Yes! I can’t believe that one of my favourite events of the year has finally come around once again: the Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF for short). For those out there who don’t know what it is, MIFF is one of Australia’s biggest and most prestigious film festivals that my adoptive home town of Melbourne celebrates around this time of the year. Over the course of 18 days (August 3rd to the 20th) the festival will be showcasing over 358 films of all different types ranging from many different countries from around the world. This year will be my 6th year covering the festival for The Super Network and you have no idea how completely excited for it. The pass couple of years I’ve attending MIFF have always been really great experiences for me and I won’t be surprise if this year’s one turns out to be another great one as well.There are a lot of great films playing at MIFF this year, some of which are highly anticipated by myself and many other Aussie film buffs. This year in particular will feature many that premiered at other prestigious film festivals from all over the world (including many from this year’s line-up at the Cannes Film Festival). Plus we even have some brand new films from the world’s most acclaimed filmmakers (Terrence Malick, Michael Haneke, Todd Haynes, Takashi Miike, Luca Guadagnino, Yorgos Lanthimos, Sally Potter, Claire Dennis etc.).
Like I’ve done in previous years, I’m mostly going to be focusing on films that either don’t have a release date yet or they won’t be released until a much later date (whether that will be either late this year or sometime in 2018). Out of all the films that will be playing at MIFF this year, I’ve picked 44 films for my viewing list. I’m going to lie when I was compiling my list of the films I was going to see at the festival, I honestly thought I was actually seeing less this films this year compared to last year. However when I had look at the MIFF preview article I wrote last year, I discovered to my shock that my 2017 viewing list is actually WAY bigger than in 2016 (which I watched 38 films at the festival). It seems like every year my list gets bigger and bigger (I watched 17 films in 2012, 22 films in 2013, 30 films in 2014 and 34 in 2015). Although to be fair, there was a lot of great sounding films that MIFF had up on their line-up this year. All the ones that made my final official list are ones that I’m also really excited about and I can’t wait to see them. What I really like about my list this year is that it’s great mixture of some of the festival’s most high profile and smaller films of all different genres. There’s a bit of everything: drama, horror, comedy, thriller, animated, action, foreign and documentary. Plus there are even some selections that I never heard of before until I read about them in the program guide. So which 44 films are they? Well, here’s my complete rundown of what I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2017…
DIRECTOR: Abbas Kiarostami
PLOT: Cinema lost one of its greatest exponents in 2016 with the passing of Abbas Kiarostami; his films – including Close-Up (MIFF 2003) and Taste of Cherry (MIFF 1998) – brilliant works of psychological investigation and self-reflexivity. 24 Frames, a project he spent the last three years of his life on, is his final testament, a work that strips cinema down to its barest essentials: image and time. Taking a series of Kiarostami’s own photographs as its starting point, 24 Frames uses sophisticated photo manipulation techniques to imagine what might have happened before and after each picture was taken: a lion mounts a lioness; a Bruegel painting comes to life; a young woman falls asleep beside her computer screen, the final scene of a Hollywood romance flickering away. Each tableau is the same length (four minutes 30 seconds), with motifs of birds, especially crows, and snowy landscapes recurring throughout, leading to a transcendent denouement – for both film, and filmmaker.
DIRECTOR: Alexandre O. Philippe
PLOT: The shower scene in Psycho is one of the more famous moments in cinema, with its scandalously meticulous editing and unforgettable Brechtian score embedded firmly in popular culture. Director Alfred Hitchcock changed the course of cinema when he killed off his heroine at the end of the first act of his 1960 masterpiece, with the film’s 78 set-ups and 52 edits gaining a notoriety that would eclipse the film that housed them. From its distinctive music to its accomplished shot construction to its brutal cuts, this documentary takes us deep into the most terrifying two minutes ever captured on film. Director Alexandre O Philippe (The People vs George Lucas) carefully dissects this sequence with the help of notable horror fans including Guillermo Del Toro, Elijah Wood, Jamie Lee Curtis, Eli Roth, Danny Elfman, Leigh Whannell, Bret Easton Ellis, and Janet Leigh’s stunt double in the scene, Marli Renfro. A documentary that all true cinephiles cannot afford to miss.
DIRECTOR: Kriv Stenders
PLOT: As a sweltering Australia Day dawns over Brisbane, three seemingly unconnected figures – a farmer (Bryan Brown), an Indigenous policewoman (Shari Sebbens) and an illegal Chinese immigrant (Jenny Wu) – are thrown together by chance and misfortune. As their stories arc and connect, they’ll find themselves drawn into a web of racism, violence and simmering resentment that will leave none of them unscathed, and challenge everything they thought they knew about the country they call home. Set over a pulse-racing 12 hours on 26 January, Australia Day is the latest film from directorial luminary Kriv Stenders (The Principal, MIFF 2015; Red Dog, MIFF 2011). Marking himself out as an antipodean Robert Altman, Stenders offers a sprawling vision of our nation that’s conflicted and provocative: a multicultural melting pot that’s boiling close to catastrophe, causing us to ask: Advance Australia where?
