Bede’s 2019 Melbourne International Film Festival Preview

I can’t believe it. Has has it been a year already? That’s right, everyone. It’s that time of year where my hometown of Melbourne celebrates one of the largest and most prestigious film festivals in all of Australia: the Melbourne International Film Festival (or as it’s also know as MIFF for short). Over the course of 18 days (from August 1st to the 18th) MIFF will be showcasing 259 feature films/documentaries, 123 short films and 16 VR experiences from both Australia and all over the world. This year will mark my 8th time covering the festival for The Super Network and if you’ve read my previous MIFF preview articles over the pass few years, you would already know this time of year is like Christmas for me. There are a lot of great films from many high profile filmmakers playing at MIFF 2019, some of which are highly anticipated by myself and many other Aussie film fans.

Like I’ve done in previous years, I’m going to be mostly focusing on films that either don’t have a release date as of yet or they won’t be released until a much later date (whether that will be later this year or sometime in 2019 instead). Although I’ve made a few exceptions for some certain films that do come out shortly out after the festival is finished since I honestly can’t wait another couple of weeks to see them. Every year when I put together my list of films to watch at MIFF, I always joke that my list always seems to get bigger and bigger. After last year when I saw a maximum 60 films at the festival (the most I’ve seen at MIFF), I promised myself that I was going to see less this year. So how many films will I be seeing at the festival? 57. Okay, granted that it is still a high number but when compared to last year, it’s an improvement since I’m seeing 3 less than I did in 2018. Just like 2018 was, MIFF 2019 is shaping to be another great year due to all the major films that screening at the festival. This year’s batch features many critically acclaimed and award-winning film that have premiered at prestigious films like the Cannes Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival etc. All the films that I picked for my final official list are the ones that I’m most excited about. So which 57 films are they? Well, here’s my complete rundown of everything that I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2019…

ALICE

DIRECTOR: Josephine Mackerras

PLOT: Josephine Mackerras’s SXSW Grand Jury Prize winner is an intimate story of one woman’s empowerment that also destigmatises common ideas about sex work. Alice (Emilie Piponnier) has what seems like a perfect life in Paris with her husband, François and their young son, Jules. When François disappears, Alice discovers he’s been leading a double life, leaving her in a precarious financial position. Increasingly desperate as the bills pile up and she’s threatened with eviction, Alice finds freedom and purpose as a high-class escort. Australian filmmaker Mackerras has crafted an understated and unadorned debut, striking for its lack of melodrama and unsensationalised representation of sex work. Piponnier rivets as a woman who has always done what’s expected of her suddenly pushed to do what she never imagined she would have to. Alice’s transformation is revolutionary – defying patriarchy’s suffocating constraints and raising complex ethical questions without ever moralising on them.

AMERICAN WOMAN

DIRECTOR: Jake Scott

PLOT: Deb Callahan was just 16 when she became a mother, and now, in her early thirties, she’s a grandmother. Single, undereducated, and with questionable taste in men, Deb is raising her teenaged daughter Bridget, and Bridget’s infant son – with occasional help from Deb’s disapproving but loving older sister Katherine. Life is tough but for the most part they are happy. But when Bridget suddenly vanishes without a trace, Deb’s world is turned upside down: as the years pass, life goes on but Deb keeps searching for the truth about her daughter’s disappearance. Sienna Miller gives the performance of a lifetime as Deb, capturing her character’s raw emotions and the quotidian minutiae of daily life with equal precision. With able support from Hendricks as Katherine, Amy Madigan as their mother, Sky Ferreira as Bridget and Aaron Paul as Deb’s future husband, director Jake Scott (son of Ridley, who is a producer here) crafts an intricate, powerful look at working-class lives under duress, and a mother whose resilience carries her through the darkest times.

ANGEL OF MINE

DIRECTOR: Kim Farrant

PLOT: Noomi Rapace, Luke Evans, Yvonne Strahovski and Richard Roxburgh star in the Melbourne-shot-and-set second feature from Strangerland’s Kim Farrant, as scripted by Oscar-nominated Lion screenwriter Luke Davies. Seven years after the death of her daughter, Lizzie locks eyes on a sight she thought she’d never see again: a girl, Lola, who is the spitting image of her own lost child. As she battles for custody of her surviving son, Lizzie’s obsession with Lola only grows – befriending the young girl’s mother, following her everywhere and forcing long-held secrets out into the open. After commanding turns in psychological thrillers The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Passion (MIFF 2013), Rapace makes a spectacular return to the genre in a multi-faceted role, opposite impressive performances from Evans (High-Rise, MIFF 2016), Strahovski (Matching Jack, MIFF 2010) and Roxburgh (H is for Happiness, MIFF 2019). Adapted from the 2008 French movie L’Empreinte, Farrant’s complex and compelling sophomore film once again examines the themes of motherhood and grief that resonated so strongly in Strangerland.

THE ART OF SELF-DEFENCE

DIRECTOR: Riley Stearns

PLOT: Accountant Casey Evans believes he has a girl’s name and the persona to match. Overlooked by women and baffled by the macho antics of his workmates, Casey lives his life in a fog of disappointment and passivity. When he’s mugged while buying dog food, Casey decides enough is enough and he signs up to karate classes at his local dojo. Ruled over by a charismatic leader known only as Sensei, the dojo offers Casey a new-found confidence. But there’s a dark undercurrent to the Sensei’s methods, and the further Casey falls into the fold, the closer he comes to destruction. A wry and withering take on toxic masculinity and the price we pay for pride, The Art of Self-Defense is the deeply accomplished sophomore effort from young-gun writer/director Riley Stearns. An increasingly surreal parable of failed expectations and misplaced hope, it’s a cheerfully provocative triumph from one of American filmmaking’s most exciting new talents.

BACURAU

DIRECTOR: Juliano Dornelles & Kleber Madonça Filho

PLOT: A mythological Brazilian town falls under attack from invading forces in this explosive, Cannes Jury Prize-winning genre cocktail of sci-fi western and action-packed colonial allegory from the director of Aquarius. In the very near future, the tiny Brazilian town of Bacurau – perched somewhere between the sertão and a distant land of fable – mourns the death of its fiery matriarch, Carmelita (Sonia Braga), and the locals soon start to notice some very strange things going down. The water supply has been cut off, the community is disappearing from maps, and… is that a UFO hovering ominously over the town outskirts? When a sinister army of foreigners – with the great Udo Kier in a rousing late-career supporting turn – descends upon Bacurau, all hell soon breaks loose, and co-directors Kleber Mendonça Filho (Aquarius, MIFF 2016; Neighbouring Sounds, MIFF 2012) and Juliano Dornelles lean full-tilt into a wild, politically impassioned genre showdown that mixes kinetic action, widescreen Western, psychedelica, and a healthy nod to John Carpenter.

THE BEACH BUM

DIRECTOR: Harmony Korine

PLOT: Seven years after Spring Breakers, Harmony Korine (Trash Humpers, MIFF 2010) heads back to the beach, re-teams with cinematographer Benoît Debie (Climax, MIFF 2018) and serves up another slice of neon-hued debauchery – trading gun-toting college co-eds for a bongo-playing, bong-smoking free spirit by the name of Moondog (Matthew McConaughey, in the role he was clearly born to play). Also starring Snoop Dogg, Zac Efron, Martin Lawrence and Jimmy Buffett (as himself), The Beach Bum charts the anarchic misadventures of South Florida’s least motivated wordsmith. Moondog is happy hanging out on his boat, living off his wealthy wife (Isla Fisher) and toking away his days, until a combination of rehab, tragedy and plain old reality force him to put his typewriter to work.

