This year’s Melbourne International Film Festival is as expansive as ever, boasting an impressive Cannes pull as well as a solid array of rarities. In this Staff Picks piece, our writing team goes through the festival program and picks out some of the films they are most excited to see at this MIFF.
Conor Bateman: There’s always the worry at film festivals that the film you anticipate the most never quite reaches the heights your imagination has set for it. The reason I lead with this idea is that out of the films playing at MIFF that I have already seen, the best of them are not necessarily the ones I had known much about before watching them. As such, I feel some kind of duty to spruik these under-heralded films to anyone who has the chance to see them. Two that come to mind from what I saw at Sydney Film Festival are Welcome to Leith, a documentary about a small town in North Dakota that morphs into this intimately focused yet thematically dense look at racism, civil liberties and the notion of camera-as-witness, and the legal drama Court, which was surprisingly cutting in both its sense of humour and in its depiction of classism in Indian society. The former is best experienced with as little information as possible, though perhaps worth noting that this insane true story was brought to the screen by a crew of two – co-directors Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker – and that they managed a seemingly impossible task of gaining the trust of two very ideologically different groups of people. For Court, it’s a rich and rewarding feature that is something utterly rare in contemporary Indian cinema – a vicious attack on its own audience. First time feature director Chaitanya Tamhane tears into his own characters, effortlessly shattering illusions of righteousness, and the systems in which they live, the bureaucratic nightmare of the court system the biggest target.
A film I have not yet seen, and perhaps in rebuke to the above, one I have been anticipating for quite some time, is Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster, his first English-language feature and his follow-up to Sydney Film Prize-winner Alps. Like his first three films, The Lobster is primarily concerned with human interaction and modes of relationship. In Kinetta, his solo-directorial debut, Lanthimos placed his focus (for the first time) on the re-creation of the lives of others, characters taking the place of crime victims in re-enactments. Dogtooth saw impersonation as a luxury and a taste of escape, whilst in Alps the obsession over becoming someone else was all-encompassing. The Lobster is about the fear of transformation, with the inhabitants of a town told given one year to find love or be banished into the surrounding forest, transformed into an animal. The promise of this premise suggests far more visual absurdity than Lanthimos has shown in the past, and the eclectic cast of international actors seems to suggest a grander ambition for his usually small-scale narratives.
Felix Hubble: Gaspar Noé is no stranger to controversy, having directed two films that feature explicit and confronting depictions of sexual violence,1 I Stand Alone and Irreversible, as well as what is possibly the most accurate filmic representation of a psychedelic drug trip, Enter the Void.2 His latest, Love 3D, is an (alleged) art-porn flick shot in 3D about “love” (what else?) that Noé hopes will give guys erections and get girls wet. It’s already drummed up a lot of controversy with a slew of sexually explicit posters, as well some comments from Noé in which he expressed that he felt the film was appropriate for pre-teens. While Noé can certainly talk the talk, it’s yet to be seen whether or not Love 3D walks the walk, given its mixed reception earlier this year at Cannes; one thing is certain, however: the film will generate a lot of discussion at this year’s MIFF, and its rawness will likely only be topped by that found in Josh and Benny Safdie’s fantastic Heaven Knows What. It’s highly unlikely that this will see Australian theatrical release,3 so this may be the only chance we have to see the film the way the director intended it: in 3D, and on the big screen.