THE BELKO EXPERIMENT
DIRECTOR: Greg McLean
PLOT: Way outside Bogota’s city limits, a mysterious company known only as Belko Corp announces to its staff that today’s work day is going to be a little different. Today they’ll be playing a game wherein most of them will die. If they want to survive, all they have to do is follow the instructions. The first instruction: pick and kill two of their own. So begins horror maestro Greg McLean’s fiendishly inventive and swaggeringly gruesome The Belko Experiment. Created together with in-demand Hollywood screenwriter James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 1 & 2) – consider this the passion project – The Belko Experiment plays out as a Battle Royale for the office block set, a work of relentless set pieces, pitch-black humour and richly imagined violence that firmly establishes McLean (who also directed the MIFF 2017 Opening Night film, Jungle) as Australia’s modern master of take-no-prisoner thrills.
BLADE OF THE IMMORTAL
DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike
PLOT: Manji (Japanese screen and music superstar Takuya Kimura) is a samurai who has been cursed with immortality. No matter what violence is meted out onto his body – being skewed by swords, limbs being lopped off – the magic of his curse will eventually reknit him back together, making him a fearsome, unstoppable opponent. Recruited by Rin, a young girl seeking revenge against a renegade band of swordsmen who tore apart her family and employ a free-for-all style of fighting, Manji must seek out and defeat an endless stream of villains. Fans of Takashi Miike’s berserk samurai epics – or of Hiroaki Samura’s manga series the film is based on – know what that entails: visually spectacular and unapologetically gory fight sequences that simultaneously make you wince and burst out laughing at their sheer audacity. Manji’s journey to redeem himself through blood is classic Miike, hilarious and invigorating all at once.
DIRECTOR: Steven Kastrissios
PLOT: Australian director Steven Kastrissios returns after his bloody and bruising The Horseman (MIFF 2008) with an evocative horror as unique as anything on the local filmmaking landscape. Set in modern-day Albania, the story follows a struggling traditional family that falls prey to a mysterious clan, igniting a Balkan blood feud that ventures into the paranormal via archaic rituals and a local witch. Ambitious and genre-bending – Kastrissios’ knack for dark drama mingles with arthouse surrealism – Bloodlands comprises a forceful next step for an emerging auteur.
DIRECTOR: Dave McCary
PLOT: All 25-year-old James (Saturday Night Live‘s Kyle Mooney) knows in this world are his mother and father (Jane Adams and Mark Hamill), the walls of the underground bunker they live in and the VHS teachings of Brigsby Bear, a folksy talking bear whose catchphrases include “curiosity is an unnatural emotion” and “trust only the familial unit”. But when he’s unexpectedly cast out from his walled-off idyll, James has to face up to a reality he cannot understand, a biological family he doesn’t know and, worst of all, a pop culture universe where his best friend, Brigsby Bear, never existed. Starring and co-written by Mooney, helmed by frequent collaborator Dave McCary and produced by Andy Samberg, Brigsby Bear is the latest thigh-slapping comedic effort to double as a Saturday Night Live “Where Are They Now?” reunion special. Also starring Greg Kinnear, Claire Danes and Matt Walsh, Brigsby Bear is a Be Kind Rewind for the shut-in set, a delightfully offbeat ode to the pleasures and pains of extreme fandom and the enduring importance of the stories we tell.
THE BUTTERFLY TREE
DIRECTOR: Priscilla Cameron
PLOT: When 13-year-old Fin meets Evelyn, a florist with a penchant for 1940s fashion and a radiant appetite for life, he is drawn into her spellbinding world of plants and insects: it seems the perfect place to escape his ongoing grief over the death of his mother. But as Fin’s feelings for Evelyn bloom into a confusing mix of teenage desire and misplaced maternal love, it sets the stage for a showdown with his equally struggling father, Al – especially when it become clear that Al is also falling for Evelyn. Working from her Australian Writers’ Guild award-winning script and with the support of the MIFF Premiere Fund, first-time filmmaker Priscilla Cameron crafts an intimate, occasionally hyper-real story about the sometimes rocky path it takes to learn the true meaning of love, and its intricate connections with loss. Oxenbould shatters any lingering memories of the boy he was in 2014’s MIFF Premiere Fund-supported Paper Planes as he embraces a role of complex emotional flux, subtly underscored by Jason Hargreaves’ resplendently lush cinematography – The Butterfly Tree is a treat on the big screen.
CALL ME BY YOUR NAME
DIRECTOR: Luca Guadagnino
PLOT: The director of A Bigger Splash helms a passionate Italian summer romance headed by Armie Hammer and extraordinary star on the rise Timothée Chalamet. Elio is a teenager in the early 1980s, and is intending to spend summer as he always has at his family’s stunning villa in northern Italy: swimming, playing with his friends and soaking up the sun. But the latest research assistant to join his archaeologist father in his work inspires unexpected tremors in Elio. Oliver is handsome and aloof, and the initially irritated Elio becomes hopelessly, giddily smitten. Adapted from the heady novel by André Acimen with a script co-written by James Ivory, director Luca Guadagnino presents his most accomplished film yet, a fevered dream of adolescent lust that transforms into the highs of first love, followed by the reckoning that comes with realising a life-changing choice is unavoidable. This is one of the major films of 2017; its unabashed visual beauty, ripe with lush sensuality, demands to be seen on the cinema screen.
