Readings staff share their MIFF 2019 top picks

This year’s Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) program is jam-packed. Stuck on what to see? Our staff share their most-anticipated films below. Pro tip: It looks like lots of people are keen to see Jim Jarmusch’s new flick, so book it while tickets last!

Joanna Di Mattia recommends foreign films and a healthy dose of romance

I’ve been a regular at MIFF for over 20 years and sitting down with the program guide – even though, as a member and a film critic, I’m able to get my hands on it earlier than most – is always an overwhelming task. What to choose when the choices are so bountiful?

Films direct from Cannes and other European festivals are usually a priority, alongside Asian cinema and a handful of documentaries; and there’s always plenty of space in my schedule for MIFF’s carefully curated retrospective programs. I’m especially ecstatic that MIFF is screening the 30th-anniversary restoration of the exquisite Distant Voices, Still Lives, by my favourite living filmmaker, Terence Davies. I’ve watched this 1988 film many times before but never on a big screen.

What I love most about MIFF are the opportunities it gives me to see swoony, sensual, intimate cinematic moments on the big screen – Xavier Dolan’s new romance Matthias & Maxime on Hoyts Xtremescreen? Yes please! At the top of my list for expected swooning this year is poet-turned-filmmaker Bi Gan’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, a tale of yearning which closes with an uninterrupted 59-minute tracking shot filmed in 3D. The much-anticipated new beauty from Pedro Almodóvar, the autobiographical Pain and Glory, promises brutal self-reflection from the Spanish legend and a stunning performance from Antonio Banderas playing a version of Almodóvar himself.

I’ve been desperate to get my eyeballs on The Souvenir since I saw the trailer earlier this year. This story of a doomed romance and a young woman finding her own artistic voice is very much my thing. And finally, I’ll be seeing the wonderfully titled Portrait of a Lady on Fire from Céline Sciamma. Awarded the Queer Palm and Best Screenplay at Cannes, it’s a slow-burning 18th-century romance between two women – one commissioned to paint the portrait of the other. By all accounts it’s enigmatic, erotic, and provocative on questions of the female gaze, desire, and power. I can’t wait!

Kim Gruschow recommends Japanese horror movies and classic martial arts

I’m a huge nerd for horror manga and extremely scary Japanese movies so I’m very keen to check out Violence Voyager. I’m particularly interested in the gekimation animation technique which is used in this film – it’s done with detailed painted paper cut-outs.

Martial arts movies are my preferred comfort viewing, so naturally I’m very keen to catch some classics on the big screen in the Shaw Brothers Double Feature. The documentary Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks includes an interview with the legendary Cynthia Rothrock, so I’m 100% down for that too. I’ve never managed to see Pixote despite it being on my watch list for many years, so it’s good to have a chance to see a restored version of this much-lauded Brazilian film on the big screen.

I’m also really excited about Penelope Spheeris being one of the directors in focus: I love to see punks on film! I’m looking forward to Merata: How Mum Decolonised the Screen. It tells the story of Merata Mita, the first Maori woman to write and direct a feature film in Aotearoa. It will be great to learn more about a trailblazer and I’ve heard good things about this documentary.

Ellen Cregan recommends documentaries about minorities in the music industry

This year’s MIFF program is full of interesting films, and it’s quite hard to narrow down what I want to see. I know that I’m desperate to catch The Dead Don’t Die, because a Jim Jarmusch movie with a Tom Waits cameo is honestly my dream film. It sounds like this film is an homage to Romero-era zombie/capitalism analogies and that it has a great sense of humour to it.

I’m also looking forward to a documentary about GIRLS ROCK!, which is an amazing program that teaches female and gender-fluid teens about the music industry, and has fostered so much amazing young talent in Melbourne. No Time For Quiet follows the young participants through their time in the program, and looks affirming and inspiring.

There are also a couple of MIFF special events that I’m keen on attending. I particularly want to see Sampa the Great performing her version of the score for Girlhood at the Plenary. She’s one of the most exciting Australian artists working today, and Girlhood sounds wonderful.

