The Melbourne International Film Festival program has been announced for 2016 and our contributors are here to give you their picks for what looks to be the best of the fest this year.
Jessica Ellicott: One of the best films I saw at this year’s Berlinale was Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, with Isabelle Huppert in top form as a Parisian philosophy professor who’s suddenly forced to redefine herself after her marriage ends and her children leave home. She’s very far from being the sad case you might expect, however. It’s an immensely optimistic, funny and richly drawn film, Hansen-Løve drawing from a deep well of personal experience with her own parents being philosophy teachers. Fireflies editor Annabel Brady-Brown wrote a great review of it for us in Berlin.
Partly because Isabelle Huppert is on such a roll at the moment, and partly because it’s a new film from the cinematic genius that is Paul Verhoeven, Elle is my most anticipated film of the festival. It’s a rape revenge comedy. You could think of Showgirls as a rape revenge comedy, too, and lord knows I loved Showgirls. I must admit I haven’t read all that much about it because I don’t want to spoil it, but I’m expecting great things.
I was also very excited to see Mikio Naruse’s Sound of the Mountain included in the Setsuko Hara retrospective. Naruse is one of my favourite directors and this is one of his very best, and the rare chance to see it on 35mm is not one I’m willing to pass up.
Jaymes Durante: Festival director Michelle Carey hinted to revelers at the MIFF 2016 program launch that Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV had the best closing line of the whole festival, and while that’s certainly assuring, I was already sold on the basis of seeing New Wave veteran slash living legend Jean-Pierre Leaud languishing around Versailles in magnificently large powdered wigs alone. Following the infamous Roi-Soleil in his final days as he runs France from his opulent deathbed, Serra’s follow-up to Locarno Golden Leopard winner Story of My Death promises to be a gloriously unhurried, ornate visual experience—a conflation of decorative splendour and slow cinema.
Toni Erdmann was, by critics’ estimations, the best film at Cannes, and it was the best film at the Sydney Film Festival too. A German comedy nigh on three hours that doesn’t once settle for a facile punchline or an easy way out, but that opts instead for slow builds and miraculous pay-offs, fueled by a brand of humour that capitalises on audiences’ untapped abilities to reciprocate excruciating embarrassment for characters on screen. It’s centred on the relationship between an uptight corporate player and her scruffy father, who adopts ludicrous disguises to infiltrate her coldhearted corporate world. The two central performances are warm and agonizingly honest, and Ade’s skill in finding pain and poignancy alongside one another is heartrendingly welcome in a festival setting where naturalism is too often utilised for dreary miserablism.
Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers has the best title of the festival, taken from a line of a 1947 Paul Bowles’ short story. It sees the British experimental filmmaker back on his own after A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, a collaboration with Ben Russell, which is heartening considering I found Russell’s contribution to that project its weakest aspect. Rivers works in a mode of slow, tightly controlled formalism that confuses that ever-tenuous line between documentary and fiction, stylising his reclusive subjects in splendid, observant long takes that capitalise on their beautiful natural surroundings. The Sky Trembles… is apparently a step closer to narrative cinema for Rivers, a foray into surrealism and post-colonial allegory that might just garner him a few new fans. For adventurous MIFF-goers, this one’s unmissable.
Jeremy Elphick: There’s a captivating internal competition within Ozu’s Noriko trilogy, with all three works amongst the directors strongest. For me, there’s always been something about Early Summer that creeps up on you throughout the film, and lingers long after it’s concluded. It’s one of Ozu’s more subtly shattering pieces and often the most overlooked within the trilogy. I’d make time for most of the films in the Setsuko Hara retrospective, but Early Summer would be my top pick. Hong Sang-Soo’s Right Now, Wrong Then, Wang Bing’s Ta’ang, and Wang Yichun’s What’s in the Darkness are all some of my favourite films of the last year; Hong’s work is one of his strongest to date, Wang Bing’s is an apt and courageous look at conflict, and Wang Yichun’s is one of the strongest debuts I’ve seen in a long time.
Catching Chantal Akerman’s No Home Movie in cinema—after having seen it in less desirable circumstances almost a year earlier—was overwhelming in a lot of ways, as well as something I’d recommend to fans of the director. It’s both a film that excels in the space of a cinema, and as our reviewer articulated, one of Akerman’s most poignant and complex pieces. I can’t say much more about Chevalier than I already did in my review of the film, however, if you’re looking for a film in the program that is light-hearted without being remotely lightweight, Athina Rachel Tsangari’s latest work is definitely worth the time.
