Bede’s 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival Preview

Man, I can’t believe it’s upon us once again. Has has it been a year already? Time has gone by so quickly. Yep, it’s that time of year where my adoptive city of Melbourne celebrates one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in Australia: the Melbourne International Film Festival (or MIFF for short). Over the course of 18 days (August 2nd to the 19th) MIFF will be showcasing feature films, documentaries, short films and VR experiences from all around the world. This year will be my 7th year covering the festival for Super Marcey’s The Super Network and as you would expect, I’m absolutely excited beyond belief. I always have a fantastic time covering MIFF, and this year is definitely not going to be no different. In fact I would even dare to say this year’s one is going to be my biggest one yet. 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 the Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival and many more.

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 later this year or sometime in 2019). Every year when MIFF comes around and I compile viewing schedule together for the festival, I always joke that my list always seems to get bigger and bigger. This year’s one is definitely no exception at all. Actually I’m kind of ashamed to admit that I went a little crazy with my list this year. In fact surprisingly shocked with the number of films I’ll be watching. So how many will I be seeing at the festival? 60. Yep, you read that correctly. 60 films. Which is 16 more films than I saw at the MIFF last year, which was only 44. To say that this year’s festival is going to be my biggest one yet is the understatement of the century Although to be fair on my part, MIFF 2018 may have one of the biggest line-ups of great sounding films that I’ve seen in these past 6 years of attending the festival for me. All the films that I picked for 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. So which 60 films are they? Well, here’s my complete rundown of everything that I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2018…

3 FACES

DIRECTOR: Jafar Panahi

PLOT: After driving the streets in MIFF 2015’s Tehran Taxi, Jafar Panahi helms and features in this poignant yet playful exploration of oppression – his fourth movie since being banned from filmmaking, screening fresh from Cannes where it won the Best Screenplay award.Panahi’s eighth MIFF appearance in his three-decade career, 3 Faces follows the response to an alarming video sent to actress Behnaz Jafari (Blackboards, MIFF 2000) by a rural teenager. Branded an “empty-headed brat” by her close-knit community for chasing her dreams, the teen contacted her idol in desperation and frustration – but when the girl’s message ends abruptly, Panahi and Jafari are concerned for her well-being. What starts as a road trip to save a struggling young woman becomes a revealing, conversation-heavy journey through Iran’s stifling village life, with Panahi’s roaming camera capturing the ebbs and flows of their daily reality, as well as the ingrained subjugation of women.

ACUTE MISFORTUNE

DIRECTOR: Thomas M. Wright

PLOT: Daniel Henshall stars as infamous Archibald Prize-winning artist Adam Cullen in this lyrical adaptation of Erik Jensen’s acclaimed biography. When 19-year-old wunderkind journalist Erik Jensen (now editor of The Saturday Paper) was invited by bad-boy Australian painter Adam Cullen to write his biography, Jensen (Toby Wallace, Romper Stomper) jumped at the chance. Despite a turbulent relationship, the two formed a unique bond that lasted until Cullen’s death in 2012 aged just 46. Shooting in the Blue Mountains where Cullen was based, Acute Misfortune spins Jensen’s award-winning book into a subtle, striking tale of two wildly different men. Making his debut as a feature film filmmaker, theatre director and actor Thomas M Wright (Top of the LakeBalibo, MIFF 2017) delivers a portrait of the writer and of the artist as a troubled and troubling man. With remarkable access – Daniel Henshall (Fell, MIFF 2014; The BabadookSnowtown) wears Cullen’s actual clothing as he fully inhabits the role, and the artworks that appear onscreen are the real deal – this MIFF Premiere Fund-supported feature was co-scripted by Jensen, with Wright, and is executive produced by Robert Connolly (Paper Planes, MIFF 2014; Tim Winton’s The Turning, MIFF 2013; These Final Hours, MIFF 2013).

AMERICAN ANIMALS

DIRECTOR: Bart Layton

PLOT: It’s the heady days of 2004, and best friends Spencer and Warren dream of outgrowing their middle-class existence. When they spy a couple of ultra-rare first edition books in the university library, they realise this could be their ticket to fortune. Recruiting their friends to the heist, the boys become convinced they may just pull off the most daring art theft in modern history. Director Bart Layton again blurs the line between fact and fiction, as he did with the critically acclaimed and BAFTA-winning The Imposter (MIFF 2012). With a cast that includes Barry Keoghan (Killing of a Sacred Deer, MIFF 2017), Evan Peters (X Men: Days of Future Past) and Udo Kier (Melancholia, MIFF 2011), American Animals proves that fiction cannot hold a candle to reality when it comes to sheer audacity and jaw-dropping outrageousness.

ARCTIC

DIRECTOR: Joe Penna

PLOT: Mads Mikkelsen turns in a remarkably intense performance – one of his best – as a man trying to escape the Arctic wilderness in filmmaker Joe Penna’s critically acclaimed debut feature. After Overgård crashes his plane in a remote corner of the Arctic, he must rely on his finely honed survival skills to keep the fires burning until help arrives. But when the helicopter that has been sent to rescue him also crashes, leaving a desperately wounded woman as the sole survivor, Overgård realises that if he’s going to save her he’ll have to carry her out of the icelands himself. Catapulted from viral-video superstardom (Penna began his career as the driving force behind Brazil’s most popular Youtube channel, MysteryGuitarMan) to world premiering at Cannes, Joe Penna has delivered one of the most impressive debuts of the year with the thrilling, enthrallingly gritty Arctic. The result of a gruelling 19-day shoot that pushed Mikkelsen himself to the very edge, Arctic is a masterpiece of brute realism and sustained tension that will leave you gasping for air.

ASH IS THE PUREST WHITE

DIRECTOR: Jia Zhang-ke

PLOT: In his 13th collaboration with wife and muse Tao, Jia (Mountains May Depart, MIFF 2015; A Touch of Sin, MIFF 2013) crafts a patient yet emotionally propulsive drama that doubles as a damning state of the nation. Brandishing the director’s usual penchant for kinetic action and pop-scored dance sequences, Ash is Purest White examines the choices that not only make, shape and break relationships, but also lives – not to mention an increasingly changing China. It’s 2001, and Qiao’s existence revolves around gangster Bin, but she steers clear of his underworld antics. When they’re attacked in the street, she fires the gun that saves him and then lands in prison for having an unlicensed weapon. Released five years later, Qiao expects to pick up where their romance left off, only to discover that love and loyalty have become elusive concepts.

BEAST

DIRECTOR: Michael Pearce

PLOT: Acclaimed TV director Michael Pearce makes his feature debut in the sly, unsettling Beast, a love story wrapped in an intriguing psychosexual thriller and anchored by extraordinary performances from its leading cast. On the tiny, windswept island of Jersey, a serial killer is preying on young women. As tension rises in the close-knit community, troubled Moll wrestles with a cruel, claustrophobic family life and a dispiriting job as a tour-bus driver. But there are secrets buried deep in her past, and when Pascal – the dangerous newcomer she’s dating – becomes the leading suspect in the murders, Moll will be forced to decide what she’s willing to sacrifice in order to protect him. A taut psychological drama that revels in the raw, forbidding atmospherics of its windswept setting, Beast is British crime drama of the highest order, sure to leave you on edge and double-guessing until the credits roll.