Having already seen a fair few films that are playing at this year’s MIFF at Sydney Film Festival, I can confidently recommend a few like The Diary of a Teenage Girl, a film that is leaps and bounds ahead of any other Sony Picture Classics coming-of-age tale released previously and far less cliched than expected, and The Invitation, Karyn Kusama’s latest claustrophobic genre flick that is just a heap of fun all round. But the clear highlight for me has to be Breaking a Monster; it’s a film that I didn’t think would be playing MIFF and it’s more than worth the price of admission. Breaking a Monster is Luke Meyer’s exploration of the modern music industry: a business in limbo, thrust into a state of flux by rampant piracy and emergent web technologies like Spotify that have completely uprooted their traditional business models. Focusing on a viral Metal band (consisting of 3 charismatic, black 12-year-old boys) as their agent Alan Sacks – the man behind the Jonas Brothers – tries to “break” them, the documentary is a tragic tale of a floundering industry in decline, who can no longer bank on their tried-and-tested methods of manufacturing financial success, disguised as a “road-to-fame” biopic. It’s a well-crafted theatrical outing, and a fine addition to the rest of his body of work about modern life in America, something that we discussed with him earlier this year when Breaking a Monster was having its Sydney Film Festival run.
Jeremy Elphick: The Look of Silence is a companion piece to director Joshua Oppenheimer’s earlier film, The Act of Killing; a chaotic fever dream that navigates and dissects guilt, memory, and madness in eerie proximity to a group of killers who played a part in perpetrating one of the largest instances of mass murder in the 21st century. In its company, The Look of Silence is a stripped bare, slow-burning, and coldly intimate inversion of Oppenheimer’s previous documentary. It doesn’t share the same ambition in scope, however, what is present is an arguably more affecting study of total loss, fear, and complete tragedy. Oppenheimer steps back as the interrogator, placing Adi – a man who lost his brother in the period the mass murder occurred – at the center of the film. In this, the terror that The Act of Killing reflects upon is given a human face, punctuated by the most intricate manifestations of pain and the deepest expressions of sadness. It’s a film that deserves the highest praise considering its advertised intention. It’s not simply a complementary piece to the significantly longer The Act of Killing – it stands alone as a deeply affecting and artfully-composed piece of cinema.
While Laz Diaz’ From What Is Before took home the Golden Leopard from Locarno International Film Festival, the buzz around Pedro Costa’s Horse Money throughout the festival has made the Australian debut of the film well-anticipated on my end. From a poetic navigation of Portugal’s past and present, the country’s class divisions through a post-colonial lens, to the constantly alluring and experimental cinematography of Leonardo Simões 4 – Horse Money looks to mediate between surreal and confronting, political and reflective, leaning back and forth between reality and fiction in a way that explores the many facets of human experience in the process. As someone who is drawn to films that experiment and manipulate lighting in cinema, a quick peruse through a few of the available stills of Costa’s film were quick to cement it as the movie I’m most excited for at MIFF. Beyond that, I’m excited to move through the extensive David Gulpilil retrospective at the festival, headed by the actors latest appearance in the Australian debut of Another Country. Beyond that, the chance to catch Nicolas Roeg’s Walkabout and Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan on the big screen in celluloid is one I’m not going to pass up.
Jessica Ellicott: One of the most interesting new films I’ve seen this year is Alex Ross Perry’s Queen of Earth. I was a big fan of his previous film, Listen Up Philip, but this I think is even better – more concentrated, more complex, more intriguing, more intense, and with an even better script featuring some searing, Mother and the Whore-level monologues. I remember being enlivened and excited by it, drinking up every second and never wanting it to end. The beautiful Katherine Waterston (Inherent Vice) is wonderful as the best friend of the tightly wound Elizabeth Moss, and the whole film is basically this twisted, beautifully nasty power play between the two, strongly drawing on films like Polanski’s Repulsion and Woody Allen’s Interiors, but managing to remain its own thing entirely. I highly recommend it, even for those who weren’t into Listen Up Philip.
I’m really excited to see Luo Li’s Li Wen at East Lake in the program. Shelly Kraicer, who programmed the excellent Focus on China section at SFF 2014, wrote this essay on the Canadian-Chinese director in a recent issue of CinemaScope, and I’ve been keen to check out his work ever since. His films are extremely hard to get a hold of, so this is one of those ones where if you miss it at MIFF, you’re either going to have to make an overseas trip or start your own distribution company to be able to see. I also share the excitement of many others for the Psychedelic! retro, but especially for the inclusion of experimental film legend Ken Jacobs’ Seeking the Monkey King. It’s hidden away in the Psychedelic Shorts session and is easy to skip over, but if it’s anything like his other films I’ve seen then it’s going to be an unforgettable visual feast.
