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Love Story

A Love Story indeed, embracing documentary, fiction, summer, sex, romance, New York and a host of camera-ready New Yorkers in one gregarious, greedy, joyous hug.

Love Story, New Zealand, 2011

Director: Florian Habicht
Producer: Pictures for Anna
Screenplay: Florian Habicht, Peter O’Donoghue and the people of NYC
Photography: Maria Ines Manchego
Editor: Peter O’Donoghue
Sound: Marc Chesterman
Music: Georges Delereu, NinoRota, Ennio Morricone, Marc Chesterman, Mina

With: Masha Yakovenko, Florian Habicht, Frank Habicht

91 minutes, M-sexual themes

Winner of the Best Feature and Best Director Awards for the Qantas Film & TV Awards 2011 

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"When Auckland filmmaker Florian Habicht took up the Arts Foundation’s Harriet Friedlander Residency in New York in late 2009, he was under no obligation to do a jot of work, let alone return with the opening night movie for Auckland’s 2011 Film Festival. It’s hard to imagine a more shining validation of Friedlander’s faith in the regenerative powers of New York City. It’s a Love Story indeed, embracing documentary, fiction, summer, sex, romance, New York and a host of camera-ready New Yorkers in one gregarious, greedy, joyous hug. Florian’s muse and quarry is the exquisite Masha, romantic fantasy incarnate, first spotted on the subway heading towards Coney Island carrying only a slice of cake perfectly balanced on a plate. Buttonholing miscellaneous New Yorkers, he solicits advice at every stage of the ensuing affair to figure out what could happen next in his film. Even the cranky responses we see crackle with character and perverse joie de vivre. He’s also consulting a psychic and Skyping dad back home for long-term career guidance. He’s not in Manhattan for ever, and as autumn sets in the film takes on a melancholic undertow. An elderly homeless drunk recalls his boyhood crush: harsh reality and hopeless fantasy constantly jostle and excite each other in Florian’s New York. Though presented as a shot-on-the-fly, made-up-as-I-went-along piece of whimsy, it looks like a dream and is cut with wit and dexterity. Already there are so many hymns to New York; why should we be astounded to find another that’s so freshly, contagiously, uniquely in love with the place?" — Bill Gosden, New Zealand International Film Festival 2011

“‘I feel like a five-year-old,” complains Masha Yakovenko to Florian Habicht. She’s annoyed by how the New Zealand film-maker can’t stop directing her even when the camera’s not running. But it’s Habicht who’s the child, in the way his goofy, wide-eyed and irrepressible curiosity about people and life has gradually infused his body of work, taking him from the art-film surrealism of Liebestraum and Woodenhead towards the surreal within the real in his documentaries Kaikohe Demolition and Land of the Long White Cloud. Love Story takes the next step: blurring the boundaries between art and reality. In New York on an arts residency, Habicht is inspired by the sight of Russian actress Masha carrying a piece of cake on a plate through the streets of the city. Masha is tall, slim, gorgeous. She becomes his object of desire as well as conspirator in the making of a film. From this point, what is real and what is art gets a little murky. Part of the real is Habicht’s encounters with people on the street, as he interviews them for help with his script. It’s not exactly Screenwriting 101. It’s not even the same as getting actors to make, Mike Leigh-style, a story together. Instead, he takes the concept of “interactive” beyond merely asking the audience to choose an ending; he gets perfect strangers to contribute to the whole damn plot. As he did with the fishermen on Ninety Mile Beach in Land of the Long White Cloud, he accosts people with open-ended questions such as, “What does it mean when a woman is holding a piece of cake?” New Yorkers, of course, need little coaxing to offer opinions, especially with a camera pointed at them, and they play along with good humour and not a little wisdom. If they don’t help to begin with, the artless charm and cheek of their interrogator soon disarms them. Most of the time, they’re happy to be recruited into coming up with suggestions on what they think should happen next in the film. Then he and Masha act it out. He also consults a psychic and Skypes his father, Frank, for advice on Masha and the film. The advice might make you laugh, but miraculously he makes it work – and you realise that under the apparent randomness and spontaneity directorial choices and organising principles are still in play. For a start, Habicht’s uncanny – and canny – nose for found talent ensures his film is peopled with vividly eccentric and engaging characters, some of them popping up more than once to help move the narrative along. There are also great visuals, specific props and costuming that help tie things together, and conflict introduced to add tension. With the conflict, though, the boundary blurring starts to kick in strongly. At times, the arguments between the couple feel deliberately manufactured; at others, Masha really does seem to want to be shot of the whole thing. So, is the tension in their relationship real or not? Habicht coyly refuses to help us decide one way or the other, and in some respects – narratively, thematically – the ambiguity is unsatisfying rather than delicious. Open-endedness is one thing; being left dangling is another. None of this takes away from the fact this is an innovative and very funny piece of planned whimsy, capturing with hand-held and more studied shooting that special essence of the streets of New York. It also delivers a fresh take on its brand of romantic comedy, while recalling some stellar predecessors: Woody Allen’s Manhattan for its visual tributes and, perhaps closer, Rob Reiner’s When Harry Met Sally, which also inquired into the nature of love and had commentary from real couples. Then there’s the music. Habicht’s films have always had great music, and this is no exception. He avoids the clichés and goes instead for foreign composers familiar with America, such as Georges Delerue, Nino Rota, Ennio Morricone – and the jazzy, romantic and sometimes wistful soundtrack is the perfect accompaniment to this joyous ode to New York and its denizens.” — Helene Wong,

Screenings: Love Story screened over a three week season in January 2012