Our film specialist Gerard Elson recommends his films-to-see at MIFF.
MIFF! This year’s program is so jam-packed with enticing cinema that I feel enfeebled just looking at it – and I’ve already seen a number of the titles on offer at last month’s Sydney Film Festival. This is of course by no means a complaint; rather, it’s a testament to the exciting festival Melburnians have in store for them this year.
But one would be forgiven for feeling a little overwhelmed by the scope of the thing. After all, this year’s program incorporates everything from a retrospective package devoted to one of cinema’s earliest visionaries – Jean Epstein, pioneering French impressionist, film theorist and originator of the notion of photogénie – to a film in which Vincent Gallo, clad in a burnished jumpsuit, fist-pumps the baked desert air to a score by Vitalic as flying saucers sweep overhead (The Legend of Kaspar Hauser).
As usual, MIFF’s 2012 program gathers nominally correlated films into sidebars governed by theme, region of origin, intended audience, and so on. To keep things simple, we’ll use a few of these as our legend for this post, wherein I’ll spotlight some of the films I’ve either seen previously and can recommend, or the ones I’m most hoping to catch come August.
Please note: I’ve striven to neglect anything already assigned an Australian release date, such as Moonrise Kingdom, releasing August 30 (which I’ve seen and is gorgeous – a picaresque of two kid sweethearts on the lam from adulthood, which finds Anderson at once at his loosest and most precise), or Leos Carax’s first feature in 13 years, the Cannes-toasted Holy Motors, releasing August 23. (Those seeking acquaintance with Carax’s truly singular cinema would do better attending any of the rare retrospective screenings of his small but formidable body of work, the sum of which remains frustratingly unavailable on DVD in this country. Lovers on the Bridge is my pick of that litter).
Here’s my short review from Sydney of this deeply impressive debut from Israel’s Natav Lipid.
Gael Garcia Bernal is one half of a young couple whose relationship is shaken to its core whilst backpacking with a guide through the verdant mountains of modern-day Georgia. Inspired by Tom Bissell’s short story ‘Expensive Trips Nowhere’, Julia Loktev’s superb film hinges on a single long and unnerving moment of trauma.
Those appreciative of cinema which privileges the medium’s rudiments (image and duration) should place this high on their list.
Aleksandr Sokurov’s (Russian Ark) take on Goethe’s cosmic tragedy of the enlightened man who trades his soul to the devil is as exhaustingly dense, wicked and hubristic as the filmmaker’s admirers could hope for.
It’s a great, meaty putrefying carcass of film, swarming with maggoty ideas, into which the game are best advised to plunge their faces, bite off a hunk – any hunk – and chew.
Lynne Shelton’s follow-up to her terrific comedy-drama of bromantic chicken, Humpday, reunites the director with the great Mark Duplass. Rosemarie DeWitt and Emily Blunt play the sister and her sister, respectively (er, I think…).
A social-realist comic heist drama from Ken Loach (!) wherein second chances are found by culturing a palate for single malt whisky. A winning fusion of Loach’s prevalent modes – and a Nan-friendly crowd-pleaser to boot.
Taking cues from the lurid 'giallo' nasties of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, et al, this sinister, 1970s-set horror/dark comedy sees Tobey Jones playing a sound engineer whose work for an Italian horror studio seemingly begins to bleed into reality.
My favourite film of the year to date. Here’s a blog response (as discrete from a review proper) I bashed out in haste from Sydney last month. (All grammatical errors are my own.)
Here’s the trailer. I’m intrigued.
As punishment for an unspecified crime against the state, a Berlin physician (Barbara Hoss) is resituated to a provincial East German town in order to serve her sentence in the local hospital.
What begins as a remote slow-burner impelled by a mesmeric central performance – I can’t recall when I last saw an actress do so much whilst seemingly doing so little – effloresces into something quite lovely and affecting. Think Fassbinder, on an ‘up’ day.
Telescope: Visions from the EU
Disparate textures – interview footage, dramatic reconstruction, CG animation – collude to evoke the tortured subjectivity and biography of Daniel Paul Schreber, upstanding jurist turned late-nineteenth-century asylum inmate and author of proto-psychiatric classic Memoirs of My Nervous Illness.
A recent Sight & Sound interview with director Ben Rivers – who convincingly rationalised his commitment to analogue production technologies, such as the beautifully hand-processed black-and-white 16mm showcased here – ensured my interest in this portrait of a contented isolationist, who whiles away his days in the Scottish wilds listening to records, fishing and communing with nature. One of my most anticipated titles.
Michael Glawogger (Workingman’s Death) canvasses a host of female sex workers from around the world in what’s being touted as an unblinking and formally audacious documentary.
Read a great interview with Glawogger from the film’s 2011 Venice premiere at MUBI’s Daily Notebook.
Accent on Asia
The terminally twee Air Doll, which played MIFF 2010, was a rare misstep for Hirokazu Koreeda. I Wish finds the Japanese auteur returning to the warmly observational, slice-of-life domesticity of the beautiful Still Walking to detail the story of two separated young brothers who pine to be reunited.
Isabelle Huppert teams with Hong Sang-soo (Oki’s Movie). Word from Cannes suggests this as a loose, free-floating exercise in spontaneity, which should make for a welcome breather between the fest’s more deliberate fare.
Furthering his creative excursion from the social mores of his native Iran, Kiarostami follows the playfully fathomless Certified Copy with a Tokyo-set channeling of Ozu.
Sydney’s programming conspired to prevent me from seeing this vaunted portrait of a key figure in the contemporary art world, so I won’t miss it at MIFF.
Werner Herzog gives us his In Cold Blood. See you there.
I’ve thus far managed to avoid all word on this intriguing true story of identity fraud (I think?), other than ‘see it!’ It’s been praised interstate with showings at both Sydney and Perth’s Revelation Film Festival after setting tongues wagging at Sundance.
I spent a solid hour in 2010 at New York’s MoMA transfixed by the statuesque profile of a seated Abramović, gazing impassively at the rotation of volunteers compelled to take up the vacant chair across her table.
Her superhuman poise and composure leant the Artist is Present installation – which this film documents – an undeniable gravity. Which is a rather self-indulgent way of saying I look forward to this very much.
One for the literati. Filmmaker Grant Gee (Joy Division) valiantly endeavours to translate Sebald’s perambulating The Rings of Saturn into cinema – and by most accounts, makes pretty fair fists of the job.
A highlight of my Sydney experience, which I reviewed here.
Four sidebars in, and I feel we’re barely getting started – which indicates perhaps I ought to cool my jets and leave it here. There’s scores of stuff to be excited about this year, so the best advice I can offer is pick up a program, see what flints your interest, and, above all: be adventurous.
Gerard Elson works at Readings St Kilda.