Brad Mariano: There are a lot of known quantities playing at MIFF, including my three favourite films from SFF: Arabian Nights, Peter Strickland’s The Duke of Burgundy and Abel Ferrara’s Pasolini, but a particular favourite of mine has popped up in wealth of treasures that is MIFF’s retrospective slate, being Philippe Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan. The titular figure, legendary Australian bushranger Morgan, is played by the late Dennis Hopper during his wild years of exile from Hollywood. An actor of indisputable talent, Hopper found himself on the out after the notorious critical and commercial failure of The Last Movie and unable to find work, the star and director of Easy Rider came to be a part of one of the most striking works of Australia’s 1970s Golden Age of cinema, and one of its most legendary production sagas; Hopper’s drunken off-screen behaviours only barely eclipsed by his startling, manic turn as Morgan. Also starring David Gulpilil (alongside a staggering 120 other speaking parts), it’s an inspired Western about one of Australia’s own outlaw legends.
Of the many films I haven’t seen, my ears pricked up at the mention of Ryuzo and His Seven Henchmen, the newest film from actor-director Takeshi Kitano after his two Outrage films. Seemingly a more comedic film – though I find Kitano’s deadpan delivery hilarious normally, to say nothing of Kitano’s extensive comedic background before his first films – it will be an fascinating extra nuance in Kitano’s career-long interest in deconstructing and then reconstructing again the Yakuza image on screen as well as the generational divides within those power structures. Expect jolts of violence, scenes at the beach and his other peculiar trademarks despite a reduced role on-screen himself, in a supporting turn (anyone familiar with Battle Royale will understand what he can bring in that capacity) to Tatsuya Fuji’s (of the Stray Cat Rock series) already acclaimed lead role.
Lidiya Josifova: I was very excited to see Mexican filmmaker Gabriel Ripstein’s 600 Miles among this year’s MIFF program, having already sung its praises here in a review for our 2015 Berlinale coverage. Set at the American-Mexican border, the film tracks the eponymous 600 miles traversed by amateur gun-runner Arnulfo as he attempts to deal with a kidnapped federal drug agent in the back of his car. My appreciation for this film has only grown after viewing it. Ripstein has carefully crafted a film that deconstructs our traditional relationship to onscreen violence, forcing us to reconsider. The predominant question: Why is it that we expect and are exhilarated by a voyeuristic experience of violence, rather than repulsed? It’s all the more powerful as an independent film exploring territory usually dominated by mindless studio blockbusters. Ripstein does a lot with his debut film, and he does it well.
Admittedly, My Life Directed By Nicolas Winding Refn is definitely pandering to the Drive fan in me. It’s another film-within-a-film, shot by Refn’s wife Liv Corfixen, that tracks the film’s progress from beginning to end with the film’s premiere at Cannes. On a base level, there’s a simple enough fun to tagging along for the ride as Refn’s follow-up feature gets made. But then – there’s the fact that we get allowed to access to one of the more contentious films of the last few years’ top-tier festival circuit: Only God Forgives. Winner of the 2013 Sydney Film Festival main prize, it’s divided fans and critics everywhere. To get some insight into its production is more than tempting, regardless of on which side of the fence you sit. The documentary promises intimate access to Refn’s relationship with his frequent collaborator Ryan Gosling, with his wife, with his creative team, and undoubtedly, many others. If nothing else, it may be a refreshing reminder of the tough and complex nature of creative decision-making, even (and especially) for divisive films. Of course, there’s only one way to find out.
