The 2012 MIFF lineup is enormous. Thankfully, I saw a bunch of films at the Sydney Film Festival earlier in the year - and can highly recommend checking out Holy Motors, Monsieur Lazhar, Undefeated, Amour, Caesar Must Die, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Killer Joe, Liberal Arts + Neighbouring Sounds if you get the chance - and have fourteen films on my SCHEDULE for my five day visit to Melbourne.
But, there are a heap of great films I will not get the chance to see, so here are ten from the 'International Panorama' programme that interest me and I will endeavour to see over the next 12 months:
Almayer's Folly - Atmospheric, subversive and impeccably controlled, Almayer’s Folly continues Chantal Akerman’s (Jeanne Dielman, MIFF 79; Night and Day, MIFF 92) lifelong pursuit of a new form of cinematic language. In the stifling jungles of Malaysia an avaricious Dutch merchant named Almayer tries to find his fortune. But when his plans collapse, he’s left with little but a loveless marriage and a land that despises him. The only point of light in his life is his half-caste daughter, Nina, but when he sends her away so that she can become more “white”, the abandonment will have ramifications far greater than expected. A work of strange ellipsis and hypnotic pacing, Almayer’s Folly drags Conrad’s work forcefully into the 21st century, finding in it a poetic beauty and a potent, new colonial resonance.
Damsel's In Distress - Violet (Greta Gerwig) is a sweet-natured, eccentric sophomore at a recently co-ed New England campus. Along with her friends Rose, Heather and Lily, Violet has grand ideas about improving the lives of her fellow students by making over the college’s boorish male population while inventing a new dance craze. Traipsing like loopy Jane Austen characters through their romantic dalliances, the girls dispense doughnuts, dance tips and witty dialogue in this peculiarly screwball comedy of errors. Damsels in Distress is venerated director Whit Stillman’s first big-screen outing in 13 years, following 90s indie hits Metropolitan, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco. Premiering at the 2011 Venice Film Festival, it takes his characteristic concern with the manners and mannerisms of the young bourgeoisie to surreal new heights.
Shadow Dancer - Oscar-winning filmmaker James Marsh (Man on Wire, MIFF 08; Project Nim, MIFF 11) returns with a fictional feature in this nail-biting thriller. Starring Clive Owen, Andrea Riseborough and The X-Files’ Gillian Anderson, Shadow Dancer sees a single mother, Collette, living in Belfast with her hardline IRA brothers. When Collette is arrested for her part in a bomb plot, an MI5 officer brokers her a deal: lose everything and go to prison or return home and spy on your family. In a carefully considered manner, Marsh reveals a talent for building drama, tension and plot, without falling back on unnecessary exposition.
Sleepless Night - Vincent appears to be a committed family man, but scratch the surface and there’s a darker side to this cop’s life. He has a huge quantity of stolen cocaine, which has landed him in a web of shady dealings and shadier characters. Over the course of one relentless night in a sprawling club, he must return the stash and save his son from murderous kidnappers. This taut thriller from Frédéric Jardin made waves on the festival circuit – so much so that there is already an American remake in the works – and with the film’s dizzying cinematography, magnetic performances and never-let-up pace it’s set to enthral audiences worldwide.
Beyond The Hills - When twenty-something Alina arrives in Moldavia to remove her childhood friend Voichita from an Orthodox monastery, she doesn’t reckon on the unyielding force of religion and devout Voichita’s choice of God over Alina brings their relationship to a physical and moral crisis. In his first feature since the Palme d’Or-winning 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (MIFF 07), gifted Romanian director Cristian Mungiu’s unsettling psychological drama is based on the reports of a BBC correspondent who exposed an exorcism case at a Moldavian monastery in 2005. Winning the Best Screenplay award at Cannes and drawing excellent performances from his first-time lead actors (who shared the Best Actress gong at Cannes), Mungiu tackles some major themes with an unhurried pace and cinematography that depicts the harsh environment with a spare yet beautiful naturalism.
Sister - Twelve-year-old Simon (Kacey Mottet Klein) lives with his unemployed older sister Louise (Léa Seydoux) in near poverty in the valley below a wealthy Swiss ski resort. To support them both, he travels daily to the “white gold” of the mountain where he steals from cashed-up tourists, including Kristin (Gillian Anderson). But things get complicated when Simon joins forces with a dodgy seasonal worker – threatening the siblings’ fragile relationship. Actor Klein was first seen in director Ursula Meier’s Home (MIFF 09), for which he won the Swiss Film Prize for Best Emerging Actor. Together with Seydoux, the two have again delivered a moving, assured film that echoes the emotional power of the Dardenne brothers (The Kid With a Bike, MIFF 11).
