Here I am starting to select the movies I want to see at MIFF 2018 and I realise I didn’t ever finish writing up the all of the films I saw last year. So here is a quick blog to finish the job! That’s the problem when you see 60 films!
I know it’s a ridiculous number and every year, including 2018, I promise myself I’m not going to rush around and see so many. But I find so many in the programme that that sound interesting and think it would be a shame to miss the opportunity to see them. Last year I decided I’d be ruthless and walk out of any that were no good; but I liked nearly all of them!
I could wait until commercial releases but you’re never sure which ones will get shown and I’m too impatient to wait. Which makes sense given many aren’t released here in Melbourne for anything up to six or even twelve months after the festival.
I’ve been reviewing my blogs from last year and been interested to see which films have stayed with me. It’s also interesting to see which ones did and which ones didn’t get a commercial release. I’ve also been trying to respond adequately to being asked what my favourite film from last year was. In fact it’s impossible to come up with a single one. Mostly I’ve found my impressions were sound.
This was my overview of everything I saw. I still agree with most of my five star ratings. Although I’d probably put Buena Vista Social Club: Adios down a notch, as that story had already been told. All the rest hold up.
Without re-reading my blogs I would have said my favourite feature films were Let The Sunshine In, On Body And Soul and Spoor. Of these only the first has had much attention which included a pretty widespread release, although On Body And Soul was also commercially released here. Spoor wasn’t.
Of the documentaries those that I remembered most were Faces Places (which has received a lot of attention worldwide and was shown here at ACMI) and Loving Vincent. I had quite forgotten the title of Where You’re Meant To Be but it had a real impact on me. Those three were my favourite documentaries.
I put two of my favourite features in this blog where I focussed on films about independent women; Let The Sunshine In and Spoor. I’d completely forgotten about My Happy Family which was a beautiful film but not commercially released here. The other one that was terrific was The Teacher, which did get a release and which I recommended to all and sundry.
And here’s another blog which includes two of my favourites, this time on the theme of most heartwarming. On Body And Soul got a commercial release not long ago. Ali’s Wedding which was a real feel good Australian story was commercially released quite close to the festival. I’ve since seen a play that concentrates on things that happened after the events portrayed in the film and discovered that there’s a much darker story under the feel good bits that we saw.
In my blog on films that celebrated creativity here , three of my favourite documentaries get a mention. Faces Places has been receiving lots of plaudits around the world, including being nominated for an Oscar. It certainly made me want to seem more of Agnes Varda’s films and there’ve been plenty of opportunities because this ignited real interest in her work. There was a mini festival at ACMI but I only managed to see Cleo from 5 to 7 which was interesting but not earth shattering! Where You’re Meant To Be was a great documentary but it didn’t get released in Australia and hasn’t received much attention around the world. I’ve thought about Loving Vincent a lot because every time I see a painting by Van Gogh I think of this film. It got a commercial release here.
There are other films that have really stayed with me, first up, Jupiter’s Moon. This was a strange film but I’ve thought about it a lot. Perhaps because it concerns the plight of refugees; something constantly in the media these days. It starts with refugees in the back of a truck. It’s crowded, they’re squeezed in cheek by jowl jammed up against stacks of produce. We see their faces; all the tension and anxiety writ large. A baby is crying. Claustrophobic. Intense.
They are let out somewhere near a forest, lots of water underfoot. It’s the Hungarian border we eventually discover. Suddenly all is chaos and confusion. Police are chasing them. People run every which way. It’s every person for themselves. We are following a boy and his father. They’re separated. We see the boy shot; and the world stands still. His body levitates above the awful scene. Now we’re in the city meeting a doctor whose in some sort of trouble. He needs money to pay off a debt. His lover, another doctor, is going to leave him if he doesn’t sort himself out. He heads out to the forest where opportunities for easy money from desperate people abound. Immigration officials have set up tents and are processing the new arrivals. Our doctor is known here. He’s in search of a refugee who will bribe him to be brought to safety. Instead he finds a levitating boy.
Sensing this might be a better money making opportunity he helps him escape the officials. The boy is searching for his father who we later discover has died in the opening melee. But his identification papers have been stolen by people intent on harm. The detective who shot the boy is searching for his body and suspects our shady doctor has something to do with his disappearance.
The doctor and boy have a series of encounters where the boy’s mystical ability to levitate provides a sort of justice to those they meet – a sleazy mogul, a bedridden woman, calm death for an old, an ultra right thug. Our boy is an avenging angel. There are lots of twists and turns but finally the doctor is released from his cynicism, sacrificing his own life to protect the boy. Who in an amazing final scene floats higher and higher above the city. Free at last. It’s surprisingly moving. I don’t think it was commercially released here. Here’s the trailer.
