MIFF 2013 recommendations part 2

15 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

Here are some more of my recommendations for the 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival based on what I’ve seen so far. Check out part 1 if you haven’t done so already and here are eight more feature films and two more short film packages that I recommend:

The Weight of Elephants

The Weight of Elephants

A heartbreaking and beautiful film about a sensitive 11-year-old going through some pretty intense abandonment issues against the backdrop of news reports about missing children. As good an insight into the anguishes of childhood as I’ve seen and featuring a stunning lead performance from newcomer Demos Murphy as Adrian.

The Crash Reel

A fascinating documentary about the world of extreme sports, and the causalities it produces, through the experiences of snowboarder Kevin Pearce who acquired brain injuries from an accident in 2009. The film also exposes the almost addictive nature of extreme sports and the problem where the demand for thrills from the viewing public is compelling competitors to push themselves further than what is safe to do so.

Starlet

An understated yet surprisingly affecting story about an unlikely friendship between a young woman and an elderly lady. The film successfully holds back important character information so that all the reveals feel natural and startling at the same time.

Blackfish

An emotional expose on the history off orca attacks on their human trainers in sea parks. This is much more than a Save the Whales documentary as it reveals how the conditions in which orcas are captured and then kept at water-themed amusements parks is not only inhumane towards the animals, but puts the lives of the people who work with them at risk.

Stranger by the Lake

Stranger by the Lake

The single location – a beautiful lake and the surround forest used as a cruising spot in southern France – is used to its full potential to deliver a thriller, a love story and a story of platonic friendship. A mysterious film about ritualised behaviour and human connection.

The Spectacular Now

The generic conventions of the teen film are extremely well manipulated to make this into a sophisticated tragedy about a teenage boy throwing his life away and threatening to take down others with him. A surprising and extremely rewarding film.

Approved for Adoption

A beautifully animated memoir about the filmmaker’s experiences as a Korean boy growing up in Belgium as an adopted child. Avoids cliches and sentimentality to explore issues such as cultural identity, belonging and mental illness.

Capturing Dad

A droll and unstated film about two sisters attending their father’s funeral, despite never knowing him and feeling nothing towards him. Unexpectedly moving at times in the way it looks at family dynamics, while at other times containing wickedly dark humour.

International Shorts 1

Day Trip

The first package of international short films includes two films that screened at the Cannes International Film Festival: More Than Two Hours, a tense Iranian drama where a woman requiring medical attention is denied due to the ultra conservative laws, and Butter Lamp, a Tibetian-language film with a stunning final shot. Day Trip is the latest short film by Park Chan-wook and his brother Park Chan-kyong, and it is an odd yet sweet and compelling tribute to traditional Korean music.

International Shorts 2

Two films from Cannes are also in this package including Safe, which won the Short Film Palme d’Or. It is a claustrophobic thriller that gets increasing tense as the film builds to it alarming conclusion. Also nerve-wracking is that French film Just Before Losing Everything, which uses an everyday setting to construct a thriller out of an upsettingly commonplace situation. This collection of films also includes the experimental narrative film Beat starring Ben Whishaw as a man who dances through the streets of London to music only he can hear. It’s simultaneously amusing, confronting and melancholic.

Final recommendations next week…

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF 2013 recommendations part 1

8 July 2013

Melbourne International Film Festival 2013

The full 2013 Melbourne International Film Festival program was announced last week so I thought I’d start sharing my recommendations from what I’ve seen so far. This list is by no means exhaustive, there’s no order or system to what I’m listing, I may repeat some of the films listed in my post about the Next Gen program, and there will be more to come as the festival gets closer. So for now, here are eight films and two short film packages that I recommend you get along to:

The Rocket

The Rocket

This is a wonderful Australian production, set in rural Laos about a ten-year-old boy who believes he is cursed and whose family is being forcibly relocated from their home. The critique of the way entire cultures are of secondary importance to the business interests of multinationals never overwhelms the film’s moving and dramatic story about childhood.