BRITTANY RUNS A MARATHON

DIRECTOR: Paul Downs Colaizzo

PLOT: An audience award-winner at Sundance, Brittany Runs a Marathon is a warm, funny and relatable comedy about body positivity, self-love and acceptance. Chronic underachiever Brittany Forgler is a bit of a hot mess: 27 years old, clubbing every night and barely scraping by on a minimum wage in Manhattan. Looking to score an Adderall prescription out of a doctor she found on Yelp, Brittany is instead faced with some hard truths about her lifestyle. Determined to change her ways but too broke to join a gym, she starts running – one city block at a time, and soon she sets her sights on the New York Marathon. Winner of the US Dramatic Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival, Brittany Runs a Marathon is the directorial debut of playwright Paul Downs Colaizzo. Starring former Saturday Night Live writer Jillian Bell, whose comedic chops had the Sundance audience in stitches, Brittany Runs a Marathon gently and sensitively reminds us what it takes to truly change our lives for the better.

BROS: AFTER THE SCREAMING STOPS

DIRECTOR: Joe Pearlman & David Soutar

PLOT: Who would have predicted that a doc about ’80s boy band Bros would be hailed as “the best music film since This is Spinal Tap” and even “the best music documentary of all time”? You’ll have to see it to believe it. The Best Documentary winner at the UK’s National Music Awards, After the Screaming Stops follows identical twins Matt and Luke Goss’s reunion 28 years after they split, professionally and personally. For about 15 minutes in the late 80s, the Goss boys were the core of one of the biggest pop acts in the world, Bros – their debut album, Push, went number 1 in 20 countries and they packed out Wembley Stadium, where they were supported by Salt ‘n’ Peppa and Debbie Gibson. They launched themselves into the hearts of millions of teenage “Brosettes” worldwide with a self-fulfilling song called When Will I Be Famous, and as David Soutar and Joe Pearlman’s film shows, the twins grabbed hold of that fame and never let go, even as the world did. The film offers a poignant and emotional insight into the perils of fleeting fame – the brothers’ personal relationship was shattered, and their attempts to put themselves back together on screen are deeply compelling. But it’s Matt and Luke’s un-ironic embrace of spouting pithy, self-important and pseudo-philosophical phrases that has audiences frothily recreating Brosmania. After the Screaming Stops is a remarkably candid and clever pop doc that plays as if scripted by Christopher Guess or Steve Coogan, thanks to its fascinating, tragicomic stars.

CHILDREN OF THE SEA

DIRECTOR: Ayumu Watanabe

PLOT: Brought to the screen with stunning animation and a spectacular score by veteran Studio Ghibli composer Joe Hisaishi, this vivid eco-conscious adventure is based on Daisuke Igarashi’s award-winning manga. Teenager Ruka has always been fascinated by the sea. Both her parents are oceanographers, and her dad works at the local aquarium where, when Ruka was younger, she saw a glowing ghost calling to her from the water. After meeting Umi and Sora, two boys raised by dugongs, she’s drawn back into the ocean’s vivid depths with her new friends – just as the world’s marine life begins to mysteriously disappear. The latest film from the animation studio behind The AnimatrixChildren of the Sea wades into a breathtaking visual world, pairing its vibrant, sometimes psychedelic imagery not only with an engrossing fantasy tale, but also a timely message about the importance of the planet’s oceans.

COME TO DADDY

DIRECTOR: Ant Timpson

PLOT: As an insufferably mustachioed millennial battling for his estranged father’s affections, Elijah Wood is characteristically brilliant in Ant Timpson’s unpredictably bizarre and hilarious directorial debut. Norval is a thirtysomething misfit hipster DJ and recovering alcoholic who still lives at home with his mother. He’s not seen his dad in decades, but when he receives a handwritten invitation from the man who abandoned him as a child, Norval naïvely jumps at the opportunity. Big mistake! Revered horror producer Ant Timpson (Field Guide to Evil, MIFF 2018; Turbo Kid and Deathgasm, both MIFF 2015) makes a thrilling leap to directing with this blackest of black comedies. Come to Daddy pits a wonderfully eccentric Elijah Wood’s Norval against his father, played with juicy menace by Stephen McHattie, for an epic father/son reunion. Violent, gory, inventively twisted and endlessly twisty, it’s also at its core something deeper: a film that makes unexpected headway grappling with issues of masculinity and grief. Written with provocative glee by Toby Harvard and stunningly shot by Daniel Katz, Come to Daddy also features Martin Donovan and Michael Smiley. Oozing with 70s exploitation vibes, this is as messed up and gloriously nutty as you would expect from Timpson’s first outing in the director’s chair.

DARK PLACE

DIRECTOR: Björn Stewart, Kodie Bedford, Liam Phillips, Perun Bonser, Rob Braslin.

PLOT: Outback zombies, supernatural housing projects, female revenge, sleep deprivation and Gothic spookiness electrify this twisted horror anthology from five up-and-coming Indigenous filmmakers. Take a trip into the dark heart of terror nullius with this bold new anthology of short films from Australia’s rising new Indigenous filmmakers. Kodie Bedford’s Scout turns female oppression into a howl of revenge; an insomniac discovers a terrifying portal inside herself in Liam Phillips’ unsettling Foe; and a witch changes the fortunes of a young public housing resident in Rob Braslin’s Vale Light. Meanwhile, Gothic horror reigns in Perun Bonser’s The Shore, about a young girl in the woods with her father; and Bjorn Stewart’s Killer Native turns first contact between British settlers and Aboriginal peoples into a wickedly funny zombie tale. Produced by Majhid Heath, Dark Place gives five young auteurs the space to explore contemporary Indigenous ideas via the expressive medium of fantasy/horror – with deliciously entertaining results.

THE DAY SHALL COME

DIRECTOR: Chris Morris

PLOT: Once again filtering today’s bleak political reality through a scathingly satirical lens, provocateur Chris Morris (Four Lions, MIFF 2010) takes inspiration from a hundred true stories with this Anna Kendrick-starring counterterrorism farce. Where the inimitable British comedian’s hilariously incendiary big-screen debut found the funny side of jihad, his long-awaited The Day Shall Come (written with Four Lions co-writer Jesse Armstrong, who is also known for TV series The Thick of ItPeep Show and Succession) examines another aspect of the war on terror: the aspiring revolutionaries radicalised not by anti-Western rhetoric, but by screw-turning law enforcement officers willing to weaponise, incentivise and mobilise potential terrorists, then claim their capture as a victory. Miami resident Moses (electrifying newcomer Marchánt Davis) is one such target, with enthusiastic FBI agent Kendra putting him firmly in her sights. But the impoverished preacher is no mere patsy, as Morris explores in a fittingly raucous, astute and absurd black comedy.

THE DEAD DON’T DIE

DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch

PLOT: Jim Jarmusch reunites with Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton and an all-star cast for his Cannes-opening, deadpan take on the zombie comedy that simmers with the terror of the present. The planet’s out of whack, people are getting restless, and in the sleepy town of Centreville, USA, the dead are about to rise from their graves to feast on the flesh of the living – and on all the zombie clichés in movie history. Jim Jarmusch’s (Paterson, MIFF 2016; Coffee and Cigarettes, MIFF 2004) new horror-comedy assembles a dream team of Bill Murray, Adam Driver and Chlöe Sevigny as droll local cops, Tom Waits as a prophetic hobo and Tilda Swinton as a samurai-sword wielding Scot, with a supporting cast that includes pop superstar Selena Gomez, punk icon Iggy Pop, as well as Steve Buscemi, RZA and Danny Glover. Alternately offbeat and unusually tense, The Dead Don’t Die pays homage to the classic zombie canon while taking a swing at the dead-eyed consumerism of the present.