DIRECTOR: Justin Benson & Aaron Moorhead
PLOT: The directors of MIFF 2015 film Spring return with an engrossing tale of high-concept Lovecraftian horror centred on two brothers following their escape from a cult. Ten years ago, brothers Justin and Aaron escaped from a what Justin claimed was a “UFO death cult”, right as the cult was about to commit mass suicide. But Aaron didn’t see it that way, and remembers a wholesome community with good, friendly people. When the two receive an unexpected message from their former “family”, Aaron convinces Justin that they must return to their old home. But when strange and inexplicable events predicted by the cult begin to come true, the brothers must unearth the truth before history repeats. Directors Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead write, direct and star in a unique film that defies easy genre conventions. The Endless is a film of creeping dread, part horror, part science fiction, skirting the supernatural and keeping the audience guessing until the very end.
ETHEL & ERNEST
DIRECTOR: Roger Mainwood
PLOT: Ethel and Ernest Briggs were no-one special. A lady’s maid and a milkman in Depression-era England, they fell in love, got married, had a child – Raymond – and lived out their lives in a two-bedroom terrace house in south London. But together they witnessed war, upheaval, hope, heartbreak and endless love, and always found a way of muddling through, just so. First-time director Roger Mainwood joins forces with Raymond Briggs, one of the world’s most beloved illustrators, for Ethel and Ernest, a deeply affectionate and very British adaptation of Briggs’ testament to his mother and father, and the lost England they represented. Beautifully animated and almost unbearably poignant, Ethel and Ernest is a gentle, thoughtful portrait of two lives so ordinary they cannot help but be extraordinary in every way.
DIRECTOR: Stanley Tucci
PLOT: In 1964, celebrated Swiss sculptor and painter Alberto Giacometti invited young American art critic James Lord to sit for a quick portrait in his Paris studio. But as the quick portrait drags into days, and then weeks, and Lord is forced to cancel flight after flight home to New York, the two men cultivate an odd bond halfway between friendship and frustration. Adapting Lord’s acclaimed memoir of the occasion, Tucci’s first film behind the camera in 10 years finds him buoyantly depicting a master artist at work, and the begrudging but supportive patience of his admiring subject. Geoffrey Rush is magnetic and hilariously droll as the obsessively self-critical, perpetually cursing walking chaos of Giacometti, with Armie Hammer perfectly sangfroid opposite him as Lord. Also featuring Tony Shalhoub, Clémence Poésy and Sylvie Testud, Final Portrait is an affectionate, intimate and charismatic coda for a creative genius.
FUN MOM DINNER
DIRECTOR: Alethea Jones
PLOT: Wearied by the routine of parenting primary-school-aged children, four Los Angeles women hatch a plan: for one night, they’ll leave their families at home while they enjoy a wine-fuelled dinner. It doesn’t take long for their innocent evening of escapism to leap from tapas and chatter to raucousness and revelations. After an acclaimed spate of short films – including When the Wind Changes (MIFF 2010), Dave’s Dead (MIFF 2012) and Tropfest winner Lemonade Stand – Australian director Alethea Jones hits the big time with a delightfully bawdy ensemble effort. With heartwarming hilarity, her hijinks-filled first feature does for mum get-togethers what Bridesmaids did for wedding parties.
DIRECTOR: Kristina Grozeva & Petar Valchanov
PLOT: Bedraggled, bearded and stuttering railway worker Tsanko is about to have his reclusive life upended after stumbling on millions of leva on the train tracks and turning it in as a gesture of good faith. Awarded a token watch by the Ministry of Transport – who manage to misplace his cherished family timepiece in the process – Tsanko is feted as a national hero by cold-hearted careerist Julia and her PR team, who get more than they bargained for in the process. What begins as a rich common-man fable in the Frank Capra tradition soon escalates into delicious black comedy, as writer/director team Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov (coming off their festival hit The Lesson) weave a tapestry of fraud, corruption and political expediency with a fantastically complex performance from Margita Gosheva in particular. Glory was awarded a special mention for New Cinema at the 2016 Locarno Film Festival.
A GRAY STATE
DIRECTOR: Erik Nelson
PLOT: A rising alt-right filmmaker and his family are found slaughtered, surrounded by Islamic totems. A conspiracy or something even more horrific? FEMA death squads, children implanted with RFID chips, a government crushing its citizenry. It’s a haunting vision of the near future held by charismatic Iraq veteran David Crowley. In 2012, he posted a slick movie trailer for his planned opus, Gray State, on YouTube. Two and a half million views on, conspiracy broadcaster Alex Jones endorsed his warning of America’s looming Second Civil War. Three years later, David, his Muslim wife Komel and their daughter Raniya were found riddled with bullets in their Minnesota home. “Allahu Akbar” was smeared on the walls in blood and an open Koran lay between their bodies. Premiering at Tribeca, executive produced by Werner Herzog and directed by Grizzly Man producer Erik Nelson, this riveting documentary is torn straight from today’s headlines. Trawling through over 13,000 photos and copious home videos, and interviewing Crowley’s closest confidants, Nelson has crafted a murder mystery political thriller that also acts as an unparalleled psychological profile of a mind descending into paranoia, fear and ultimately death.
