Film

Our Top Picks Of The 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival

Your ultimate guide to MIFF.

The 66th Melbourne International Film Festival marks that wonderful wintry season when cinephiles act super cool about seeing Geoffrey Rush everywhere, and lose black umbrellas and gloves to the dark cavern under cinema seats.

We’ve sifted through the recently released program and picked our favourites from the 366 films on offer. A merry MIFFmas! Godard bless us, every one!

If You Like… Kickass Women

15314728352bigstealstill

Guest curator Alexandra Heller-Nicholas has collaborated with MIFF and the National Screen and Sound Archive this year to select under-seen retro classics directed by Australian women. Every choice is a gem, from Clara Law’s pioneering Chinese immigrant story, Floating Life, to one of Australia’s greatest rom-coms, Nadia Tass’s The Big Steal.

Ann Turner’s 1989 psychological horror film Celia is an especially welcome inclusion. Set amid the moral panics of 1950s Australian suburbia, it’s an empathetic yet unsettling portrait of an imaginative nine-year-old girl (Rebecca Smart), who’s bullied by her peers and patronised by her elders until she simmers over with violent rage. Its blend of fantasy, horror and retro girlhood is reminiscent of Heavenly Creatures, or a far grittier Girl Asleep.


If You Like… Music and Dance

patt

MIFF’s beloved Backbeat stream is now called Music On Film, and there’s plenty more sound and movement elsewhere in the program. Terrence Malick plays the love triangle in alt-rock rhapsody Song to Song, and the much-buzzed-about hip-hop coming-of-age story Patti Cake$ stars Aussie newcomer Danielle Macdonald. Meanwhile, Gillian Armstrong’s glittery ’80s musical Starstruck will screen in a fresh digital restoration.

Young people of colour also feature strongly this year. Amanda Lipitz’s documentary Step focuses on solidarity between black girls in Baltimore striving to win the step-dance state championship.

Tucked away in the Schools program is Swagger, Olivier Babinet’s survey of Parisian teens, with a score by Air’s Jean-Benoît Dunckel. Jeffrey is a cheeky Dominican boy who dreams of reggaeton stardom in Yanillys Pérez’s collaborative docudrama. And Australian director Kate Hickey’s joyous Roller Dreams explores how the ’70s subculture of roller dancing was spearheaded by inner-city youth whose skills were swiftly whitewashed, then forgotten.


If You Like… Queer Romance

beachrats3-1600x900-c-default

Call Me By Your Name is Luca Guadanigno’s (A Bigger Splash) new film, a sultry romance set in the early 1980s that features in MIFF’s Headliners program. Timothée Chalamet stars as 17-year-old Elio, whose archaeologist dad (Michael Stuhlbarg) invites young American scholar Oliver (Armie Hammer, also at MIFF in Stanley Tucci’s Final Portrait) to be his summer assistant … with erotic research outcomes for Elio.

If you’re thirsty for more queer stories, try the aptly named Eliza Hittman’s Brooklyn fleshfest Beach Rats, Ana Kokkinos’s pyromaniacally fierce debut Only the Brave, homoerotic Catholic parable The Ornithologist, or Yorkshire’s answer to Brokeback Mountain, the tough yet tender God’s Own Country.


If You Like… Keeping It Real

1259799_Dr.-Watsa_Couch

If you’re after a documentary, check out Unrest — Jennifer Brea’s formally innovative bid to document her debilitating experience with the illness ME/CFS. Examining a no less fraught and subjective aspect of health, Ask The Sexpert profiles 93-year-old Indian sexologist Mahinder Watsa.

Also in India, Rahul Jain’s debut documentary Machines combines the mesmerising procedural rhythms of the series How It’s Made with a social commentary on globalised industry. Following workers at a Gujarat textile factory, Jain literally bears witness to the cogs of capitalism.

MIFF also has a delightful mini-spotlight on animal documentaries, ranging from the adorable (competitive New Zealand poultry-fancier yarn Pecking Order) to the controversial (Trophy, which explores the intersection between commodification and conservation in South African big game hunting).


If You Like… Australian Films

Jungle pic

MIFF’s Premiere Fund for new Australian features is now ten years old and selected alumni films are getting revival screenings. Before seeing Amiel Courtin-Wilson’s ambitious new performance piece The Silent Eye, why not revisit Bastardy, his portrait of Uncle Jack Charles (Cleverman)?