Modest Reception - Filmmaker Mani Haghighi (Men At Work, MIFF 07) fills the multiple roles of producer, writer, director and actor in this absurdist provocation about a rich couple distributing plastic bags of money in the Iranian provinces. Haghighi plays Kaveh, handsome and possibly a touch mad. Taraneh Alidoosti, who also appeared with Haghighi in the revered About Elly (MIFF 09), is his partner in a seemingly duplicitous game of humiliation disguised as an act of charity. Moving cleverly from the comedic to the chilling, the film teases both the audience and its ‘victims’ from start to finish in a mission that gets increasingly bizarre and shocking. Winner of the NETPAC prize at this year’s Berlinale.
The Sessions - Mark (John Hawkes, Martha Marcy May Marlene, MIFF 11) has polio and wants to lose his virginity before his impending death. Being a religious man, Mark confides in Father Brendan (William H Macy) about his desires. The priest assures him God will “look the other way” when Mark seeks the aid of a ‘sex surrogate’ (Helen Hunt). Based on the real-life events of respected American writer Mark O’Brien, The Sessions is a heart-warming film about the need for closeness. The performances, dialogue and naturalistic portrayal of bodies add to a sense of feel-good realism that made it a smash-hit at Sundance, where it won the Audience Award (US Dramatic) and a Special Jury Prize for Ensemble Acting. With The Sessions, Melbourne-bred director Ben Lewin (The Favour, The Watch and the Very Big Fish, MIFF 92; Hollywood Gold, MIFF 03) has given us a tender, graceful film about emotional growth, anchored by extraordinary performances from Hawkes and Hunt.
The Intouchables - Clashing cultures and classes come to the fore in certain crowd-pleaser The Intouchables, a comedic consideration of contrasts. When wealthy, white quadriplegic Phillippe (François Cluzet, Paris) hires morally dubious Senegalese immigrant Driss (Omar Sy, Micmacs) to care for him, their differences are pronounced, yet a slow but certain friendship soon develops. In bringing the true story of such a bond to the screen, writer-directors Eric Toledano (Those Happy Days) and Olivier Nakache break down traditional boundaries of status, race, personality and disability. Uplifting and exuberant, it probes uncomfortable clichés while combining well-crafted performances with humour and heart. After breaking box office records in France and across Europe, this delightful, compassionate film received nine César award nominations, with Sy emerging triumphant in the best actor category over The Artist’s Jean Dujardin.
Jayne Mansfield's Car - Actor Billy Bob Thornton (Sling Blade) takes his seat in the director’s chair after nearly a decade with this Southern Gothic ensemble melodrama set in 1969 and influenced by the theatre of Tennessee Williams. At the core of the film is the theme of war, as well as a different kind of battlefield – that between fathers and sons coming to blows over military service and 60s counterculture. Thornton and his co-writer Tom Epperson (with whom he wrote 1992’s One False Move) explore this conundrum through the culture-clash of two rival families: one firmly entrenched in Alabama, and the other a stiff upper-lipped British clan. The film features a formidable cast of Robert Duvall, Kevin Bacon, John Hurt, Frances O’Connor, Ray Stevenson, Shawnee Smith, Robert Patrick and – of course – Billy Bob Thornton himself.
And here's twelve more from the 'Accent on Asia', 'Next Gen' and 'Night Shift' Programmes (after the jump):
A Simple Life - Chinese screen star Andy Lau teams for once again with his real-life godmother, Deannie Ip, and delivers a career-best performance in this heartfelt parable on ageing.
Film producer Roger is the last member of his family living in Hong Kong, which only serves to strengthen his attachment to Ah Tao, their domestic helper of 60 years. When Tao suffers a stroke, she altruistically requests to move into a nursing home, but Roger wants to care for her until the very end. With gentle humour, filmmaker Ann Hui (Goddess of Mercy, MIFF 04) has concocted a nuanced, humanist film that speaks loudly while barely rising above a whisper. Winner of numerous awards internationally, including a Best Actress nod at last year’s Venice Film Festival.