Masao Adachi’s Artist of Fasting, an adaptation of Franz Kafka’s ‘The Hunger Artist, Artist of Fasting’, marks the return of one of Japanese New Wave’s most enduring (read: still alive) figures. An early collaborator of MIFF-favourite Nagisa Oshima, Adachi’s work has been defined by a similar political edge and air of resistance.1 After a decade of provocative and political documentary and non-fiction works, Pimpaka Towira’s The Island Funeral marks the director’s return to fiction, with contributions from Thai-based writer Kong Rithdee. One of Towira’s shorts also appears in the Southeast Asian Shorts selection, which looks to be a varied filmic presentation of the region. As one of Thailand’s most challenging and consistent filmmakers in the last decade, Towira has a lot to offer, making The Island Funeral one not to miss.
Conor Bateman: One of the most pleasant cinematic surprises of last year came in the form of a musical about capitalism, Johnnie To’s Office. Whilst we got a stunning and ever-shifting stage set, some inventive cinematography and so very close to a singing Chow Yun-fat, it seems that, as Australian audiences, we were missing out on a singular feature in To’s vision of the film: 3D. Lucikly MIFF is giving us the opportunity to see the the film in its full glory.
Another of the stronger films I saw last year making its way to MIFF is Charlie Lyne’s essay film Fear Itself. Taking the inventive approach of pairing the filmic essay with a fictional narrator (in a sense, like some of Chris Marker’s work), Lyne chooses to focus on the emotions provoked by horror cinema over any analysis of technique. It’s a refreshing and pretty enthralling work that should prompt some re-evaluations of maligned horror work, as well as provoke curiosity about the bevy of horror franchise sequels which still manage to conjure some terrifying images. The latest work from Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson (who brought us The Forbidden Room last year) sees them share directorial duties with production designer Galen Johnson for short film Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, a bizarro behind-the-scenes documentary about Canadian war film Hyena Road. The short is playing before Fear Itself, so this is as much a set of film recommendations as it is a session recommendation. Catching these two works back-to-back will likely be one of the more interesting double features of MIFF.
Anders Furze: Olivier Assayas’ Clouds of Sils Maria was my favourite film of last year, a beguiling and intelligent exploration of psychology, art and the irrelevance that inevitably claims us all. Propelling a fair chunk of the film was the chemistry between Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart, the latter of whom stars in Assayas’ follow-up, Personal Shopper. From what I can tell this is an emotionally hefty ghost story featuring extended shots of Kristen Stewart texting. It was also booed at Cannes. I’m in.
I was genuinely stunned to see that MIFF is hosting a full-blown Jerry Lewis retrospective this year, featuring every single film he has directed (with one infamous exception). I’m particularly excited to watch the master physical comedian’s directorial debut, The Bellboy (1960). Entirely lacking a conventional narrative, the film seems to exist solely as a showcase for Lewis’ manic imagination. This is the very definition of high concept cinema: take a premise (Jerry Lewis, but he’s a Bellboy!) and run with it. And oh, how Lewis can run with things.
I had never heard of I Am Not a Serial Killer or its director Dylan O’Brien until I started browsing this year’s MIFF program. What originally caught my eye was the casting of Max Records, last notably seen as a kid in Where the Wild Things Are. Then I watched the trailer. Interspersing Christopher Lloyd on a creaky cross-trainer with 16mm footage of small town America and a distinctively unsettling score was enough to rocket this up my to-watch list. All the more intriguingly, it’s an adaptation of the first installment in a five-book series of Young Adult novels.
Ali Schnabel: I have found that I am an enormous sucker for simple, feel-good and cinematographically rich films (since seeing Brooklyn reluctantly last year, and crying all of the way through). Everything that I’ve heard about Paterson suggests that it will be much of the same—even if I’m not a huge Jarmusch fan, I’m pumped nonetheless.
I’m the most curious to see Happy Hour: the last very long movie I saw was at MIFF in 2014 (Hard To Be A God) and man, I did not have a good time of it. But something tells me that Happy Hour—which has been described as calling to mind both Sex and the City and Jacques Rivette’s 13-hour Out 1: Moli Me Tangere—looks to be a really compelling exercise in extremely detailed, intimate cinema. I’m thinking that it’s going to feel a bit like reading all four of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels in one day.
Finally, I’m extremely psyched to see Sonita—to see such a unique story, that tells us so much about the treatment of women in the Middle East and is actually told by Middle Eastern women in the roles of filmmaker and subject, is really exciting for me. I think it’s going to fill the gaps that were evident in George Gittoes’ Snow Monkey, which ended up causing a bit too much cognitive dissonance; between the potentially problematic nature of the white filmmaker making a documentary about Afghani kids in Afghanistan and the intrigue in the sheer personality and resilience of some of the subjects, I still find myself divided on the film (though leaning mostly towards enjoyment).
