Editorial note: It's with great sadness that our resident festival expert is not attending MIFF this year but when he sent me along the following list and note which followed is a guarantee of a great MIFF.
"Some MIFF recommendations, with blurbs, and some choice films I would see were I attending."
Deep Red (Retrospective) - Italian horror maestro, Dario Argento, made a string of giallo and supernatural horror masterpieces in the 70’s and early 80’s. While Suspiria (1977) remains his most famous film, commonly touted as one of the scariest films ever made, it is of my opinion that Deep Red (1975) is his greatest work. David Hemmings (Blowup) stars as Marcus Daly, a pianist and music teacher living in Rome, who investigates the shocking murder of a psychic medium, who lives in Daly’s apartment building. After his desperate attempt to save her fails, he becomes obsessed with finding the murderer. The killer strikes several times, eliminating people who have learned something about their identity, but as Daly digs deeper into the complex web of affairs, he uncovers a sinister secret inside a deserted old house. One feature I adore about this film is the wonderful score composed by prog rock band Goblin (who would become Argento’s primary collaborators, following a disagreement with Ennio Morricone on Four Flies On Grey Velvet). Though Suspiria’s main theme is more famous, perhaps, I don’t think Goblin ever again matched this work. Don’t miss this stunning film on the big screen. It may be the highlight of your MIFF2013 experience.
For Those in Peril – The debut feature from talented writer/director Paul Wright following a number of award-winning shorts, For Those in Peril is a visceral and complex psychological drama with an emotional intensity that continually keeps a viewer guessing. This is a fresh vision from a bold filmmaker who has an interest in telling his stories and provoking his audience with inventive sensory experimentation. From the eerie opening to the unforgettable finale this is a mesmerizing tale pits sea folklore with the personal struggle of a youngster dealing with conflicting emotions of grief and guilt, and facing malevolence for being alive.
Frances Ha – Greta Gerwig delivers an infectiously warm and bubbly performance in Noah Baumbach’s New York-set dramedy about a charming hipster stumbling through a directionless mid-20’s life crisis. Always optimistic about her future and determined to continue to purse her modest artistic aspirations, Frances cannot seem to make anything else work. Barely scraping together enough funds to support her living expenses, and unlucky in her romantic pursuits, her series of misadventures are captured in pleasing black and white photography. Fueled by an energetic soundtrack, Gerwig’s klutzy and awkward pratfalls are a consistent source of humour, earning our sympathy in a way I found Lena Dunham’s Girls characters did not.
Mood Indigo - Michel Gondry’s infectious passion for cinematic invention, toying with the make-up and function of objects, the breakdown of conventions and the seamless blending of genres (and the creation of new ones), ensures Mood Indigo has unwavering energy. This is a giant passion project from Gondry, and he has fearlessly gone all-in. There is a zany inventiveness to every single frame - a smorgasbord of visual delights, effects splendor and general insanity that is under careful and assured control. You know within minutes whether this is your sort of film. If you decide it is, be prepared to watch on in awe.
The Past - With extraordinary and compelling complexity Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi dissects the whirlwind of emotional baggage surrounding divorce and proposed re-marriage, and how every member of the family is affected individually. In addition to being damn near perfect in technical execution, The Past also tackles the lingering effects of the past when wrestling with the possibility of the future. How Farhadi subtly reveals secrets and how they snowball is a writing feat comparable to A Separation, which is about the highest praise I can give.
Prince Avalanche - The talents of David Gordon Green, Paul Rudd and Emile Hirsch are fully realized in this peculiar story that offers up a deceptively simple narrative, but signposts it with intriguing elements. By informing us about the devastating bushfires this pair are embroiled in a setting scorched with sadness, and yet is in the process of being rejuvenated. At this point in their lives, when everything they hold dear is burning down, this escape into the wilderness serves as a catalyst for their individual rejuvenation. The characters are sympathetic, courtesy of the exceptional performances, and it is genuinely hilarious. One of the big surprises of the Sydney Film Festival and I have been pining to watch it again.
The Rocket - Kim Mordaunt’s magnificent drama, The Rocket, fresh from winning the Audience Award at the Sydney Film Festival, also won the Best Narrative Feature, Audience Award and Best Actor (Sitthiphon Disamoe) at the TriBeCa Film Festival. It is an optimistic and spirited tale of a young man’s personal journey to alter his destiny. With subtle humour and eccentric characters, this moving story of family tragedy, residential displacement and tribal conflict is as entertaining as it is importantly grounded. Morduant has built a remarkable rapport with all of his actors, especially the youngsters, which is all the more impressive as most have little-to-no acting experience. Possibly relating to their beautifully drawn characters and understanding the hardships, their energy and enthusiasm burst off the screen, their emotions resonate.
Stoker - A wonderfully directed and gripping psychological thriller and the first English-language film by the great South Korean master Park Chan-Wook (Joint Security Area, Oldboy). Written for the screen by Wentworth Miller (best known as the star of Prison Break), it tells a macabre coming-of-age tale about family dysfunction and human depravity, within the mould of an atmospheric gothic horror. Featuring fantastic performances from Mia Wasikowska, Nicole Kidman and Matthew Goode, its many chilling twists and turns effectively serve the formal brilliance of director Park’s vision. Any shortcomings with the script in the latter half are forgivable because of how incredibly beautiful it is visually and how immersive it is as an experience.