DEERSKIN

DIRECTOR: Quentin Dupieux

PLOT: Thanks to one very special jacket, it’s open season on killer style – and on filmmaking itself. Wracked by a mid-life crisis, Georges (Jean Dujardin, The Artist) splashes €8000 on a fringed deerskin jacket, with a digital video camera thrown in to sweeten the deal. And it ignites in him a madness of taste. Convinced he shares a special understanding with the supple suede, Georges decides nobody else must ever wear a jacket. And he recruits waitress and aspiring film editor Denise (Adèle Haenel, The Unknown Girl, MIFF 2016) to help document his violent adventures on fashion’s wild frontier. In his breakthrough feature Rubber (MIFF 2010), Quentin Dupieux (aka music producer Mr Oizo) imagined the rampage of a telekinetic tyre named Robert. He’s since produced surreal riffs on genres from the slasher film to the buddy-cop comedy; and now he’s ready to kill another cinematic sacred deer: the auteur. Played with an absolutely straight elegance – except for the wobbly amateur camerawork of its obsessed antihero – Deerskinlampoons the idea that fashion, and film, can change lives.

EMU RUNNER

DIRECTORS: Imogen Thomas

PLOT: An intimate and uplifting coming-of-age drama, this Indigenous tale of community, culture and coping with tragedy is the result of a 15-year collaboration between first-time Australian director Imogen Thomas and the people of Brewarrina in New South Wales. When nine-year-old Gem Daniels loses her mother, she feels as if no one understands her pain – not her similarly grieving father (Wayne Blair, director of MIFF 2012’s The Sapphires), her well-meaning teachers nor the inexperienced social worker dispatched to discover why she’s skipping school. Instead, the spirited girl only feels at ease with a wild emu, forging a rewarding bond with her ancestors’ traditional totem animal. From its eye-catching landscape, to its tender narrative, to the charismatic performance from newcomer Rhae-Kye Waites as Gem, Emu Runner is a standout local drama for all ages, spinning a tale both specific in its exploration of Australia’s race relations and universal in its emotions.

EXTRA ORDINARY

DIRECTOR: Mike Ahern & Enda Loughman,

PLOT: Will Forte, Australian comedian Claudia O’Doherty and Irish stand-up Maeve Higgins ain’t afraid of no ghosts in this supernatural side-splitter, an audience favourite at this year’s SXSW. Life for small-town driving instructor Rose couldn’t be more average, although she boasts a lively past. As a child, she deployed her psychic talents on otherworldly cases, working with her paranormal investigator dad. Then tragedy struck, and she’s ignored her gift ever since – until an American rock star and wannabe Satanist uses dark magic to resurrect his career, embroiling Rose’s new driving student and his teenage daughter in his unearthly plans. Charmingly directed by first-time Irish filmmakers Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern, and earning a place alongside recent horror-comedy greats such as What We Do in the Shadows and Housebound (both MIFF 2014), Extra Ordinary is a devilishly fun and funny delight.

A FAMILY

DIRECTOR: Jayden Stevens

PLOT: Deadpan to its core, A Family is an offbeat comedy that ventures into the home of a lonely man who hires actors to play his parents, brother and sister. The man knows what he wants in a family. He has scripts, props and a home in which to stage his domestic production. But he’s a demanding director, and eventually his actors rebel, and then quit. Inspired by the man’s methods, his fake sister and her real mother recruit the man into their family, where their phoney relationship might just end up becoming something more… The feature-film debut from MIFF Accelerator Lab alumus director Jayden Stevens (short film Between Trees, MIFF 2014), A Family is one of the first MIFF Premiere Fund-supported films to be set and shot internationally (the other is Buoyancy, also screening in this year’s MIFF). Stevens and his Australian team filmed in Ukraine, with a Ukrainian cast, producing an Australian film with a decidedly East European bent to its humour, a kind of low-key derangement that grows funnier as it gets weirder.

FIRST LOVE

DIRECTOR: Takashi Miike

PLOT: The unstoppable, incomparable Takashi Miike returns to MIFF with a sweet and gentle love story. Only joking! First Love is characteristic Miike: a brutal, bloody, hyper-violent and hyperreal tale of a boxer and a call girl caught between the yakuza, the triads and all-out anarchy. Discovering he has an inoperable brain tumour, orphaned boxer Leo decides to go for broke. When he meets Yuri (also known as Monica), a young addict who’s been driven into sex work to pay off her inherited debts, he falls head over heels and, with nothing left to lose, decides to help her out. This being Miike, that can only lead to trouble … of the most deliriously deranged and hilariously OTT kind. From the unequalled mind behind films such as Blade of the Immortal (MIFF 2017) and Yakuza Apocalypse: The Great War of the Underworld (MIFF 2015), First Love is a breakneck, slapstick, live-action cartoon. Leaning more heavily into his light-hearted side without sacrificing his bloodlust, Miike delivers another characteristically pulpy explosion of action, mayhem and surreal lunacy.

FRANKIE

DIRECTOR: Ira Sachs

PLOT: Starring Isabelle Huppert as a famous French actress, Frankie is the latest intimately observed, tenderly wrought drama from Ira Sachs – with Marisa Tomei, Brendan Gleeson, Greg Kinnear and Jérémie Renier also featuring.In a career filled with sublimely detailed small-scale portraits, Sachs (Love is Strange, MIFF 2014; Keep the Lights On, MIFF 2012) may have just made his most intricate and affecting yet with this heartfelt holiday drama that unfurls over a 12-hour period. After discovering that she has terminal cancer, Frankie gathers up her nearest and dearest for a communal vacation in Portugal. Accompanied by her current husband, her ex, her son, her friends and various children, it’s a last hurrah – and yet the minutiae of life don’t fade even when death lingers around the corner.

FRIEDKIN UNCUT

DIRECTOR: Francesco Zippel

PLOT: Friedkin Uncut brings us right into the world of the raconteurish William Friedkin, the legendary director responsible for classics such as The ExorcistThe French ConnectionSorcerer and Cruising. This time, Friedkin is in front of the camera, opening up for the first time about his career and his life. For all his candour, Friedkin remains modest about his own work, preferring to heap praise upon other directors over himself. That’s where the film’s contributors come in, with insights from Quentin Tarantino, Edgar Wright, Wes Anderson, Ellen Burstyn, Matthew McConaughey, Francis Ford Coppola, Dario Argento, Damien Chazelle, Willem Dafoe, Gina Gershon and more – collaborators and admirers who help explain the profound impact of both Friedkin and his films.

H IS FOR HAPPINESS

DIRECTOR: John Sheedy

PLOT: Miriam Margolyes, Emma Booth, Richard Roxburgh, Deborah Mailman and Joel Jackson star in this delightful adaptation of the award-winning YA novel My Life as an Alphabet. Led by newcomers Daisy Axon and Wesley Patten, H is for Happiness is the story of Candice Phee, a relentlessly optimistic and hilariously forthright girl on the cusp of her 13th birthday. Candice’s family is in disarray: her mum has been living with depression since the death of Candice’s baby sister, while her dad and his brother – Candice’s beloved Rich Uncle Brian – are not on speaking terms. As she faces the uncertainties of impending adolescence with the help of her new friend Douglas Benson, Candice hatches a variety of outlandish schemes to make her nearest and dearest happy again. John Sheedy, director of the MIFF 2017 Best Australian Short Film Mrs McCutcheon, makes his feature debut with this sunny and buoyant coming-of-age tale. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund and adapted from Barry Jonsberg’s acclaimed young adult novel, it’s a warm-hearted hug of a film, unafraid to tackle serious themes while remaining laugh-out-loud funny and sweetly uplifting. Gorgeously shot by Bonnie Elliot (Undertow, MIFF 2018) and produced by Julie Ryan (Red Dog, MIFF 2011), Tenille Kennedy (Bad Girl, MIFF 2016) and Lisa Hoppe – who also wrote the screenplay – H is for Happiness is a charming film for the whole family.

