Films I loved in July 2014

6 August 2014

As I’m currently caught up in the thick of the Melbourne International Film Festival and didn’t get this summary done beforehand, my notes on my favourite films from July are briefer than ever. I also didn’t even get to see all the films I wanted to see, particularly A Most Wanted Man, so maybe that will appear on my August list. But for now here’s what I did see in July, better later than never…

Tilda Swinton as Mason in  Snowpiercer

Tilda Swinton as Mason in Snowpiercer

I first saw Snowpiercer while travelling abroad late last year and I was thrilled to see it again recently as I think it’s become my favourite film to-date by Bong Joon-ho. I love the visceral and exhilarating action, I love the production design, I love the dark humour and I love the social satire. Not only is the film a savage condemnation of class politics, but it examines the conditions under which class-based oppression thrives with all aspects of the film designed to facilitate that critique.

Brendan Gleeson as Father James and Chris O'Dowd as Jack Brennan in Calvary

Brendan Gleeson as Father James and Chris O’Dowd as Jack Brennan in Calvary

I have to keep reminding myself that Calvary is a blacker-than-black comedy, because it left me devastated. This is extremely sophisticated storytelling that transcended all expectations I had for writer/director John Michael McDonagh. The insights into personal and collective guilt, and the mix of ideas concerning redemption, forgiveness, sin and martyrdom, make this an essential film for trying to understand just how much damage the centuries of sex abuse and cover-ups committed by the Catholic Church have done to individuals and communities.

David Gulpilil as Charlie in Charlie's Country

David Gulpilil as Charlie in Charlie’s Country

I have been a fan of Rolf de Heer’s films for over 20 years now and Charlie’s Country yet again validates my belief that he is one of the most important Australian filmmakers of all time. After making so many progressive films, often about marginalised people, including two previous films with an Indigenous focus but set in the past, this is the film I’ve been waiting for de Heer to make for some time. And it doesn’t disappoint. Closely collaborating with co-writer/lead actor David Gulpilil, de Heer delivers an insight into the extent to which white Australia has continually intruded upon the lives of the First Australians on all levels. While this is overall a sobering film, it also contains a lot of humour thanks to Gulpilil’s performance and just the right amount of hope to prevent the audience from throwing their hands up into the air and declaring the issues to be all too hard to deal with.

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy in Lucy

Scarlett Johansson as Lucy in Lucy

I feel vaguely guilty for including Lucy here, but I had such a great time with this B-grade mash-up of junk science, stoner-philosophy and Hong Kong action-inspired spectacle. The film’s conceptual audacity and the way it fully embraces its internal ridiculousness is completely exhilarating, and it’s by far the most fun I’ve had watching a Luc Besson film since Léon: The Professional 20 years ago.

Otherwise, I really enjoyed Ritesh Batra’s The Lunchbox, which is a sort of Hindi In the Mood for Love/Brief Encounter with interesting insights into some of the social issues within contemporary India. I found the Australian documentary All This Mayhem very compelling, having next to no knowledge of the rise and then very disturbing fall of skateboarding champions Tas and Ben Pappas. It’s been a year since I saw The Selfish Giant, which is now on general release in Australia, but at the time I was extremely impressed by the way it transformed a parable by Oscar Wilde into a very moving social-realist film set in a poverty stricken part of northern England. And I was finally able to catch up on Ulrich Seidl’s Paradise trilogy, which has recently been released on DVD, with Paradise: Love from 2012 being the standout film from that trilogy. Set at a Kenyan beach resort where older Austrian women go to have sex with the young locals, the cocktail of gender, race, class and body politics on offer in this film results in a wonderfully uncomfortable, provocative, confronting and darkly funny film.