DIRECTORS: Michael Haneke
PLOT: In the new film from heavyweight auteur Michael Haneke (Amour, MIFF 2012; The White Ribbon, MIFF 2009), a teenage girl (Fantine Harduin) armed with a smartphone is sent to stay at the Calais mansion of her upper-middle-class relatives – presided over by the ailing, 84-year-old patriarch (Trintignant) and his two children, played by Huppert and Mathieu Kassovitz. Updating the themes of technology and surveillance from his own Benny’s Video (MIFF 1992) and Hidden (MIFF 2005) to the era of ever-present social media, Haneke has crafted a jigsaw-like portrait of entitlement and malaise, forbidden pleasures and suicidal tendencies that’s as austerely crafted and unforgiving as any of his career.
HAVE YOU SEEN THE LISTERS?
DIRECTOR: Eddie Martin
PLOT: In 1999, Brisbane City Council encouraged a then 19-year-old Anthony Lister to paint dozens of the city’s traffic signal boxes with his eye-catching, freestyle explosions of colour and personality. In 2014, the same council took Lister – by now earning tens of thousands per piece and hanging in the National Gallery of Australia – to court on graffiti-related charges. Between these two poles, the personal life of the so-called adventure painter was equally up and down, as he married his high-school sweetheart, had three children, battled drugs and the authorities and eventually watched his wife walk away, and it’s all on show in this candid documentary helmed by All This Mayhem director Eddie Martin (Lionel, 2008). Made with the support of the MIFF Premiere Fund and named for one of Lister’s large-scale installation works designed to be a bridge back into his children’s lives, Have You Seen the Listers? is a frank portrait of a devoted but flawed family man who just happens to be one of the world’s most influential and collectable contemporary artists.
I AM NOT A WITCH
DIRECTOR: Rungano Nyoni
PLOT: If you’re female in Zambia, even witnessing another’s bad luck can be cause for condemnation. For nine-year-old Shula, it means being branded a witch, sent to a camp and given two options: she can accept her new label and live the rest of her life tethered to a white ribbon, or get turned into a goat if she seeks justice and freedom. Inspired by real-life rural witch camps in Africa, Rungano Nyoni makes the leap from BAFTA-nominated short filmmaker to assured feature writer/director with a funny, eye-opening effort. Never following the expected path, her full-length debut both exposes and finds the utter absurdity in an archaic practice that continues to subjugate women, as captured in lyrical detail by cinematographer David Gallego (Embrace of the Serpent).
I AM NOT YOUR NEGRO
DIRECTOR: Raoul Peck
PLOT: When he died in 1987, Baldwin left behind an unfinished manuscript reminiscing about his friendships with black political leaders Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, all of whom were assassinated in the turbulent 1960s. Thirty years later, Raoul Peck (Fatal Assistance, MIFF 2013) brings this text to life with a ruminative, essayistic documentary containing eye-opening archival footage of Baldwin’s incendiary media interventions, as he busted taboos by provocatively broaching questions of race, class and sexuality in the public arena. From Baldwin’s childhood in 1930s Harlem to his outspoken political engagement in the 1960s and 1970s, Peck charts the history of race relations in the USA as lived by one of Black America’s most prominent public intellectuals, and uses his biography as a springboard to examine today’s struggles for equality. Voiced by Samuel L Jackson, I Am Not Your Negro offers “a thrilling introduction to Baldwin’s work, a remedial course in American history, and an advanced seminar in racial politics” (New York Times).
IN THE FADE
DIRECTOR: Fatih Akin
PLOT: Dynamic Turkish-German director Fatih Akin (Head-On, MIFF 2004; The Edge of Heaven) returns with a morally charged thriller about Katja (Diane Kruger), a Hamburg woman whose life is destroyed following the death of her husband and young son in a barbaric bombing attack. Tracing Katja’s struggle from shell-shocked, suicidal drug user to empowered individual fighting for justice, Akin rekindles the edgy intensity of his earlier work while firing off some provocative and timely questions about our political response to terror attacks. Kruger, meanwhile – in a rare German-language performance – is shattering, inhabiting a tough role with fierce emotional resonance.
INGRID GOES WEST
DIRECTOR: Matt Spicer
PLOT: Shattering her ‘queen of deadpan’ image, Aubrey Plaza stars as Ingrid, a moody, unhinged loner with zero social life outside the internet. Infatuated with social media influencer and self-styled star Taylor (perfectly cast celebrity sibling Elizabeth Olsen), Ingrid decides to reinvent herself and head to Los Angeles – where she successfully insinuates herself into her idol’s life. Matt Spicer’s deeply uncomfortable, often very funny debut feature – part black comedy, part psychological drama – punctures our obsession with social media and self-made celebrity, while crafting an empathetic portrait of a lost soul misled by the lure of digital popularity. Co-starring Straight Outta Compton breakout O’Shea Jackson Jr, Ingrid Goes West won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at Sundance.
