To see any less than ten films from this year’s staggering MIFF program would be nothing short of severe negligence – your best bet is to buy an eMini pass, allowing you to book ten films and an additional three ‘off peak’ sessions before 5pm on weekdays. Why, this sounds like a convenient format for a Staff Picks article! Here is our collective eMini pass with staff suggestions!
Brad Mariano – The latest collaboration from the best working director-actor partnership, James Gray and Joaquin Phoenix, The Immigrant looks to be another measured, acutely observed character study only this time we venture into a period piece. Marion Cotillard (also the lead in Two Days, One Night at MIFF) plays the titular immigrant led to the promise of the rags-to-riches American success story but likely finding something else entirely. Her perilous and perhaps fruitless journey is mirrored by the film’s own distribution – debuting at Cannes in 2013, its journey to American shores took way longer than expected, and like Cotillard’s Ewa, it didn’t receive the reception it expected or deserved – critically lauded, it was near buried theatrically. Only now receiving its Australian premiere, let’s receive this Immigrant with the openness and warmth we wish the Government normally did.
Ivan Čerečina – The Filipino director Lav Diaz continues his engagement with the writings of Dostoevsky, this time working loosely with plot of Crime and Punishment in his newest feature film Norte, the End of History (pictured above). He continues as well with his experiments in extended duration (Norte runs at 250 minutes) and minute character detail, scrutinising the actions of the film’s players as closely as possible. Norte mixes class politics and Filipino history into a narrative about a student who kills their debtor, and it looks as if Diaz has not shied away from folding in broader metaphysical questions about God, morality and ethics into the narrative. The director is nothing if not ambitious, and Norte– his first excursion into colour photography in more than a decade – looks to be another aesthetic and philosophical challenge laid down for spectators and other filmmakers alike.
Imogen Gardam – Grappling with love, life, death and dogs, I’ve only heard good things about Jean-Luc Godard’s latest outing, Goodbye to Language. It’s his 39th film and his first feature length 3D film after a brief flirtation with the technology last year in 3x3D, an anthology work he shared with Peter Greenaway and Edgar Pera. In 3x3D, Godard seemed a little suspicious of 3D, calling his episode “The Three Disasters” (like 3D, get it?) and using a great deal of 2D and archival footage. For me, the main reason to catch Goodbye to Language at MIFF is to actually see it in 3D – this collision of spectacle technology and experimental filmmaking should make for interesting viewing, something a DVD release will never quite live up to and a legitimate concern given the film appears not to have been picked up for an Australian release as yet. 3D still carries the stigma of blockbuster cinema and post-production conversion and is generally perceived to hallmark “low-brow” cinema, so it’s kind of great to see Godard joining the ranks of other experimental filmmakers using 3D technology, such as Wim Wenders and Werner Herzog. Mind you, it is still very experimental – Variety called it “Contempt meets Lassie”, and if you haven’t read the synopsis, please do (you can find it here) – new technology, same old Godard.
Felix Hubble – There’s been a fair amount of hype surrounding Oculus in horror circles, a “low”-budget mainstream Horror film that’s apparently quite high on quality and legitimate scares. The film follows a woman who is convinced that a possessed mirror is responsible for the death of her parents (along with others throughout history), who ropes her brother into an experiment to prove that the antique is in fact haunted. Oculus saw wide release in the US around 5 months ago, making back it’s budget and then some in its first two days; finally Aussies will have a chance to see if the film lives up to the considerable amount of hype it has garnered. There’s probably a bunch of independant Horror flicks more deserving of your time in MIFF’s Night Shift program (It Follows and mumblecore legend Mark Duplass helmed Creep come to mind, as does Australian produced doco The Search for Weng Weng – seriously, check out the trailer, it looks amazing) but I can’t help but look forward to this film, one I’ve been eagerly awaiting for the opportunity to see for months.
Jeremy Elphick – In the last two decades, Sion Sono has established himself as one of the most prolific directors in Japan. Making up to four films a year at his most productive, there is obviously a large range of quality within his output. Sono’s The Land of Hope from 2012 had remnants of his greater works in it, whilst remaining a significantly flawed film. That said, most fans of the director are able to look at 2008’s Love Exposure as one of the most impressive films of the last 10 years, and as reason enough to see any Sono film released since. My pick for this year’s Festival, Why Don’t You Play In Hell, has far more in common with Love Exposure than The Land of Hope did; a sense of rampant absurdism, an eerily playful approach to violence and a plot that might not be entirely sensical. It’s this highly personal and complex approach to cinema (and especially to tired genres) that make a Sono film always something worth watching.