BEHIND THE CURVE

DIRECTOR: Daniel J. Clark

PLOT: Journey to the centre of the Flat Earth movement, where the only thing they fear is sphere itself.If you thought belief in a flat Earth had been left behind in the dark ages, think again! In a world of fake news, science denial and anti-intellectualism, a resurgent Flat Earth movement is taking its place at the top of the conspiracy food chain. Leading the charge are Mark Sargent and Patricia Steere: staunch believers in a massive cover-up by “the powers that should not be” (definitely NASA, probably the government but also maybe Jews or the Vatican), they are articulate and charismatic evangelists for a new disc-world order. Director Daniel J Clark ventures into the midst of this globe-busting community to investigate its astonishing rise, and the psychological foundations that keep its adherents going. Among the dedicated dating sites, pseudoscientific experiments and celebrity members (including NBA All-Star Kyrie Irving and rapper B.O.B, who has released a song challenging the roundness of the planet) there is also discord as die hard conspiracy theorists cannot help but see conspiracies everywhere – even within their own ranks. Refraining from ridicule, Clark brings genuine curiosity and compassion to his portrait of people who want to believe, while balancing their outlandish ideas with input from psychologists and astrophysicists.

THE BILL MURRAY STORIES: LIFE LESSONS LEARNED FROM A MYTHICAL MAN

DIRECTOR: Tommy Avallone

PLOT: Urban legend has it that Hollywood actor Bill Murray crashes karaoke sessions, drives taxis and photobombs engagement pictures. Now, director Tommy Avallone wants a Bill Murray story of his own. You’ve probably heard the stories. The famously private star is spotted doing dishes at a house party, or serving drinks at a local bar. As if hunting Bigfoot, Avallone follows the trail of Murray’s alleged appearances – from Los Angeles, where Murray served ice creams from a street stall, to Austin, where he played tambourine at a house-party gig. The stories often finish with Murray slyly saying, “No one will ever believe you.” But like Fox Mulder, Avallone wants to believe. Spontaneous acts of kindness and joy lie at the heart of this wonderfully funny, intimate film. The Bill Murray Stories muses on the interconnection of pop culture and ordinary life, suggesting that what we truly love is the everyday humanity that’s erased by the cult of celebrity.

BIRDS OF PASSAGE

DIRECTOR: Ciro Guerra & Cristina Gallego

PLOT: From the director of 2016 Oscar-nominee Embrace of the Serpent comes this epic, visually exquisite origin story of the Colombian drug trade, told through the perspective of an indigenous Wayúu family. It’s the 1970s, and America’s burgeoning obsession with marijuana has made Colombian farmers suddenly rich. In the Guajira desert, a Wayúu family led by matriarch Ursula rises to prominence, but soon the trappings of wealth and power start a war that threatens to tear them and their ancient traditions apart. Doubling down on the sensory experience of their past works, Colombian-born filmmakers Ciro Guerra (The Wind Journeys, MIFF 2009) and producer/editor-turned-director Cristina Gallego bring a unique perspective to bear on the time-honoured rags-to-riches drug saga. Almost mythical in its storytelling, Birds of Passage combines eye-popping traditional costumes and culture, an immersive atmosphere of surreal imagery and vivid sound design, and glorious widescreen cinematography that just demands to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

BLAZE

DIRECTOR: Ethan Hawke

PLOT: Ethan Hawke directs this daringly unconventional biopic of an unsung country music legend, featuring Alia Shawkat, Richard Linklater, Sam Rockwell, Kris Kristofferson, and newcomer Benjamin Dickey in the title role, which won him the Sundance US Dramatic Special Jury Award for Acting. Blaze Foley spent his early years living in a Georgia treehouse before becoming an underground legend on the Texas Outlaw country music scene in the ’80s, a hard-drinking close friend of Townes Van Zandt who penned tunes covered by Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and Lyle Lovett before his tragic shooting death at age 39. Eschewing traditional music biopic tropes for a more unconventional approach, director Ethan Hawke (Seymour: An Introduction, MIFF 2015; The Hottest State, MIFF 2007) cannily presents Foley’s desultory life through cut-up timelines that offer flashbacks within flashbacks, capturing the man’s musical gifts, self-destructive exuberance and his tender relationship with longtime partner Sybil Rosen, who co-wrote the screenplay from her memoirs.

BODIED

DIRECTOR: Joseph Kahn

PLOT: Scooping audience awards all over the place, Bodied is what happens when the Grammy-winning director of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood video teams up with producer Eminem to make a satirical movie about a progressive PhD scholar who becomes an accidental battle-rap star. Woke, white grad student Adam is writing his thesis on the poetic functions of the N-word in battle rap. Naturally. In support of his research, one night he takes his vegan girlfriend Maya to a rap battle, hoping to interview champion Behn Grymm. Maya is horrified by the misogynistic, homophobic barbs being slung about like so much verbal shrapnel but when Adam is challenged to join the fray himself, he discovers a talent for takedowns that won’t get him very far unless he goes all in. Director Joseph Kahn definitely goes all in with Bodied, nuking middle-class privilege with a slash-and-burn satire that doesn’t so much draw blood as disembowel one trigger-warning touchstone after another: cultural appropriation, gender and identity politics, racism, sexism – if it’s explosive, Kahn blows it up. The Korean-American is best known for his music video work with pop stars such as Katy Perry and Taylor Swift but he proved his satirical bona fides with his 2012 horror comedy Detention. Here, he ups the ante with a spectacularly self-aware film, scripted by Canadian rapper Kid Twist and executive produced by Eminem, that has so far won the TIFF People’s Choice award (Midnight Madness), and the audience awards from Austin’s Fantastic Fest and the American Film Institute’s AFI Fest.

BURNING

DIRECTOR: Lee Chang-dong

PLOT: South Korean auteur Lee Chang-dong adapts Haruki Murakami’s short story of romantic longing for this critically acclaimed, Cannes FIPRESCI prize-winning thriller starring Korean heart-throb Yoo Ah-in and The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun. Loosely based on the 1992 Murakami story, Lee’s (Poetry, MIFF 2010; Oasis, MIFF 2002) much-anticipated new work evolves from a meet-cute between delivery man Jongu and old friend Haemi, who disappears to Africa only to return with Ben, a rich, enigmatic playboy with a dark and strange hobby. Wildly praised at Cannes, Burning set a new record for the highest-ever score in Screen International’s poll of critics at the festival, and with good reason: across its perfectly paced 148 minutes, Lee’s film goes from romantic character piece to exquisitely poised thriller, taking on contemporary political fears, class imbalances, and old fashioned existential despair with masterful control.

CELESTE

DIRECTOR: Ben Hackworth

PLOT: Radha Mitchell gives a stunning performance in this intoxicating tale of love, betrayal and Schubert set in the remote rainforests of far north Queensland and chosen as part of the Cannes Film Festival’s Atelier incubator for outstanding new talent.Once upon a time, Celeste was Australia’s most beloved opera singer. Yet she threw it all away to follow the man she loved to a crumbling property deep in the rainforests of far north Queensland. Now, ten years after his tragic death, Celeste is ready to make one final return to the stage. But when she asks her estranged stepson Jack for an impossible favour, the secrets that drove them apart will explode back into rhapsodic life. From acclaimed filmmaker Ben Hackworth (Corroboree, MIFF 07) comes Celeste, a literally operatic character study of loss and power and the things that tear us apart. A sumptuously shot psychological study set against the backdrop of one of Australia’s most pristine, rarely seen landscapes, Celeste is a riveting statement of intent from one of Australia’s boldest cinematic voices.

CLIMAX

DIRECTOR: Gaspar Noé

PLOT: In this Cannes award winner, legendary provocateur Gaspar Noé delivers an ecstatic and nightmarish orgy of sex, drugs and 90s club music that re-establishes his credentials as modern cinema’s most incisive and inventive observer of humanity’s animal darkness. Twenty young dancers rehearse in an empty hall. Beneath strobing lights and pounding music, their bodies contort and writhe into hypnotic, unearthly shapes. Then it’s over and the party proper begins, a humming declaration of youth and beauty and charged eroticism. But this is Gaspar Noé (Love, MIFF 2015) we’re talking about, and soon one fateful decision will send them spiralling into a frantic hellscape where they’ll discover the true savagery hiding behind their façades. Noé is no stranger to cinematic overload and in Climax he turns in his most viscerally affecting work yet. A runaway train of a film told in long Steadicam shots, extraordinary choreography and a pulsing soundtrack from the likes of Daft Punk and Aphex Twin, this is Noé doing what he does best: taking us deep into the forbidden and unspoken reaches of our own humanity.

