Tuesday, July 31, 2007

MIFF Day 7

I only saw one film at MIFF today. With evening French classes, I needed a bit of free time to regroup my energies for some of the heavier days ahead. I'm hoping to see four tomorrow, but we'll see if that eventuates. I met a MIFF regular yesterday whoMIFF is a marathon, not a sprint.

Maborosi (Maboroshi no hikari, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 1995)
Not having seen a Kore-eda film before, the style of this film took a while to get a handle on. It is a film about grieving, about loss. A young woman with a newly born child loses her husband, who has apparently committed suicide. There is little dialogue and little development of relationship dynamics with much of the gaps to be filled in by the imagination of the audience. The film had the style of a 1970's art film and with a disappointingly scratchy print, it certainly looked it. There was a sense of timelessness about the film.

Kore-eda has an aesthetic that won't appeal to the casual film-goer. It is very slow-moving, and some of the indoor shots are quite dark. After a while, I got the sense that the viewer's attention is not meant to take in the whole screen, but rather parts of the screen such as the illuminated side of a woman's face in a dark room or the shapes of people reflected in water. Kore-eda seems fascinated with light and exploration of its use. Frames of illuminated subjects are contained within the larger screen frame. Light reflects of different surfaces, and at different times of the day. This is a film where you really need to 'get in the zone'.

I liked the film. It rewards the patient viewer and the ending was very moving. A repeat viewing will enhance my appreciation and I look forward to seeing more of Kore-eda's films at MIFF.

Maborosi had a single screening at MIFF as part of the Hirokazu Kore-eda retrospective.

Also still to be screened: Nobody Knows, Hana (Kore-eda's most recent film, which has two screenings), Distance, & After Life.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Monday, July 30, 2007

MIFF Day 6

Vengeance is Mine (Fukushû suruwa wareniari , Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1979)
This is my first viewing of any Imamura film, and I'm intending to see all seven screening as part of the MIFF retrospective. This film shows confident directing skills, with great camera techniques, character development and narrative. Basically, it's the fictional story of a serial murderer, Iwao Enokizu, whose identity is known to police but eludes capture. It is quite challenging in its depictions of sex and violence, showing with much realism these activities as well as life at the lower end of the social ladder in transitional post-war Japan.

At 140 minutes, the film is quite long but always engaging. It shifts between different periods, elusively offering some clues as to why the anti-hero developed his pathology, but never definitively answering the inevitable question of why.

For me, film is a form of personal and artistic exploration. At this stage, Imamura is new to me and I'm keen to see more of his work to get a better sense of what he's about. I expect to have more to write about the commonality in the films once I've seen more of them.

Vengeance is Mine had a single screening at MIFF as part of the Shohei Imamura retrospective.
Also still to be screened: The Ballad of Narayama, Black Rain, Eijanaika, Intentions of Murder, A Man Vanishes & The Pornographers.

I Am the Other Woman (Ich bin die Andere, Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 2006)
Ah, it had to happen soon or later - my first dud. I could have walked out of this film at any time after five minutes or so, but it was tolerable. A man is engaged to marry but falls for another woman, who has a personality disorder. It starts off with all the psychology of a Hitchcock thriller but ends up being way too contrived. I was able to anticipate all the surprises.

While the film's visuals were excellent and had a reasonable cast, there were serious problems:
  • none of the characters had any chemistry and it was impossible to suspend disbelief
  • characters were caricatured
  • the screenplay was very weak, like a run-of-the-mill Hollywood movie
  • an ending that was truly bad, bad, bad (and also predictable)
There were lots of smaller complaints, like gratuitous sex that did nothing to drive the narrative, or the film's length overstaying it's welcome (it had the "but wait, there's more" syndrome), and probably others that I've forgotten already. My opinion on this one was pretty much agreed upon by the others I sat with, one another film blogger and the other a board member of ACMI. While I'm told this director has a reputable body of work (I haven't seen any of them), don't waste your time on this one.