The Taste of Money - Im Sang-soo’s The Housemaid, which screened at MIFF 10, forms the backstory to this tale of sex and power between the classes. When the handsome Young-jak (Kim Kang-woo) reports to his wealthy employer Kyungsun (Baek Yoon-sik) that her husband is having an affair, Kyungsun takes her revenge by seducing Young-jak. Complications ensue when Young-jak becomes enamoured with Kyungsun’s daughter (Nami from The Housemaid, now grown up), and Kyungsun’s jealousy of her husband’s mistress drives her to dangerous extremes. Im Sang-soo captures the opulence of upper-class Korean society with a sumptuous yet critical eye, telling a tale of sordid corruption as only he can.
In Another Country - MIFF regular Hong Sang-soo (Oki’s Movie, MIFF 11; the Prix Un Certain Regard winning Hahaha, MIFF 10) returns with this delicate romantic comedy starring Isabelle Huppert as a Frenchwoman named Anne. And a Frenchwoman named Anne. And another Frenchwoman named Anne! While hiding from the responsibilities of real life in the seaside town of Mohang, young film student Won-ju (Jung Yumi, Oki’s Movie) starts to write a movie script. The story she pens focuses on Anne, a famous film director. Until the redrafts begin, at which point the story is now that of Anne, a married Frenchwoman having an affair with a Korean man (Kwon Hye-ho). After a third re-write, Anne is now a wealthy divorcée whose husband left her for his Korean secretary. Screening in competition at Cannes, In Another Country is classic Hong in the playful way it uses meta-narratives and structure, here blurring the line between the three scripts – or is it just one? – and the ‘reality’ of the film to comment on miscommunication and human interconnection.
Postcards From the Zoo - The theme of longing is apparent early on in the ethereal Postcards from the Zoo, when we see the young Lana wandering around Jakarta’s zoo at night calling out for her father, who abandoned her there. Flash forward several years later, and Lana is now an adult, raised by a tiger trainer. She spends her days visiting animal enclosures until she falls in love with a street magician. Together they leave the confines of the only world Lana has ever known. Fresh from the Berlinale competition, Postcards From the Zoo tells a dreamy story about estrangement and abandonment. Like the animals removed from their natural habitat, Lana exists in a sort of dazed numbness. Whilst echoing Pen-ek Ratanaruang (Nymph, MIFF 09; Ploy, MIFF 08) and Apichatpong Weerasethakul (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past LivesThe Blind Pig Who Wants to Fly, MIFF 09) is clearly an auteur in his own right.
Warriors of the Rainbow - Seediq Bale: Part 1/2 - The Japanese Imperial Army has swept all before it. But on the island of Taiwan, 300 warriors from a tiny tribe called the Seediq refuse to be cowed. The story of their heroic, doomed uprising would send shockwaves throughout occupied Asia.
In part 1 of Warriors of the Rainbow, director Wei Te-sheng and producer John Woo begin the unashamedly epic story of the Japanese invasion of Taiwan and their subjugation of the native population, and how the Seediq and their leader, Mouna Rudo, overcome internecine tribal warfare to bring the conquerors to their knees. Sumptuously shot, this heartfelt film is filled with brutal, action-packed combat scenes, impressively portrayed by a cast of mainly non-professional, indigenous actors.
Gangs of Wasseypur: Part 1/2 - Set in the titular district around the north-eastern Indian city of Dhanbad, Gangs of Wasseypur is an extraordinary gangland saga following two rival clans over 70 bloodstained years. Screening to critical praise during Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, the two-parter begins with the rise of the sadistic Shahid Khan, who makes a living impersonating a legendary train robber, Sultana Daku, and working as a hired goon for local mining boss Ramadhir Singh. But, threatened by Khan’s growing power, Singh has Khan killed, kickstarting a multi-generational, action-packed blood feud between the two rival families that lasts until the final reel. Loosely based on a true story, Gangs of Wasseypur balances brutal violence with tongue-in-cheek comedy, taking the cinematic spectacle of Bollywood and adding a healthy dose of gritty realism.
Himizu - One of Japan’s ambassadors of extreme cinema, Sion Sono (Cold Fish, MIFF 11; Guilty of Romance, MIFF 11) turns his hand to restaging Furuya Minoru’s eponymous manga against the actual disaster-ridden landscapes of the 2011 tsunami. Focusing on two teenagers – particularly a hard-luck young man forced to oversee the family boat-rental business while fending off the attacks of a drunken father – Himizu mashes stylised violence with natural disaster, family dramas and a bittersweet high-school crush. This comes presented through a visceral and aural onslaught of the most intimidating kind. Despite the brutality and bloodiness of their reality, the teenagers’ plight is remarkably elevated by an inspirational message to never give up.