HEARTS AND BONES

DIRECTOR: Ben Lawrence

PLOT: Hugo Weaving plays a war photojournalist grappling with his profession, personal life and a refugee affected by one of his photographs in the fiction debut of Australian filmmaker Ben Lawrence. After decades spent cataloguing the world’s worst horrors, Daniel Fisher is haunted by what he’s seen – and yet he can’t stop picking up his camera. Impending fatherhood doesn’t alter his attitude, much to his partner’s dismay. But when Dan meets Sebastian Aman, a South Sudanese refugee with links to one of his harrowing images of a village massacre, their unlikely friendship has unexpected and rewarding consequences. Fresh from serving up an intense rollercoaster ride in documentary Ghosthunter (MIFF 2018), Lawrence once again peers into the hearts and minds of troubled men, with compelling assistance not just from seasoned veteran Weaving, but from former garbage truck driver turned first-time actor Andrew Luri. This is a complex and compassionate drama that combines intricate character studies with a clear-eyed look at Australia’s place in today’s changing global climate.

HONEYLAND

DIRECTOR: Tamara Kotevska & Ljubo Stefanov

PLOT: Deep in the mountainous heart of the Balkans, far from civilisation, Hatidze Muratova tends to her elderly, frail mother, and to her wild bees. The women are the last remaining hold-outs of a crumbling village, and of a dying way of life: farming honey sustainably. But when a new family settles in the area, bringing modernity and a capitalist mentality with them, they threaten everything Hatidze has spent her life protecting. Debut documentarians Ljubo Stefanov and Tamara Kotevska spent more than three years with Hatidze, who provided the filmmakers remarkable access to her life, resulting in a film that feels intimate, collaborative and unguarded. Gently funny but full of dramatic moments, it’s a poignant snapshot of a fragile balancing act – between humankind and the natural world, past and present, sustainability and exploitation. A thoroughly engaging parable for humanity’s fractured relationship with the lands we live on, as well as being a memorable document of a truly remarkable woman, Honeyland is also gorgeous: it won Sundance’s World Cinema Documentary Special Jury Award for Cinematography (as well as the World Cinema Documentary Grand Jury Prize, and another Special Jury Award for Impact for Change).

IN FABRIC

DIRECTOR: Peter Strickland

PLOT: Peter Strickland is beloved for his exquisitely tactile, European genre homages and his unsettling command of mood. But this screamingly funny, Fassbinder-does-giallo fable, which follows a cursed dress thirsting for blood, is outré even for him. It’s winter, 1970-something, and lonely divorcée Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) has a blind date. Shopping for a dress, she ends up at an eccentric department store where a witchy saleswoman (delectably played by Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed) sells her the hypnotically gorgeous ‘artery red’ dress. Caveat emptor… Pretty soon, display mannequins come alive with the touch of a retail coven, and washing machine repairs take a sinister turn. With a cast that includes Sidse Babett Knudsen (The Duke of BurgundyWestworld), cult comedians Julian Barrett (The Mighty Boosh) and Steve Oram (Sightseers, MIFF 2012) and Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie, In Fabric’s surreal, sensual delights have been wowing festival audiences all over, including at Austin’s Fantastic Fest where Strickland scored the Best Director award.

IN MY BLOOD IT RUNS

DIRECTOR: Maya Newell

PLOT: Four years after Gayby Baby (MIFF 2015), Maya Newell crafts another powerful, essential portrait of Australian youth, putting the plight of the Northern Territory’s Indigenous children in the spotlight. “I was born a little Aboriginal kid,” explains Dujuan. “That means I had a memory – a memory about being Aboriginal.” Never more excited than when he’s talking about his heritage and homeland, the precocious 10-year-old has a strong connection to his culture, speaks three languages and works as a healer. But he also struggles with school, acts out in class, and attracts attention from the police and the welfare system. Intimate and impassioned, In My Blood It Runs follows Dujuan’s attempts to reconcile the traditions he holds dear with the colonised world he’s forced to inhabit. A personal documentary told with a perceptive eye, poetic imagery and made in collaboration with Dujuan and his family, it’s also an account of the NT’s harsh treatment of Indigenous youths, a situation that’s never far from the boy’s mind.

IRON FISTS AND KUNG FU KICKS

DIRECTOR: Serge Ou

PLOT: From Hong Kong to Hollywood, the Shaw Brothers to The Matrix, iron fists and kung fu kicks have been busting box offices and breaking barriers since the 1960s. This is the wild story of how the way of the dragon became a global phenomenon. Once upon a time in Hong Kong, the famous Shaw Brothers Studio was more popular and prolific than Hollywood’s wildest dreams, producing a profitable film a week – including such iconic classics as One-Armed SwordsmanThe 36th Chamber of Shaolin and Five Fingers of Death. The latter became a breakout hit in the US, especially among African-American audiences, who embraced the genre’s non-white heroes and ‘fight the power’ themes. Enter, the dragon – Bruce Lee – and suddenly everybody was kung fu fighting. Directed by Serge Ou and produced by Veronica Fury (Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, MIFF Premiere Fund 2014), Iron Fists and Kung Fu Kicks kinetically charts the genre’s unexpected path to worldwide domination. Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, the film amasses a wealth of clips, action stars and industry figures to document everything from the competition between the Hong Kong Powerhouse studios of Shaw Brothers and Golden Harvest to the art’s influence on the rise of hip-hop and parkour. Among those interviewed are the first woman wuxia film star, Cheng Pei-pei (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon), 80s fu femme Cynthia Rothrock (China O’Brien), contemporary torchbearer Jessica Henwick (Game of Thrones; Marvel’s Iron Fist) and Australian stuntman Richard Norton (Mad Max: Fury Road). Punching things into overdrive are the many glorious clips featuring the likes of Bruce Lee, Jackie Chan, Sammo Hung and more iconic fu films that you can throw a tiger claw at (including perhaps the first ever Australian kung fu film, The Man From Hong Kong). The result is a sweeping kick of action-packed moviemaking mayhem.

JUDY & PUNCH

DIRECTOR: Mirrah Foulkes

PLOT: Mia Wasikowska and Damon Herriman star in this delightfully offbeat feminist update of Punch & Judy from Mirrah Foulkes, making the leap from award-winning shorts to critically acclaimed feature filmmaking. Judy and her husband Punch are travelling puppeteers who return home to the landlocked town of Seaside when their daughter is born. Seaside is far less sunny and pleasant than its name implies, its residents deeply superstitious and misogynistic types who enjoy a regular spot of witch hunting and public stoning. The outwardly charming Punch – who lives up to his name, especially after a slog on the grog – fits right in, but if Judy’s going to survive in Seaside, she’ll need to take a different approach. Returning to MIFF after winning our 2016 Best Australian Short Film award for Trespass, Mirrah Foulkes has upped the ante with her feature debut. This live-action #metoo era reinterpretation of the 16th-century puppet show is a blackly comic and deliciously fiendish contemporary fairytale. Produced by Mr Inbetween’s (MIFF 2018) Michele Bennett and Nash Edgerton, Judy & Punch is a wild mix of fantasy, feminism and fanaticism that has cult favourite written all over it.