I Am the Other Woman screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It screens again on Tuesday 7 August at 9.15pm at the Forum Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Sunday, July 29, 2007

MIFF Day 5

While I think the inclusion of children's programming is a great innovation at MIFF, I find it disappointing that only four of the eleven films in the Next Gen strand are screening on weekends. It really limits what us cinephile parents can take our children to. Yes, today it was family day for the Melbourne Film Blogger, so we caught one children's film, and only one other (child-free).

Kidz in da Hood (Förortsungar, Ylva Gustavsson & Ylva Gustavsson, Sweden, 2006)
Kidz in da Hood screened as part of MIFF's Next Gen strand for children. MIFF notes recommended it for audiences aged 12+, though in the absence of much children's cinema, and with my 6 year old having had much access to adult world cinema, I had no hesitation in taking him. While the film has "mild sexual references and mild coarse language", it really shouldn't be an issue for anyone but the most prudish.

The film depicts an orphaned nine year old refugee facing deportation from Sweden and how she finds shelter in a run-down public housing block, staying with a punk rocker. For me, a good children's film should cater for all ages, including adults, which means not underestimating the intelligence of children. Kidz in da Hood doesn't quite meet this criteria, yet my son enjoyed it immensely, as did the group of several children in front of us aged 8 - 12.

While I found the ample use of music a little corny, it should be enjoyable for children. The film tackles issues of ethnicity, acceptance, crime and humanitarianism in a manner that is digestible for children, so is worth seeing for that alone. My son gave it 3.5 out of 5 stars. Kidz in da Hood screened as part of MIFF's Next Gen and has no further screenings.

Alexandra (Aleksandra, Alexander Sokourov, Russia/France, 2007)
This film makes a good accompaniment to Beaufort, which I saw the night before this. Both use similar visual techniques and both are war films with subtle anti-war messages. While Beaufort is more a psychological thriller where attack is all around, there is no action in Alexandra - it is all raw human drama, but in a war context.

Aleksandra is an elderly woman who visits her grandson, a Russian army officer, at his army camp inside Chechnya. The entirety of the film follows Aleksandra, including her lengthy journey on the train with other soldiers, her arrival and the interactions she has with various incidental characters. The film has sparse dialogue and uses washed out colours that sometimes border on monotone. It took a little while to adjust to this, and then it formed a natural part of the overall feel of the film.

The film is very observational, capturing the strength of character of this feisty woman who is intimidated by neither the macho Russian soldiers questioning her identity and what she is doing in this godforsaken place (in the middle of a scorching summer), nor by the hostile Chechnyans whose towns have been obliterated by the Russian army. Any critique of war is subtle and in passing. Even if this is the director's primary intent, he keeps the focus on the humanistic elements of the film. There is excellent character development, and the naturalistic depictions of camaraderie and bonding of unlikely friends is very moving. This is a well-written, original and quietly accomplished film.

Alexandra screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 3.10pm at the Regent Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Saturday, July 28, 2007

MIFF Day 4

Another three films were today viewed by the Melbourne Film Blogger today and again it was an excellent range of world cinema. The observant may have noticed that my previous MIFF reviews have been posted in the wee hours of the morning. Sleep deprivation has prevented me from seeing The Bubble tonight, and with the other screening clashing with my booking for Inland Empire, I'm going to miss it at MIFF. I've heard good things about it so hopefully it will get a cinema release in the future.

I also got to meet in person two fellow bloggers today, Mathieu Ravier from Last Night With Riviera (
my favourite Australian film blog) - we saw The Mourning Forest together - and Richard Watts from Man About Town, while he was chatting to the director of Savage Grace, Tom Kalin (who I also exchanged words with), at the ACMI lounge.

The Mourning Forest
(Mogari no mori, Naomi Kawase, Japan, 2007)

I found The Mourning Forest a poetic and hauntingly beautiful meditation on death, old age, sadness and letting go. I haven't actively sought films that fit into the 'contemplative cinema' category at MIFF, but this is one of several I've seen so far.