DIRECTOR: Greg McLean
PLOT: In the early 1980s, 22-year-old Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg and two friends – Swiss teacher Marcus Stamm and American photographer Kevin Gale – set off from the Bolivian city of La Paz on what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. Leading the way into the uncharted Amazon was Austrian expat Karl Ruprechter, who had met the friends just days before and claimed to be familiar with the region. But their dream trip soon turned into a wilderness nightmare from which not all of the men returned. Adapting Ghinsberg’s acclaimed memoir, Aussie thriller auteur Greg McLean takes on an altogether different kind of terror in Jungle, all the more potent for being true. Daniel Radcliffe continues pushing his post-Potter career to the extreme, ably supported by Alex Russell (fellow MIFF Premiere Fund titles Rabbit, MIFF 2017; and Cut Snake, MIFF 2014), Joel Jackson (Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door) and Thomas Kretschmann (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dracula). Scripted by Justin Monjo (INXS: Never Tear Us Apart) and supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, Jungle is a stunningly shot, edge-of-your seat story of survival and self-discovery.
DIRECTOR: Kornél Mundruczó
PLOT: Aryan is a Syrian refugee trying to make the dangerous journey from Serbia into Hungary – and the protection of the EU. When he’s shot by an overzealous immigration cop as he crosses the border, Aryan suddenly discovers he can fly. It’s a power that could change everything for him and his family, but people fear what they don’t know, and the authorities will do whatever they need in order to neutralise a perceived threat. The tropes of the superhero origin story are deployed to devastating effect in Jupiter’s Moon, the latest from Hungarian phenomenon Kornél Mundruczó (Cannes Un Certain Regard winner White God, MIFF 2014). A heady mix of immediate blockbuster thrills and more considered provocations, Jupiter’s Moon is a rich parable of one of the world’s most intractable issues, delivered by one of its most exciting filmmakers.
THE KILLING OF A SCARED DEER
DIRECTOR: Yorgos Lanthimos
PLOT: Steven (Colin Farrell) is a highly regarded, charismatic cardiologist from Cincinnati, living in a prosperous suburban paradise with his beautiful wife Anna (Kidman) and two loving children. But his world is upended when his strangely intense friendship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan, last seen in Mammal, MIFF 2016) takes a sinister turn, and the doctor is forced to confront an unthinkable sacrifice. MIFF favourite Yorgos Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster, MIFF 2015; Alps, MIFF 2012) return to the festival with a film that draws its inspiration from Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, while intensifying the director’s idiosyncratic taste for deadpan humour and unsettling provocation.
LET THE SUNSHINE IN
DIRECTOR: Claire Denis
PLOT: After exploring the darker side of human nature in MIFF 2013’s Bastards, Claire Denis returns with a lighter – but no less insightful – look at life and love in Let the Sunshine In. Written in collaboration with French author Christine Angot and sharing the Société des Auteurs et Compositeurs Dramatiques (SACD) Prize with Philippe Garrel’s Lover for a Day (also screening at MIFF this year), the twelfth feature from the revered filmmaker finds truth, humour and free-flowing chatter in the romantic pursuits of a recently divorced 50-something artist. Living alone in Paris, Isabelle (Juliette Binoche, at her most soulful and seductive) is looking for a connection – she thinks. Her passion burns brightly, but as she finds comfort in the arms of an array of men, she ponders just what she’s seeking, and whether sex and companionship are the keys to fulfilment.
DIRECTORS: Dorota Kobiela & Hugh Welchman
PLOT: It sounds mad: inspired by a letter Vincent Van Gogh penned in the week before he died, in which he noted that “we cannot speak other than by our paintings”, Oscar-winning filmmaker Hugh Welchman (Peter and the Wolf) and Polish painter Dorota Kobiela decided to make a movie doing exactly that. Hiring an army of painters from across Europe, each trained in the Dutch master’s style, they set out to tell his story the way he himself would. Consequently, every single frame of the resulting film, Loving Vincent, is an oil painting (12 per second!); the noir-like detective plot is drawn from the artist’s many letters; and the cast – Chris O’Dowd and Saoirse Ronan alongside Douglas Booth, Helen McCrory, Aidan Turner and more, with music by Clint Mansell – were chosen based on their likeness to real-life characters in Van Gogh’s works. But the results, accordingly, speak for themselves. A truly astonishing visual feast, Loving Vincent demands to be seen on the biggest of screens.
DIRECTOR: John Carroll Lynch
PLOT: Actor-turned-director John Carroll Lynch’s (Zodiac, Fargo) wonderfully affecting debut was written with Harry Dean Stanton in mind, and the great character actor – whose more than 100 screen credits include Alien, Repo Man, Paris, Texas and currently Twin Peaks – delivers a performance for the ages, playing a man on the verge of the next life who relishes his shaggy-dog interactions with the inhabitants of a desert town. With supporting turns from the likes of Stanton’s old friend and collaborator David Lynch – who drops by to grieve for his deceased turtle – and an unpretentious, meditative storytelling style, Lucky emerges as a funny and unexpectedly touching film about a man who’s long stopped giving a damn. It’s the performance of a lifetime, from a true living legend.