Virat Nehru: Film narrative anthologies come few and far between, such that they are nice little Easter eggs when you stumble upon them in a program. If this is indeed an Easter egg, it’s a jolly good one. Madly has some of the most diverse and interesting filmmaking talents working today—Anurag Kashyap, Gael Garcia Bernal, Sion Sono, Sebastian Silva, Mia Wasikowska and the directorial debut of Natasha Khan. It’s a spectacular line-up that makes me ever so curious as to what the final product will be.
I haven’t had my fill of Iranian cinema this year, and part of me always feels incomplete without it every year. The only Iranian film I’ve seen this year is debut director Babak Anvari’s spectacular horror film Under the Shadow—which also plays at MIFF, so do check it out if you haven’t already. To make up for this, I’m very excited for Mani Haghighi’s magic realist-cum-noir detective story A Dragon Arrives! set against the cultural backdrop of the Shah’s regime in the ’60s. I’m also eagerly looking forward to Asghar Farhadi’s latest The Salesman, straight from Cannes, where Farhadi picked up the award for Best Screenplay and Shahab Hosseini won Best Actor for the film. I’m already internally preparing for the kind of emotional upheaval that Farhadi excels at, but I’m sure the film will somehow manage to reduce me to a crumbled, emotional mess nonetheless.
Tiernan Morrison: It seems unfair that Wolf Creek got a sequel and TV spin-off while Sean Byrne’s The Loved Ones is now somewhat forgotten. Sure Wolf Creek was effective in a vulgar way but Byrne’s directorial debut was a far more stylish and haunting take on the dark side of rural Australia. Given the near total acclaim The Loved Ones received, it’s surprising how little attention Byrne’s second feature The Devil’s Candy has attracted. Early reviews have been good, so I’m excited to see how this heavy metal haunted house flick turns out.
I’m a sucker for music documentaries so the festival’s stacked Backbeat program has been a delightful surprise. The new Frank Zappa and Janis Joplin documentaries are sure to be good, but I’m most excited to see Jim Jarmusch’s Iggy Pop and The Stooges documentary Gimme Danger. As photos of their press appearance at Cannes demonstrate, Iggy Pop and Jim Jarmusch are still two of the coolest people in the world so anything they collaborated on would be worth watching. The Stooges are yet to get a thorough documentary treatment which is a shame given how much of a visual performer Iggy is. Jarmusch’s affinity for oddballs combined with his unprecedented access to the man and his work should make for something special.
This pick is a lot more speculative given that Frank and Lola is director Matthew Ross’s first feature, but its talented cast, intriguing premise and the festival circuit buzz it’s garnered are enough to make me interested. Imogen Poots gave a standout performance in this year’s Green Room, and Michael Shannon is quietly becoming the go-to guy for ‘brooding intensity’. The director’s talent is evident in the striking visual style shown in the trailers and news that the rights have been bought by Universal for $2 million suggest this could be a ‘see it before everyone else does’ situation.
Keva York: I do love a good film about filmmaking (or indeed a bad one, on occasion). I’m also a big fan of performers who muddy the line between eccentricity and madness. And so, wading through the hundreds of films on offer this year at MIFF, one that naturally caught my eye was Andreas Horvath’s Helmut Berger, Actor, which promises to deliver handsomely on both counts. The eponymous Berger is the former muse of Luchino Visconti, famed for his performances in numerous films by the neorealist master, and for his beauty. Horvath’s documentary finds Berger, now in his ’70s, a fallen star (living in in relative obscurity in an apartment in Salzburg) and an irascible interviewee, by turns hostile and sexual toward his portraitist. I am both frightened and fascinated by the notion of an unflinching investigation into this compelling, conflicted figure.
I came across Anna Biller via her first short, Three Examples of Myself as Queen (1994). I remember my impressionable teen self being particularly delighted by one sweetly staged musical number in which ‘Queen Bee’ Biller relaxes in her hot pink beehive, whilst attendants (men dressed up in bee costumes made by the queen herself) sing her praises and make her pancakes. I was again delighted to see that her new feature The Love Witch, about a magically seductive, murderous witch, would be playing at MIFF. Biller’s films can also be said to thematise filmmaking: her work is both a loving throwback to and feminist subversion of old Hollywood musicals and ’60s sexploitation flicks. A consummate auteur, Biller styles and lights her films to camp perfection, infusing them with a Technicolor glow. Her latest is sure to be a gorgeous 35mm fusion of melodrama, horror, and female fantasy.
