The 2014 Melbourne International Film Festival released their full program this morning after a privileged couple days of being only viewable to members. So unless you were indeed a member or have just been feverishly following all #miff2014 Twitter rumblings over the last couple days (guilty!), today’s announcements will seem slightly overwhelming, and the depth and breadth of the film program is indeed staggering, so here at 4:3 we’ll try and guide you through the plethora of films and program strands available, from international premieres, scores of world cinema must-sees and an impressive, eclectic group of retrospectives.
It would be typically unlikely for an article like this to start with a retrospective, but this year’s slate is not very…well, typical. For many cinephiles, the crown jewel of this year’s program has been known for a while, but it bears being restated, continually – Jacques Rivette’s Out 1: Noli Me Tangere, is showing in full. I’m a writer occasionally prone to hyperbole and figurative language, but I assure you I quite literally hyperventilated when I heard this news for the first time – Rivette’s legendary, 773 minute opus is one of the white whales in any serious film buff’s bucket list, and this is an incredible opportunity to see the grandest vision by one of cinema’s most legendary but elusive figures on the big screen, in 16mm. Befitting his ouevre’s interest in conspiracies, Rivette is inadequately represented on home video (almost surely the greatest director not in the Criterion Collection) and has been little seen theatrically here, though MIFF, like a secret society out of Paris Nous Appartient or Gang of Four has proved a dependable home, having screened ten of the French New Wave director’s films over their history. The film screens as part of a retrospective program celebrating Jean-Pierre Léaud, an extremely interesting choice – he may not strike one as the most brilliant French actor of the era on par with Michel Piccoli or Jean-Louis Trintingant, but through no coincidence starred in films by some of world cinema’s most important directors over decades, starting with his role as Antoine Doinel The 400 Blows and sequels (Antoine & Collette is also playing) by Francois Truffaut. Other highlights in the program is another under-seen French art epic, Jean Eustache’s The Mother and The Whore, droll Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki’s I Hired A Contract Killer and Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculin-Feminin. It’s only a shame they didn’t consider his inspired cameo in Tsai Ming-Liang’s What Time Is It There? substantial enough to include in this brilliant program, though the Taiwanese Tsai is far from underrepresented…
As a key bastion of Australian film culture, the Festival has some challenging films that defy traditional movie-going experiences. Cinema of duration and contemplative cinema is an unofficial sub-theme of the Festival, which depending on your perspective will be extremely refreshing and provoking, or severely ass-numbing. In addition to the gargantuan Out 1, Filipino auteur Lav Diaz’ latest, Norte, The End of History is a must-see from a director who can only really be seen in a Festival setting, though by Diaz’ standards this 250-minute film is positively fleeting. Taiwanese master of contemplative cinema Tsai has two projects on offer – his Stray Dogs was supposed to be his swansong, though his follow-up, the 56 minute, 14-shot Journey to the West featuring French actor Denis Lavant looks similarly stunning and these two films are important additions to the program. Epic documentaries, such as Frederick Wiseman’s At Berkeley and Wang Bing’s ‘Til Madness Do Us Part both eclipse the four hour mark in their incisive looks at two very different (or are they?) institutions. Lastly, one of my own picks for the Festival is Hard To Be A God from the late Alexei German, whose production had been germinating over five decades into a stunning, uncompromising 3 ½ hour black-and-white sci-fi allegory. MIFF has really established itself as arguably the only place where you can see these essential, challenging films in Australia, and kudos is deserved for the respect MIFF clearly shows to their audience through their programming.
Among the Australian premieres from the Festival circuit are some big films indeed. The latest Jean-Luc Godard film, Adieu au Langage, fresh off its Jury Prize at Cannes is showing in 3D, and other Cannes 14 alumni include Ken Loach’s Jimmy Hall and Naomi Kawase’s Still the Water – though missing sadly are Alice Rohrwacher’s Grand Prix-winning The Wonders (which we called best film from Munich Film Festival) or Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars – at least the latter will screen theatrically, but it may be worth worrying slightly about Rohrwacher’s film 1 .
Two crucial international premieres – though belated – are Wong Kar-Wai’s wuxia Ip Man interpretation The Grandmaster and perhaps my most awaited film of the festival, James Gray’s period piece The Immigrant with muse Joaquin Phoenix and Marion Cotillard. Both victims of the Weinstein treatment, the former cut, the latter near buried theatrically, these films are finally get the theatrical screening they deserve, more than a year after their premieres (at Berlin and Cannes 2013, respectively).
Many of the bigger Sydney Film Festival films make an appearance, including Richard Linklater’s Boyhood, Cannes winner Xavier Dolan’s Mommy, Diao Yinan’s wonderful Black Coal, Thin Ice, Kelly Reichhardt’s Night Moves, Catherine Breillat’s Abuse of Weakness (Breillat herself is a guest at MIFF also), Australian films Fell and Ruin and 4:3’s favourite film from SFF, Iranian one-take wonder Fish & Cat as well as Official Competiton winner, Two Days One Night from Cannes royalty the Dardenne Brothers. Curiously absent are Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer2 and this year’s Palme d’Or winner, Winter Sleep from Nuri Bilge Ceylan – the MIFF lineup is absolutely packed, though these omissions may disappoint some Melbourne cinephiles (though theatrical releases should be on the horizon).
I opened fawning over this year’s retrospective programs and I shall close the same way. One great program is the Commeddia all’italiana stream. A huge movement in the 1950s and 1960s in Italy, as beloved by Italian cinephiles as their more highbrow contemporaries Antonioni, Visconti and Pasolini (and far more commercially successful), this style of filmmaking has been largely overlooked in the Western canon, with directors such as Mario Monicelli, Dino Risi and Alberto Lattuada representing a style of filmmaking with comedies reflecting a more post-war optimisim but not without incisive social commentary. Some of the key films are Il Sorpasso, Big Deal on Madonna Street and Divorce Italian Style, all projected on 35mm and aren’t to be missed, and for the more horror inclined, the ‘A Perfect Midnight: Haunted Hong Kong’ has a great selection of supernatural horrors from Hong Kong that is a truly inspired retro choice.
These are in addition to some more generic yet no less appreciated screenings – Saul Bass is most known for his iconic artwork and credits for films by Otto Preminger and Alfred Hitchcock, but he also had one directorial outing, sci-fi Phase IV, a cult classic with a newly discovered and restored ending which will be a must for cult fans. Lastly, Djibril Diop Mambéty’s classic Touki-Bouki is showing on film, a fascinating movie with some Godardian vibes, one of the great films of African cinema. The continent’s great films have long been neglected, but thanks to Festivals and institutions like Scorsese’ World Cinema Foundation, these crucial works are finally gaining the exposure they deserve.
All in all, it looks to be an absolutely incredible program, that will make you try to budget as much time and money as possible to see them. Through our coverage of SFF and Munich Film Festival, we’ve covered many of the films screening this year – we’ve retrospectively tagged all films screening at MIFF here that we’ve covered so have a flick through our reviews when deciding which films to see! And we’ll be hitting the ground in Melbourne in August so stay tuned for our many reviews and interviews to come!
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from 31 July – 17 August. Full schedule and tickets are available at http://www.miff.com.au