Ivan Cerecina: Definitely the best documentary that I saw among a solid selection at the Sydney Film Festival, The Pearl Button managed to live up to the high expectations I had placed on it as a new film by a director who I admire, Patricio Guzman. Over the course of his 45-years as documentary film director, Guzman has taken the political history of Chile as his major subject, particularly the popular socialist government led by Salvador Allende and the CIA-backed coup led by Augusto Pinochet that displaced it. What has been most interesting for me to see in his work is a gradual progression towards personal reflection, infusing his work on political history with his own subjectivity. And as with Nostalgia for the Light before it, The Pearl Button treats Chile as a geographical entity as well as a historical unit shaped by competing forces of power, blending a concern with the country’s past with a curiosity about the natural phenomena that have borne witness to it. It’s an ambitious project, but it’s refreshing to see this kind of ambition in documentary filmmaking, particularly when it is executed so well. A must-see.
Along with the aforementioned Horse Money and The Thoughts That Once We Had – which sounds like one of the most interesting concepts for a film I’ve come across in some time, – Corneliu Porumboiu’s The Treasure is the film I’m most excited for going into MIFF. Though I’m not familiar with all of the director’s work, I was a big fan of The Second Game when it played at SFF in 2014. Along with its ingenious premise, the film displayed an impressive comic sensibility that set it apart from the decidedly more sober tone of other films in the Romanian New Wave. From the initial reviews of The Treasure, it sounds like Porumboiu has stayed in this low-key comedic mode in the film, lacing its simple story (the search for a family’s “treasure”) with dark humour. One to look out for.
Virat Nehru: One of great things about film festivals, as Conor mentioned, is the prospect of going to see a film without knowing much about it. If there’s one rueful aspect of modern marketing and film distribution, it is the fact that there is no longer a sense of mystery surrounding films anymore. You are actively bombarded with teasers, trailers and interview snippets that tell you more about an upcoming film, months even years before that film releases. I miss that child-like experience of cinema – where you would go to a cinema hall without knowing anything about the film and prepare to be seduced by the medium. It still happens today, but the occurrences are far too infrequent for me. This brings me to Haemoo, a film that I walked in at SFF without knowing anything about and it blew me away. It starts out as a self-aware and slightly ironic take on surviving as a sea tradesman before it cleverly escalates into a Melville-esque narrative about a ship crew gradually descending into madness because of the situation they find themselves in. It has one of the strongest second halves of all the features I saw at SFF and the cinematography capturing the weather changes out at sea was breathtaking.
It is perhaps the world’s worst kept secret that I’m a David Foster Wallace admirer. And what a time it is to be one. No other film playing at MIFF has me as conflicted as The End of the Tour. It’s not as a Wallace biopic, as director James Ponsoldt has painstakingly repeated countless times. However, this doesn’t lessen the burden of resurrecting Wallace on screen, whose legacy is equally cherished and debated, almost as much as his writing. There is also that niggling paradox of fame that Wallace struggled with throughout his life – of wanting to be the kind of person who would appear in Rolling Stone, but not wanting to be seen as the kind of person who would want to be in Rolling Stone. From early reviews, Ponsoldt seems to have pulled out a rabbit from a hat by casting the uncanny Jason Segel as Wallace. Coupled with Ponsoldt’s remarkable capabilities of getting the best out of his material and cast – such as in The Spectacular Now – only raises the bar of expectation. For a long time, David Foster Wallace has been misrepresented in popular culture – either as that guy who wrote the unreadable novel that you always talk about but secretly haven’t finished (Infinite Jest); or the tennis aficionado who eloquently contextualised Roger Federer’s legacy through that piece (Roger Federer as a Religious Experience); or just a guy who arguably delivered the most memorable commencement address (This is Water). All these things might even be true, but they don’t adequately represent Wallace. The scary question is – will this film help to present us with a more holistic Wallace, or just add to the demarcations in his celebrated and contested legacy? I’m terrified, but also excited to find out.
