Head South (2024) IFFR 2024

January 25th, 2024
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dir: Jonathan Ogilvie | Cast: Ed Oxenbould, Marton Csokas Roxie Mohebbi | New Zealand, Drama 98′ 2024

The Rotterdam Film Festival is traditionally a place where discoveries are made from unexpected places and this year’s opening film Head South is no exception. It manages to bypass what some have called a fool’s errand, that is ‘the opening film curse’. It does this with a meandering ode to post punk in a provincial town filled with beautiful losers with excess energy who search for belonging inside the cocoon of a lived experience.

New Zealand writer/director Jonathan Ogilvie certainly knows of what he speaks, before cinema he directed numerous music videos for legendary New Zealand record label Flying Nun, combined with that he has mined his teenage years for a cathartic and very strange gem.

Angus (Ed Oxenbould)is a teenager who it can be said is having ‘a moment’, his mother has left the family home for two weeks to ‘discover’ herself and he and his laconic father are left to have lonely dinners and some time together. His two friends are annoyed after he sells them oregano in place of marijuana, and to break his enforced solitude he receives a package from his brother who is studying in London.

Alongside a pithy postcard is a copy of Public Image’s single Public Image. Alas the vinyl is warped so heads to local record store: Middle Earth Records (No, really) where the droll proprietor Fraser reigns supreme and is the font of all musical knowledge. This is the point in a classic bildungsroman where the journey can be said to truly begin. In a matter of time he has been dared to start a band, only he is adrift, emotionally, spiritually and most importantly empirically.

At this point Ogilvie does a classic bait and switch. When we were expecting a classical quirky teenage wasters on the ‘l am in search of sex, drugs and rock n roll’ theme we start to see that the director is working on a completely different register that cleverly leaves small visual clues (a cinematic clip of Lawrence Oates often quoted line: ‘I am just going outside and may be some time.’) to what will become tragic and life changing.

What tends to happen a lot of time in films of this ilk is the filmmakers relying on tired and trusted tropes that verge on cliche, here though Ogilvie subverts these ideas, whether it is the longed for older woman against the obvious potential partner that the protagonist can’t see, or the first gig triumph and the deconstruction of the myth of the aspired to be cool kids. In fact it goes further in its attempt to destroy the idea of coolness being something to grasp, it instead points out it is in fact a false economy.

The film succeeds in many ways, it has a beautiful desperation that hangs around the characters and its recreation of the late 70s is perfect. It looks like the 70s, whether in the set decoration, the film stock or the sense of boredom in a small town with nothing to do (especially on a Sunday). It feels like the 70s and it probably smells like the 70s too! @d_w_mault

ROTTERDAM INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2024 | 25 January – 3 February 2024 |

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