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The Moon is Upside Down

New Zealand indie tries to unite the despair of three very different women into in one compelling and tidy story, but does not reach its full potential - live at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival


The execution – a quirky, almost Coen-esque interpretation of Michael Cunningham’s novel The Hours – is brilliant. The casting – which ranges from director Loren Taylor to Flight of The Conchords mainstay Jemaine Clement – is ‘how has this not happened before’ excellent. And the locations are exquisite, portraying New Zealand with quietly beautiful rural tones and backdrops. Yet The Moon Is Upside Down never delivers on its potential, feeling tired and long-winded, instead of exhibiting the gallows humour Taylor, the cast and New Zealand are more than capable of.

The film centres on three women: There’s Briar (played by Taylor herself), a doctor who has started an online relationship with her sister’s ex; there’s Faith (Elizabeth Hawthorne), a property owner who communicates with her husband through emails and phone calls; and then there’s Natalia (Victoria Haralabidou), a Siberian mail-order bride struggling with her husband’s sexual frigidity and impending blindness – not forgetting his overbearing sister who walks into her room without so much as a courtesy knock. The end product tries to tie their loneliness together, as they search for a connection outside of the city, and beside the wildlife and hills that decorate the country.

The desolation is palpable, sure, but in these straitened times, it feels more provincial than pain-inducing. Clement is dotty as Sean Macintosh, but not exceptionally so, and while his lack of sexual appetite seems charming, I never genuinely felt his character felt bothered by it. The plot hints at an emotional coda when the three women find themselves at a literal crossroads, but like so much in the film, the closure falls far short of the intended target. One wonders if the project would be better served as a tv serial, which would give the three actresses more room to hit their marks.

It might be too little run time (the film is little more than an hour and a half), and too much story to decorate in that frame. Weirdly, Taylor’s character comes off worst, and I wonder if there was more to her arc that was left on the cutting room floor. Of the three narratives, Natalia’s feels the most complete, and fittingly she closes the film with a happier smile to the strained grimace she offers the agency at the beginning of the work. Incidentally, and not encouragingly, the film doesn’t do much to flesh out the male characters, who are either too anxious to have sex, or too eager to finish the act. (Premature ejaculation is a common theme found in the film.)

Each of the three actresses lands a laugh or three, and one running joke about a Beatle (yup, George Harrison) was met with belly laughs at the screening I attended. Mercifully, the moment when a hawk is run down by a vehicle is played with the stillness it requires, filmed against the backdrop of the genuinely exquisite New Zealand countryside. I would watch a television series with the three women in New Zealand – a Netflix project, perhaps?

The Moon is Upside Down just premiered at the First Feature Competition of the 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival.

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