THE KILL TEAM

DIRECTORS: Dan Krauss

PLOT: Oscar-nominated director Dan Krauss presents a fictionalised version of his award-winning war-crimes documentary of the same name, featuring a bone-chilling performance from Alexander Skarsgård. Screening at MIFF in 2014, following its Tribeca Film Festival Best Documentary win, Krauss’s original Kill Team was an intimate, harrowing observation of the moral casualties of war, focused on uncovering the truth behind the infamous Maywand District murders in Kandahar. Adapting that story, he returns with this nerve-frying narrative thriller in which a conscientious young soldier, Specialist Andrew Briggman, is caught between loyalty to his platoon and standing up for what’s right. Briggman is ambitious and eager to fit in, but when an Afghan civilian dies in questionable circumstances, his conviction begins to waver. They’re pushed even further when his charismatic new staff sergeant starts leading the men down a dangerous and increasingly sinister path. As Briggman, Nat Wolff encapsulates a believable naïve innocence and disillusionment but it’s Skarsgård as Sergeant Deeks who truly anchors the film: magnetic yet terrifying, he’s exhilarating to watch. Krauss (whose documentary 5B is also screening at MIFF this year) hit the casting jackpot here, building a feverishly tense film around a remarkable performance that’s sure to get audiences talking.

KOKO-DI KOKO-DA

DIRECTOR: Johannes Nyholm

PLOT: Death comes for a bereaved young couple – again and again and again – in this weird and wild horror fable set deep in the creepy Nordic woods. Still grieving the loss of their eight-year-old daughter, married couple Tobias and Elin set out for a camping trip in the forest, hoping to mend their fractured relationship and restore some piece of mind. Instead, they’re taunted – and murdered – endlessly by three grotesque figures sprung to life from a childhood nightmare: a nursery-rhyme chanting ringleader, a strongman carrying a dead pig, and a spooky, angular girl with her vicious pet dog. In his second feature film, Swedish artist and animator Johannes Nyholm (The Giant, MIFF 2017) takes a premise rooted in real-world grief and loss and augments it with the stuff of Grimm fantasy, mixing live action, fairytale-like animation and eerie puppetry effects to deliver an experience quite unlike any other.

KURSK

DIRECTOR: Thomas Vinterberg

PLOT: Thomas Vinterberg directs Matthias Schoenaerts, Léa Seydoux, Colin Firth and Max von Sydow in this captivating and suspenseful true tale, recounting the final hours of the supposedly unsinkable K-141 Kursk submarine as it descends to the bottom of the Barents Sea. Recreating the tragedy with assistance from Oscar-nominated screenwriter Robert Rodat (Saving Private Ryan), Vinterberg (The Commune, MIFF 2016; The Hunt, MIFF 2012) honours the men who lost their lives during the disaster, and explores the plight of their worry-stricken families – while also conveying the bureaucratic incompetence that condemned 118 people to their watery fate. Boarding the submarine, Captain-Lieutenant Mikhail Kalekov and his crew man a mission that should be the source of great pride, marking the first major Russian Navy exercise since the Soviet Union’s end. Then explosions hit, stranding the vessel while officials struggle to react. As time ticks by, Kalekov’s furious wife Tanya demands answers.

LES MISERABLES

DIRECTOR: Ladj Ly

PLOT: Tensions between violent cops and neighbourhood youth explode in this fiery, Cannes Jury Prize-winning film from director Ladj Ly, who brings the spirit of Victor Hugo to the cultural skirmishes of the Parisian suburbs. In Montfermeil, where Hugo set his original Les Misérables, a cop newly recruited to the anti-criminal brigade finds himself on a team whose questionable methods lead them into direct conflict with the neighbourhood gangs in their jurisdiction. When a drone camera captures a wrongful police shooting, events boil over into a dramatic clash that threatens to burn the suburb to the ground. Inspired by the riots of 2005, César nominee and Kourtrajmé collective member Ladj Ly (co-director of MIFF 2018’s Speak Up) makes his kinetic feature debut with a powerful, thrilling work that swings between brutal social realism and moments of electric melodrama. Les Misérables critiques systemic corruption and explores the fraught tension between cops and African and Arab teenagers with a sensitivity to the complicated perspectives at play on both sides.

LITTLE MONSTERS

DIRECTOR: Abe Forsythe

PLOT: Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o shines bright as a ukulele-playing, zombie-slaying kindergarten teacher in Abe Forsythe’s sweetly hilarious zom-com Little Monsters. Nyong’o is Miss Caroline, who’s off on a day trip to Pleasant Valley Farm with her class of overly excitable five-year-olds. Accompanying them is slacker musician Dave (whose nephew Felix is one of Miss Caroline’s charges), although his reasons for tagging along are less than wholesome. But the amorous attentions of immature uncles are the least of Miss Caroline’s problems when a beloved children’s entertainer proves to be a vile, foul-mouthed drunk and the US military base next door accidentally unleashes a horde of the undead. Abe Forsythe returns to MIFF with his follow-up to Down Under, our 2016 Centrepiece Gala film. Displaying the same wicked mix of black comedy and poignant heart, Little Monsters wowed midnight audiences at its Sundance world premiere. Alexander England (Down Under’s Shit-Stick) convincingly embodies Dave’s growth from manchild to worthy man in the face of impending apocalypse, while Josh Gad (Frozen’s Olaf) is hilariously reprehensible as the children’s TV personality you’d never let anywhere near your kids. Also featuring Kat Stewart and Nadia Townsend, Little Monsters is a funny, gory, crowd-pleasing love letter to all the kindy teachers who help children (and manchildren) bloom while protecting them from being eaten by zombies.

THE LODGE

DIRECTOR: Severin Fiala & Veronika Franz

PLOT: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala (Goodnight Mommy, MIFF 2015) are back with a taut, wintry tale of dread and horror. A snowstorm has trapped Grace (Riley Keogh) in an isolated alpine lodge with her boyfriend Richard’s (Richard Armitage) two kids. The atmosphere is chilly, as Aidan and Mia refuse to replace their beloved mother Laura (Alicia Silverstone). More unnerving for Grace, the sole survivor of an evangelical cult, is the Catholic paraphernalia filling the lodge. As temperatures drop and paranoia grows, is she right to suspect the children of manipulating her? Are malevolent spirits haunting the lodge? Or perhaps the never-exorcised demons of Grace’s childhood are being unleashed, to harrowing effect… With a masterly command of tension, The Lodge will keep you guessing until its devastating finale.

LONG DAY’S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT

DIRECTOR: Bi Gan

PLOT: After the otherworldly allure of MIFF 2016’s Kaili Blues, poet turned filmmaker Bi Gan returns with another entrancing visit to China’s Guizhou province – as constructed around an astonishing 55-minute single take in mesmerising 3D. Heading home to Kaili after more than a decade away, Luo Hongwu is desperate to find Wan Qiwen, the woman he loved, lost and hasn’t been able to get out of his head ever since. But just like their short-but-sweet romance, his memories prove fragmented, coloured by emotion and haunted by what could’ve been. Embracing the immersive possibilities of cinema like few contemporary arthouse filmmakers, 29-year-old Bi Gan plunges viewers into a textured tapestry of yearning and searching that strikingly transitions from 2D to 3D – the film won Best Cinematography award at the Golden Horse Film Festival, and it’s not hard to see why. While the writer/director luxuriates in style as much as story, his sensual images and resonant narrative recall “a melancholy, noirish dream in the key of early Wong Kar-wai” (LA Times). Long Day’s Journey Into Night is a remarkable cinematic achievement that demands to be seen on the big screen.