Another that has stayed with me is The Lovers. This starred Debra Winger in her first acting role in ages. And a fellow called Tracy Letts who I was not familiar with but who I’ve seen lots since (in Lady Bird and The Post). These two are both great as a long married couple each of whom is having an affair. They’ve both promised their lovers that they will leave the marriage as soon as a planned visit from their college aged son is over. Neither is aware of the other’s dalliance. The terrific thing is how the everyday lives of the characters are shown. We saw them both at work, buying stuff at the supermarket, socialising with work colleagues and so forth. All of which has to be fitted in around the central theme being explored, which is their relationships with the lovers and when they are going to finally come clean at home.
You rarely see people at work in films; especially Hollywood films. Here we see Mary, the wife, continually arriving late for work and therefore being late for a regular meeting. And we see how this exasperates her colleagues’. It’s lightly done, but you see the impact. Michael, the husband works in an open plan office with dividers between the desks. It could be my old workplace! He too is struggling to fit everything in. At one stage he lets out a groan that has his colleague peering over the divider. In another great scene he is lying to his lover; telling her he’s having drinks with his work colleagues. He’s in his car and the camera pulls back and we see him there, the only car in the workplace parking lot. He looks lonely, isolated, apart. This is what the lying, the constant lying does to you. We see Mary making up excused for not going to drinks with her workmate. Lies. Lies. Lies.
The movie takes an unexpected turn midway; with the married pair re-igniting a hitherto long lost sexual passion. Now they’re telling their lovers the same lies they once told each other. The son comes home with his girlfriend, astonished to find his formerly hostile parents all lovey dovey with each other. You really don’t know where this story is going. And the final denouement; a telephone call from one office to another; was fantastic. I was surprised it didn’t get a commercial release. Maybe it still will. Worth seeing. Here’s the trailer.
The Nile Hilton Incident was another great movie. On the surface it’s a thriller combining detective work and grubby corruption at the top end of town, underneath it is explaining the Arab Spring and the overthrow of Egypt’s Mubarek. We’re in Cairo where a woman’s been killed at the Nile Hilton. A policeman is sent to investigate. The first thing he does is grab the cash out of the purse belong to the murder victim. Later we see him and his colleague as they drive through a chaotic market place, close enough to the vendors to receive their bribes by hand as they pass. And these are the good guys.
Unexpectedly, and against the advice of his superior, who is also his Uncle, he actually tries to solve the murder. Identifying the murder victim brings him into contact with prostitution, drugs and blackmail. And a view into the lives of the city’s elites. Tracking down witnesses to the crime takes him down the city’s back alleys and crowded boarding houses where undocumented immigrants scratch out a living. Its a scarifying look at the extent of corruption in the city, in high society and the police force, showing how casual corruption has infiltrated society at all levels. Our hero does manage to save the witness, getting her out of the city and leaving her to make her own way back home. He returns to a city in uproar at the start of the demonstrations that will overthrow the regime. A grim tale told with clarity and empathy. It didn’t get a commercial release as far as I know. Here’s the trailer.
The Party got a commercial release here and I strongly recommended it to people. It’s a terrific little film, only about an hour long which is the time it takes for this party to implode. Its in black and white which I saw criticised in one review but I thought the decision to do without colour really added to the tale it told. Of deeply disillusioned people at the end of their tether for one reason and another. Great performances from everyone. Great photography. I was not familiar with the director, Sally Potter but I loved all of the films by her that I saw at the festival; especially The Tango Lesson and The Man Who Cried. I’ll look out for any films by her in future. Here’s the trailer.
Loveless was another of my five star films. It was beautifully made, some amazing photography and the performances were all first rate. But somehow it didn’t move me. And given the subject matter; a boy goes missing in the middle of his parents acrimonious break up; I think it should have moved me at least a little bit. It’s a razor sharp dissection of middle class Russian society, with one horrible glimpse of the past when the parents visit the wife’s mother. It’s all in the title really. This film received lots of awards and plaudits around the world and a long commercial release here in Australia. Here’s the link.
I also liked The Square. Better in hindsight than when I was actually watching it. There are some films that are like that. Joe said immediately after watching it that he wanted to see it again. I didn’t. But I’ve thought about it a lot. There’s lots to think about! What is art, the role of art in society, social stratification, family bonds, social connections and much more. There are some very confronting scenes, one that is alluded to in the trailer, that linger for a long time. How thin is our veneer of civility? It’s still showing, after a long run, at The Nova. We haven’t been to a second viewing but we still might. Here’s the trailer.
