One of the great things about the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) is the thrill that comes from picking a film completely at random and discovering a new favourite. Whether that’s a four-hour black-and-white examination of contemporary Filipino politics (The Woman Who Left), a Russian allegory about the hunt for a missing child (Loveless) or a journey back in time to the beginning of the AIDS activist movement in France (BPM), there is something for everybody in MIFF’s 357-film program.
But whether you’re taking three weeks off to soak in the entire festival, or just want to boast around the office that you saw the next big thing before everybody else, these 10 films are not to be missed.
A Truly Original Film: The Square
Audiences loved Ruben Östlund’s Force Majeure, and now the Swedish director has returned with this, a satire aimed at the bourgeois art scene that MIFF director Michelle Carey says, “was the most buzzed-about film at Cannes”, where it won the coveted Palme d’Or. Featuring Elisabeth Moss and Dominic West among a wonderful cast of European actors, Carey adds, “it’s a different kind of Palme d’Or winner. It’s very funny, it’s very original.” There’s nothing quite like watching a film like this in a packed cinema and then eavesdropping on the conversations once it’s over.
An Awkward Dinner Party Like No Other: Beatriz at Dinner
The Sundance world premiere of this savage cultural satire “aligned with Trump’s inauguration so it was seen very much in that context,” Cossar points out. “It was seen unexpectedly as the first quote-unquote post-Trump film.” Salma Hayek, in what Cossar describes as “one of her career-best roles”, and John Lithgow go head-to-head as a Latina masseuse and a Trump-like hotel-owner who hunts rhinos for fun. With wine flowing freely, this uncomfortable dinner party features an all-star cast including Connie Britton, Chloe Sevigny (who is also in Golden Exits), Transparent’s Amy Landecker and Jay Duplass, and has become a much-buzzed hit in America.
A Psychological Horror with Big Names: The Killing of a Sacred Deer
Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman headline this disturbing, twist-laden psychological horror film about a doctor, his wife, and the young boy they allow into their home. “I think a lot of people go into [director] Yorgos Lanthimos’s films with a bit of trepidation,” Carey says, hinting that this one is darker than his previous films, but the Greek director is nevertheless “one of my top three filmmakers working today”. He has received Oscar nominations in the past for Dogtooth and The Lobster (also with Farrell) and Sacred Deer won Cannes’s Best Screenplay prize.
An Italian Romance with a Queer Twist: Call Me By Your Name
This is directed by Luca Guadagnino, whose sumptuous I Am Love and A Bigger Splash have made him one of the most acclaimed directors of the last decade. “Really beautiful” are the first words Carey uses to describe this much-discussed gay romance that “got a lot of love out of Sundance and recently Sydney film festivals.” The story of a young Italian man (Timothée Chalamet) and the American visitor (Armie Hammer) who turns his world upside down is “a beautiful love story. I think it’s something everyone can relate to whether you’re gay, straight, old, young, I just thought it was really smart, beautiful film.”
A Majestic Childhood Fable: Wonderstruck
“Oh, Wonderstruck’s delightful”, says Carey, her voice brightening at the mention of it. “Todd Haynes is a director who you never really know what he’s going to do next.” He’s the man behind Carol, Far From Heaven and I’m Not There. She says it’s best to go into this latest one “with no preconceptions”. Adapted from a 2011 book by Brian Selznick (The Invention of Hugo Cabret, which was made into Hugo by Martin Scorsese) and starring Julianne Moore, Wonderstruck is the story of two runaway children who are separated by half a century. Young deaf actress Millicent Simmonds was hailed in Cannes for her wordless performance.
The World’s First Painted Film: Loving Vincent
There has never been a film like Loving Vincent. This untraditional biopic – with the added mystery surrounding his death – of Vincent Van Gogh is unique in that every second was painted in the style of Van Gogh’s famous paintings. Yes, each of the film’s 65,000 frames is its own oil painting. Three seconds of film took an artist one month to complete.
A Day at the Movies Watching TV: Top of the Lake: China Girl
It’s not very often you get to see a new Jane Campion project on the big screen and she will attend MIFF to present it. “I’m not a big TV watcher,” Carey admits, “but this has Jane Campion’s authorial stamp all over it. The characters are so ballsy and fantastic.” Top of the Lake: China Girl is the sequel to the award-winning ABC/BBC mini-series from 2013 that brings Elisabeth Moss to Bondi where she’s joined by none other than Nicole Kidman and Game of Thrones’ Gwendolyn Christie. All six episodes will screen with appropriately slotted intermissions. It’s the first time MIFF has embraced an entire series.
The Workplace Satire of Your Nightmares: The Belko Experiment
Aussie director Greg McLean’s Jungle opens this year’s MIFF, but his second film of 2017 is also running in the late-night genre program. It’s “Office Space meets Battle Royale” where the tables are turned and all the underlings of the Belko corporation are pitted against one another in a hyper-violent fight to the death. Written and produced by James Gunn (Guardians of the Galaxy), this wicked farce might just make you appreciate the tedium of your own office environment.
Fight the Patriarchy in Tokyo: Japanese Girls Never Die
A work of anarchic punk with a healthy feminist streak, MIFF regular Daigo Matsui’s provocative Japanese Girls Never Die plays as a protest of sorts to the subjugation and societal exploitation of women in Japan. MIFF programmer Al Cossar describes this wild film as “a fascinating jolt of energy”. Centred around teenagers and young people, “ it has this mysterious disappearance of a girl, but growing outside of that is some pretty crazy, forthright feminist righteousness and vengeance”, Cossar says. That includes a gang of uniform-wearing young women who wreak havoc on the men who harass them in the street.
The Other Film with Icon Isabelle Huppert: Claire’s Camera
One of MIFF’s hottest films will without a doubt be Happy End, the latest collaboration between Austrian provocateur Michael Haneke and French icon Isabelle Huppert. But Huppert also appears in this film, the quiet and serene Claire’s Camera from prolific Korean filmmaker Hong Sang-soo (he has two more films at this year’s MIFF). “I swear Hong Sang-soo was just at Cannes and he brought along his home movie camera and made a film” – which Carey admits is part of the appeal of Camera. “It’s small in the best way possible.” Huppert shares the screen with Kim Min-hee from last year’s MIFF hit The Handmaiden.
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 3 to 20.
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