It’s been over a week since #MIFF2016 came to a close and I’ve been turning the films I saw over in my mind. What has stayed with me? What has escaped me? What did I wish I hadn’t seen?
Emerging from MIFF is the cultural equivalent of getting the bends. At first you gulp furiously at the fresh air; you revel in the knowledge that you don’t have to scamper from venue to venue; you enjoy sitting down to a proper meal. But then the regret rises – you miss the anticipation as the lights dim; chatting to people you do not know and will probably never see again about the films they have seen; catching up with the other Miffers that you see each year…… My MIFF was somewhat truncated this year thanks to a nasty bout of gastro, but I still managed to clock up 37 films. What then were my highlights?
First off I have to mention the documentaries. I saw 10 in all, and think each and every one is well worth seeing so please keep an eye out for them either at the cinema or on SBS or the ABC.
Reset took us into the world of the Paris Opera Ballet under the then new Director Benjamin Millepied, who is trying to drag that institution, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century. In between meetings, interviews, photo shoots, we see him working on a new ballet with some of his young dancers from the corps de ballet, which will feature at the Annual Gala. Fascinating.
Sonita is a 14 year old Afghan refugee living in Iran who dreams of becoming a world famous rap singer. Her rap songs talk about life as a woman in her society. Meanwhile, her family back in Afghanistan are insistent that she returns home to marry so that her older brother can in turn marry using the money they will receive with Sonita’s marriage. The woman making the documentary gets involved – which is an interesting side story to the central drama of Sonita’s struggles to make her voice heard, both within her family, and to the wider world.
The Eagle Huntress was an audience favourite ( it came second in the People’s Choice Awards). The scenery is stunning, the real life characters entrancing, and the story is compelling. However, there is no doubt that the film makers have taken enormous liberties with this film, blurring the lines between documentary and feature film. It IS a true story, and the people in the film are the actual people but I thinklicence has been been taken with the storytelling chronology. Nevertheless, it is both an enjoyable and beautiful watch (although I found the narration by Daisy Ridley rather annoying).
Janis:Little Girl Blue offers us an intriguing insight into the life and times of Janis Joplin. The film relies on footage of Janis, old photographs, interviews with contemporaries and Janis’s letters home. I must admit to being in tears at the end.
Everything is Copy is a hugely enjoyable documentary about Nora Ephron, made by her son. How could this not be entertaining when we are dealing with a modern day Dorothy parker – her one liners were priceless.
The American Epic Sessions might have slightly outstayed its welcome at 2 hours, but for most of the time it was a hugely enjoyable filming of the recording sessions organised by Jack White (of the White Stripes) and T.Bone Burnett using a restored 1920’s 3 minute recording instrument. Twenty sessions are recorded, most of them recreating songs from the era. Toe tapping.
Sour Grapes is a fascinating expose of a major wine fraud conducted in America by a young Malaysian man living in the States. Amazing.
Starless Dreams is a heart wrenching documentary about a group of young Iranian women jailed for crimes ranging from theft to murder, and often involving drugs. The girls invariably come from poor and/or dysfunctional homes (so, what’s new), with little hope of a good life if and when they are released from jail.
Audrie and Daisy was another heart wrencher, telling as it does the story of 15 year old Audrie and 14 year old Daisy’s unrelated but similar sexual assaults. Tragically Audrie took her own life, but the truly amazing and courageous Daisy took her battle to the courts, to little avail. Should be shown in all high schools.
Winter at Wesbeth was at the other extreme – an uplifting paean to creativity in old age, and, providing public housing for artists. Wesbeth opened in 1970 – an apartment block in Manhattan’s West Village, dedicated to providing affordable housing for artists. We are invited into the lives of 3 of its long term residents – 95 year old Edith, an enthusiastic wearer of eyeliner and green eyeshadow who was an experimental dancer but has taken up film making at the age of 90; 81 year old Ilsa, a poet; and 75 year old Dudley, a legendary contemporary ballet dancer.
My Top Five Features
I saw many that I enjoyed but none that absolutely blew me away. These were my Top 5.
Born to be Blue was a biopic about the heroin addicted trumpet player, Chet Baker. The film covers the time in Baker’s life when he had to teach himself to play the trumpet again after a brutal bashing by his drug dealer over unpaid debts. The wonderful Ethan Hawke plays Chet Baker, and is mesmerising – just wait until he sings My Funny Valentine towards the end of the film.
Certain Women is the latest film by Kelly Reichardt, and is another quiet, understated slice of female life. I’m rather surprised it has ended up in my favourites because at first I walked out thinking, beautifully made but so what?? But, I have found that this film has haunted me – I keep seeing those wonderful women’s faces: Laura Dern, Michelle Williams, Kristen Stewart and Lily Gladstone (new to me, but a revelation). It’s a film based on three short stories. What’s it about? Loneliness I think.
The Salesman is the new film from the Iranian director of the wonderful A Separation. This is not as good as A Separation, but quite intriguing nonetheless. I especially mulled over what actually happened to the wife. Was she sexually assaulted? Was she beaten, or did she fall and hit her head in fright? Why is this important? Well, I think it provides an interesting context for the husband’s reactions, or over reactions. I am also a bit unsure about the parallels with The Death of a Salesman, the play that they are both acting in. Go and see it and see what you think.