Mystery Road

Another sensational Australian film is the latest by Ivan Sen, which mixes many of the themes Sen has previously explored, regarding the marginalisation of Indigenous Australians, with a slick and slow burn murder-mystery thriller narrative. Immediately after seeing this film I wanted to see it again.

The Act of Killing

This documentary about the Indonesian perpetrators of war crimes during the 1965-1966 anti-communist purges has to be seen to be believed. The participants happily speak about and reenact the horrors they inflicted on others in what is a fascinating and disturbing look at a recent example of the banality of evil.

Stoker

It is not that Park Chan-wook has toned down his approach to cinema in his first English-language film, but he has made the guilty-pleasure nastiness more psychological rather than visceral. And it works brilliantly, maintaining the filmmaker’s meticulous and bold approach to film style.

Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin

We don’t fully understand why the protagonist is homeless, possibly mentally unstable and driven to kill a man just released from prison, but the economic storytelling in this low-key yet utterly gripping revenge thriller means that we are captivated the entire time.

Cheap Thrills 

This is what happens when a violent exploitation film with a dark-as-dark-can-be sense of humour is injected with a searing critique of class and capitalism. The build up to the extreme moments is plausible, the message of the film is never compromised, and watching it is disturbing and fun.

What Richard Did 

A  strong Irish drama that if transposed into an Australian context would contain the same amount of relevance and power in its examination of masculinity and personal responsibility. The first half of the film endears the audience to its Alpha-Male ‘good bloke’ protagonist and then the second half looks at the aftermath of an incident committed in the heat of the moment that changes everything.

The Day of the Crows 

A beautifully animated fantasy film that delves into some painful and dark themes concerning parental abuse, persecution and death. A great example of how animated films from non-English speaking backgrounds are capable of appealing to a wide range of age groups with sophistication.

Desire Shorts

Undress Me

For this collection of short films  about sex, sexuality and gender, the concept of desire seemed to be a suitably broad umbrella term to encompass them all. Protective parents have to accept that their children are sexual beings in For Dorian and The Gift, fidelity and sexuality are explored in Summer Vacation, Clay is a sensual film starring Édith Scob and Undress Me is a particularly arresting film featuring raw and honest performances from its actors.

Documentary Shorts

There are numerous great documentary shorts scattered throughout the MIFF program as pre-feature films, but the collection of films put together in this program showcase  how diverse documentary films can be. Not Anymore: A Story of a Revolution captures the immediacy of the Syrian civil war with confronting war footage and interviews from its two highly articulate subjects. Deco Dawson’s Keep a Modest Head is a glorious blend of animation, experimental film and documentary that pays tribute to Jean Benoît, the final living member of the French Surrealist group. Ebb and Flow is a beautiful observational documentary on a Brazilian man who is poor, hearing impaired and a single father, yet continually finds joy in life.

More recommendations to come…

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF 2013: Next Gen

13 May 2013
Next Gen 2013

Image from Day of the Crows

When not reviewing films I work for the Melbourne International Film Festival on the programming team. The first part of  the 2013 MIFF program was announced today and I’m very excited, as it is one of the sections that I worked on. The following is a presentation I gave last Friday to launch the Next Gen program for this year:

Next Gen is a program of entertaining and challenging cinema selected for a youth audience.

The program was established in 2007 to enrich the cinema experience for younger viewers, as well as stimulate discussion and social awareness. Encouraging students to become active viewers, who question and challenge the moving image, is essential in a media-saturated era. The films this year were selected for their diversity, innovation and high quality, as well as being relevant and accessible to audiences of all ages. Through drama, documentary and animation, issues such as family, prejudice, injustice, violence, rebellion, identity and overcoming hardship are explored with integrity and depth.

With a handful of exceptions, these are not films many people would traditionally classify as ‘kids’ or ‘family’ films. Instead, they are a diverse, innovative and high quality collection of films that will appeal to people of all ages.