Lizzie Borden’s Born in Flames has been praised as a landmark piece of radical feminist/queer filmmaking, notable for its genre- and convention-bending: she combined elements of sci-fi with documentary aesthetics to investigate the ways in which media shapes society along lines of class, race, sexuality, and gender. Released in 1983, it was in many ways ahead of its day, and so it’s great to see that a brand new restoration (undertaken by the Anthology Film Archives in New York City) will be screened at MIFF. So often time dulls the progressive ideas—and techniques—in once-cutting edge films; however, I’m guessing (having not seen it yet!) that Borden’s intersectional feminist vision will ring just as true and as clear to a new generation of viewers.
Eloise Ross: I feel like many meditative hours of Lav Diaz is now essential to my MIFF experience; from the four hours in 2014 (Norte, the End of History), five plus hours in 2015 (From What Is Before), leading to the eight hours history, mythology, and jungle of Lullaby to the Sorrowful Mystery. It’s black and white, but I do love a bright colour palette, and so I’m very curious to see Neon Bull, as director Gabriel Mascaro delves into the world of rodeo and exotic dancing, with the added bonus of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s cinematographer on Cemetery of Splendour. I’m anticipating a dreamlike (or will that just be MIFF fatigue?) journey through a kaliedescopic colours and cowboys, two of my favourite things. (Related: dying to see The Love Witch.) Another is New York City, and so Winter at Westbeth, Rohan Spong’s follow-up to the gorgeous All the Way Through the Evening, is a must-see for me. Spong’s approach to his subjects is sensitive and passionate, and this profile of an elderly artist community in the West Village looks to bring the light from their art out to an audience.
I’m looking forward to repeat viewings of Certain Women, No Home Movie, and I recommend In Jackson Heights and Frank & Lola, which really do deserve the film theatre setting. I am looking forward to seeing Sonita, particularly with the Australian short musical-documentary 1001 Nights in Fairfield (Zanny Begg), which will look stunning on the big screen. In the retro section, Sleepwalk and Born In Flames, along with much of the Setsuko Hara and Jerry Lewis programmes screening on 35mm prints, will be unmissable.
Brad Mariano: The Jerry Lewis program is a dream come true for me; certainly an inspired retrospective choice that I never thought I’d live to see. I’ve praised The Ladies Man on this site previously, and though I stand by that (it’s almost certainly one of my top ten favourite films of all time) some of the other ones are similarly essential cinema. The Errand Boy is one of his best, a behind the scenes tour through a movie studio, but one which subverts the usual pull-back-the-curtain showbiz satires; as Lewis runs amok through the studio and actually finds more wonder and magic in deserted soundstages and prop rooms even without an audience. It features some of his most ambitious and surreal gags.
The Patsy plays as its opposite, a similar showbiz satire, full of elaborate gags and a central premise – that any idiot on a stage can be a star (or product) with the right team and a little luck – that shows a humility and self-deprecating side to Lewis that his detractors overlook. Lewis had a prodigious creative peak in the early ’60s that’s nearly unmatched in American cinema, and it’s great to see all these masterworks shown in one place.
Luke Goodsell: The big ones for me: double Huppert in Verhoeven’s Elle and Mia Hansen-Løve’s Things to Come, Andrzej Żuławski’s swansong Cosmos, Philippe Grandrieux’s Despite the Night, Albert Serra’s The Death of Louis XIV, Ben Rivers’ The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes are Not Brothers and Olivier Laxe’s complementary Mimosas (the former fucks with footage from the latter), and Guy Maddin’s Bring Me the Head of Tim Horton, which screens before Charlie Lyne’s excellent horror/essay film Fear Itself. Also curious to see Bi Gan’s form-shifting Kaili Blues and as much of the Escuela de Barcelona program as fits, and cannot wait to see Andreas Horvath’s Helmut Berger, Actor (John Waters rarely gets it wrong, does he?)
As usual with MIFF, there’s too much good stuff to mention elsewhere. See as much Jerry Lewis on the big screen as you can, I guess—The Ladies Man is going to look amazing for that set design alone, while I’ve yet to see some of his later work like Which Way to the Front and Hardly Working. The ‘Gaining Ground’ New York female filmmakers strand is essential, too: Born in Flames, Girlfriends and Smithereens are all favourites, plus I’m looking forward to seeing Kathleen Collins’ Losing Ground and Sara Driver’s Sleepwalk for the first time.
Previously seen and recommended: No Home Movie, In Jackson Heights, Certain Women, Personal Shopper, Paterson, The Childhood of a Leader, Aquarius, Chevalier, Kate Plays Christine, Heart of a Dog, Contemporary Color, Ma. Also: looking forward to watching The Waterboy on my laptop between screenings.
You can purchase tickets for MIFF over at their website.