You could probably don a blindfold, grab a pen and jab it randomly at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) guide, and still pick a great film.
Even if you take three weeks off work, it’s impossible to see everything, so here is a list of not-to-be-missed films to suit whatever very specific mood you may find yourself in.
If you see one … dreamy, coming-of-age film: Girl Asleep
“Girl Asleep is adapted from a local theatrical production and it has the very precise whimsy of the best Wes Anderson,” says MIFF programmer Al Cossar. Set in lurid 1970s Australia, it centres on a bullied teenage girl who slips down a rabbit hole into her subconscious. “It’s a really endearing and charming coming-of-age story that is bold enough to take a major detour into flight of fancy and imagination through this girl’s fantastical subconscious. It does things that are familiar, and it does things that are very surprising and untoward with this genre.”
If you see one … deep-dive into Scientology: Louis Theroux: My Scientology Movie
“Louix Theroux is, I think, the perfect person to be making a film about Scientology,” says Cossar, laughing. “He uses a very playful, performative technique to get around some of the material he can’t have access to; casts people in the roles of Tom Cruise and so forth.”
There’s a joyful absurdity in this left-of-centre documentary once the Scientologists start making a film about Theroux making a film about them.
“There is this kind of mirrored stand-off of cameras. It’s ridiculous, absurd, unsettling, and he’s the perfect person to channel a considered look at the strangeness of Scientology in LA.”
If you see one … Hitchcock-ian noir psychodrama: Frank & Lola
The directorial debut of Matthew Ross starts as a familiar love story, but quickly takes a dark turn. “Frank & Lola is a really mature, involved and dark romantic relationship story … which turns a corner to be something a little bit closer to a Hitchcock-ish noir,” Cossar says. “It was a film that I was surprised by at Sundance. As a directorial debut it kind of came from nowhere and I think it’s a substantial character psychodrama.”
If you see one … beautiful animation about being stranded on an island: The Red Turtle
The Red Turtle is Studio Ghibli’s first international co-production. “It’s a wordless story that has the quality of a fable about a castaway and his encounter with a magical turtle who doesn’t want him to leave the island,” says Cossar. “It’s plaintive, it’s bold. It’s beautiful.”
If you see one … kids film packed with celebrity voice cameos: Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings is produced by Laika animation studios, whose films Coraline and ParaNorman have previously screened at the festival. “It’s a classic hero’s journey kind of story, featuring a young boy and his magical two-stringed instrument in the time of ancient Japan,” says Cossar. “It’s got an absolute star-studded cast, between Matthew McConaughey, George Takai, Rooney Mara – it’s the headline act for families in the festival.”
If you see one … corporate-themed musical in 3D: Office
Johnnie To has two films at this year’s festival. The first is Three, a gangster action film. The other is Office, a stunning, fully choreographed musical set in a Chinese financial company during the 2008 financial crisis. “It’s based on belligerent corporate aspirations. It combines some very bold and winning production design with a story that is very topical in a format that takes influence from the classic musical genre,” Cossar says. “It’s a really intriguing concoction and it’s a very contemporary film at the same time.”
If you see one … bizarre Danish comedy about genetics and animal husbandry: Men & Chicken
“It’s very weird,” says Cossar, laughing. “On the page it’s listed as ‘Franz Kafka writing for the Three Stooges', and there is something that I quite like about that description. Mads Mikkelsen plays a moustachioed serial masturbator in this absurdist character comedy about two brothers who go on a journey to find their biological father. “It combines that ridiculous kind of physical comedy with something that is a little bit deeper, with some legitimate philosophical enquiry, and it bundles it all up in a pretty confusing and spectacular comic package.”
If you see one … documentary about an internet-made urban legend: Beware the Slenderman
Beware the Slenderman is a documentary about the creation of an urban legend. It’s also about the impact this fictional character had in the real world; two young girls were compelled to attempt murder in the name of Slenderman. “It’s scary and strange and baffling,” says Cossar. “It’s a shocking and confronting true-crime story, but also an absolute cautionary tale about community-made digital folklore – it is terrifying and unthinkable and strange to the point of disbelief.”
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from July 28 to August 14.
It's important to find somewhere to digest the films you see. Explore our guide to eating and drinking in Melbourne during MIFF.
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