This week the program for the 2014 Melbourne Film Festival, running from the 31st July to the 17th August, was announced. Opening the festival is the new film from the Spierig Brothers, Predestination, starring Ethan Hawke and Sarah Snook. The Closing Night film is Felony, directed by Matthew Saville and starring Joel Edgerton, Jai Courtney and Melissa George. Here are 12 titles screening at MIFF that I can highly recommend catching:
Of Horses and Men
Why? – Bookended by two of the funniest sex scenes I have ever seen, this is so weird it is essential. Some of the bizarre vignettes will leave a viewer howling with laughter, others cringing and cowering in shock. The footage is incredible; enough to make you question how these scenes were even captured.
Tom at the Farm
Why? - Xavier Dolan’s ‘Farm Games’. This kid just keeps getting better. A turbulent concoction of destructive guilt, oppressive masculinity and Stockholm syndrome, and never goes where you expect.
Why? – Conceptually stunning, wonderfully photographed and edited, this is a philosophical study of Nick Cave’s life and career through several inventive approaches. The archive-set reflection was fascinating, Cave’s narration a window into his creative soul, his discussion with a psychoanalyst about his childhood and relationship with his father powerfully insightful.
Why? - Alejandro Jodorowsky and his assembly of creative geniuses/spiritual warriors reflect on the most ambitious film never made. With real insight into the creative process, this is a cinematic, briskly paced and thoroughly entertaining documentary about one of the industry’s eccentric geniuses.
Why? - If you asked me what I loved about it I’d say: “everything”. With the composition of each scene so imperative, not an inch of screen is wasted. Dolan forces you to watch nothing else but the subject and it is never limiting and always stunning. As are the complex relationships and characterizations, the stirring use of music, and the outstanding acting by Dorval, Pilon and Clement. I was an emotional wreck at the end, completely captivated by the lives of these characters. ‘Tom at the Farm’ was Dolan’s best film (in my mind) for less than a week.
Why? - Night Moves is an absorbing, atmospheric slow-burn thriller that cleverly elevates its consistent tension with a grounded sense of realism, a keen eye for stylish composition and a neat score. It focuses less on the political motivations of the radical environmentalist trio (Eisenberg, Fanning and Sarsgard), rather their preparations, the sabotage statement itself and how they individually react when burdened with the weight of their actions.
Why? - This is as unnerving, brutally intense and realistic as any prison drama I have seen. The performances are terrific – so convincing, especially from young Jack O’Connell, that if I were to ever see these actors on the street my first instinct would be to run the other way. A bone-crunching, horrifically realistic document of prison life, it is extremely affecting in places. You feel trapped inside the prison and no matter how strongly you feel about trying to escape, it is too riveting.
Why? - This beautifully crafted and emotional study of grief, sadness and displacement in two parts is quietly stinging. ‘Her’ is a showcase for the no-longer secret talents of a sensational Jessica Chastain, but the entire cast (including William Hurt, Viola Davis and James McAvoy and Ciaran Hindes) is excellent. Every relationship here is so accurately written and performed it is intoxicating to watch.
Why? - The Dardenne Bros use an intimate approach to telling their stories; lengthy, unbroken takes, an expertly controlled and curious camera that eavesdrops on the conversations. The musical accompaniments work brilliantly. But it is their script, their core character (wonderfully played by Marion Cotillard) and the tenuous conflict that emerges through an unfortunate economic landscape that makes this film wholly affecting.
Why? - There was a moment in this extraordinary two-hour plus Iranian single-take mind-bender Fish & Cat when I was hooked, and I stayed so throughout the remainder. As the film does strange things we are challenged to reflect on everything we have seen and simultaneously think ahead. It becomes an increasingly complex entanglement of strands that make for a giddily exciting trip.
Why? - The laugh quota is so high that missing jokes due to prolonged laughter is a genuine concern. I doubt I will see a funnier film this year. Really. It is perfect.
The Possibilities Are Endless
Why? - There is something quite profound about the way this film delves into former Scottish Britpop King Edwyn Collins’ nightmarish quest to return to the surface of consciousness and psychological function following a stroke. It reveals just how essential memory is to quality of life, and the power that memory has in reuniting a human being with a passion.
If I were attending MIFF for a substantial period of time here are 18 films I would endeavour to squeeze into my schedule.
Hard to be a God Norte, The End of History Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets Stray Dogs The Infinite Man We Are The Best! Time Is Illmatic The Case Against 8
The Overnighters The Immigrant Obvious Child Goodbye to Language Welcome to New York Force Majeure Jauja Still The Water The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness When Animals Dream
I would love to see The Grandmaster but the film has a September release through Roadshow. The Dirties is screening at Possible Worlds Festival of U.S and Canadian Film, so that’s another one I am really looking forward to but can see here in Sydney.
We are the Best!, The Case Against 8, The Overnighters, Pulp: A Film About Life, Death and Supermarkets, The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness and When Animals Dream were some I missed in Sydney but have heard great things about. I still can’t fathom why James Gray’s The Immigrant is not on any release schedule. It seems destined to be a direct-to-DVD release here in Australia but would be my #1 anticipated film at MIFF. Time Is Illmatic, which chronicles the making of Nas’ 1994 landmark debut album, is another one I am really keen for. Russian sci-fi Hard to Be A God sounds enormously insane and challenging.
Of course, the chance to check off a few more Cannes films - Goodbye to Language, Still the Water, Jauja and Force Majeure - is an attractive option.
Andrew Buckle - follow Andy on Twitter here: @buckle22