Indian cinema is perhaps going through its most exciting phase. A variety of different kinds of Indian films that play with form, style and audience expectations are finding the right distributors and audiences. I’m very excited about Margarita With A Straw. It charts the journey of Laila – a woman with Cerebral Palsy who goes on a journey of discovering her sexuality. Hindi films with dominant female protagonists have found critical commercial success in India recently. Films such as Queen (2014), Kahaani (2012) and English Vinglish (2012) come to mind. This is a pleasant development and Margarita With A Straw appears to continue in the same vain. It will be interesting to see how the film tackles sensitive issues of disability and sexuality, though in an interview with us, co-director Nilesh Maniyar indicated that one of the primary objectives was not to let the character of Laila feel exploited in any way. If the right balance is struck, this film promises to be riveting.
Chris Neill: I cannot recommend The Guest highly enough. When the mysterious David visits the Peterson family claiming to have served with their now deceased son Caleb, he’s welcomed with open arms. But when a couple of weirdly coincidental murders occur, Anna (played by Maika Monroe who you’ll recognise from It Follows) decides to find out just who David really is. I’m a huge fan of the film’s creators, director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett. They’ve contributed segments to the first two V/H/S films and The ABCs of Death, but they’re best known for You’re Next, an incredibly smart and darkly funny take on the slasher/home-invasion genre. They’re two filmmakers who clearly love cult horror movies from the late 1970s and 1980s, and want to show you just how much they love them – despite being a thriller, The Guest itself is a homage to John Carpenter’s horror works, right down to the icy synth soundtrack. They know how to play with the genre’s tropes in a way that keeps them fresh and interesting but still feels distinctly of the genre. While The Guest’s first third does feel slow, the entire time you can feel this intensity slowly building below the surface, just waiting to erupt. And when it does erupt, it really erupts into one of the most stylish thrillers of recent memory.
I’m curious to see the musical documentary 808, which discusses the history of the eponymous instrument and how it influenced the music. Released back in the early 1980s, the Roland TR-808 was one of the first programmable drum machines ever made and has been extensively used by a lot of big-name artists, particularly in the rap and dance genres. If you know anything about the production history of rap music, you know exactly how important that instrument is; the 808 is to hip-hop what the electric guitar is to rock’n’roll. The film boasts an impressive line-up of interviewees, including musicians and producers like Damon Albarn, Rick Rubin and Questlove. I think I’m most interested in hearing from Afrika Bambaataa – his magnum opus Planet Rock is one of the great classic hip-hop records and the one of the best examples of the 808’s capabilities. I do feel like it’s a very niche subject for a documentary, and it probably goes without saying that if you aren’t into the type of music that the 808 is predominately used for you probably won’t get much from this. Otherwise, this looks like an interesting look into one of music’s key innovations, and at the very least you’ll get some good discussion from guys like Questlove and Rubin.
Dominic Barlow: The last few years have seen a spate of impressive documentaries on the burgeoning indie video game scene – my personal favourites include the output of 2 Player Productions (Double Fine Adventure!, Minecraft: The Story of Mojang) and the obvious-sounding but stellar Indie Game: The Movie – but few have really dug beneath their big-name personalities to find the concerns shared between that and other art forms. Thank You For Playing promises to do just that in an especially powerful way, by documenting developer Ryan Green’s journey to create That Dragon, Cancer, a title based around his real-life experience of raising an infant diagnosed with terminal cancer. Shot over fourteen months by Malika Zouhali-Worrall, a journalist whose MIFF 2012 feature Call Me Kuchu centered around the Ugandan LGBT community, and David Osit, whose previous documentary Building Babel centred on the developer of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in Lower Manhattan, it appears to be an exhaustive and textured look at creative catharsis within a medium whose industry often cloys for validation instead of earning it (see: the clamour following Roger Ebert’s dismissal of it in print), and within a family of subjects who would surely deserve just that.
Also uncovering little-seen emotional outlets is Ulrich Seidl’s latest, In the Basement, which went down a bizarre treat with the Sydney Film Festival crowd I saw it with. I can only echo Conor’s review in trumpeting what he calls Seidl’s “controlled reality”, where he persistently shoots his subjects in frames so static as to resemble museum exhibitions, yet somehow never surrenders the behaviours and attitudes that compelled him in the first place. With blithe testimonials and comedic moments that never feel cruel, it’s a subtly entertaining, edifying plea for us to acknowledge our hungrier, darker and sadder selves.