MACHINE

DIRECTOR: Justin Krook

PLOT: Infiltrating everything from transport to military to healthcare – among an ever-growing list of fields – artificial intelligence is no longer merely the realm of science fiction. In a world where machines are fast becoming smarter than people, what makes humanity special? And what does our increasing reliance upon and subservience to technology mean for our future? Director Justin Krook (I’ll Sleep While I’m Dead) ponders these questions in this hard-hitting, wide-ranging and eye-opening documentary, as astutely compiled and edited by the team behind Netflix’s Chef’s Table. With expert insights from engineers, inventors, entrepreneurs, neurosurgeons, philosophers, ethicists and more – including Australian data scientist and digital ‘rock star’ Toby Walsh, pioneering fighter pilot turned autonomous vehicle systems professor Missy Cummings, and roboticist Hiroshi Ishiguro, who famously made a lifelike android that resembles him to an uncanny extent – Machine examines our fast-changing, AI-infused reality, as well as its immense impact upon everything from identity and creativity to longevity and sexuality.

MATTHIAS & MAXIME

DIRECTOR: Xavier Dolan

PLOT: French-Canadian auteur Xavier Dolan returns with a funny, tense and heartfelt love story about two childhood best friends coming to terms with their secret feelings for each other. Already an eight-film veteran at the ripe old age of 30, one-time boy wonder Xavier Dolan (Mommy, and Tom at the Farm, both of which screened at MIFF 2014) bounces back with this sparkling, tender bromance – in every sense of the word. Best friends since childhood, queer Maxime (played by Dolan himself) and straight Matthias (Gabriel D’Almeida Freitas) continue to keep the same company of affable twentysomething Québécois bros, even as their paths diverge: the former is derailed caring for his mother (Dolan’s ever wonderful maternal muse, Anne Dorval) while the latter is entertaining obnoxious clients as he climbs the corporate law ladder. But a play-acting kiss uncorks a rollercoaster of emotions that can’t be suppressed, and Dolan negotiates the simmering tension with beautifully poised and personal assurance. After screening Dolan’s Mommy and Tom at the Farm in 2014, MIFF is delighted to present the latest film – direct from Cannes – by one of the most prolific and distinct young filmmakers working today.

MEASURE FOR MEASURE

DIRECTOR: Paul Ireland

PLOT: Following the critically acclaimed Pawno, director Paul Ireland moves from Footscray to Prahran’s commission flats for this contemporary re-interpretation of Shakespeare, with Hugo Weaving leading a powerful, multicultural cast. Re-imagining the Bard’s play about morality, mercy and justice into a topical tale of love and loyalty, Ireland and his co-writer, the late Damian Hill (West of Sunshine, MIFF 2018), have crafted a touching story about a young Muslim woman, Jaiwara, who falls for a non-Muslim musician, Claudio. Jaiwara’s shady brother Farouk objects to their union, and frames Claudio for a crime he didn’t commit – sending him to jail. Desperate to save Claudio, Jaiwara seeks the help of Duke, a local crime boss currently ‘on leave’, whose second in command, Angelo, offers to assist in his stead. But at what cost? Supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, Ireland’s film takes audiences on an emotional, action-packed ride, with a beautifully shot Melbourne as the backdrop. As Jaiwara, Megan Hajjar is luminous. Harrison Gilbertson (My Mistress, MIFF Premiere Fund 2014), Fayssal Bazzi (The Merger, MIFF 2018) and Daniel Henshall (Acute Misfortune, MIFF Premiere Fund 2018) join Hugo Weaving in a diverse ensemble that also includes John Brumpton, Mal Kennard, Doris Younane and Mark Leonard Winter as Angelo, the role Damian Hill was set to play until his untimely death last year. Never intended as a swan song for Hill, Measure for Measure is nevertheless a fitting tribute: a gritty, modern Melbourne film, with heart.

MEMORY: THE ORIGINS OF ALIEN

DIRECTOR: Alexandre O. Philippe

PLOT: Few films have infected our collective nightmares in the same way as 1979’s Alien, with its face-huggers, chest-bursters and a tagline which assured us that in space no one would hear our screams. But how did such an unlikely project come together? This is the mystery unravelled by director Alexandre O. Philippe, who brought us the captivating Psycho shower scene dissection 78/52 (MIFF 2017). Philippe explores how an aborted 1971 script called Starbeast became a sci-fi horror inspired by HP Lovecraft, Francis Bacon, feminism, ancient myths and the disease that would eventually kill screenwriter Dan O’Bannon. MEMORY digs deep into the cultural anxieties, collective unconsciousness and classical mythology behind the origins of Alien, providing a richly satisfying analysis that will further enhance the way audiences experience this much-loved modern classic.

MONOS

DIRECTOR: Alejandro Landes

PLOT: Deep in the remote mountains of somewhere that might be South America, a troupe of barely adolescent soldiers for a shadowy guerrilla organisation are guarding an American hostage. While awaiting orders that may never come, they run drills, tend to a cow, and do what teens everywhere do – get high, have sex, hang out. That they have loaded guns and zero supervision or accountability works out exactly as well as you’d imagine, but in the hands of director Alejandro Landes it’s an extraordinary descent into surreal savagery, on steroids. With cinematographer Jasper Wolf’s breathtaking widescreen imagery, and Under the Skin composer Mica Levi’s nerve-racking, otherworldly score driving the tension to almost unbearable levels, Monos is a dream-like, sometimes bizarrely funny but brutal mood piece haunted by the ghost of Colombia’s ongoing civil war. A fabulous ensemble of professional and non-professional actors (including I, Tonya’s Julianne Nicholson as the alternately terrified and maternal hostage) perfectly embody the increasingly unhinged anarchy of the group while Landes crafts a uniquely poetic and potent head trip that will leave you gasping.

THE MOUNTAIN

DIRECTOR: Rick Alverson

PLOT: Jeff Goldblum stars as a charismatic lobotomist on an oddball roadtrip across 1950s America in The Mountain, the latest work of madness and magic from cinematic iconoclast Rick Alverson. Somewhere in middle America, a lost young man by the name of Andy (Tye Sheridan) yearns for escape. Ignored by his figure-skating father (Udo Kier) and long abandoned by his mother, Andy’s constrained universe is blown open by the arrival of Dr Fiennes (Jeff Goldblum), who hires Andy to be his assistant. The two form an unlikely duo as Dr Fiennes shops his services from asylum to asylum, but when they fall into the orbit of Jack (Denis Lavant), a French mystic with delusions of grandeur, the stage is set for wholesale breakdown. Writer/director Rick Alverson has never shied away from strangeness, but in The Mountain he may have delivered his weirdest yet warmest film to date. A work of jet-black humour and unexpected beauty, The Mountain offers an unforgettable vision of American cultural collapse, where the search for meaning breeds insanity and true sanity is just a lobotomy away.

THE NIGHTINGALE

DIRECTOR: Jennifer Kent

PLOT: A dual award winner at the 2018 Venice Film Festival, Jennifer Kent’s follow-up to The Babadook pulls no punches in its brutal depiction of life in colonial Tasmania – especially for women and Indigenous Australians. After being deported to Van Diemen’s Land for thievery, Irish convict woman Clare finds herself living a nightmare under the rule of a sadistic lieutenant. Sometimes he forces Clare to sing for his troops, who dub her their little Nightingale; more often he forces himself on her and there’s little she or her husband can do to stop him … until Clare reaches breaking point and sets her mind to revenge, with a little help from a local Aboriginal tracker, Billy. With extraordinary performances from Irish actor Aisling Franciosi (Lyanna Stark in Game in Thrones) and Elcho Island’s Baykali Ganambarr (who won Venice’s Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Emerging Actor) alongside Sam Clafin and Damon Herriman, The Nightingale is an essential, if unsettling, cinematic experience. Jennifer Kent was the only woman director at Venice, where The Nightingale won a Special Jury Prize in addition to Ganambarr’s award. But the accolades were almost overshadowed by the actions of a male critic who yelled misogynistic obscenities at the screen following the film’s premiere. The reaction is a pointed statement about how The Nightingale’s unsparing vision of male, white violence makes some viewers uncomfortable while also being an extraordinary, if unintentional, declaration of the film’s raison d’être.

