Quality films dry up in the northern hemisphere summer so the mid-winter film festivals here are a welcome alternative.The task of choosing from up to 155 features is daunting and it’s hit or miss whether they return for regular screenings or not. Some are still making their appearances from
last year. Others, like Good Time, The Other Side of Hope, A Gentle Creature, The Lost City of Z, Western, On Body and Soul and The Ornithologist never made it all, though a few
have turned up on Netflix and Sky TV’s Rialto channel.

Most of those named were on Sight & Sound’s annual top 40 films of the year.

Zama, a colonial period piece from South America, was fourth on the S&S list and is in this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival along with Lynne Ramsay’s thriller You Were Never Really There from Cannes in 2017.

Top billing this year goes to 11 films from the Cannes 2018 “official selection” — the top 20 chosen for competition.

They include the Palme d’Or winner Shoplifters from Japan and the Jury Prize winner Capharnaüm, set in Beirut. Also in the programme are the tied Best Screenplay winners
3 Faces, by top Iranian director Jafa Panahi, and Happy As Lazzaro, from Italy.

I have grouped other selections by source or subject:

Religion. Disobedience is set in London’s Jewish Orthodox community with two top actresses, Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, and directed by Oscar winner Sebastián Lelio; Apostasy, focused on Manchester’s Jehovah’s Witnesses; First Reform, with Ethan Hawke as a tormented Protestant minister; and The Miseducation of Cameron Post, a study of an Evangelicals’ school for gay conversion.

Middle East. These are by far the best-looking geographic bunch. Foxtrot is about an Israeli family losing their son in a war; The Reports on Sarah and Saleem tracks an Israeli-Arab relationship; Wajib – The Wedding Invitation is a Palestinian family comedy; The Insult is a thriller set in the Lebanese capital, as is Beirut, starring Mad Men’s Jon Hamm; and Samouni Road is an Italian graphic animation about Gaza.

Eastern Europe. Ida director Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War and Cosy Dens set in the Prague Spring.

Nordic noir. Denmark’s The Guilty and Holiday; Norway/Sweden’s Border; And Breathe Normally and Woman at War from Iceland, rapidly becoming the new Hollywood
of the arthouse world.

French delights. Roman Gavras’ gangster comedy The World is Yours; Transit, a Marseille-set romance based on a 1944 Jewish novel from Christian Petzold (Barbara,
Phoenix); and Olivier Assayas’ Cold Water.

Alternative Hollywood. Paul Dano’s Wildlife; Claire Danes (Homeland) in A Kid Like Jake; Maggie Gyllenhaal as The Kindergarten Teacher; and Harry Dean Stanton’s
last appearance as Lucky.

Auckland has bonus screenings to mark its 50th anniversary.

Among the reprise screenings are classics such as France’s The Swimming Pool (not to be confused with François Ozon’s more recent Swimming Pool); Spain’s Cría cuervos; Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears; Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire; War; and Sally Potter’s Orlando.

Note: Check local programmes as not all films show in all locations.

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