Valentine Road

Valentine Road

The documentary Valentine Road is something that will resonate with very wide audiences. It is about the 2008 murder of 15-year-old Lawrence ‘Larry’ King by one of his classmates. It becomes apparent that the murder was a hate crime, committed in response to King’s sexuality and gender identification. Director Marta Cunningham, who will be a festival guest, allows the teachers, friends and legal experts involved in the subsequent trial to speak for themselves without overt judgment. By doing so Cunningham delivers an insight into how young people are affected by the environments they grow up in, especially ones that cultivate and even excuse violent crime, as a response to somebody deemed different.

Another film to confront the impact of violence is the Irish film What Richard Did, by director Lenny Abrahamson. This extremely sophisticated drama is about the kind of guy Australians would consider ‘a good bloke.’ Richard is charismatic, friendly, attractive and a high achiever. He’s a good friend, a respectful son and looks after others. He then does something in the heat of the moment that has an unexpectedly devastating effect. This film about culpability, masculinity and the dangers of alcohol is particularly relevant to Australian audiences, many of who will no doubt recognise how closely the events in this film reflect various stories in the news from the past twelve months.

An interesting contrast to Valentine Road and What Richard Did is the Canadian film Blackbird, about a teenage boy falsely accused of planning a school massacre. Evoking recent films such as The Hunt and West of Memphis, this is a film about persecution as a result of mob hysteria. Many will identify with the young protagonist who identifies as a goth resulting in an outsider status that sees him bullied at school and then falsely accused after he vents his frustration by writing a revenge fantasy short story that he then unwisely shares online. Director Jason Buxton shared the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival SKYY Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film with Brandon Cronenberg for Antiviral.

I Declare War

I Declare War

On a lighter note, the Canadian film I Declare War is a sort of updated Lord of the Flies with a touch of Where the Wild Things Are. The film is set in a forest on one summer’s day, where two groups of kids play an elaborate war game. The kids carry sticks and water bombs, but the film depicts their ‘weapons’ the way the kids see them – as machine guns and grenades. Constantly alternating between fantasy and reality, I Declare War is a parody of war film clichés, a kid-centric adventure film and at times a disturbing look at learned behaviour. However, it’s mostly a lot of fun.

Also fun is the South Korean supernatural romantic comedy/drama A Werewolf Boy, which is thankfully far closer in spirit to Edward Scissorhands than it is to the Twilight films. MIFF regulars may recognise the name of filmmaker Jo Sung-hee as the director of End of Animal from MIFF 2011. However, it is unlikely that audiences will detect any similarities between the two films, which are completely different from each other in terms of style, tone and pace.

Another regional film in Next Gen is Touch of the Light, a Taiwan/Hong Kong co-production featuring the young vision-impair pianist Huang Yu-siang playing himself in a fictionalised story of his experiences entering music school. This crowd-pleasure was a huge hit in Taiwan and has been supported by the acclaimed Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai.

Capturing Dad

Capturing Dad

Also close to home is the odd yet endearing Japanese comedy/drama Capturing Dad, about two sisters awkwardly attending the funeral of a father they never knew. It’s refreshing to see a film with such a strong and sophisticated focus on the relationship between sisters (and between mothers and daughters), and Capturing Dad manages to be extremely charming without ever resorting to sentimentality. In fact, a lot of the humour is surprising dark.

Other films that edge more into crowd-pleasuring/family film territory are the Kurdish-language film Bekas and the German film Patty’s Catchup. Based on the experiences of the films writer/director Karzan Kader, Bekas is a spirited adventure film about two orphaned brothers trying to flee Iraq during Sadaam Hussein’s rule. Tina von Traben’s Patty’s Catchup is a fun family drama about three sisters attempting to run a sausage stand, despite one of the sisters preferring to follow her dreams of being a renowned chef.

The film most suitable for very young audiences is the lovely animated film Moon Man by Stephan Schesch, based on Tomi Ungerer’s classic picture book of the same name. However, there are enough Monty Pythonesque and surreal visual gags to keep audiences of all ages entertained.  It is also nice to see a film that aligns scientific curiosity with childlike wonder while satirising governments that are obsessed with jingoism and aggression.