Captain Fantastic was both funny and heartbreaking. The young actors were terrific, and it also stars the gorgeous Viggo Mortensen, so say no more Ladies.
The Red Turtle swept me up and kept me entranced for its 88 wordless minutes. Through hand drawn animation we watch as a ship wrecked man ends up creating a new life for himself. Beautiful.
And then there were these:
Don’t Call Me Son is a Brazilian film about family. Young Pierre, who is finding his way in the world, both sexually and artistically, has his life turned upside down when it is revealed that his ‘mother’ stole him from the hospital as a baby. He struggles to accept his real family, as they do him. Maybe a little bit too much cross dressing for me.
Lovesong was a quietly beautiful film about female love, opportunities not taken, feelings not expressed. The two lead actresses were difficult to tear your eyes away from.
Death in Sarajevo. Although there was quite a bit of talking heads, and speechifying (and also lots of walking across polished floors in high heels), I found it a fascinating and clever insight into Balkan politics.
Clash was another engrossing political film, this time based in Cairo and the clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood supporters and those supporting the military who ousted the President. The film takes place within the confines of the back of a divvy van, where two journalists covering the strife, and supporters from both sides have been imprisoned by the military. This setting becomes a microcosm for the ‘troubles’ besetting Egypt at the time.
The Unknown Girl proved to be a frustrating film. It is the latest offering from the Dardenne Brothers but far from their best. The lead character lacks plausibility as she stoically puts herself into potentially dangerous situations, all because she didn’t answer the bell after hours. And why does she become so obsessed with the intern’s fate, who spat the dummy upon minor provocation? I tell you, if France’s public health system is anything like portrayed here I’m moving there now – the GP’s give you their mobile number; they make house calls at any hour of the day, weekends and weekdays; and accept goods instead of payment.
Harmonium shows us the disruption that a stranger in the midst can wreck upon a small family unit where the husband/father is disengaged, and the stranger is intent upon revenge.
Girl Asleep. I throughly enjoyed this little Australian film until 3/4 of the way through, when it spent way too long in a silly dream fantasy sequence. Up until then, the quirkiness and the acting, particularly of Harrison Feldman, playing Elliot, was lots of fun.
Little Men was a study of class, the importance of childhood friendships, and the power of passive resistance – oh, and the gentrification of Brooklyn.
The Bacchus Lady provided a fascinating insight into what it is like to be old, and poor, in South Korea. A bacchus lady is an elderly prostitute who solicits elderly gentleman for sex, usually by ‘selling’ bottles of Bacchus energy drink. Apparently the poverty rate amongst single women aged over 65 is 77% – thus, bacchus women are common sights. Our Bacchus Lady is So-young, who finds herself offering more than sex to her elderly clients. A highly topical film about ageing and end of life decisions.
The Black Hen is worth seeing for the stunning Himalayan scenery alone, but also for the fact that it is based in a corner of Nepal that we rarely see, and around a ‘war’ I know little about – the Maoist Rebellion of 1996 – 2006.
And, three that took me by surprise…..
Mercenary. Rugby and violence. Why was I here? It filled in a time slot. But, I found this film a little gem. Convincing performances from a largely non professional cast, I found myself fiercely rooting for the fortunes of this loyal, proud, shy young man to change.
Apprentice. New prison guard Aiman becomes an apprentice hangman to longtime hangman Rahim, who, as it turns out, executed Aiman’s criminal father. Go with me on this – much better than it sounds, and way less gruesome.
The Happiest day in the Life of Olli Maki. Me at a boxing film, what was I thinking, but this turned out to be a little black & white charmer, with not too much boxing in it. It’s about love, and how countries idolise their sporting heroes who are ultimately, just men (and women).
And finally, my Don’t Bother list
Mammal starred our own Rachel Griffiths as an Australian living in Ireland and estranged from her ex husband and son, who it turns out she left with husband as an infant. She leads a quiet, contained life that is disturbed by her ex coming to tell her that their son is missing. She immediately comes across and then helps a youth hurt in the back laneway, and although we all know he is a bad egg she invites him to come and stay. I found this film both highly unbelievable and deeply disturbing, icky in fact. I was praying that it didn’t descend into her having sex with this boy, but I’m afraid my prayers were unanswered. But, she’s a good swimmer! I would have been much more interested in the story behind why she abandoned her baby son.
Sunset Song. I really wanted to love this new film from Terence Davies but although it looked gorgeous I was left feeling , but so ……… what’s the point? It is an epic tale, lovingly told but at 135 minutes long had me nodding off I’m afraid. And, when are they going to put sub titles for any Scottish film? Half of it was unintelligable!
Family Film . I’m guessing that this probably won’t make it to a screen near you, but just in case, don’t bother. Why on earth would you leave a 16 year old and 14 year old alone in an apartment and go round the world sailing, and think everything will be fine? And yes, there is a gorgeous border collie in the film, but do we really need to have lots of screen time devoted to watching his exploits stranded on a tropical island? No.
Hedi. Sorry, but I just wanted to shake this passive lump of a man and tell him to grow up.