COLD WAR

DIRECTORS: Pawel Pawlikowski

PLOT: Recipient of the Best Director prize at Cannes and a widely praised follow-up to his Academy Award-winner Ida, Pawel Pawlikowski’s latest film is a love story that wends its way through a partitioned Europe. Tasked with putting together a folk-music troupe in post-WWII Poland, pianist Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) embarks on a torrid love affair with the much younger Zula (Joanna Kulig), a fiery singer with a past. When a performance in Berlin offers the pair an opportunity for escape, a last-minute decision causes them to be stranded on either side of the Iron Curtain. This, however, will not be their final meeting – or their final separation. Spanning 15 years and several countries, and inspired by the real-life story of the director’s own parents, Cold War is a warmly lyrical, exquisite and emotional work replete with virtuosic black-and-white visuals and a keen sense of music, its interludes ranging from communist hymns to 1950s rock ’n’ roll. Already being touted as another Oscar contender for Pawlikowski, Cold War is one of the films of the year, and a must-see on the big screen.

THE COMING BACK OUT BALL MOVIE

DIRECTOR: Sue Thomson

PLOT: In the middle of Australia’s divisive marriage equality vote, Melbourne hosted a gala event to honour and celebrate its LGBTQIA+ elders. These are their stories. LGBTQIA+ seniors have been pioneers in many ways, beginning the fight for equality in an era when being queer could land you in jail, lose you your job or worse. But as they have aged, some started going back into the closet in nursing homes or when accessing aged-care services, owing to feeling unsafe in these environments. The Coming Back Out Ball was a glittering red-carpet evening held in October 2017 to celebrate these pioneers and their achievements, and to combat invisibility for LGBTQIA+ seniors. Hosted by cabaret legend Robyn Archer and with a guest list including Carlotta, Deborah Cheetham, Gerry Connolly (as the Queen) and a who’s who of Melbourne’s elder LGBTQIA+ community, it was a night to remember! Director Sue Thomson documents the process as All The Queen’s Men puts the event together and – most importantly – captures the stories of key elders being honoured at the Ball. The resulting film, supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, is a life-affirming love letter to senior members of the ‘alphabet’ community, and to Melbourne, with an important message about the necessity of pride, acceptance, equality and dignity at all stages of life – and a whole lot of dancing!

DAMSEL

DIRECTOR: David Zellner & Nathan Zellner

PLOT: The team behind MIFF 2014’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter reshape the western into an off-kilter comedy, but don’t go branding Robert Pattinson’s besotted businessman a hero – or Mia Wasikowska’s abducted bride-to-be a damsel, either. Pattinson (MIFF 2017’s Good Time and The Lost City of Z) and Wasikowska (Piercing, also screening this year) play Samuel Alabaster and his bride-to-be Penelope; however, a vast expanse of prairie, a stalking brute (co-director Nathan Zellner) and plenty of secrets stand in the way of their wedded bliss. Embarking upon a rescue quest when Penelope is ostensibly kidnapped, Samuel buys a miniature horse and enlists the help of a drunken preacher (co-director David Zellner). Alas, it’ll take more than the ambling posse’s efforts – or Samuel’s humorous ditty ‘Honeybun’ – to save the couple’s romance. With the Zellner brothers writing, directing and appearing on screen, Damsel heads to the Old West with comic subversion in mind, touching upon everything from gender to race to class on its amusing, surprising journey.

DOGMAN

DIRECTOR: Matteo Garrone

PLOT: The director of Gomorrah returns with an incisive tale of a dog-loving reluctant criminal, featuring a Cannes Best Actor-winning performance in the title role (as well as the Palm Dog Award for the entire canine cast!).In a desolate part of Southern Italy, Marcello runs a dog grooming business, caring for the neighbourhood pooches and raising his young daughter, Sofia. But his gentle nature is taken advantage of by his friend Simone, a hulking brute who has been terrorising local business owners. Marcello soon finds himself swept up in a criminal plan he wants nothing to do with. Could Simone be the one beast Marcello cannot tame? Inspired by a true story, the latest film from Matteo Garrone (the 2008 Cannes Grand Prix-winning Gomorrah, MIFF 2008) is an ‘urban Western’ set in a barren seaside town that feels hauntingly post-apocalyptic. A bravura, noir-ish examination of the destructive force of toxic masculinity, it won Marcello Fonte the Best Actor award at this year’s Cannes for his performance as the gentle, decent dog groomer who finds himself pushed to the extreme.

DON’T WORRY, HE WON’T GET FAR ON FOOT

DIRECTOR: Gus van Sant

PLOT: Before he became one of the 20th century’s most vital and taboo-busting cartoonists, John Callahan (Joaquin Phoenix) was a wreck. Alcoholic since his early teens, not even a literally crippling car accident at the age of 21 could shake him out of his drunken stupor. But when he’s pushed into doing AA, he finds in group leader Donnie (played by an unrecognisable Jonah Hill) an unlikely inspiration, and a challenge to finally get his life together. Based on Callahan’s autobiography of the same name, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot is the dynamic new film from cinematic maven Gus Van Sant. Boasting a brilliant, left-of-centre ensemble cast – including Jack Black, Rooney Mara, Beth Ditto, Kim Gordon and German oddball Udo Kier – it’s a blissfully irreverent and defiantly sincere love letter to the strength of the human spirit.

EVERYBODY KNOWS

DIRECTOR: Asghar Farhadi

PLOT: Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem star in the tense psychological thriller that opened this year’s Cannes competition, from the two-time Oscar-winning director of A Separation and The Salesman, Asghar Farhadi. Revered Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi (The Salesman, MIFF 2016; The Past, MIFF 2013; A Separation, MIFF 2011) makes another foray into European co-production with this riveting Spanish-language thriller, transplanting the director’s preoccupation with familial tension and moral dilemmas to the fertile terrain of international melodrama. Soon after Laura arrives from Argentina for a wedding at her family’s estate in Spain, her rebellious teenage daughter is kidnapped in the dead of night. Desperate, Laura turns to old flame and family vineyard keeper Paco, and a tightly wound game of whodunit plays out on the estate. Working within the twisty, suspenseful trappings of an art-house soap opera, Farhadi explores his trademark concerns of class tension, family secrets and domestic angst, while Cruz and Bardem are at the top of their game pushed to emotional extremes.

THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES

DIRECTOR: Mark Cousins

PLOT: The director of The Story of Film gets to the heart of greatness in this whimsical and heartfelt examination of one of the 20th century’s greatest showmen – the man behind Citizen Kane, Orson Welles. Mark Cousins (What Is This Film Called Love, MIFF 2013) has crafted one of the defining works about Orson Welles, having been granted exclusive access to the private collection of correspondence, paintings and drawings from the great actor, writer and director. Alongside these sketches and amateur art, Cousins ties Welles’s story into that of the modern age and proving his continued relevance in an age of rising fascism, bullying and (F is for) fake news. The Eyes of Orson Welles is a visionary interpretation of Welles’ life and career by one of modern cinema’s most singular documentary filmmakers.

THE FIELD GUIDE TO EVIL

DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Smoczynska, Katrin Gebbe, Ashim Ahluwalia, Calvin Reeder, Can Evrenol, Peter Strickland Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz, Yannis Veslemes.