Thomas Caldwell, 2014

MIFF 2011 Blog-a-thon: Part 7

28 July 2011
Project Nim

Project Nim

Human rights abuse doco the day before, and now a sad film about the abuse of animal rights. The impression I got from the documentary Project Nim was that there wasn’t anybody who was directly involved in the plight of Nim Chimpsky who actively wanted to harm the chimp. However, differing attitudes towards the purpose and methodology of the animal/human communication experiments, and a degree of human carelessness and thoughtlessness, led to poor old Nim being treated less than ideally. While the film does lean more towards focusing on the sadness and folly of treating a chimp like a human and then expecting it to revert back, I was most interested in the ethical debates surrounding using animals for human needs. I was very moved by this film.

I was in the mood for something light after Project Nim so fortunately I then saw The Guard, a sort of black-comedy Irish In the Heat of the Night. Using the familiar but always welcome mismatched buddy cop film formula, The Guard sees Don Cheadle as an FBI agent having to work with a charmingly obnoxious rural Irish policeman played by Brendan Gleeson. It’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, whose brother Martin McDonagh made the sensational In Bruges. While not on par with In Bruges, The Guard contains a similar sense of humour. It also has a couple of moments similar to Hot Fuzz where the local cops seem to have formed a lot of their understanding about policework and the FBI from what they’ve seen in film and television. Lot’s of fun.

I also had a good laugh during Errol Morris’s latest documentary Tabloid and then felt guilty afterwards for doing so. There is something almost cruel in the way the use of editing, graphics and archival footage is used to encourage the audience to giggle at the film’s subject Joyce McKinney, who may or may not have kidnapped and then raped a Mormon man she was obsessed with. Then again, the story is outrageous and McKinney is a willing participant in the film who doesn’t exactly need to be coaxed into sharing her perspective. Towards the end of Tabloid I was half expecting Morris to do an Orson Welles and slyly tell us that what we’ve seen was a fabrication. But, McKinney is the real deal and I still laughed at her expense despite not feeling very good about myself for doing so.



I hadn’t even read the MIFF program notes on Tomboy so went in with only a vague sense of what it was about. Turns out it is one of my highlights from the festival so far. This naturalistic French film explores adolescent romantic love, gender identity and sibling love. Most of the cast are children, with the lead character being 10-years-old, and they are all terrific. There’s something remarkably refreshing about a film where the central family are functional and caring towards each other. Tomboy has a restrained style that results in something very touching and beautiful.

I think the MIFF fatigue really got to me yesterday when I caught a tram and tried to stick my festival passport into the validating machine. After a few attempts I realised that I wasn’t going into a cinema, which was fortunate as I may have then sat down on the tram and hissed at passengers who were talking or looking at their phones.

Show us your MIFF
Despite seeing Cerise Howard around at various film events for years, and even once interviewing her in relation to her work for Senses of Cinema when I used to do a show on JOY 94.9, it’s only in the last 18 months that I’ve really got to know her. Cerise is a musician, composer, aspiring novelist and all-round cinema expert. She’s programmed film events, travelled around the world to various film festivals, writes the blog A Little Lie Down and is the film critic on Triple R’s Smart Arts. I’ve certainly benefited from her extraordinary knowledge and passion for the moving image. In fact, she is the one who pointed out Surviving Life to me in this year’s festival guide, the film that along with Fruit of Paradise has been her highlight of the festival so far. She’s seeing around 30 films this year and is most looking forward to The Turin Horse and the rest of the Peter Tscherkassky program. Cerise has been coming to MIFF since the days Opening Night were at the Astor Theatre and Shinya Tsukamoto’s films were routinely programmed. Seeing Jan Švankmajer’s Conspirators of Pleasure in 1997 and the Seijun Suzuki retrospective in 2000 are just two of her fondest MIFF memories. Her survival tip to getting through MIFF is to drink too much and to ‘try not to commit to seeing as many as 60 films in the course of the festival, nor, additionally, to writing the whole experience up (but if you do, be sure to prevail upon your friends and cronies to contribute!)’ Sounds like good advice to me.

Thomas Caldwell, 2011

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