Tenebrae (Retrospective) - American crime thriller and horror writer Peter Neal (Anthony Franciosa) is in Rome to promote his latest popular novel, Tenebrae. Just prior to Neal’s arrival, an attractive young shoplifter caught trying to steal one of Neal’s novels, is killed by black-gloved figure wielding a razor. A letter from the killer is slid underneath Neal’s hotel room door, claiming that his novels have inspired them to go on a killing spree, targeting women in ways identical to how Neal described them. Soon enough, Neal finds himself harassed in other ways. More notes (accompanying more killings) and threatening phone calls. No one, not his assistants, his agent, his bitter ex-wife, or the hotel staff, are free from suspicion or danger, as Neal quickly tries to piece together the clues. After a break from giallo filmmaking (to make Suspiria and Inferno), Argento made a triumphant return here in this often-overlooked classic. There is no holding back. The blood flows regularly, the inventive carnage is relentless, there is one particularly indulgent crane shot that defies belief, and shocking twist after twist. It is a blend of Agatha Christie-style cozy school mystery (almost all of the murders transpire in pretty close proximity to one another) and slasher-come-chop horror. One of Argento’s most deranged nightmares.
Upstream Color – Here is an extraordinary film I know I will have to watch again to fully appreciate. Though it is more accessible and easier to decipher than Shane Carruth’s 2005 mind bender, Primer, this still took a lot of effort to remain attentive amidst the festival fatigue. I was in serious need of a coffee to repair my brain. At once a science fiction dealing with complex biological and existential themes, questioning the connection of all organisms within the universe, and a mysterious, ill-fated romance, this is a dense story. Carruth is repeatedly credited for Upstream Color – he writes, directs, stars, edits, scores and markets the film – a work of grand scale indie filmmaking, bringing an idea to an audience solely and uniquely. Beautifully shot, scored, edited and performed it is well worth the time, but be prepared.
Wadjda - Written and directed by Haifaa Al-Mansour, graduate of the University of Sydney, Wadjda is the first film to be shot in its entirety on location in Saudi Arabia. It is also the first feature from a female Saudi filmmaker. Beautifully crafted, admirably honest and unwaveringly optimistic, Wadjda provides fascinating insight into everyday life in the nation’s capital, Riyadh, and tells a sweet and uplifting tale of the earnest belief in life’s potential and teenage independence within a strict conservative culture. Vibrantly shot, with a striking performance from young lead Waad Mohammed, this is an enjoyable, heartfelt crowd-pleaser and an important work of international cinema.
The Act of Killing - I was speechless upon leave. It is terrifying to see these Indonesian gangsters, responsible for killing hundreds of communists in the mid 1960’s, gloating about their actions and reflecting without remorse, still holding positions of power and influence. By challenging them to recreate the killings, director Josh Oppenheimer forces them to understand and accept the severity of what they did. It is incredible to learn about cinema's influence on the horrific acts, and serve as a medium to recreate and draw liberation. One of the Sydney Film Festival's most unforgettable and surreal experiences, and one of the year’s most original, powerful and important documentaries.
Dirty Wars - Though the film is technically outstanding the content here is powerful enough without this cinematic heightening to send chills up the spine. The photography, which won the Cinematography Award for U.S Documentary at the Sundance Film Festival, is sublime, and the accompanying collaboration of score from the Kronos Quartet, and a recurring piece from Godspeed You Black Emperor, further extenuates the sense of unease and tension. Dirty Wars is an important political tool, created through brave, focused journalism and inventive filmmaking that presents a damning case against U.S foreign policy.
Blackfish - During our lifetimes many of us will visit a marine park and marvel in awe at the common main attraction – the seemingly harmonious interaction between 8,000-pound plus orcas or “killer whales” and their human trainers. Blackfish, directed brilliantly by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, is a captivating and harrowing documentary investigation into the fascinating nature of the orca – their supreme intelligence and development of different languages, their open water gracefulness and clinical hunting abilities – and the cruel mistreatment of those kept in captivity and trained for human amusement. Also examined are the indecencies of the marine park industry and the decades of incidents, manipulated to hide the truth and keep the business afloat. We see the devastating consequences of human exploitation and greed, with nature the executor of revenge.
Twenty Feet From Stardom - With inspiring stories, amazing voices and rousing concert footage, 20 Feet From Stardom is an energetic and cinematic documentary that sheds essential light on these Hall Of Fame worthy performers who contributed their talents to some of rock’s biggest acts, securing widespread admiration without ever being in the limelight. This is a willing tribute to these talents, providing them an open environment to convey their experiences and inviting the audience to participate.
Also worth considering: Stories We Tell, Blancanieves, Computer Chess, Museum Hours, What Richard Did
10 Films I Would See If I Were Attending
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints
All is Lost
A Touch of Sin
Like Father, Like Son
Paradise Trilogy: Faith/Hope/Love
The Spectacular Now
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22
Andy Buckle is a passionate Sydney-based film enthusiast and reviewer who has built a respected online voice at his personal blog, The Film Emporium. Andy will contribute reviews, features and be our resident film festival, and awards expert.