ONE CHILD NATION

DIRECTOR: Nanfu Wang & Jialing Zhang

PLOT: Winner of this year’s Sundance Film Festival Documentary Grand Jury Prize, this eye-opening film lays bare China’s population-shaping policy, the accompanying propaganda and the multi-generational impact that’s still being felt today. Officially, China’s one-child policy ended in 2015. But after 36 years of operation, the restrictive regime isn’t easily shaken. Interviewing both victims and instigators, and delving into her own traumatic family history, filmmaker Nanfu Wang (Hooligan Sparrow) not only uncovers heartbreaking truths that have been kept secret for decades but also trains her gaze on the gender discrimination at the centre of Chinese society. Co-directing with fellow documentarian Jialing Zhang (Complicit), Wang is both personal and methodical in her approach. While the stirring feature is sparked by the filmmaker’s own experiences as a new mother, it casts its net wide – tracking down family planning nurses charged with inducing labour, abortions and forced sterilisations, and traversing the globe to find children taken from their families.

OVER THE RAINBOW

DIRECTOR: Jeffrey Peixoto

PLOT: A unique and arresting examination of Scientology, straight from the mouths of those within and those escaping the church. The Church of Scientology is a big target, a religion young enough that its roots are bare, its dogma lacking centuries of patina. While pointed exposés have abounded in recent years, award-winning documentary maker Jeffrey Peixoto takes a different tack in his first feature — he listens to the believers. Across a decade, Peixoto gained the trust of some in the church, and some who have left, and builds a platform for them to speak. Their unadorned observations are refracted through the observations of an alien abductee expert, an archivist of American religion, a journalist, and others investigating the fringes. Straight-to-camera confessions and contemplations are bracketed by naturalist footage and a haunting soundtrack from cult Australian indie synth act HTRK. Confronting and compelling, Over the Rainbow provides a rare space for viewers to engage with humanity’s unshakeable urge to structure its world through faith.

 PAIN AND GLORY

DIRECTOR: Pedro Almodóvar

PLOT: The acclaimed and adored Pedro Almodóvar reunites with actors Antonio Banderas – who won the Cannes Best Actor prize – and Penélope Cruz in a vibrant, provocative and nostalgic homage to an endlessly fascinating topic: himself. Filmmaker Salvador Mallo is a fading auteur, halfway through his 60s, increasingly incapacitated and unsure if there’s anything he still wants to say. When Salvador discovers that one of his earliest films is being reappraised and re-released, he reunites with estranged star Alberto, to whom he hasn’t talked in more than 30 years. As they did once before, the two men bring out the best and worst in each other, prompting Salvador to reflect on his childhood, sexuality and relationship to friends, family and lovers. Intensely self-reflexive and autobiographic, Pain & Glory is yet another dazzling showcase from the undisputed master of Spanish cinema. Powered by a cast of Almodóvar favourites and delivered with his trademark humour, passion and sheer cinematographic elán, it could be the most honest and perceptive film yet from a director who’s never been afraid to wear his heart on his sleeve.

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

DIRECTOR: Tyler Nilson & Mike Schwarz

PLOT: Tyler is a crab fisherman living in poverty and despair, just this side of the law. Zak, a 22-year-old man with Down syndrome, has been abandoned by his parents and placed by the state in a retirement home, where he spends his days watching old wrestling videos. Both men are seeking escape and when they do, circumstance brings them together for what will become a modern Mark Twain-style adventure through the sun-baked backwoods of North Carolina. Winner of the SXSW Audience Award (Narrative Spotlight), The Peanut Butter Falcon is the picaresque, picturesque debut feature from Tyler Nilson and Mike Schwarz. With gorgeous widescreen cinematography from True Detective’s Nigel Bluck, the film stars Shia LaBeouf opposite charismatic newcomer Zack Gottsagen, with an ensemble that includes Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Jon Bernthal, John Hawkes and Thomas Haden Church. Together they create an amusing, contemporary folk odyssey that feels comfortably lived in and wonderfully natural.

PORTRAIT OF A LADY ON FIRE

DIRECTOR: Céline Sciamma

PLOT: Girlhood director Céline Sciamma returns with this beautifully calibrated, incandescent romance between a painter and her subject, which took home both Best Screenplay and the Queer Palm at this year’s Cannes. Marianne (Noémie Merlant), a young painter in 18th-century France, has been commissioned to do the wedding portrait of Héloïse (Adèle Haenel), a reluctant soon-to-be bride who refuses to sit for her portrait – and must be studied in secret. Intimacy and attraction swiftly develop between the two women, even as circumstance conspires to drive them apart. Working from a deceptively simple narrative, writer/director Céline Sciamma (Girlhood, MIFF 2019; Tomboy, MIFF 2011) tightens the emotional screws with devastating precision, while Merlant and Haenel (who appeared in the director’s debut Water Lillies) explore their characters’ emotionally overwhelming relationship with heartbreaking clarity.

RAY & LIZ

DIRECTOR: Richard Billingham

PLOT: In 1996, Richard Billingham published Ray’s a Laugh, an uncompromising set of photos of his alcoholic father Ray and his chain-smoking mother Liz. His feature film debut, Ray & Liz, brings those vivid images to life in three parts across three timeframes. Billingham reanimates the Birmingham council flat in which he and his younger brother were frequently neglected, crafting a stark portrait of life on the margins in Thatcher’s England. Premiering at the 2018 Locarno Film Festival where it won the Special Jury Prize, Ray & Liz renders these surrounds on 16mm film, with the striking compositions expected from a Turner Prize-nominated artist. What could have been a study in brutality is instead an unsentimental and intensely moving film experience, expressing both anger and love.

SKIN

DIRECTOR: Guy Nattiv

PLOT: Jamie Bell is outstanding in this expansion of Guy Nattiv’s 2019 Oscar-winning short inspired by the true story of reformed neo-Nazi Byron Widner. A universe away from his debut as Billy Elliot, Jamie Bell delivers a riveting, eye-opening performance as Widner, previously the subject of Bill Brummel’s documentary Erasing Hate. Spanning Widner’s descent into racist violence, his subsequent escape and the protracted and painful tattoo removal he endured to erase the hate etched onto his face, Nattiv’s film eloquently traces an agonising path to redemption – a spark set in motion when Widner meets single mother Julie. Rising Australian star Danielle Macdonald (Patti Cake$, MIFF 2017) gives an impeccable, heart-rending turn in this role, almost stealing the spotlight from Bell. As a resurgent white supremacist movement is increasingly emboldened by leaders across the world, Skin offers a timely antidote, reminding us that people can change. With both Bell and Macdonald ably supported by a stellar ensemble that includes Vera Farmiga, Bill Camp (Wildlife, MIFF 2018), Mike Colter, Mary Stuart Masterson and Daniel Henshall (Acute Misfortune, MIFF 2018), this powerful drama will leave you with hope.

SOMETHING ELSE

DIRECTORS: Jeremy Gardner & Christian Stella

PLOT: Hank and Abby are deeply in love – or, at least, that’s what Hank thinks until he finds a Dear John note from Abby. With his love gone, Hank descends into a spiral of depression, drowning his sorrows in alcohol, watching cable TV late into the small hours … and being visited each evening by what he starts to believe is some kind of monster. But is Hank being visited by a hungry animal, as his friends believe, or haunted by something more supernatural. Produced by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (directors of MIFF 2017 hit The Endless) and featuring Benson in a supporting role, the latest film from star, writer and co-director Jeremy Gardner follows in the footsteps of his award-winning cult hit debut The Battery, which used supernatural themes to build an intricate tale of a complicated relationship between two friends. Gardner spent six years developing the script for Something Else, a beautifully realised film about the monsters we create for ourselves.