PLOT: Eight of this generation’s best genre filmmakers explore the folklore, mythology and even cryptozoology of their homelands in this fright-filled, globe-hopping anthology. From Greece to America, Hungary to India, Field Guide to Evil comes from the demented minds of the people behind Deathgasm (MIFF 2015) and ABCs of Death. Audiences can count on a most unexpected journey filled with scares, gore and humour in this collection of short films that tackle all things mystical and mysterious. Whether it’s an underworld goblin in Greece or a childhood djinn in Turkey, this uniquely international anthology offers a genre expedition unlike any other. Featuring contributions from internationally renowned filmmakers – including Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy, MIFF 2015), Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy, MIFF 2015; Berberian Sound Studio, MIFF 2012), Agnieszka Smoczynska (The Lure, MIFF 2016), Katrin Gebbe (Nothing Bad Can Happen, MIFF 2013), Can Evrenol (Baskin, MIFF 2016) and Ashim Ahluwalia (Miss Lovely, MIFF 2012) – there are many weird and wonderful worlds here for audiences to experience.

FIRST REFORMED

DIRECTOR: Paul Schrader

PLOT: A career-best Ethan Hawke stars in cinema legend Paul Schrader’s latest provocation, a compulsively watchable feast of brooding menace and pulpy thrills that won the Green Drop Award for environmental filmmaking at the Venice Film Festival. In a remote part of upstate New York, Ernst Toller (Hawke), a reverend haunted by the death of his son, becomes inescapably drawn into the lives of new parishioners Michael (Phillip Ettinger) and Mary (Amanda Seyfried). The young couple’s marriage is being wrenched apart by Michael’s fixation on the coming environmental apocalypse and when Ernst realises the true depth of Michael’s fervour, he is set on a path he never expected. From revered filmmaker Paul Schrader (Taxi DriverAmerican Gigolo, Raging Bull) comes First Reformed, another discomfiting portrait of life on the American margins. Channelling the environmental anxieties of our modern age through his own inimitable lens – with overt references to Ozu, Bergman and Bresson (specifically, Diary of a Country Priest) – First Reformed is a giddy, tantalising reminder of the skills of one of America’s greatest auteurs.

THE FUGUE

DIRECTOR: Agnieszka Smoczyńska

PLOT: From the woman who brought you deliriously unhinged cannibal mermaid musical The Lure comes something completely different: an eerie study of a woman with amnesia confronting her forgotten self. Literally staggering out from the darkness, Alicja (an electrifying Gabriela Muskała, who also wrote the taut and expressive screenplay) has no memory and no clue to her true identity. After her plight is televised, a family who claim Alicja as their daughter, wife and mother show up to take her home. But Alicja sees them as strangers, and whatever ordeals she experienced while she was missing has eradicated the cheerful, compliant personality that they remember. As Alicja learns more about the woman she supposedly was, the more fractured her precarious sense of self becomes. Agnieszka Smoczyńska made a splash (pun intended) with her debut feature The Lure (MIFF 2016), and The Fugue only deepens the promising potential of this resolutely maverick filmmaker. Inspired by a true story, this new work is a mysterious and allegorically feminist tale about individuality and identity, beautifully lensed by The Lure cinematographer Jacub Kijowski.

GHOSTHUNTER

DIRECTOR: Ben Lawrence

PLOT: Long-hidden family secrets converge with a true crime investigation in this story of a part-time ghosthunter and his two-decade search for answers in western Sydney. This is the story of Jason King, a security guard in Sydney’s western suburbs by day who conducts paranormal investigations throughout the area by night. Jason, the survivor of trauma, is driven to discover the truth behind his father’s longtime absence. This search for the truth, however, brings him up close and personal with a dark legacy. Ghosthunter is the compelling debut feature for acclaimed Australian photographer, commercial and short-film director Ben Lawrence. Having won numerous awards for his work both at home and abroad, Lawrence has made a truly unique documentary that navigates otherworldly mysteries alongside very real trauma and abuse. Featuring stunning big-screen cinematography from Hugh Miller (Sherpa, MIFF 2015; Three Blind Mice, MIFF 2008), Ghosthunter is an Australian documentary like no other.

GIRL

DIRECTORS: Lukas Dhont

PLOT: A multiple award winner at Cannes – including the Camera d’Or, the Queer Palm and the Un Certain Regard Best Actor award and FIPRESCI Prize – Belgian director Lukas Dhont’s debut feature is an empathetic chronicle of a young transgender girl’s quest to become a ballerina. “I don’t want to be an example. I just want to be a girl.” Lara (screen newcomer and professional dancer Victor Polster) has two dreams: to become a professional ballet dancer, and to complete her gender transition. She is close to achieving both goals, with a place at an extremely prestigious ballet academy, and a supportive family and team of doctors preparing her for surgery once she is eighteen. But like many teenagers Lara is fuelled by impatience, and as her frustrations with her dysphoric body clash with her dancing, her inner turmoil threatens to derail her ambitions. Elegant, down to earth, and resolute in championing the perspective of its soaring heroine, Girl is a deeply affecting film, anchored in compassion, nuance and an astonishingly assured debut performance from Polster.

THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS

DIRECTOR: Sébastien Laudenbach

PLOT: Winner of the Jury Prize and Best French Film award at the Annecy Animation Festival, The Girl Without Hands is a breathtakingly beautiful fairy tale unafraid of its Grimm origins. The title is quite literal. A miller accidentally sells his daughter to the devil. But when the devil is unable to corrupt the girl, he demands her father chop off her hands. Understandably, she runs away and eventually meets and marries a kind and handsome prince. Before you can say ‘they lived happily ever after’, the prince is called away to war and the girl is left to raise their child alone – a task she proves entirely capable of, even without hands. Acclaimed short-filmmaker Sébastien Laudenbach makes his feature debut with this exquisite, surprisingly feminist fable. Writing, directing, editing and animating entirely on his own, his film is a solo passion project that takes an unvarnished approach to a lesser-known Brothers Grimm tale, warts and all. But Laudenbach’s remarkable hand-painted illustrations soften the brothers’ harsher edges without sugarcoating them, while his almost impressionistic brush strokes and shimmering Fauvist colours lend an appropriately dreamlike quality to the proceedings.

GOOD MANNERS

DIRECTOR: Juliana Rojas & Marco Dutra

PLOT: Ana is a white, wealthy, privileged and pregnant. Clara is black, broke and applying to be Ana’s live-in baby-nanny. She gets the job and soon these two women from opposite sides of the social divide have become more than just employer and employee. But as Ana’s pregnancy progresses, it becomes clear that something is not quite right. Where, or what, is the baby’s father? Why is Ana sleepwalking every full moon? And what is going on with her eyes? Winning a Special Jury Mention at Locarno and the FIPRESCI Prize at the Rio de Janeiro International Film Festival, Good Manners is a magical realist social commentary from filmmakers Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, who’ve drawn on Angela Carter, Jacques Tourneur and Disney for inspiration. Using an audacious twist on monster mythology to critique issues of class, race, sexuality and motherhood, the film’s stylised atmosphere and odd bursts of humour and gore recall Julia Ducournau’s Raw or Tomas Alfredson’s Let the Right One In while maintaining a groundedness in love and compassion.

HAGAZUSSA: A HEATHEN’S CURSE

DIRECTOR: Lukas Feigelfeld

PLOT: Paranoia and suspicion ripple through Europe’s dark ages in this frightening fairytale full of nightmarish visions and atmospheric terror. Set amid the hinterland of the Austrian Alps, where the Black Plague has taken hold and the countryside is rife with rumour of witchcraft, Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse plays with storytelling conventions and audience expectations. Told across four parts, it’s a confronting glimpse into the mind of single mothers in a time of disease and isolation. Featuring deeply ominous music and intense visuals, this is a film that will leave you shaken. Director Lukas Feigelfeld began his studies in photography before transferring to film, and the results of that collision are displayed in this stunningly photographed feature. Recalling at times the works of David Lynch, Lars von Trier and Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as an obvious comparison with The Witch (MIFF 2015), Hagazussa: A Heathen’s Curse is a frightfully accomplished debut feature that lovers of slow-burn horror will relish.