Another animation in the program is the stunning beautiful and moving Day of the Crows by Jean-Christophe Dessaint. Although it is a French-language film, it contains more than a hint of influence from Studio Ghibli, not just visually, but with its blend of fantasy, humour and whimsy, with some very grounded themes concerning persecution and parental neglect. It also features voice acting by Jean Reno and the late Claude Chabrol.

Approved for Adoption

Approved for Adoption

The other impressive French-language animation in the program is Approved for Adoption, the Audience Award winner at last year’s Annecy International Animation Film Festival. A sort of animated memoir in the vein of Waltz with Bashir and Persepolis, it is about the childhood experiences of Jung, the film’s writer and co-director (with Laurent Boileau). After the Korean War Jung was abandoned as a baby and adopted by a Belgium family resulting in a childhood where he struggled with his cultural identity and sense of belonging.

The final film in the Next Gen program is English language, but by French director Laurent Cantet, who won the Palme d’Or in 2008 for his film The Class. The film is Foxfire, based on a 1993 novel by Joyce Carol Oates. Featuring nearly all young female cast, the film is set in 1950s upstate New York and follows the misadventures of a group of teenage girls who begin to fight back against the patriarchy. The mixture of protofeminism, socialism and teen rebellion results in an exhilarating film that explores how criminality and organised resistance are regarded.

More information: miff.com.au/nextgen

School bookings and study guides: metromagazine.com.au/nextgen

Thomas Caldwell
Shorts & Next Gen Coordinator
Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Feature and short film picks

8 July 2011

Melbourne International Film FestivalIt’s almost Melbourne International Film Festival time, so I’m starting up the MIFF diary yet again. This year I’ll be seeing and reporting on a lot more films than in previous years as I’m taking part in the 60th anniversary MIFF blog-a-thon. The deal is that I need to see and report back on 60 films during the seventeen days of the festival. That’s on average 3½ films per day. It’s a bit daunting to be honest and I’m apprehensive about how much I’ll be able to appreciate all those films let alone write anything intelligible about them! However, I’ve willingly signed on so will give it my best shot.

The good news is that as well as covering the festival here I’ll also be covering it on the Plato’s Cave podcast with my fellow hosts Josh Nelson and Tara Judah. We won’t be doing our usual Monday night/Tuesday morning show during the week beginning 25 July because on Thursday 28 July from 7pm-8pm we’ll be broadcasting a live Max Headroom MIFF special on Triple R. We’ll then upload that show Friday morning, in case you can’t tune on Thursday night, and record a new podcast-only MIFF show the following week at the usual time. We’ll also be discussing our picks of the festival in the next episode (week starting 11 July) so subscribe now if you haven’t done so already.

Speaking of festival picks, I thought I’d share the ten films and three short film packages that have most caught my attention. I’ve tried to pick films that to the best of my knowledge aren’t getting released in the near future, although some do have Australian distributors already. (Cerise Howard has put together a very useful list on her blog along side her intriguing recommendations for what to see.) I’ve actually seen a number of the films already scheduled for a theatrical release this year including Senna and Jane Eyre, which are both excellent films and would certainly be rewarding to see in the festival environment.

Feature films

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminesscent: Rowland S. Howard

Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard
I can’t think of any filmmaker more qualified to make a documentary about the great Rowland S. Howard than Dogs in Space director Richard Lowenstein. It’s a perfect combination of director and subject matter. Also, my wife introduced me to Howard’s solo work so this is a bit of a personal pick for me!

Beauty and the Beast
I’ve wanted to see Jean Cocteau’s 1946 avant-garde fairytale film for a long time so having the opportunity to see it on the big screen is an incredible opportunity.

Armadillo
It was a shame that I, like most Australians, didn’t get to see the war documentary Restrepo in the cinema so I’m making sure I see this one, which has been a sensation in Denmark and from all accounts is extraordinary documentary filmmaking.