SORRY WE MISSED YOU

DIRECTOR: Ken Loach

PLOT: Notching up more than five decades behind the camera – as well as 16 appearances at MIFF – Ken Loach remains as empathetic and angry as ever in this scorching, heartbreaking rebuke of today’s oppressive working conditions, which comes to Melbourne direct from this year’s Cannes Film Festival. Proud of his work ethic, Ricky takes a freelance courier job not only to make ends meet, or to pay off the debt that he’s been struggling with since the 2008 financial crash, but to provide a better future for his aged-carer wife and their two teenage children. But happiness, prosperity and navigating the gig economy rarely go hand in hand, especially for everyday workers.

THE SOUVENIR

DIRECTOR: Joanna Hogg

PLOT: Tilda Swinton stars alongside her daughter, Honor Swinton Byrne – a revelation – in Joanna Hogg’s intimate semi-autobiographical drama, which won a Sundance Grand Jury Prize. An aspiring filmmaker searching for her voice, Julie is a woman newly in love, falling for the rakish charms of older civil servant Anthony. But as their romance plays out, largely in her comfortable London flat in the early 1980s, emotions are laid bare and secrets are exposed – and Julie learns more than she ever expected about life, heartbreak and herself. Perfectly cast – including the Swintons as mother and daughter, and a scene-stealing Richard Ayoade – The Souvenir is both unmistakably personal and tenderly universal. Joanna Hogg (Exhibition, MIFF 2014; Unrelated, MIFF 2008) has framed and told this deeply personal story with an exacting eye, going so far as to painstakingly recreate the flat she lived in during the era. Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, the film picked up the Sundance Grand Jury Prize in the World Cinema Dramatic category, and a sequel is already in the works.

SUNSET

DIRECTOR: László Nemes

PLOT: In 1913, 20-year-old Irisz Leiter returns home to Budapest, hoping to follow in the footsteps of the milliner parents she lost tragically at age two. But a sleek businessman now runs Leiter Hats; and while the city feverishly prepares to receive the Habsburg royals, Irisz senses dark undercurrents beneath the glamour. Just as a hat is steamed, blocked and trimmed to take on its final shape, Irisz methodically sets out to make sense of her family’s secrets. She uncovers a suspicious fire, a notorious hidden brother, a shadowy German count… and social climbers who hate inconvenient questions. Director László Nemes follows his Oscar-winning Son of Saul with this disorienting, even hallucinatory quest. By applying his intensely subjective hand-held camera to a refined society on the brink of mayhem, Nemes reminds us how quickly certainties can unravel, and how easily tyranny can take root. He also slyly invites us to ponder Europe’s uncertain political future – every day has a sunset.

SWALLOW

DIRECTOR: Carlo Mirabella-Davis

PLOT: Haley Bennett won Best Actress at the Tribeca Film Festival for her portrayal of a newly pregnant woman with a seemingly perfect home and husband in this boldly satirical psychological feminist thriller. Hunter goes about her days alone, preparing dinner for her husband and tending to their impeccable home. But beneath Hunter’s flawlessly coiffed exterior roils a quiet rage. After she finds out she’s pregnant it emerges – as pica, a compulsive eating disorder where she swallows inedible objects. It starts with a marble and escalates from there. Carlo Mirabella-Davis (The Swell Season, MIFF 2011) takes on patriarchal control over female bodies and the misery that often underpins the performance of expected gender roles in this unpredictable, tense and radical film. Bennett begins with the passive beauty of a fairytale princess trapped inside her own Stepford nightmare to convey the twisted desperation of those who want to break free.

THEM THAT FOLLOW

DIRECTOR: Britt Poulton & Dan Madison Savage

PLOT: With a star-studded cast that includes Olivia Colman and Walton Goggins, Them That Follow examines an overtly religious, Pentecostal society that has cut itself off from the rest of the world. Somewhere in the wilds of the Appalachian Mountains, snake-handler preacher Lemuel Childs leads a small sect of devout believers. Willing to risk their lives, the townsfolk regularly handle deadly rattle snakes as a way to test their soul’s purity in the eyes of God. When the preacher’s daughter (Australian actor and director Alice Englert, previously seen at MIFF in 2012’s Ginger & Rosa and 2017’s Top of the Lake: China Girl) finds herself hiding a secret that could tear the community apart, she has a choice to make: remain true to her faith, or to her heart. The feature debut from writer/director duo Britt Poulton and Dan Madison Savage, Them That Follow is a slow-burning, deeply empathetic thriller, driven by outstanding performances – especially from Englert and Oscar-winner Colman.

WE ARE LITTLE ZOMBIES

DIRECTOR: Makoto Nagahisa

PLOT: Reality ain’t worth crying about for four teens numbed by tragedy who decide to form a technicolour pop-electronica band in this riotous yet emotionally trenchant feature debut from the award-winning Makoto Nagahisa. After becoming the first Japanese director to win the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at Sundance for And So We Put the Goldfish in the Pool., Nagahisa has poured his lurid, ultra-paced and video-game-inspired aesthetic into a wild ride of loss that questions how people are expected to experience life-changing emotion.  Hikari, Ikuko, Ishi and Takemura meet at a crematorium. All four of them have recently lost their parents, yet are united in their inability to grieve. Finding their costumes in the garbage, they create a band that catapults them to instant fame. Employing dizzying camerawork and many a zany cinematic trick (don’t get fooled by any of the fake-out endings), We Are Little Zombies is an energetic sensory overload for anyone bored by mainstream teen flicks.

YOU DON’T NOMI

DIRECTOR: Jeffrey McHale

PLOT: Is Paul Verhoeven’s stripper-centric Showgirls low-minded nonsense, or subversive high art? The 1995 erotic drama was widely mocked on its release, immediately becoming the symbol for a particularly ’90s brand of tawdry excess. But the film has its defenders, and the argument over whether Showgirls is a flaming trash pile or a misunderstood masterpiece rages to this day. It’s a debate that You Don’t Nomi is determined to answer, in the most entertaining, fascinating way possible. Featuring archive material, interviews with the major players, and insights from its biggest fans (and haters), You Don’t Nomi takes a deep dive into Hollywood’s ultimate disasterpiece, wittily examining how perceptions of the film have evolved over years. As its makers and fans explore the motifs and subtext that they claim pepper the cult classic, it forces us to finally confront the most important artistic question of our time: is this film actually not so bad?

YOUNG AHMED

DIRECTOR: Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne

PLOT: Belgium’s acclaimed Dardenne brothers scooped Cannes’ Best Director prize for this provocative but ultimately tender tale of an Islamic teenager who falls under the influence of an extremist. In the latest from two-time Palme d’Or-winning filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne (The Unknown Girl, MIFF 2016; Two Days, One Night, MIFF 2014; The Kid With a Bike, MIFF 2011), 13-year-old Ahmed goes from average Muslim high schooler to radicalised extremist when a militant imam plants some deadly ideas in the boy’s head. After attacking his teacher, Ines, Ahmed is dispatched to a youth rehabilitation centre in an effort to quell his ferocious anger. The Dardennes handle this potentially controversial premise with their trademark humanist touch, creating a complex, deeply sympathetic portrait of a teenager at war with himself and the world around him.

Well, there you have it. These are the 57 films I’ll be seeing at MIFF 2019. 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.

Article written by Bede Jermyn

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