I’m Not Your Negro could perhaps have been included in my Exploring / Celebrating Creativity blog but it’s about much more than that. Especially given what is happening in the USA today concerning race relations it’s so relevant. James is so articulate and so strong in his pronouncements which are all so right! There’s righteous anger and sadly prescient predictions. I don’t like burdening films with suggestions they are important or have to be seen, because it makes them sound portentous but this is one such movie. It’s a tragedy that what it is saying is still so relevant. This is a really important film at this present time. Here’s the trailer.
As with other MIFFs I saw some great films focussing on Indigenous Australia. The Song Keepers could have been included in either my heartwarming or my independent women blogs because it had both. Incredibly heartwarming, this story of the women (mostly) who sing in the choirs of central Australia. And the women are so strong. They had to be. Some of the history they describe is heartbreaking. The Lutheran missionaries from Germany at least had enough respect for the culture that they encountered to learn the language of the local people into which they translated their hymns. These are the songs the choir, under their very warm and sensitive choir master, Maurice, sing. Together they travel to Germany and sing in churches and halls around the country. There is an incredibly moving scene in a church where the congregation sings in German the words of the hymn the women are singing in Arrente. A melding of two strong cultures. The film, and the choir, have received a lot of attention over the past years with programs on the ABC as well as concerts. Here’s the trailer.
Westwind: Djalu’s Legacy also provided great insights into Indigenous culture. I’ve just seen the movie Garramul (having not seen it at the closing session of the festival) and I was pleased to recognise Djalu. He’s an esteemed Elder and an important keeper of the songs in his country. There’s great concern that when he dies, a whole body of knowledge will go with him. An underlying story in the film is following Djalu’s son as he finally comes to terms with his burden; his responsibility to take over Djalu’s role. The old man is a fascinating figure and so are the old women we hear speak. The importance of songs, of culture is reiterated. The Indi pop singer Goyte travels up to Arnhem Land to learn from Djalu and to collaborate on song arrangements. Eventually there’s a concert at the Adelaide Arts Festival which is wonderful. Here’s the trailer.
Another film that I’ve thought quite a bit about post festival is one that I gave only four stars. Glory took me back to my days in a political office. There is the communications director from hell, the self serving journalist interested only in a scoop. Together they manage to muck up the life of a simple railway worker who has done the right thing. Terrifying in its simplicity. There’s no animus from anyone here. Just a clash of cultures. Very well told. Here’s the link.
There were three other films about values that were interesting. First up Western which was about a group of Germans building EEU funded water infrastructure Bulgaria. The construction is taking place near a village. There is a boorish team leader who you expect will do damage. There is an empathetic loner, the cowboy who perhaps gives the film its title, who seeks engagement with the locals. The story doesn’t go where you expect. It reminded me of Wally Curran’s admonition beware those with good intentions, they often wreak havoc! Here’s the trailer.
We meet another man of integrity in the film of the same name; A Man of Integrity. This time we’re in Iran with a fish farmer, they’re gold fish and very pretty, although keeping them fed and watered is a challenge. The living conditions are pretty grim in this little rural village. Although there are some incredibly beautiful landscapes shown at different times, especially a beautiful hot pool within a cave. Our farmer’s got a loving wife (unusually in an Iranian film there’s an allusion to them having sex) and a school age boy. Our farmer used to be a democracy activist but he’s given all that up now. Now circumstances force him to take a stand. To stand up for his rights or be done over. The justice system is no help; nor the local authorities. The place is run by thugs. What to do? Join them? Beat them? Here’s the trailer.
Another study of values is contained in the quietly devastating Los Perros. There’s the strong, dignified, impressive looking at least, riding instructor. But what was his role in Argentina’s dirty war. There’s the wilful, privileged, dissatisfied young woman. What was her father’s role? History comes knocking. How will these characters respond. The famous phrase the banality of evil comes to mind. Here’s the trailer.
Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts was a weird film but I loved the fact that it was centred on women. This time women wreaking revenge and not just women as victims. Pretty macabre, Marlina carries a severed male head around for much of the movie. Which leads to some pretty surreal moments. She travels through some amazing landscapes. Here’s the trailer.
I saw four other films that I’d describe as weird: April’s Daughter (mad mother trying to take over her daughter’s life), Brigsby Bear (boy retrieved from mad pseudo parents), Marjorie Prime (people moving between now and the future), Ingrid Goes West (the perils of Instagram obsession). And another two that could perhaps be described as self indulgent: the very New York Golden Exits and the very French Lover For A Day. None of them momentous so I’m not including trailers.
Just for completeness here is where I wrote about the films that disappointed me. Eight duds out of sixty films is not a bad average. I think Rabbit had a commercial release just recently. But I suspect it wasn’t on for long.
So that’s it! All of the films I saw at last year’s festival accounted for. And now I’m off to prepare for MIFF 2018 which is launched next week.