The film is effectively a two-hander: Shigeki, an elderly and energetic resident of a retirement home, and Machiko, a young and inexperienced caregiver. The film focuses on their interactions and what happens when Machiko takes Shigeki for a drive on his birthday. While other characters assume fleeting roles, there is a recurring theme of death and mourning, a point that is reinforced by both the title and on-screen comments at film's end. While this may sound morbid, it is anything but.

The cinematography is stunning, capturing the beauty of wind-swept fields, overhead shots of finely-trimmed symmetrical arrays of hedges, and mountain forest scenery. There are long takes where nothing of much significance seems to transpire and yet the film remains completely engaging. The human drama is depicted as inexplicably linked to nature, a poetic theme that Japanese cinema sometimes conveys so effectively. This is one of ten or so films that Richard Moore has brought to MIFF straight from Cannes (it won this year's Grand Prix) and I highly recommend it.

The Mourning Forest
screened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 1pm at the Forum Theatre.

Dry Season (Daratt, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, 2006)
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun's story is remarkable in it's starkness of setting - the desert of Chad - and in the manner in which it unfolds. Like the previous film reviewed (The Mourning Forest), this is a two-hander in which there is very little dialogue - one can't talk and the other won't. This creates an almost surreal element to the film, where hatred seethes through silent glares.

When the Chad Commission for Truth and Justice grants amnesty to some 200 war criminals, the elderly Gumar Abatcha gives his dead son's pistol to his orphaned grandson Atim and dispatches him to kill the murderer of Atim's father. Living far away, Nassara is a dangerous man who now ekes out a living as a baker, trying to forget his past. When Atim finds him, he insinuates himself into Nassara's life with the intent of exacting revenge. Dry Season would make an excellent companion film to Death and the Maiden (1994), Roman Polanski's thrilling film version of a play about political repression and revenge in Central America.

At the risk of sounding repetitive, I find it unfortunate that we have to wait for festivals to see films like this. It depicts a culture we know virtually nothing about, is visually stunning and was thoroughly engaging. Another excellent film.

Dry Season won five awards at the 2006 Venice Film Festival and screened as part of MIFF's Africa! Africa! It screens again on Monday 6 August at 5pm at the Regent Theatre.

Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2007)
I'm not a fan of the war genre, but Beaufort plays out more as a psychological thriller, and I find it hard to fault. There was an amazing blend of naturalism, stylistic devices, humour, touching human drama and suspense - at one time I jumped in my seat like I never have before.

The camera movements and cinematography are excellent and reinforce a sense of claustrophobia as a group of Israeli soldiers keep guard at an historic fort within southern Lebanon, but are virtually under seige by Hezbollah forces. Character development is also excellent with much authenticity. The film focuses on the idiosyncrasies of various characters and how they interact with each other under the circumstances. Respect for the commanding officer is sometimes lacking, resulting in a lack of discipline and friction at a difficult time.

I count this film as one of my favourite films in the genre, kind of a cross between Stanley Kubrick's Full Metal Jacket and Sam Mendes' Jarhead, and as good as either of these. Like these two films, there is an understated political critique in how young men are pawns in the games played by those who live comfortably aware from the field of battle and death. Whether you like war films or not, this is must-see cinema.

won the Silver Bear Award at this year’s Berlin Film Festival and screened as part of MIFF's Stars of David. It screens again on Saturday 11 August at 7pm at the Forum Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Index of MIFF Reviews