DIRECTOR: Julian Rosefeldt
PLOT: Proving her performance as Bob Dylan in I’m Not There was just a taste, Cate Blanchett steps into a baker’s dozen personae – including a raving homeless man, schoolteacher, newsreader, factory worker and nihilistic punk – for Berlin-based artist Julian Rosefeldt’s daring film adaptation of his multi-screen installation work. Manifesto takes some of the most famous works of the last century – from the Futurists to the Marxists, Dada to Dogme ’95 – and has Blanchett reinterpret them as performative monologues, questioning the nature of art and the political through jarring, often hilariously absurd new contexts. Blanchett dazzles in her chameleonic virtuosity, moving between gender and class with fluid grace.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL ISLAND
DIRECTOR: Ana Asensio
PLOT: Making her writing and directing debut, Spanish-born, US-based Ana Asensio stars as Luciana, a young, undocumented immigrant scrapping for cash work to eke out a living in New York City. Enticed by a lucrative job opportunity from a model friend, Luciana soon finds herself caught in a seedy web of cruelty designed for the entertainment of rich New Yorkers. Shot entirely on Super 16mm, Asensio’s film cultivates a claustrophobic vibe, portraying a city riddled with tension that finds uncomfortable resonance in America’s current political climate. The film’s queasy set-piece climax is one for the ages, confirming Asensio’s bona fide horror credentials (genre favourite Larry Fessenden produced and also cameos.)
DIRECTOR: Jennifer Peedom
PLOT: The seemingly very human desire to seek out the top of the world, often at considerable cost to limb or even life, is only a few hundred years old. But from the moment the mountains cast their spell on us, we never looked back – or down, as the case may be. With the multi-sensory Mountain, the director of MIFF 2015 hit Sherpa investigates this phenomenon. Collaborating with Renan Ozturk and other leading high-altitude cinematographers, bestselling author Robert Macfarlane (Mountains of the Mind) and the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s artistic director Richard Tognetti, Jennifer Peedom has framed a breathtaking visual opus. Tognetti composed a bespoke soundscape for the images featuring works by Beethoven, Chopin, Vivaldi, Grieg and Corelli, alongside new compositions of his own; Macfarlane wrote a sparse, poetic narration for Willem Dafoe. Together, they have created an unforgettable cine-sonic journey through awe-inspiring vistas seldom visited but often dreamed about.
MY ENTIRE HIGH SCHOOL IS SINKING INTO THE OCEAN
DIRECTOR: Dash Shaw
PLOT: A lo-fi animated parable about keeping your head above water, dreamt up by graphic novelist Dash Shaw and voiced by Jason Schwartzman, Reggie Watts, Maya Rudolph, Lena Dunham and Susan Sarandon. First you’re drowning in homework and friendship drama. Then your high school literally sinks into the sea!Self-obsessed nerd Dash and his best friend Asaaf had enough problems filling the school paper before their editor, Verti, threatens to get between them. Their friendship teeters on the edge of a cliff, as does Tides High. When their school inevitably crumbles, the trio – as well as popular girl Mary and no-nonsense lunch lady Lorraine – must survive. Drily funny, slyly poignant and visually bewitching in pastel and pen, Shaw’s film debut is part-classic disaster story, part-Adult Swim oddity and all original.
MY FRIEND DAHMER
DIRECTOR: Marc Meyers
PLOT: Jeffrey Dahmer is a teenage outcast, obsessed with the morbidity of death and not very good at making friends. His parents are in the midst of a divorce and have little time for him, and Jeffrey spends his time performing experiments on roadkill, and dissolving bones in acid. When some of his classmates decide to befriend the loner to liven things up, they inadvertently encourage the macabre tendencies that consume him. Jeffrey’s future is ever-present, colouring these events with a terrifying promise. Based on a graphic novel by Dahmer’s actual classmate John Backderf (who also features in the film as a key character), this true story of the murderer as a young man is unlike any other serial killer biopic, taking us deep into the origins of one of the 20th century’s most gruesome monsters. A breathtaking performance from Disney star Ross Lynch (Austin & Ally) anchors this menacing yet sometimes wryly funny film, which boasts a strong supporting cast that includes Anne Heche (Rampart, MIFF 2012), Vincent Kartheiser (Mad Men) and Dallas Roberts (The Good Wife).