The Unjust
I really enjoy contemporary South Korean cinema and the promised mix of social critique, complex narrative (I’m expecting not to be able to follow it), dark comedy, tragedy and action sounds so much like my sort of thing.

Melancholia
It’s the latest film by Lars von Trier and that’s enough for me. I haven’t always liked his work, but he is so unpredictable that I always make a point of seeing what he’s done next. Plus, his previous film Antichrist was one of my highlights during MIFF 2009.

Cold Fish

Cold Fish

Cold Fish
Sion Sono is another director that I now always seek out. Love Exposure was another film I saw during MIFF in 2009 and I’ll never forget seeing Suicide Club at MIFF many, many years ago. Sono’s Guilty of Romance is also screening this year and I’ll be at that too.

The Turin Horse
I’ve never seen a film by Béla Tarr, not even his widely acclaimed Werckmeister Harmonies. The Turin Horse is supposedly his final film so I guess better late than never to get on board. It’s reportedly a very meditatively and observational film about peasant life – in other words, the kind of film some people find absorbing while others find dull. I usually fall into the former camp when it comes to such films so I’m really keen to see this.

A Stoker
I like to see a handful of disturbing, bleak and soul destroying films each year and this Russian parable about the collapse of the Soviet Union sounds suitably gruesome, brutal and darkly humorous.

I Am Eleven
This is another very personal choice as I’ve been aware of Genevieve Bailey’s work since the days when I used to be involved in the 15/15 Film Festival. Her films have always possessed a sincerely humanist quality and this documentary (her first feature) sounds no different.

Surviving Life
My paranoia with MIFF is that I’ll miss a gem that I can’t see elsewhere and that paranoia was exemplified when I almost didn’t notice this film in the program (thank you again Cerise Howard for pointing it out!) This is the latest by filmmaker/animator Jan Švankmajer who is one of the few contemporary filmmakers that can be accurately described as a surrealist. One of my first ever MIFF experiences was seeing his version of Faust and I’ve loved everything he’s done since.

Short films

Stardust

Stardust

I’m also going to explore the short film packages this year. Until I was asked to be a judge for last year’s MIFF Shorts Awards, I didn’t really give short films the attention they deserved. I’ve since seen the error of my ways, plus I’ve had a sneak peak on what’s on offer this year, as a result of writing for the program, and there’s some great stuff. All the packages contain films that are worth seeing, but I’ve narrowed it down to the following three:

International Shorts – O Canada!
I’m mainly going to this because it includes Scenes from the Suburbs, the Spike Jonze/Arcade Fire collaboration. From this program I have already seen the very simple single-shot film Sophie Lavoie and was extremely impressed.

International Shorts – Misfits
I’ve seen most of the films in this program but am more than happy to see them again, especially Jonathan Caouette’s All Flowers in TimeHowever, the two films I haven’t seen are the ones that do sound the most interesting: the South Korean psychological thriller Ghost and the Swedish zombie film The Unliving, which sounds like it may deliver a fun, refreshing spin on the genre.

Experimental Shorts 2
Slave Ship
and Another Occupation sound fascinating plus I really want to see Endeavour and Stardust again, but this time on the big screen. Stardust is directed by Nicholas Provost who won the Best Experimental Short Film award last year for Long Live The New Flesh. I think Stardust is even more impressive.

OK, that’s it for now. I can’t make opening night due to a prior engagement and I’m seeing films back-to-back over the first few days, but hopefully diary entries will start appearing soon after the first weekend.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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MIFF 2010 Wrap Up

9 August 2010
Enter the Void

Enter the Void

As another Melbourne International Film Festival closes I’m left with mixed feelings. It is admittedly somewhat of a relief to no longer be dashing from session to session every day, not getting enough sleep, not eating properly and drinking way too much caffeine. On the other hand, I do feel sad that it’s all over as it is wonderful to indulge in 2 and a half weeks of doing what I love the most – seeing films, writing about films and talking about films to other passionate cinephiles. It was also a thrill to be one the jury members for the short films awards this year. Being just a very small part of the festival in that way was a real privilege.