HEARTS BEAT LOUD

DIRECTOR: Brett Haley

PLOT: Nick Offerman, Toni Collette and Ted Danson star in this tale of a washed-up muso and record-store grump who starts a band with his pre-med student daughter. It’s the sweetest Gen-X mid-life crisis. Frank has raised his daughter Sam alone in Brooklyn since his wife’s death. As serious-minded Sam prepares to head to UCLA med school, Frank proposes they turn their weekly “jam sesh” into an actual single. But… are they even a band? Frank and Sam’s songs express their emotions about their diverging lives. For Frank, things are ending: Sam’s moving out, his record store is about to close and gentrification has claimed the dive bar owned by his best friend Dave. But hearts are beating anew: Frank’s for his landlady, and Sam’s for a gorgeous artist. Director and co-writer Brett Haley sharply but sweetly observes the tragedy of the grunge generation – not just that they’re no longer young and cool, but that millennials don’t even care what cool was. Offerman’s trademark surliness feels vulnerable, while the luminous Kiersey Clemons as Sam shows why she’s a rising star.

I USED TO BE NORMAL: A BOYBAND FANGIRL STORY

DIRECTOR: Jessica Leski

PLOT: Go beyond the screams as Jessica Leski’s fun and empathetic documentary explores why we hold pop music dear to our hearts. Film buffs idolise their favourite directors. Grown men create fantasy sports teams and cry during grand finals. So why are boyband fans so often mocked and dismissed as just silly, screaming teenage girls. Melbourne director Jessica Leski’s upbeat, intelligent documentary explores the complex emotions of passionate pop-music appreciation. Combining interviews with archival material, animation and home movies, the film follows women from four generations who fanatically follow The Beatles, the Backstreet Boys, Take That and One Direction. For them, it was never just a phase; their love of these boys and their music provides lifelong joy, self-expression and world-spanning friendships with fellow fans. I Used to Be Normal is also an insightful look at how the culture around us shapes our interior world. Weaving in perspectives from music theory and criticism, Leski suggests that whatever we choose to love, it’s never thoughtless or superficial, but powerfully significant to our lives.

THE INSULT

DIRECTOR: Ziad Doueiri

PLOT: Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards, The Insult is the multi-award winning new work from Lebanese visionary Ziad Doueiri (The Attack, MIFF 2012). A fast-paced, sharp-tongued tour through the complex cultural and political divisions that constitute modern Lebanon, The Insult shows Doueiri at his provocative, sure-footed best. A Palestinian refugee insults a Lebanese Christian in a heated exchange. In another world, it’s a provocation that might have gone uncontested but not in Lebanon, where even the most passing of gestures has become freighted with outsize meaning. Soon the two men are embroiled in a high-stakes legal battle, whose outcome could have profound implications for the identity and future of the only Arabic democracy in the Middle East.

A KID LIKE JAKE

DIRECTOR: Silas Howard

PLOT: Claire Danes (Homeland) and Jim Parsons (leaving all traces of his The Big Bang Theory character behind) are remarkable as Alex and Greg, parents facing the daunting prospect of setting an educational course for their child’s life. But when four-year-old Jake begins acting out, they suddenly find themselves at odds over how to sensitively handle Jake’s needs alongside their own wishes. A Kid Like Jake is the feature film debut of director Silas Howard, best known for his work on queer-forward television programs TransparentThe Fosters and Pose, and “a queer punk icon and a founding voice of the New Trans Cinema” (IndieWire). Howard’s own experiences mean the film is never patronising, offensive or sensationalised in its exploration of gender identity. Based on Daniel Pearle’s play of the same name, this is an affectionate and poignant story told with humour and heart, with two of the world’s most popular actors offering heartfelt performances alongside a supporting roster of recognisable faces including Octavia Spencer, Ann Dowd, Priyanka Chopra and Amy Landecker.

THE KINDERGARTEN TEACHER

DIRECTOR: Sara Colangelo

PLOT: Maggie Gyllenhaal gives a mighty performance as a woman determined to nurture the talents of a precocious student, but her altruism turns twisted in this Sundance award winner. Five-year-old Jimmy seems ordinary in all ways but one: his propensity for suddenly speaking aloud poetry created on the spot. His teacher, Lisa Spinelli (a career-best Gyllenhaal), sees Jimmy not just as a sublime prodigy but as her ticket out of her mundane life. But when Lisa presents some of Jimmy’s work at her weekly writing class – and elides mentioning they were written by a child and not herself – the praise she receives from her own teacher (Gael García Bernal, MIFF 2012’s No) sets her on a shocking, all-consuming path. In adapting Nadav Lapid’s award-winning 2014 film of the same name for an English-speaking audience, director Sara Colangelo has switched the point of view from the child to his teacher, and its focus from masculinity and art’s place in a nation at war to femininity and art’s place in a nation of indifferent privilege. Colangelo’s version – made in collaboration with Lapid’s producer, Talia Kleinhendler, with Lapid himself executive producing – is both a nuanced trip into the psyche of a disillusioned woman and a remarkably tense thriller, and it won her the Sundance Directing Award (US Dramatic).

THE KING

DIRECTOR: Eugene Jarecki

PLOT: Forty years after Elvis’s death, Eugene Jarecki (The House I Live In, MIFF 2012) serves up a hunk of burning insight from Presley’s own Rolls-Royce, accompanied by Alec Baldwin, Ethan Hawke, Chuck D, Emmylou Harris, David Simon, Mike Myers, Dan Rather and more. Boasting a suspicious mind worthy of Elvis’s crooning, Jarecki road trips across the country charting the singer’s biographical journey – examining not only the star’s life and legacy, but also the nation he entertained and the erosion of the American Dream over the six decades since his first single. Using Elvis as a metaphor for modern-day America, The King delves into everything from cultural appropriation to current American politics, all while driving from Memphis to New York to Las Vegas. Filled to the brim with interviews, archival clips and in-car performances, it’s an impassioned and comprehensive exploration of a nation still caught in the trap of celebrity.

KNIFE + HEART

DIRECTOR: Yann Gonzalez

PLOT: In Yann Gonzalez’s deliriously campy, late-‘70s-set slasher, French icon Vanessa Paradis plays a 40-something porn film producer who’s heartbroken after separating from her girlfriend, and whose cast members are being systematically murdered in grisly, albeit archly cinematically breathtaking fashion. Giallo period piece turned seductive whodunit, Gonzalez’s film riffs on the garish, sleazy stylings of everything from Argento and Fulci to De Palma and cult classic Liquid Sky, with French electronic outfit M83 dropping retro beats and Paradis turning in a great performance that navigates the movie’s themes of desire and sexual repression.

LET THE CORPSES TAN

DIRECTOR: Hélène Cattet & Bruno Forzani

PLOT: Spaghetti Western, ’70s Euro-pulp and delirious psychedelia collide in this stylised genre mashup about a gang of bandits locked in a wild, day-long shootout with cops in a Mediterranean hamlet. In this frenetic homage to cinema’s seedier retro fringes, a band of thieves make off with a truckload of stolen gold and find themselves in an all-out firefight at the home of a bohemian artist who lives among ruins. Genre connoisseurs Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani eschew their previous giallo love-ins for a potent mix of widescreen Spaghetti Western, pulpy, double-crossing Euro crime thrillers and even a touch of psychedelia for its extra, off-the-wall moments. The result is an exhilarating assault on the senses, lensed in glorious 16mm, starring Elina Lowensöhn (Guy Maddin’s The Forbidden Room, MIFF 2015; Hal Hartley’s Amateur, MIFF 1995) and with plenty of Ennio Morricone cues for maximum throwback effect.