Like Someone In Love - A young escort named Akiko (Rin Takanashi), disenchanted with her work, is called out to a new client: the shy and elderly Takashi (Tadashi Okuno), a committed academic constantly distracted by work-related phone calls. When the two encounter Akiko’s macho boyfriend Noriaki (Ryo Kase), Takashi plays into Noriaki’s assumption that he is actually Akiko’s grandfather. As the three settle into their new roles, Takashi finds himself becoming the protector that Akiko so desperately needs. Iranian filmmaker Abbas Kiarostami follows his unconventional Tuscany-set love film Certified Copy (MIFF 10) with a beguiling story that deliberately evokes the style of Ozu. This beautiful film takes advantage of its striking Tokyo setting, and will both delight and surprise fans of Kiarostami.
Wild Bill - Released from jail, "Wild" Bill Hayward returns home to a South London estate where he plans to stay out of trouble while serving out his parole. But his past catches up with him in the form of a reluctant reunion with his sons – 15-year-old Dean, who hates him, and 11-year-old Jimmy, who’s fallen in with local drug dealers. Engaging characters, witty dialogue and a likeable performance from Charlie Creed-Miles as Bill make this an upbeat working-class family drama, which won the Euskaltel Youth Award at San Sebastián Film Festival. Actor Dexter Fletcher is best known for roles in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and Press Gang, but with this surprisingly sweet directorial debut he proves himself a promising filmmaker.
Maniac - A remake of William Lustig’s notorious 1980 hit of the same name, this version of Maniac is adapted by screenwriter and producer (with Lustig) Alexandre Aja (Haute Tension, MIFF 04) and stars Elijah Wood (The Lord of the Rings trilogy) and Nora Arnezeder (Paris 36). Director Franck Khalfoun has made the bold decision to shoot the entire film from the killer’s point of view (he is never seen except in mirrors or photos), defying standard horror conventions to create something shocking, inventive and terrifying. The film thus follows Frank, an unassuming creative type who just happens to be a schizophrenic serial killer with a fetish for scalping women. When Anna, a young artist, enters his life, the two form a strange and unexpected bond. As their romance blossoms, Frank must resist his violent temptations. The 80s electronica soundtrack ratchets up the tension to almost unbearable levels, while the unique camerawork forces viewers to share Frank’s predatory gaze while pulling their empathy towards him over his victims. It is ruthlessly disturbing.
Sightseers - After exploring the darkest recesses of British culture in Down Terrace (MIFF 2010) and Kill List (MIFF 11), director Ben Wheatley turns his unique style to comedy, albeit his own deranged brand. Chris is taking his new girlfriend Tina on a caravan holiday around the UK, stopping at his favourite landmarks, from the Ribblehead Viaduct to the Keswick Pencil Museum. But Chris’ dream holiday takes a comically violent turn, and the trip soon descends into bloody chaos. With a wealth of UK talent from actors/scriptwriters Steve Oram (Kill List) and Alice Lowe (Hot Fuzz) to executive producer Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead), and a story that has been compared to everything from Natural Born Killers to Mike Leigh’s Nuts In May, Sightseers is comedy at its blackest. The film’s Parsons Terrier, Smurf, won this year’s Cannes Palm Dog award.
Sound of My Voice - Sound Of My Voice puts two investigative journalists at the epicentre of a cult led by an enigmatic woman – the film’s co-writer and producer, Brit Marling (also co-writer, producer and actor on Another Earth, MIFF 11) – who claims to be from the future. While the plan is to expose her as a fraud, an emotional breakthrough for one of the journalists starts to shake their cynicism. Could she actually be the real deal? Always keeping his cards close to his chest, debut filmmaker Zal Batmanglij unpacks this killer narrative episodically, building on audience expectations before unsettling them. This Sundance revelation is a spellbinder that demonstrates a low budget is no impediment to big ideas or taut and compelling execution.
This will be a 2012 check-list of sorts. I should be able to catch a couple at next month's Korean Film Festival, and perhaps I'll catch some more at BIFF later in the year. Very few of them have scheduled cinema releases so far.