Grace Sharkey: It was Neil Armfeld’s adaptation of Timothy Conigrave’s much beloved memoir (and Tommy Murphy’s much beloved play) that stood out for me. Holding the Man was the the closing night film of Sydney Film Festival and it was the most important film I saw. Conigrave’s memoir is such an important piece of Australian gay history and it has meant so much to many. To adapt for the screen was risky. But it thrives. With a booming soundtrack, and outstanding performances from the two leads, this is a movie worth its textual antecedents. A film that does not shy away from what it is, that is resolutely itself. It’s not an easy film to watch.. Films dealing with HIV/AIDS rarely are, but this is perhaps one of the most harrowing examples I have ever seen (and I have seen many). But it’s also fun and lighthearted and a very clever period piece. At SFF, it the importance of what was happening, what we were all about to witness, filled the atmosphere of the room. I can only predict the same for Melbourne.
And I, like Virat, am really looking forward to The End of the Tour. A film I should, being a loyal David Foster Wallace follower, be very much against. But it just looks so good. I’m excited to see what Jason Segal does and I have a soft spot for Jesse Eisenberg.
Luke Goodsell: There’s a pretty cool selection of music-related films at this year’s festival, including documentaries on the Residents, a new one from Julien Temple, and Les Blank’s unearthed country music jam, A Poem Is a Naked Person; not to mention classic psychedelica from the Monkees (Bob Rafelson’s amazing Head) and The Beatles (George Dunning’s feverishly imaginative Yellow Submarine). One that I’ve seen, as part of this year’s Berlinale, is B-Movie: Lust & Sound in West Berlin, a new documentary that chronicles the journey of English expat Mark Reeder through the punk, new wave and early dance music scenes of the city in the ‘80s. It’s a fascinating collage of archival footage and performances (with guest stars like Blixa Bargeld and Christiane F.), and doubles as an intriguing snapshot of a restless sociopolitical period. Also from the ’80s is hard-to-find, bona fide oddity Human Highway, Neil Young’s offbeat road trip that he both stars in and directs. (MIFF is screening his cut, which I haven’t seen.) I’m indifferent to earnest folk rock Young, and this thing is the complete opposite of that: it’s super weird, with a vibe closer to David Byrne’s True Stories, loopy turns from Dennis Hopper and Dean Stockwell that anticipate Blue Velvet, and a soundtrack of instrumental Neil Young synth dirges—and Devo’s dynamite cover of “My My, Hey Hey “ – that’s worth the ticket alone.
Probably my most-anticipated of the new work is Peter Tscherkassky’s vintage soft core collage film The Exquisite Corpus, which plays in what invariably winds up being my favorite session at MIFF: the Experimental Shorts program. Tscherkassky’s kind of a visionary (see Outer Space, for starters), so the chance to see anything of his on a big screen has to be seized. Oh, and lest I forget to mention there’s a new film from essay cinema guru Thom Andersen, The Thoughts That Once We Had, which takes a trip through 20th century cinema that promises to be the best of its ilk this side of Godard.
Isobel Yeap: I too am dying to see The End of the Tour. A dedicated David Foster Wallace fan, I was initially annoyed to learn that he was being played by Jason Segel. “What?” I thought, “That mopey looking guy from Looking for Sarah Marshall?” Why not just add insult to injury and cast Russell Brand as Jonathon Franzen? I did, however, come around after viewing the trailer. Segel has the sort of hangdog expression that enables him to play a convincing lost soul and, in this regard, could be perfect for playing Wallace. Like the memoir it is based on, the film focuses on the relationship between Wallace and Dave Lipsky (Jesse Eisenberg), a struggling reporter who travels with Wallace on his publicity tour for Infinite Jest. I’m sceptical as to whether the film will do justice to Wallace’s formidable intelligence, or provide insights into his enigmatic character beyond those offered by his own writings. Even so, The End of the Tour promises to be an entertaining and thought-provoking piece on Lipsky’s time spent with Wallace.