LOS SILENCIOS

DIRECTOR: Thomas M. Wright

TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mGBTzeKj0tQ

PLOT: Set and shot on the real-life Amazonian La Isla de la Fantasia between Brazil, Colombia and Peru, this Cannes Directors’ Fortnight standout turns the plight of a refugee family into a dreamlike exploration of shifting national, spiritual and emotional boundaries. Under the cover of darkness, Amparo and her two young children row across the river, endeavouring to leave Colombia’s civil war and their own personal tragedy behind. But something more than a new life awaits on the island that marks their first step towards a fresh start, with Brazilian writer/director Beatriz Seigner stranding her characters in a realm where the living and the dead coincide. Earning comparisons to Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Lucrecia Martel, Seigner combines an ethereal story with Los Silencios’ distinctive setting — an island that’s underwater for four months of the year — as well as the true plights of Colombian immigrants now based in Brazil. Primarily populated by non-professional actors playing roles similar to their own lives, the end result is a meditative and affecting musing on being caught between two worlds.

THE MAN WHO KILLED DON QUIXOTE

DIRECTOR: Terry Gilliam

PLOT: Decades in the making, Terry Gilliam’s near-mythical riff on Cervantes’ fantastic tale finally makes its debut, with Adam Driver as a cynical adman trapped in the delusions of an old shoemaker who believes himself to be Don Quixote. For years, it was thought to be impossible. Legendary filmmaker and one-time Monty Python member Terry Gilliam (12 MonkeysBrazil) had tried and failed to film his version of the classic tale several times over multiple decades, most famously with Johnny Depp in the lead, in a production that some saw as forever cursed. Miraculously, Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has arrived. Adam Driver (Paterson, MIFF 2016; Hungry Hearts, MIFF 2015) stars as an idealistic filmmaker turned cynical advertising hack who finds himself trapped inside the delusional world of an old shoemaker – played by Gilliam stalwart Jonathan Pryce – who’s convinced that he’s Don Quixote. Their comedic adventures are vintage Gilliam, the eternal struggle between dreams and reality, idealism and cynicism, playing as a fitting analogy for the film’s very existence.

MANDY

DIRECTOR: Panos Cosmatos

PLOT: When Red Miller (Nicolas Cage) met Mandy (Andrea Riseborough) he instantly fell in love. Unfortunately, so did Jeremiah (Linus Roache). And when this telekinetic bikie messiah lets loose his dedicated followers to kidnap Mandy, Red is spurred into frenzied action as he seeks retribution – using his best lumberjack skills – against the Children of the New Dawn. In a midnight movie experience like no other, this blood-splattered hit of the Sundance and Cannes film festivals blends romance with chainsaws as it lets Nicolas Cage be his most Nicolas Cage. Panos Cosmatos (Beyond the Black Rainbow) throws everything plus the kitchen sink into this maniacal, bloody thriller. A psychedelic visual bender with a deliberately disorienting score from Oscar-nominated composer Jóhann Jóhannsson (one of his last before his untimely death in February), Mandy is a frenetic explosion of genre’s greatest hits that swings from crazed horror to devilish comedy, while providing a perfect platform for Cage to indulge his wildest excesses.

MURDER ME, MONSTER

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Fadel

PLOT: In the shadow of the Andes, something sinister is happening. As mutilated and decapitated women’s bodies begin appearing with increasing frequency, the task of investigating these gruesome murders falls to rural police officer Cruz; suspicion, meanwhile, lands on David – who claims a psychic link to the killer – but Cruz is not convinced. Something just doesn’t add up. The sophomore feature of Alejandro Fadel (The Wild Ones, MIFF 2012), Murder Me, Monster is a sober, slow-burning work of chilling atmosphere and, when it arrives, gut-punching horror. Setting the film in his picturesque hometown province of Mendoza, Fadel finds surreal echoes of Lynchian logic and a black streak of subtle humour in his twisted tale of fear, repression and the dispossessed male psyche.

THE NIGHT EATS THE WORLD

DIRECTOR: Dominique Rocher

PLOT: When lovelorn musician Sam drinks way too much at his ex-girlfriend’s party, he’s locked in a back room to sleep it off. The next day he wakes to find that a zombie plague has overrun Paris and he is, as far as he knows, the only survivor. Trapped in the apartment, Sam has little choice but to gather rations, arm himself against the apocalyptic hordes, and maybe compose a few songs to pass the time. As Sam, the excellent Anders Danielsen Lie (Oslo, 31. August, MIFF 2012) carries this debut feature from Dominique Rocher, which adapts bestselling French author Martin Page’s novel (published under the pseudonym Pit Agarmen) into a unique reflection on loneliness and social isolation. With Denis Levant (Holy Motors, MIFF 2012) memorably showing up as one of the undead, and Golshifteh Farahani (Paterson, MIFF 2016) also appearing, The Night Eats the World is an avant-garde undead chamber piece for those who crave a little more meat on their high-concept genre films.

 PIERCING

DIRECTOR: Nicolas Pesce

PLOT: Indie darlings Christopher Abbott and Mia Wasikowska star in a bruising psychosexual fetish thriller from the minds that brought you The Eyes of My Mother (MIFF 2016). Comedy doesn’t get much darker than Piercing, a wildly inventive and confronting feature that tackles subjects like abuse, sex and violence with a kinky S&M twist. Piercing begins with Reed wielding an icepick over the cradle of his newborn child, but he soon realises the best way to exorcise his demons involves a plan for dismemberment and so books a sleazy hotel room and a call-girl named Jackie. Adapted from the novel by Ryū Murukami (who also wrote the beautifully twisted novel that Takashi Miike’s Audition was based on), Piercing is a suitably macabre exploration of male and female relationships. With a variety of stylistic tricks up his sleeve including split screens and a soundtrack of pop songs, Piercing is a bold new work for director Nicolas Pesce. A physically and emotionally violent clash of two souls where the blood flows in unexpected ways.

POPE FRANCIS: A MAN OF HIS WORD

DIRECTOR: Wim Wenders

PLOT: Academy Award-nominated filmmaker Wim Wenders turns his legendary directorial lens to one of the world’s most remarkable subjects: the enigmatic, visionary and controversial Pope Francis. When Pope Francis ascended to the papacy 2013, there was an immediate sense that something was changing within the Catholic Church. Much lauded for his progressive views on climate change, income inequality and even gay rights, Francis has come to represent the hopes of tens of millions that the world’s largest faith might slowly be awakening to the modern age. But who is the man behind the mitre? And is he truly capable of bringing about the change he claims to seek? With unprecedented access to this inspiring, polarising figure, Cannes award-winning director Wim Wenders offers the definitive portrait of the man now responsible for the Earth’s 1.25 billion Catholics. Bringing together remarkably candid interviews with Francis himself and intimate footage of the Pope pursuing his mission all over the globe, Pope Francis: A Man of His Word is an essential, fascinating document of this pivotal moment in the history of the Catholic Church.

PROFILE

DIRECTOR: Timur Bekmambetov

PLOT: Winner of audience awards at both SXSW and the Berlinale, Profile is a nail-biting thriller that takes on ISIS, radicalisation, catfishing and the insidious lures of extremism – all without ever leaving the laptop screen. Amy is an ambitious freelance journalist with an audacious idea for her next project: she’ll pretend to be a dissatisfied young Muslim woman and see if she can lure an ISIS recruiter into her clutches. But when the unexpectedly charming Abu Bilel starts responding to her advances, the two embark on a dangerous game of cat and mouse, and soon Amy will be forced to ask where her loyalties truly lie. Starring Shazad Latif and Valene Kane and based on an improbable true story, Profile is the latest work of cinematic overload from filmmaking maverick Timur Bekmambetov (Day Watch, MIFF 2006). Forgoing his usual CGI-driven big-screen excesses for the confines of a single laptop screen, the result is an unnervingly recognisable thriller, where the next whipsawing twist is just a Skype call away.

