yoshiko would have agreed to this version of herself being on the screen.