You can also binge-watch the entire season of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake: China Girl, or watch Greg McLean’s adrenalin-pumping thriller Jungle (though traditionalists may prefer James Gray’s more contemplative jungle adventure, The Lost City of Z).

Gregory Erdstein’s Melbourne-made comedy feature That’s Not Me promises genuinely witty observations about the celebrity system — Junkee’s Matt Roden praised it in Sydney. Humiliated by constantly being mistaken for her internationally successful twin sister, failed actor Polly (the film’s co-writer Alice Foulcher) decides to head to LA, reasoning two can play at the fame game.


If You Like… Sci-Fi

Jon Hamm appears in Marjorie Prime by Michael Almereyda, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. © 2016 Sundance Institute | photo by Jason Robinette.

MIFF is full of science fiction gold this year. If you’re serious about the genre, the Astor Theatre’s overnight Sci-Fi Marathon mingles beloved schlock and rarities. Highlights include Nacho Vigalondo’s Timecrimes, David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ and 1986 Ozsploitation film Dead-End Drive In (set in the bad future of 1995). Two classic ’90s sci-fi films are also at MIFF: Alex Proyas’s cut of his 1998 film Dark City, and Kathryn Bigelow’s 1995 #BlackLivesMatter-anticipating Strange Days.

Elsewhere, delve into sci-fi history with stylish and influential 1963 Czechoslovakian masterpiece Ikarie XB-1, 1924 Soviet space opera Aelita, Queen of Mars, and groovy 1965 Euro-gladiatorial thriller The 10th Victim, which anticipates The Running Man and The Hunger Games. Jon Hamm plays a babelicious hologram in the Black Mirror-esque Marjorie Prime; and in Otherlife, Australian director Ben C Lucas imagines a drug that can trap you inside your own brain.


If You Like… Pear-Shaped Parties

rs-beatriz-at-dinner-cc4ebf39-4f3a-4324-9f4e-5281c4343232

The Late Show took the piss out of dinner parties, but how people socialise — and who’s invited — can reveal interesting fault lines of class and gender.

Playing against type as a prickly masseuse, Salma Hayek causes chaos at a bourgie do in the decidedly uncomfortable Beatriz at Dinner. Melbourne filmmaker Alethea Jones makes her feature debut with the bawdy parental caper Fun Mom Dinner. Then there’s The Square, this year’s Palme d’Or-winning dive into art-world mayhem by Swedish satirist Ruben Östlund (Force Majeure).

Kristin Scott Thomas heads an all-star British cast in Sally Potter’s pitch-black comedy of Brexit-era political hypocrisy, The Party. It’s part of an excellent retrospective of Potter’s work that includes her 2009 couture crime film Rage; The Gold Diggers, her black-and-white deconstruction of golden-age Hollywood femininity; and her 1992 adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando — the gender-fluid role Tilda Swinton was born to play.


If You Like… Strangeness and Ultraviolence

20170530023026623263

MIFF always delivers dark, deranged tales of victims and villains, and this year is no exception.

Greg McLean’s sardonic corporate death-match The Belko Experiment (written by Guardians of the Galaxy‘s James Gunn) chimes with Ana Asensio’s unnerving debut The Most Beautiful Island, in which an undocumented worker becomes an underground plaything for rich, cruel New Yorkers. In both films, paid employment is life-threatening.

Then there’s the seriously uncanny The Endless. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead write, direct and star as brothers who left a “UFO death cult” only to find the highly strange events predicted by the group are coming true.

Speaking of weird, Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Killing of a Sacred Deer re-teams the beguiling Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell in a modern twist on Euripides’ Iphigenia in Auris. And Eric Valette’s brutal fugitive thriller Thousand Cuts pits a farmhouse full of terrified French people against an implacable hitman (Terence Yin) who’s half Terminator, half Anton Chigurh.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 3-20. Check out the full program and buy tickets here.

Love film and TV? We’re holding our inaugural Video Junkee festival in July, a new annual event for lovers and creators of online video. Video Junkee is on July 28 & 29 at Carriageworks in Sydney, featuring keynotes, masterclasses, screenings, interviews and more. Tickets are on sale now.