I was overall extremely impressed with the way the festival was run and I don’t believe that there were any mishaps (or miffhaps?) that were not understandable considering the immense logistics behind putting on a festival like this. Sure, there will sometimes be delays and projection problems  but this year everything seemed to be rectified and managed quickly and competently. Having proper breaks between sessions was also wonderful. My only wish is that you could exchange tickets online or at least over the phone without paying an addition charge on top of the exchange fee. It would also be great (but perhaps unrealistic I admit) to create a system where you don’t get charged for cancelling a session but instead only get charged for replacing a session. That way tickets would be freed up when people decide to skip a screening completely.

Son of Babylon

Son of Babylon

My goodness – bless the MIFF volunteers who do such an incredible job with a love of the festival being their main motivation. Having worked professionally on another cultural festival, I am fully aware of how hard volunteers work and that they can sometimes be under-appreciated. Fortunately the general public seemed to be pretty well behaved this year and I only witnessed one temper tantrum, which was so absurd it was actually quite funny (looking at you man who declared that the whole country was apparently incompetent because you had to wait an extra 20 minutes to see a film).

So, onto the films themselves, first with a list of my top 10 favourite films that screening during the festival:

Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009)
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009)
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010)
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009)
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009)
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010)
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010)
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010)
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010)
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010)

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

I would also like to mention that the final film I saw at the festival, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, was a tremendous amount of fun and I’m glad I finished the festival with such an exhilarating film. I also thoroughly enjoyed the three retrospective screenings I went to, which were Psycho with the live orchestra, Joe Dante’s Homecoming and Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s World on a Wire.

My full list of films seen at the festival is as follows:

Air Doll (Kûki ningyô, Hirokazu Koreeda, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Alamar (Pedro González-Rubio, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Beetle Queen Conquers Tokyo (Jessica Oreck, 2009) ✭✭✩
Bibliothèque Pascal (Szabolcs Hajdu, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Boy (Taika Waititi, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Brotherhood (Broderskab, Nicholo Donato, 2009) ✭✭✭
Caterpillar (Kyatapirâ, Kôji Wakamatsu, 2010) ✭✭
Despicable Me (Pierre Coffin and Chris Renaud, 2010) ✭✭✭
Dreamland (Ivan Sen, 2009) ✭✭✭
Enter the Void (Gaspar Noé, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Exodus – Burnt by the Sun 2 (Utomlyonnye solntsem 2, Nikita Mikhalkov, 2010) ✭✩
Four Lions (Christopher Morris, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Ghost Writer (Roman Polanski, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Homecoming (Joe Dante, 2005) ✭✭✭✭
The Housemaid (Hanyo, Im Sang-soo, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Hunter (Rafi Pitts, 2010) ✭✭✩
I Killed My Mother (J’ai tué ma mère, Xavier Dolan, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
I Love You Phillip Morris (Glenn Ficarra and John Reque, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Illusionist (L’illusionniste, Sylvain Chomet, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Killer Inside Me (Michael Winterbottom, 2010) ✭✭✭✭✩
Le Donk & Scor-zay-zee (Shane Meadows, 2009) ✭✭
Leap Year (Año bisiesto, Michael Rowe, 2010) ✭✭
Lebanon (Samuel Maoz, 2009) ✭✭✭
Lourdes (Jessica Hausner, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Messenger (Oren Moverman, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
The Myth of the American Sleepover (David Robert Mitchell, 2009) ✭✭✩
Poetry (Shi, Lee Chang-dong, 2010) ✭✭✭✭
Psycho (Alfred Hitchock, 1960) ✭✭✭✭✭
Red Hill (Patrick Hughes, 2010) ✭✭✭
The Robber (Der Räuber, Benjamin Heisenberg, 2010) ✭✭✭
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (Edgar Wright) ✭✭✭✭
Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll (Mat Whitecross, 2010) ✭✭✭
Son of Babylon (Mohamed Al Daradji, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
The Special Relationship (Richard Loncraine, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Splice (Vincenzo Natali, 2009) ✭✭✭✭✩
Taqwacore: The Birth of Punk Islam (Omar Majeed, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
Tetro (Francis Ford Coppola, 2009) ✭✭✭
The Tree (Julie Bertucelli, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
The Trotsky (Jacob Tierney, 2009) ✭✭✭✩
The Wedding Party (Amanda Jane, 2010) ✭✭
Welcome to the Rileys (Jake Scott, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
Wild Target (Jonathan Lynn, 2010) ✭✭✩
Winter’s Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) ✭✭✭✩
World on a Wire (Rainer Werner Fassbinder, 1973) ✭✭✭✭
World’s Greatest Dad (Bobcat Goldthwait, 2009) ✭✭✭✭