Chris Gordon recommends a night out with friends and picking some ‘wild cards’

My bloke and son are very excited to being heading to the Shaw Brothers double feature. They will laugh like crazy men at the fights, the sound effects and the complete pantomime of it all. I will not be joining them.

I will, however, join them for a viewing of Jim Jarmusch’s new movie The Dead Don’t Die with Adam Driver who I love, Tilda Swinton who I’m afraid of and Bill Murray who comforts me. My daughter and I will also aim to see The Queen, the wonderful look at drag queens with attitude that changed everything in 1967.

My girlfriends and I will also view Sophie Hyde’s Animals, which is about friendships and being a certain age. It’s possible we will have a drink prior to the viewing…

I also like to take a few wild cards at MIFF where I pick a day and just simply fit my viewing pleasure around my time constraints. Previously, it has meant I’ve seen glorious documentaries and short films that I never would have encountered before. It seems to me that this festival is the one where surprises are around every corner and worth the gamble.

Amanda Rayner recommends grabbing a seat at a good documentary

I always go straight to the documentary section of the MIFF program. I’m excited this year to watch the following:

The Hidden City directed by Victor Moreno

I love films which take me to places that I am unlikely ever to see, except on film. Someone exploring the labyrinth of tunnels beneath the city of Madrid? I can’t think of a more perfect example.

Leftover Women directed by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam

Documentaries where one gets to experience the traditions and beliefs of another culture is another main reason why I am drawn to documentaries. In China, if you are unmarried by the age of 27, you are considered a sheng nu, or, ‘leftover’. This film explores the stigma of the unmarried woman and is right at the top of my must-see list.

Machine directed by Justin Krook

All I can say about this documentary focusing on artificial intelligence is that I saw a clip from this film and I was equally fascinated and terrified (especially the interactions with the robots).

Watergate directed by Charles Ferguson

Maybe it’s because I was born the year Watergate started, but I have always been endlessly fascinated by this famous scandal and the two reporters (Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein) who broke the story through The Washington Post. I have read the book and seen the movie All the President’s Men about 10 times, so I will be jumping at the chance to see this documentary to continue my obsession.

Marie Matteson recommends unexpected documentaries and queer content

When it comes to MIFF I am always on the lookout for unexpected and queer content. In the unexpected column this year, I am digging deep into documentaries and planning to see Nothing Fancy: Diana Kennedy, an examination of the life and work of chef and activist Diana Kennedy, billed as an 'act of revolutionary culinary anthropology’. Continuing with documentaries, I am looking forward to Cold Case Hammarskjöld, a conspiracy theory-creating documentary on the death of former UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld in a plane crash on the way to the Congo in 1961.

If it’s not unexpected documentaries I’m looking for, then it’s probably queer content. This year I can’t wait for Portrait of a Lady on Fire, the new film from Girlhood director Celine Sciamma, which was an award-winning hit at Cannes. Also – that title!

I will hopefully finish off with And Then We Danced, a story of queer love and dancing in Georgia. Dance, queer love and hopefully not too much tragedy.

Jackie Tang recommends luscious soundtracks and a Chinese tearjerker

I really love composer Joe Hisaishi’s work for all the Studio Ghibli films – his score for The Tale of Princess Kaguya had me bawling in the cinema and I still find myself humming bars from the Howl’s Moving Castle waltz while resisting the urge to skip on long walks. I’m thrilled to see he’ll be scoring a new film in this year’s MIFF program: Children of the Sea, a vivid under-the-sea eco-conscious animated adventure. I can’t wait to hear what kind of aural inspiration from the ocean Hisaishi takes for this one.

I’m also hugely looking forward to Lulu Wang’s The Farewell about a Chinese-American woman who returns to China to visit her dying grandmother – while the entire extended family conspires to keep the terminal diagnosis a secret. The film was just released in the US, and garnered one of the highest per-theatre screen averages this year, proving just how relatable and relevant its themes of family, honesty and diasporic dis/connection are. The trailer itself almost made me cry, so I’ll be packing a lot of tissues for this one.

View the full MIFF 2019 program here.

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