I’m also excited to see is The Boring Life of Jacqueline, a 10-episode series made for HBO Digitals, directed by Sebastian Silva. The series stars Jaclyn Jonet as Jacqueline, an underachieving actress who spends her time cooped up in her apartment calling friends who don’t call her back, fantasising about her building’s maintenance man and tweeting. I’m curious mostly because The New York Times likened it to Roman Polanski’s Repulsion “remade as a slightly less creepy romantic comedy.” I’m not exactly sure how this would work, but I look forward to finding out.
Dominic Ellis: I saw something like thirty films at SFF, of which about three-quarters will make their way down to Melbourne in late July. Of those, there are unexpected treats (The Chinese Mayor), a couple of really impressive Australian flicks (Sherpa and The Daughter), and a one-take quasi-heist film that’s not without narrative problems, but is just on a whole ‘nother level of technical achievement (Victoria). But my top pick is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Cemetery of Splendour. I’m not exactly experienced with Weerasethakul – I’ve only seen his Palm d’Or-winning Uncle Boonmee – so I don’t claim to know him back to front, but seeing his work on the big screen, in all its mystery, felt quite revelatory. Splendour is an entry point into a filmography that’s gorgeously interconnected, evidencing Weerasethakul’s unique talent for balancing cryptic, supernatural stories with stunning, naturalistic imagery, and I was completely hypnotized.
In terms of what I’m looking forward to, I guess at the top of the list has got to be The Nightmare from Rodney Ascher. My excitement basically stems from two things. Firstly, Ascher made a cinephile’s wet dream in Room 237 and showed his complete willingness to dive headfirst into his (outlandish) subjects. And secondly, the stills are just plain terrifying. I know that’s not a very good reason, but just look at this look at this slender man thing.
Jake Moody: Among the Lav Diaz masochists on the 4:3 staff I may be the biggest sucker for punishment, and while many of us enjoyed, but were initially underwhelmed by, his 330-minute From What Is Before, it’s grown on me like few other films from the past year. A giant, yearning exploration of a rural community, the striking thing about letting the film sink in is the growing feeling that it truly comes by its length – honestly. Plot strands dissolve and reappear quite literally hours later, and other aspects – especially the threads dealing with Marcos’ impending martial law and the sisters at heart of the village – seem more tragic, and more confronting, in retrospect. While it would take an utter lunatic to commit to both, the film pairs with another Diaz, the diptych Storm Children, which with any luck will form an effective companion piece. A more accessible but no less worthy mention needs to be made of Jin Mo-young’s My Love, Don’t Cross That River, a wonderfully understated document of the last months of a seventy-five year relationship. Few recent films have been so forthright in depicting the pure, simple joy of existing, and the bittersweet experience of ageing.
Among films not appearing at SFF, one of the most exciting picks has to be Jean-Marie Straub’s Kommunisten. Most renowned for the films made in collaboration with his late wife Danièle Huillet, Straub’s latest film retains the radical socialist didacticism of the European Sixties from which he ascended, while also appearing to function as a document of his own career. While it’s probably fair to say that these kind of auto-retrospectives are frequently indulgent, there’s no chance whatsoever that a filmmaker as constantly inventive as Straub will acquiesce to any easily identifiable format. This will be essential viewing, not least to tally the number of walkouts among bemused Melburnians. A second blind pick from me would be Morgan Knibbe’s Those Who Feel the Fire Burning, a contender for title of the festival if nothing else. Pitched as a surreal reflection on refugeeism, and featuring some elements of supernaturality disrupting the comparatively straight premise of an asylum seeker boat disaster, the film holds the potential to become one of those rare on-the-button political pieces which actually functions as a striking piece of film art too.