I Love You Phillip Morris

I Love You Phillip Morris

Finally, MIFF this year was extremely sociable and I had a great time drinking and chatting with friends between sessions and making new friends while waiting for the curtains to part. I should really have done this much sooner but below is a shout-out to some of the other places online where MIFF has been discussed and digested. This list is be no means exhaustive and I apologise if I’ve left you off but I wanted to focus on people whom I actually spent time with in person in various queues, cinemas and the festival lounge. So, thanks to the following people for enriching my MIFF experience both online and in person:

Tara Judah at Liminal Vision
Cerise Howard at A Little Lie Down
Richard Watts at A Man About Town
Lee Zachariah (a.k.a. Latauro) at Ain’t It Cool News
Luke Buckmaster at Cinetology
David O’Connell at Screen Fanatic

That’s it for another year! Please feel free to list your blog/website in the comments if you’ve also covered MIFF and escaped my radar. Also, please feel free to share your MIFF highlights and maybe on this occasion it would be good to maintain the MIFF afterglow by just focusing on the films that you can share the love for.

Cheers
Thomas

PS It’s pronounced “FASS-bin-der” not “Fass-BIND-er”!

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 10

8 August 2010

This is my last diary entry for the Melbourne International Film Festival before seeing my final film for the festival Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, which I will write up in full in the next few days once Cinema Autopsy has reverted back to its usual format. I had intended to see a couple more films today but after having had a rather good time at the Closing Night party last night that did not happen!

Lebanon

Lebanon

The Israeli film Lebanon is about a tank unit during the first few days of Israel’s war with Lebanon in 1982. The main point of interest is that the film is set entirely from within the tank, with the shots of the conflict outside being all via the tank’s gunsight. The incredible sound-design and claustrophobic cinematography  certainly convey the intensity of the experience for the young soldiers. The film also operates as a reasonably effective anti-war film, highlighting the death-by-remote aspect of modern warfare. However, some of the scenes depicting the brutality of war verge on the exploitive and diminish their power. Lebanon also relies a little too heavily on some very conventional war film clichés.

One of the most frustrating films I’ve seen at the festival is the Mexican film (with an Australian director) Leap Year. For at least two thirds of the film, its purpose seems to be to capture the everyday existence of an unremarkable life by making a film that is completely mundane – it’s not exactly riveting cinema. Towards the end of the film it becomes apparent that the subject of the film, a woman who lives alone in an apartment that we never see her leave, is actually very damaged and we get some confronting sadomasochistic daddy-issue sex but it’s still ultimately all a bit tedious.

Alamar

Alamar

On the other hand, Alamar demonstrates that films depicting everyday life with next to no narrative can be extraordinarily rewarding when those lives are actually of interest and completely removed from the audience’s frame of reference. I was more than happy to watch a Mayan man, living on a coral reef off the coast of Mexico, spend time with his son. The way of life presented in Alamar is a harmonious one based on living off the sea and the relationship between the father and his son  is very touching. This ethnographic docu/drama is a very simple film but completely engaging and life-affirming.