DIRECTOR: Sonia Kronlund
PLOT: Meet Salim Shaheen, the Ed Wood of Afghanistan, and the most prolific writer/actor/director you’ve never heard of. “You have Hollywood. You have Bollywood. And in Afghanistan you have Nothingwood,” shares Salim Shaheen. With 111 films to his name – starring himself, his friends and his family – he would know. He can’t read or write, but he’s forged a career making movies cheap, fast, out of nothing, and often with real guns, ammunition and chicken blood. And it’s working for him; self-distributing his features, his fans are many, mobbing him on the streets wherever he goes. As first-time documentarian Sonia Kronlund observes his efforts, Shaheen is shooting four films at once – that’s the kind of eccentric, impassioned character he is, which Nothingwood captures with joyous aplomb. Contrasting his free-wheeling efforts with Afghanistan’s climate of violence, the end result not only chronicles a man following his dreams, but the hope and escape his movies bring to his adoring audience.
DIRECTOR: Ben C. Lucas
PLOT: Inventing a revolutionary new drug, software engineer Ren Amari (Jessica de Gouw, MIFF 2014’s Cut Snake) changes the way that humanity experiences time. One dose, and seconds feel like hours inside the user’s head. She designed it to save her comatose brother, but her business partner has other plans: selling the drug to the government, who want to use it to imprison criminals in their own brains. Australian writer/director Ben C. Lucas turns today’s new technological frontier into tomorrow’s nightmarish future in his second feature after 2010’s Wasted on the Young. Adapting Kelley Eskridge’s popular science fiction novel Solitaire, Lucas, Eskridge and Highlander screenwriter Gregory Widen have crafted a fresh new film that blends smarts, style and ambition into a mind-bending ride, with ample assistance from a cast of local talent that includes Red Dog: True Blue’s Thomas Cocquerel and The Sapphires’ (MIFF 2012) TJ Power.
A PRAYER BEFORE DAWN
DIRECTOR: Jean-Stéphane Sauvaire
PLOT: Liverpool native Billy Moore is a troubled young man. Broken home, crime, violence, drugs, jail. But his life tumbles to a new nadir when he’s arrested in Bangkok and thrown into the notorious Klong Prem prison. Turning to Muay Thai to survive – and fuel a burgeoning heroin habit – Moore will witness the very worst that humanity has to offer, and it will take everything he has just to make it through. French provocateur Jean-Stephane Sauvaire (Johnny Mad Dog, MIFF 2008) returns to the brutal underworlds of masculine violence in A Prayer Before Dawn, his arresting, no-holds-barred adaptation of Billy Moore’s memoir of the same name. Driven by a powerhouse performance from rising star Joe Cole, A Prayer Before Dawn is a claustrophobic, face-pulping mash of growling sound, kinetic editing and so-real-you-have-to-flinch fight scenes. In other words: pure Night Shift.
DIRECTOR: Luke Shanahan
PLOT: Haunted by dreams of her missing sister Cleo and convinced – against all available evidence – that she is still alive, medical student Maude Ashton (Adelaide Clemens) returns to their childhood home determined to find her. With the help of Cleo’s fiancé, Ralph (Alex Russell, also in the MIFF Premiere Fund-supported Jungle), Maude tracks her twin to a hidden commune where she learns that their fates are intrinsically intertwined. Also featuring remarkable Belgian actor Veerle Bætens (last seen at MIFF in 2013, in the Oscar-nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown), Rabbit is the chillingly atmospheric feature debut from Luke Shanahan. With a stunning aesthetic courtesy of cinematographer Anna Howard (previously hailed for her work on MIFF 2012’s Errors of the Human Body) and a suitably nerve-jarring score by Michael Darren, this MIFF Premiere Fund-supported Gothic mystery asks just how far we’ll go to save a loved one.
DIRECTOR: Naomi Kawase
PLOT: Misako writes voiceovers for vision-impaired film viewers, attempting to conjure the complexity of cinematic images through description alone. Presenting her latest work to a panel, she is confronted by Masaya – a renowned, now partially sighted photographer – who condemns her writing as overly subjective. Despite these volatile beginnings, an unlikely relationship begins to flower, with Misako and Masaya drawn together by their love of images and shared experience of loss. A sensitive depiction of loneliness and disability, Radiance is the latest film by Cannes regular Naomi Kawase (Still the Water, MIFF 2014) and is a drama rich with ideas and sensory stimuli, keenly aware of life’s fragile beauty.
SONG TO SONG
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
PLOT: In the kind of roaming, radiant rock ‘n’ roll romance that only Terrence Malick could make, four lovers follow their hearts and dreams through Austin’s music scene. Producer Cook (Michael Fassbender, MIFF 2015’s Macbeth) and singer-songwriter BV (Ryan Gosling, MIFF 2011’s Drive) both fall for aspiring talent Faye (Rooney Mara, MIFF 2013’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints), while struggling waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman) tries to secure a better future. Working with three-time Oscar-winning cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki, Malick crafts a deeply felt, song-filled musing about creativity, connection and chaos in the modern world – as well as an effort that’s as visually rich as it is emotionally resonant. Shot on location at Austin’s three largest festivals, Song to Song‘s all-star cast also features Cate Blanchett (Tim Winton’s The Turning, MIFF 2013), Holly Hunter and Val Kilmer, as well as appearances by a who’s who of music icons including Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Florence Welch, Lykke Li, the Black Lips, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and John Lydon.
