Monday, March 11, 2013

Spotlight: THE RED HOUSE

When THE RED HOUSE debuted last year at NZFF, it slipped past many people's radar, mine included. This despite festival director Bill Gosden singling it out as a staff pick, noting director Alyx Duncan's "formal sophistication" and calling it "a thing of quiet wonder".

Sorry, Bill. I won't ignore you again. When I finally got to view THE RED HOUSE, I was fully struck by its beauty and intellect, its compassion and rigor. It's simultaneously a spare, finely observed love story between two people in their 60s (in and of itself a rare cinematic gift, so infrequently are these stories explored cinematically) and a quietly meticulous, thoughtful exploration of the intrinsic dialectics of the situation (which, in a nutshell: he's a white man, she's a Chinese immigrant, and after creating a life together in the titular red house on a rural island, she must return to her homeland to take care of her aging parents, leaving him to pack up their life).

But freaking hell you're probably bored already when I use phrases like "intrinsic dialectics", and I do find THE RED HOUSE difficult to discuss in a way that does full justice to not only its cinematic craft but also its basic approachability. While I love some films that demand a lot from the viewer, and while I do think THE RED HOUSE has much to offer the viewer who's willing to wrestle with it, I also think that it's not a film that requires you to do battle, so to speak; between the beautiful surfaces and the lovely human story at the core, it's far from a dry, rigourous experience. Or perhaps the pictures can speak for themselves for a moment.

Thankfully, others were more on the ball than I, and are more articulate to boot. Tim Wong at The Lumiere Reader prefaced his excellent, lengthy interview with Duncan with a well-deserved smattering of praise:

"DIRECTED WITH PATIENCE, intelligence, and visual finesse, Alyx Duncan’s The Red House is one of the strongest local features to emerge in the digital era. Seldom do we get to witness a New Zealand filmmaker reconcile artistic practice and cinematic vision so seamlessly; rarer still, do we get to encounter a narrative work from this country as serious minded and artistic minded as Duncan’s independently funded film."

Wong proceeded to include the film in his top ten of the year for that publication, and in the same article Steve Garden also made note of THE RED HOUSE, remarking:

"Alyx Duncan deserves special mention for The Red House, a rare New Zealand film in that the filmmaker’s personal and artistic vision is so successfully (and intelligently) integrated into the aesthetic fabric of the work. Duncan’s film is one of the most contemporary and forward-thinking cinematic achievements yet from a New Zealand filmmaker, a film that does more for my sense of pride in New Zealand film-art than all of the vapid hyperbole (let alone the mind-numbing boredom) of middle-earth."

All of which is to say that, whether or not you trust my personal raves for the film (I included it on my list of ten favorite films of 2012 and, along with my co-host Jacob Powell [who ALSO loved the film], spoke with Duncan on episode 15 of Best Worst Podcast about her film), quite a few other people have also fallen for THE RED HOUSE. (Most recently, Helene Wong's 4-star Listener review evoked Ozu.)

Now, it's being self-released across New Zealand. While it's a pity that no distributor saw fit to pick up the cause of such a well-received and accomplished film, there's some consolation in the number of theatres (from Auckland to Feilding, from Nelson to Dunedin) that will be screening the film. It's great to see THE RED HOUSE getting a national audience - hopefully as a first step to it getting an international audience. (Which, if by some strange passing chance, you're an international festival programmer? Get on it now or regret passing it up later.)

(For further reading: an interview with Flicks; another interview with Jane Ross at; a summary of a Script to Screen roundtable discussion; and an interview with The Big Idea.

No comments:

Post a Comment