The Iranian film The Hunter is one of those films that I strongly believe would have worked as a 20 to 30 minute short film. It’s about an ex-prisoner who snaps after his wife is killed in a police shoot out and his daughter goes missing. Most of the film is an unnecessarily dull, detached and emotionally distant build up to the final more interesting aspects of the film. Even then, the protagonist becomes so completely unsympathetic that I simply did not care what happened to him.

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll

The final 2010 MIFF film I’ll give a mini-review to is the closing night film Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll. A high energy biopic of Ian Dury, it was certainly a fun film to close the festival with. However, I was overall a little bit frustrated that the film never really gave me a more substantial picture of who Dury was and his musical significance. The film briefly mentions that his style of music and performance was a sort of unacknowledged precursor to punk but I would have liked a lot more cultural context. The very Brechtian approach of having Dury narrate his life from a stage in an abandoned theatre strongly recalls Bronson (from MIFF last year) but it did not work nearly as effectively. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Andy Serkis’s performance as Dury especially in the later stages of the film where it calmed down stylistically enough for Dury’s larger-than-life persona to speak for itself.

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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MIFF 2010 Diary: Part 9

6 August 2010

There are not too many days left for the 2010 Melbourne International Film Festival and my festival fatigue is now really starting to set it. I skipped a film on Wednesday night due to tiredness and slept through most of another film last night. However,  two of the four films I have seen over the past couple days, and stayed awake during, have been spectacular.

I enjoyed Four Lions, a comedy about incompetent Islamic terrorists trying to find something to blow up. However, I really thought it would have a bit more depth and insight considering its provocative subject matter and it being a film by Christopher Morris, a razor sharp satirist whose television work has an audacious and perceptive approach to comedy. Four Lions is certainly quite funny and there are a couple of excellent scenes that explore the absurdity of some of the extremist Islamic beliefs, but I really wanted a lot more than what this film actually delivers.

World on a Wire

World on a Wire

A big part of what I love about MIFF are the retrospective screenings and this year seeing Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1973 made-for-television science-fiction saga World on a Wire was an incredible pleasure. Stylistically, World on a Wire owes much to Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville in its use of at-the-time modern architecture, interior designs and fashion to represent the future. Eddie Constantine even makes a cameo to really establish Fassbinder’s tip of the hat to Godard’s film. Thematically World on a Wire is a distinct precursor to The Matrix but wondrously it also explores many of the ideas that are found in Inception. Definitely a festival highligh.

Caterpillar is a an anti-nationalistic and anti-militaristic film about a World War II Japanese soldier who returns home deaf, unable to talk, horribly scarred and missing all his limbs. He is declared a War God and the repeated ironic shots of his medals and articles in the newspaper, plus all the rhetoric spouted about the Japanese war effort heard on the radio, reinforcs how grotesque the glorification of war is. Furthermore, he does little but make his wife completely subservient to him by constantly demanding sex and eating more than his share of the food. Maybe I’ve been too caught up in watching short films this year but I am increasingly seeing featuress where I can’t help but think they would have been more effective as 20 minutes shorts. Caterpillar is one such films as it is a single note film that overly labours its point.

Enter the Void

Enter the Void

On the other hand, despite the large number of walk-outs and deep sighs of frustration during its final hour, I absolutely loved Gaspar Noé’s new film Enter the Void, an astonishing and hallucinogenic cinematic experience that mesmerised me for its entire running time. It’s shot in a variety of ways to convey a first person perspective to explore the sensations of drugs, death, sex and the neon lit metropolis of Tokyo, making it the type of film that William S. Burroughs may have made. However, it is only fair to warn that most people I’ve spoken to found Enter the Void to ultimately be an endurance test. I would almost declare it a masterpiece if it wasn’t for my recognition that it does become increasing repetitive, challenging and obscure during its long final act. However, I wanted it to keep going and I could honestly watch it all over again right now. It’s certainly looking like my pick of the festival.

[EDIT 29/11/2010: Read a full review of Enter the Void]

© Thomas Caldwell, 2010

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