DIRECTOR: Florian Habicht
PLOT: In a former psychiatric hospital outside Auckland, visitors gather to be petrified beyond all reason by a group of deformed ghouls at the most successful haunted attraction in the Southern Hemisphere. But beneath the body horror and shadowy shocks is a community of people who are searching for their place in the world, and who have found it in the most unlikely of locations. Director Florian Habicht (Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, MIFF 2014; Love Story, MIFF 2012) has made a career out of documenting communities, and his latest film takes this obsession to its most unusual place yet: the titular theme park. Here, he examines with characteristic affection and humour the unique blend of outcasts who make up Spookers’ performers. In a fascinating twist, Habicht had the performers write down their dreams and nightmares, and then recreated them for the screen. These dramatisations are woven throughout this funny and compelling documentary that explores the life-affirming power of fear.
DIRECTOR: Ruben Östlund
PLOT: Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure, MIFF 2014) is a filmmaker who revels in the uncomfortable shadowlands of polite society. In The Square, he turns his eye toward the pretense and performance of the cultural elite, transforming a modern art gallery into a giddy playground of discomfiting surrealism and scathing absurdity that will leave you squirming and breathless. Ostentatious and suave, art gallery owner Christian is the very definition of the European effete. On his way to work one morning, where he’s about to launch a daring new exhibition, his wallet and mobile phone are stolen in an even more daring pickpocket scheme. But when an attempt at payback goes awry, and a marketing stunt for his exhibition goes off the rails, Christian’s sense of the natural order of things is dangerously destabilised. Danish actor Claes Bang lives up to his name in the role of Christian, while Elisabeth Moss (also appearing in this year’s festival in Top of the Lake: China Girl) steals the few scenes she’s in; along with Dominic West’s, their performances help make The Square one of the year’s most talked about films.
DIRECTOR: Ali Soozandeh
PLOT: Pulling back the veil on a little-seen slice of Iranian street culture, this visually powerful animated feature follows the intersecting lives of three women – a sex worker, a trapped wife and a struggling musician – as they grapple with the double standards of sex, gender and religion in Tehran’s politically oppressive atmosphere. Making his feature film debut, Iranian-born, Germany-based director Ali Soozandeh weaves a provocative tapestry of life in the city, questioning the hypocrisy and political corruption of life in Tehran, where women are often victims of sexual repression. In the vein of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, it’s a bold, accomplished work, using the abstraction of animation to expose harder truths about contemporary Iran.
DIRECTOR: Tyler MacIntyre
PLOT: Sadie and McKayla are the Tragedy Girls, two aspiring social media stars who will do absolutely anything to achieve fame. Their plan involves kidnapping a local serial killer, and forcing him to mentor them on how to commit murders that will gain national attention and turn them into legends. With a long list of potential victims ahead of them, Sadie and McKayla must figure out how to fit their killing spree in between cheerleading practice and the yearbook committee. This darkly funny film follows in the tradition of Heathers and Scream, blending explicit gore with high comedy. From horror director Tyler MacIntyre and featuring a cast that includes Alexandra Shipp (X-Men: Apocalypse), Brianna Hildebrand (Deadpool), Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games), Craig Robinson (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Kevin Durand (Fruitvale Station), Tragedy Girls is a razor sharp film about what it really means to be internet famous.
VOYAGE OF TIME
DIRECTOR: Terrence Malick
PLOT: If Terrence Malick was going to make a film about the entire history of the universe, then this would be it. A trembling, ambiguous, glorious, almost inconceivably beautiful journey through the mysteries of cosmology, biology, humanity and everything in between, Voyage of Time showcases one of modern cinema’s true masters at his most rapturous and ambitious. More than 40 years in the making, Voyage of Time tracks the journey of life from the Big Bang to the present moment, taking in supernovas, volcanoes, amoebas, particle physics, suburban America and a whole lot more besides. Paired with narration by long-time collaborator Brad Pitt, Voyage of Time represents Malick at his most Malick – a visual poem of jaw-dropping cinematography, stunning animation and soaring music that simply has to be experienced on the largest canvas possible.
DIRECTOR: Todd Haynes
PLOT: Fifty years apart, two hard-of-hearing 12-year-olds, Ben and Rose, wrestle with a world not made for them. For Ben, in 1977, the loss of his mother leads him on a quest to discover the true identity of his father, while Rose, in 1927, is dealing with her own domineering father, an emotionally distant figure who pushes her into the refuge of silent film. But when they each choose to leave for the dreamlands of New York, their separate stories will become powerfully and inextricably entwined. Indie darling Todd Haynes returns to the screen with the enchanting and magical Wonderstruck. Joining Moore are Michelle Williams and hearing-impaired newcomer Millicent Simmonds in a remarkable turn as the headstrong Rose, ensuring that Wonderstruck casts a glittering spell of sound, image and silence that lingers until well after its last mystery has been unlocked.
Well, there you have it. These are the 44 films I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2017. Keep a look for my video reviews for all these films over the course of the festival and also follow me at www.twitter.com/BedeJermyn for my daily random thoughts/first reactions to them as well.
– Bede Jermyn