THE RIDER

DIRECTOR: Chloé Zhao

PLOT: South Dakota Bronco rider Brady’s promising career was cut short with a kick to the head from a horse. Now he’s grappling with his post-rodeo identity and sense of masculinity, and seeking solace from friend and former mentor Lane, whose own fall from a bucking bull left him quadriplegic and unable to speak. Working at the supermarket by day and drinking by night, Brady’s struggles with what it means to be a man in this milieu are given additional weight by his alcoholic, gambling father and 15-year-old sister Lilly, who is on the spectrum. The top award winner from Cannes 2017’s Directors’ Fortnight and a hit at festivals including Toronto and Sundance, Chloe Zhao’s The Rider stars real-life rodeo cowboy Brady Jandreau – who, yes, is dealing with a similar injury as his semi-fictional character – and his real-life family and friends. In drawing upon the lived experience of her non-professional actors to create a sensitive and melancholy portrait of the American West, Zhao marks herself out as a rising auteur to watch.

SHEIKH JACKSON

DIRECTORS: Amr Salama

PLOT: A strict Muslim recalls his past moonwalking mojo back in this imaginative drama about boyhood dreams, first love and Michael Jackson. It’s 2009, and Sheikh Khaled Hani is a conservative young imam… until news of Michael Jackson’s death catapults him into a spiritual crisis. Khaled is forced to confront memories of the gentle boy he was back in 1991, who survived a brutish father, missed a dead mother, pined for a pretty girl… and was obsessed with the King of Pop. Michael Jackson enjoyed an intense underground fandom in the Arab world. In this, Egypt’s entry for the 2018 Academy Awards, director Amr Salama slyly evokes the look and feel of Jackson’s iconic songs without ever using the music itself. Sheikh Jackson questions why people embrace religious fundamentalism, and champions pop culture as another framework for our hopes and dreams. Shamon, inshallah!

SHOPLIFTERS

DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Kore-eda

PLOT: Ever-prolific MIFF favourite Hirokazu Kore-eda (The Third Murder, also in this year’s program) took out the 2018 Palme d’Or with his latest deeply felt slice of Japanese life, exploring the heartbreak and hidden secrets of a family of small-time thieves. In true Kore-eda fashion, the writer/director/editor’s 13th feature is both a humanistic portrait and an indictment of a society so willing to cast struggling people aside – as anchored by lived-in turns from his regulars Lily Franky (After the Storm, MIFF 2016; Our Little Sister, MIFF 2015; Like Father, Like Son, MIFF 2013) and Kirin Kiki (I Wish, MIFF 2012; Still Walking, MIFF 2009). For the Shibatas, every day brings new troubles, particularly of the monetary kind. Father Osamu and pre-teen son Shota shoplift what they can, but one light-fingered session sees them bring home something different: abandoned, abused five-year-old Juri, whose presence sparks joy as well as life-changing revelations.

THE TALE

DIRECTOR: Jennifer Fox

PLOT: In a bold blend of fact and fiction, documentarian Jennifer Fox makes her feature debut with a #MeToo tale only she could’ve told: her own, starring Laura Dern as the writer/director. Dern (Certain Women, MIFF 2016) steps into Fox’s shoes at a difficult juncture, with the filmmaker forced to reassess one of the defining moments of her adolescence. When her mother (Ellen Burstyn) finds an essay Jennifer wrote as a teenager, her affair with her coach is thrust into the spotlight. She remembers their time together fondly, but her own words from the time paint a different picture. Fox did indeed write such an account as a 13-year-old and, drawing upon extensive research into her own past she channels those experiences into this intensely intimate, non-linear feature, manipulating structure, form and truth as she interrogates her own memories. Also starring Elizabeth Debicki (Macbeth, MIFF 2015), Jason Ritter (The East, MIFF 2013) and Common (Girls Trip, MIFF 2017), The Tale is an ambitious, challenging and affecting exploration of sexual abuse, survival and storytelling as a coping mechanism.

THREE IDENTICAL STRANGERS

DIRECTOR: Tim Wardle

PLOT: Like something out of The Twilight Zone, this Special Jury Prize winner at Sundance is an incredible true story of triplets separated at birth … but that’s just the beginning of an even more incredible story. Prepare to pick your jaw up off the floor as you learn about Bobby, Eddy and David – identical triplets separated at birth. Discovering one another completely by accident at age 19, the three strangers became news sensations appearing on magazine covers, talk shows and even the dancefloor of Studio 54. Reality stars before Big Brother was ever conceived. But it wasn’t long before questions were asked, and The New Yorker’s investigative journalist Lawrence Wright began seeking the truth behind the brothers’ unique situation. Picking up the story decades later, director Tim Wardle expertly raises moral and ethical questions and the timeless debate of nature versus nurture as he follows the tangled threads to their increasingly disturbing ends. Three Identical Strangers is both a remarkable real-life tale and bona fide thriller that understandably took Sundance by storm. It is a true event film for documentary lovers.

THE THIRD MURDER

DIRECTOR: Hirokazu Kore-eda

PLOT: Hirokazu Kore-eda tackles the murder mystery genre with this morally complex tale, winning best film at this year’s Japanese Academy Awards.Charting the intricacies of a death penalty case, The Third Murder might seem like a departure from Kore-eda’s usual oeuvre (see: MIFF 2016’s After the Storm and MIFF 2015’s Our Little Sister), but the legal drama deftly translates the writer/director’s empathetic touch to thrilling new territory: a patient, probing courtroom drama that dissects the very nature of truth, seethes with palpable tension and features devastating performances from its high-profile leads. One of Kore-eda’s most powerful outings yet, the story follows Misumi (Kôji Yakusho, Shall We DanceMemoirs of a Geisha; MIFF 2011’s 13 Assassins), who freely admits to both murder and robbery. But defence attorney Shigemori (Masaharu Fukuyama, MIFF 2013’s Like Father, Like Son) is driven to delve deeper into the assailant’s incarcerated past, inconsistencies in his story and doubts about his guilt.

THOROUGHBREDS

DIRECTOR: Cory Finley

PLOT: Amanda is a certified school pariah, the girl who everyone knows murdered her own horse. She’s an unlikely match for preppy overachiever Lily, but the childhood besties reconnect when the unnervingly straight-shooting Amanda confesses her sociopathy. Lily is thrilled by the way her friend cuts through the bullshit of their upper-crust society and when Amanda suggests an audacious plan to murder Lily’s appalling stepfather, it suddenly seems like the most natural thing in the world. Olivia Cooke (last seen at MIFF in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl in 2015) and Anya Taylor-Joy (memorable from her role as Thomasin in MIFF 2015’s The Witch) are phenomenal as the two girls, and Anton Yelchin (Porto, MIFF 2017) proves once again what a talent was lost with his death. Writer/director Cory Finley – adapting his own stage play – displays a remarkable craft for a first-timer, his structural precision and theatricality recalling the best of Hal Hartley or Whit Stillman

TIGERS ARE NOT AFRAID

DIRECTOR: Issa López

PLOT: Tigers Are Not Afraid is a stunning contemporary fairytale that does for the Mexican drug war what Guillermo del Toro did for the Spanish Civil War. It saw Issa López become the first woman to win the Fantastic Fest award for Best Horror Director. Estrella is 11 years old when her mother disappears, a victim of the ruthless Huascas cartel. Left to fend for herself, she finds companionship and a fragile sense of security with a gang of similarly orphaned boys. But Estrella’s new reality is complicated not just by the dangers of life on the streets in a city ruled by violent sicarios – she also has her mother’s ghost whispering in her ear. Acclaimed Mexican author, screenwriter and director Issa López’s Tigers Are Not Afraid tackles the monstrous reality of life in the crossfire from a child’s-eye view, subtly weaving magical realist elements of the supernatural into a script that gives voice to a forgotten generation. Winning awards for Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actress among others at LA’s Screamfest Horror Film Festival (in addition to López’s Fantastic Fest gong), it’s a work of exquisite beauty and quiet terror, a haunting fable that seamlessly melds timeless fantasy with timely reality.