Brad Mariano – Out 1: Noli Me Tangere. This one is technically cheating, and you won’t actually be able to book on an eMini pass – it is, after all, roughly 8 times as long as a normal feature film – but we’d remiss to not recommend this film for the upteenth time. The centrepiece of the Jean-Pierre Leaud retrospective, the film features Leaud as part of an acting troupe that may or may not be also involved in some secret conspiracy. A clear product of the fallout of Paris in ’68 and a homage in part to the serials of Feuillade, but it is singularly and unambiguously the culmination of legendary French New Wave master Jacques Rivette’s entire, elusive oeuvre; made in 1971 and not seen theatrically again until 2006, and only intermittently at select festivals since then. This near 13 hour gargantuan piece is not only the film you can’t miss at MIFF, but a cinema going experience that if it isn’t a once in a lifetime experience, it’s one in a very, very long time.
Jess Alcamo – Charming and coarse female-lead comedies are thankfully getting made a lot more and moreover getting the respect they deserve, hopefully signaling a move into a future that doesn’t mean that every witty female fronted comedy will need to be referenced to GIRLS. That’s why Obvious Child is my pick for MIFF, which will be screening alongside other great debut features such as Appropriate Behaviour which played at the Sydney Film Festival and won over our staff. The film is written and directed by Gillian Robespierre and stars the familiar faced Jenny Slate who’s made appearances on Parks and Recreation and SNL, most often as the entitled pain in the ass. The AV Club and The Dissolve have both written glowing things about her performance in the film and for a movie that is pitched as the abortion romantic comedy, it seems like Jenny Slate has managed to keep the whole film from drifting too far into being flippant and insensitive, or into political tiptoe-ing. 1
Christian Byers – Australians don’t watch Australian films. My Mistress is an Australian film. Oh dear, nasty connotations. For a film culture with such lengthy, rigourous development processes, it’s alarming but not altogether unpredictable that we pump out content that is consistently half baked, unoriginal and uninspired. Something either halfway to a commercially viable popcorn flick, unmistakably American in influence but generally unable to compete on a budgetary level, flailing around in the unviable, unenviable mid ground, or art house quackery which due to lack of funds (and ingenuity), ends up somewhere between student film and soap opera. When anything comes along that in conceit alone can suggest something other than squeaky clean banality, it’s cause for some tentative excitement. My Mistress is a new Australian film about a young man who, after his father’s suicide, falls in love with his local S&M mistress. OK. I’m tentatively excited. I’m also excited to see Harrison Gilbertson in this, having followed him for a number of years. It will be important for him, showing what he can do with a raw, challenging role before he is inevitably engulfed in the Hollywood machine of franchises and video game movies for the time being. It’s worth noting that my SFF pick was Ruin (review here) which really threw the cat amongst the pigeons. Though I feel My Mistress is less likely to do so, I feel like it will to some degree cause a stir. Ruin is also showing at MIFF and I think you should watch it, then join our writer’s staff and start the argument all over again
Brad Mariano – You know me, I’m just a sucker for 3 1/2 hour black-and-white science fiction allegories taking place in medieval eras that take a half century to go from page to screen. I’m (perhaps unsuccessfully) trying to point out just how singular Aleksei German’s Hard To Be A God is – posthumously released after German’s death in 2013, the Russian master’s final film is so unique in its boundless ambition and epic production history, and with a quite incredible premise. Scientists are sent to an alternate Earth several hundred years earlier in its development (during its Middle Ages) and follow the age-old time traveller’s dilemma – to not affect anything in the course of history – except instead of dancing and smooching their mother, they stand by and witness untold cruelty and suffering. It’s been said to be gruelling and provocative as well as in parts narratively challenging. Not only is this one of the films to see at the Festival, but if early reviews are to be trusted, it’s perhaps the best film to schedule in to see twice.
Jess Ellicott – Tsai Ming-liang’s Stray Dogs is one of the films I’m most looking forward to at MIFF. Partly because he is my soulmate, sharing many of the same favourite films (http://explore.bfi.org.uk/sightandsoundpolls/2012/voter/1187), and partly because he is one of the best directors working today. Centring around a single father on the outskirts of Taipei society (played by Lee Kang-sheng, stalwart of Tsai’s films), the film looks to again feature the same brilliant combination of minimalism and subtle humour characteristic of his films such asWhat Time Is It There? and Goodbye, Dragon Inn. You can make it a Tsai double feature and see his latest film, the documentary Journey to the West, also screening at this year’s Festival.