TOWER. A BRIGHT DAY

DIRECTOR: Jagoda Szelc

PLOT: An idyllic countryside family reunion takes a turn for the sinister in this remarkable directorial debut. In the glorious Polish summer, Mula is preparing for her daughter’s First Communion. But the arrival of Mula’s long-lost sister Kaja sends the entire family into a tailspin. Has Kaja returned to claim Mula’s daughter as her own? Or does she hide an even more sinister motive? As strange supernatural events sweep the community, Mula becomes increasingly suspicious about Kaja’s true nature. The first feature from writer/director Jagoda Szelc has seen her hailed as the next Yorgos Lanthimos. Her debut genre-bending thriller earned the Best Screenplay and Best Debut Director awards at the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia. It’s a bold arrival for Szelc with a film that, we’re enigmatically warned, is “based on future events”.

TYREL

DIRECTOR: Sebastián Silva

PLOT: At the urging of his best mate, Tyler (Jason Mitchell) heads upstate for a lad’s weekend – even though he’s going to be the only black guy in attendance. When the booze and pot starts flowing so do the faux pas, but Tyler’s used to white obliviousness by now. It’s only when weirdo Alan (Michael Cera) arrives that things begin sliding out of control and soon Tyler will discover that there are limits to how polite one can be. A gleefully uneasy skewering of bro culture, white privilege and the parlous state of race relations in the age of Trump, TYREL is the latest shot across the bows of polite society from MIFF mainstay Sebastián Silva (Nasty Baby, MIFF 2015; Magic Magic, MIFF 2013). With the help of an excellent ensemble cast, Silva takes social awkwardness to thriller-like levels, delivering a whip-smart cinematic provocation that refuses to go where you expect.

UNDERTOW

DIRECTOR: Miranda Nation

PLOT: MIFF Accelerator Lab alumna Miranda Nation makes her feature directorial debut with this Geelong-shot psychological thriller about grief and obsession set against the backdrop of local footy culture. Struggling to cope after losing her unborn child, photo-journalist Claire (Laura Gordon, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, MIFF 2016) becomes increasingly obsessed with Angie (Olivia DeJonge), a pregnant young woman Claire suspects of having an affair with her husband, AFL player and mentor Dan (Rob Collins, ClevermanGlitch, MIFF 2017). It’s an obsession that could put both women in danger, but the deeper Claire digs, the more unsettling her discoveries become. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund and also starring Josh Helman (Mad Max: Fury RoadX-Men: Apocalypse), Undertow is a bold and exciting leap into feature-length filmmaking for Nation, whose award-winning shorts Eli the Invincible and Perception have previously screened at MIFF (2011 and 2013, respectively). With evocative Surf Coast cinematography by Bonnie Elliot (These Final Hours, MIFF Premiere Fund 2013) and a starkly topical underbelly, it’s bound to have audiences talking long after the final credits roll.

WILDLIFE

DIRECTOR: Paul Dano

PLOT: Carey Mulligan, Jake Gyllenhaal and Australia’s Ed Oxenbould star in the directorial debut of actor Paul Dano, an intelligent and empathetic adaptation of Richard Ford’s novel about a teen dealing with his family falling apart in 1960s Montana. Joe is 14 years old, a quiet and observant teen. His parents – mother Jeanette, fumbling with the expanding female world of 1960s America; and Jerry, struggling with what it means to be a man who can’t hold down a job or support his family – are drifting apart and when his dad leaves to fight a nearby wildfire, it’s the last straw. As Jeanette starts exploring her options outside of just being a wife and mother, Joe is forced into the awkward position of being both voyeur of and participant in his mother’s new life. Paul Dano co-wrote the script with Zoe Kazan (both last seen at MIFF in 2012’s Ruby Sparks), and their sensitive, emotionally resonant adaptation of the source material makes for an elegantly refined film. A major coming-of-age offscreen as well as on for Oxenbould, an actor who broke out in the MIFF Premiere Fund film Paper Planes (MIFF 2014), Wildlife is a bittersweet and elegant debut. A hit at Sundance and Cannes, it’s buoyed by exquisite cinematography from Diego Garcia (Neon Bull, MIFF 2016; Cemetery of Splendour, MIFF 2015) and a fine-tuned attention to period detail that underscores its exceptional performances.

THE WORLD IS YOURS

DIRECTORS: Romain Gavras

PLOT: François isn’t cut out to be a gangster. Gentle and optimistic, he’s a bafflement to his mother, the vindictive and cut-throat Danny, who has raised him in the dog-eat-dog badlands of Paris’ low-rent underworld. All François wants is to buy a house and the North African rights to the Mr Freeze ice lolly franchise, and to get the hell out of Paris. But when he finds out that Danny has gambled away his nest egg, François realises he’s going to have to do one last job before he can escape. The French have always had a soft spot for American gangster cinema and in The World is Yours, acclaimed music video director Romain Gavras gives them one to call their own. The wunderkind director brings to the big screen the same energy and grit he’s displayed in his videos for the likes of M.I.A. (Born Free and Bad Girls) and Kanye West & Jay-Z (No Church in the Wild), and commands great performances from his cast, including Isabelle Adjani, Vincent Cassel and Karim Leklou as François. A giddy parade of outrageous characters and criminal incompetence backed by a pulsing score from electro pioneer Jamie XX, The World is Yours is a blazingly funny and effortlessly cool trip to the other, other side of Paris.

WORKING CLASS BOY

DIRECTOR: Mark Joffe

PLOT: With nine #1 albums to his name, Jimmy Barnes is one of Australia’s greatest rock icons. But his success masked a life of hardship and abuse, where the music that once saved him from oblivion almost came back to destroy him. Before Jimmy Barnes was Jimmy Barnes, he was James Dixon Swan, a troubled kid from the mean streets of Glasgow – and the even meaner streets of North Adelaide – trying to survive against a backdrop of addiction, alcoholism, poverty and abuse. For Jimmy, escape was the only option and he found it with a band called Cold Chisel. But the rock’n’roll lifestyle has its own temptations and the scars of childhood are always waiting to take you home. Based on the bestselling memoir and directed by veteran Australian filmmaker Mark Joffe, Working Class Boy is both an inspiring story of rock and redemption told in Barnes’ own words and an unflinchingly honest reflection on fame, creativity and depression. Fuelled by Barnes’ riotous music and incredible stories taken from more than 40 years in the music business, Working Class Boy presents a captivating and compassionate new portrait of one of our most beloved figures.

YOU SHALL NOT SLEEP

DIRECTOR: Gustavo Hernández

PLOT: An abandoned asylum plays host to a dramatic experiment involving a young actress who must go without sleep in this frightening follow-up to single-take horror hit The Silent House (MIFF 2010). For aspiring actress Bianca, the offer of a starring role in an experimental new play is too good an offer to refuse. As part of their preparation, she and her fellow actors must stay awake within a disused hospital. These are the sinister beginnings of the latest innovative film by Argentinian director Gustavo Hernández, a film full of twists and turns within its labyrinthine plot. Slickly produced and with evocative dream and hallucination sequences, You Shall Not Sleep offers a new spin on old genre tropes. With its spectacularly creepy performances amid the psychological chaos, You Shall Not Sleep may prove a self-fulfilling prophecy for those who see it.

Well, there you have it. These are the 60 films I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2018. Keep a look for my audio review podcasts 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

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One thought on “Bede’s 2018 Melbourne International Film Festival Preview

  1. That’s impressive that you managed to write a synopsis for every single one of these films. Unfortunately, because film distributors have proven to be wildly hit-or-miss this year, the only one I saw on this list was Three Identical Strangers, which was indeed a good documentary.

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