View all reviews (in chronological order as screened, from most recent) OR

Select individual reviews (listed alphabetically):
After Life (Wandâfuru raifu, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 1998)
Alexandra (Aleksandra, Alexander Sokourov, Russia/France, 2007)
The Ballad of Narayama
(Narayama bushiko, Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1983)
Beaufort (Joseph Cedar, Israel, 2007)
Belle Toujours (Manoel de Oliveira, Manoel de Oliveira, Portugal/France 2006)
Black Rain (Kuroi ame, Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1989)
The Boss of It All (Direktøren for det hele, Lars Von Trier, Denmark, 2006)
Brand Upon the Brain! (Guy Maddin, USA/Canada, 2006)
Breath (Soom, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, 2007)
Distance (Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2001)
Dry Season (Daratt, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Chad/France/Belgium/Austria, 2006)
Eijanaika (Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1981)
Fay Grim (Hal Hartley, USA, 2006)
Kidz in da Hood (Förortsungar , Ylva Gustavsson & Ylva Gustavsson, Sweden, 2006)
Half Moon (Niwemang, Bahman Ghobadi, Iran/Iraq/Austria/France, 2006)
Hana (Hana yori mo naho, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2006)
The Hottest State (Ethan Hawke, 2006)
I am the Other Woman (Ich bin die Andere, Margarethe von Trotta, Germany, 2006)
I Don't Want to Sleep Alone
(Hei yan quan, Tsai Ming-Liang, Taiwan/Malaysia/China/France/Austria, 2006)
Inland Empire (David Lynch, USA, 2006)
Intentions of Murder (aka Unholy Desire) (Akai satsui, Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1964)
Maborosi (Maboroshi no hikari, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 1995)
The Man From London (Bela Tarr, France/Germany/Hungary/UK, 2007)
A Man Vanishes (Ningen Johatsu, Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1967)
Mister Lonely (Harmony Korine, UK/France, 2007)
The Monastery (Pernille Rose Grønkjaer, Denmark, 2006)
The Mourning Forest (Mogari no mori, Naomi Kawase, Japan, 2007)
The Night of Truth
(La nuit de la vérité, Fanta Régina Nacro, Burkino Faso, 2004)
Nobody Knows
(Dare mo shiranai, Hirokazu Kore-eda, Japan, 2004)
Remember My Name (Bowen Duffy, 12 min, Australia, 2007)
Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA, 2007)
Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2007)
Sicko (Michael Moore, USA, 2007) - opening night film
The Silence (Tystnaden, Ingmar Bergman, Sweden, 1963)
Snow Angels (David Gordon Green, Canada, 2007)
Still Life (Sanxia haoren, Jia Zhang-Ke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)
Syndromes and a Century (Sang sattawat, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Thailand/France/Austria, 2006)
This is England (Shane Meadows, England, 2006) - closing night film
Tuya's Marriage (Tuya de hun shi, Wang Quan'an, China, 2006)
Vengeance is Mine (Fukushû suruwa wareniari , Shohei Imamura, Japan, 1979)
Woman on the Beach (Haebyonui yoin, Hong Sang-soo, South Korea, 2006)

OR select chronologically:
Day 1 pt.1 & pt.2: Wed 25 July
Day 2: Thu 26 July

Day 3: Fri 27 July

Day 4: Sat 28 July

Day 5: Sun 29 July

Day 6: Mon 30 July

Day 7: Tue 31 July

Day 8: Wed 1 August

Day 9: Thu 2 August

Day 10: Fri 3 August

Day 11: Sat 4 August
Day 12: Sun 5 August
Day 13: Mon 6 August
Day 14: Tue 7 August
Day 15: Wed 8 August
Day 16: Thu 9 August
Day 17: Fri 10 August
Day 18: Sat 11 August
Day 19: Sun 12 August

MIFF Day 3

Day 3 of the festival and three more screenings attended. My research has paid off - so far no duds.

The Monastery
(Pernille Rose Grønkjaer, Denmark, 2006)
Mr. Jørgen Laursen Vig decided towards the end of his life that the somewhat delapidated castle he’d owned for forty years in the Danish countryside could be best put to use as a Russian Orthodox monastery. He contacted the Patriarchate in Moscow, who sent a delegation to investigate. The Monastery documents the arrival of the delegation (of two nuns, a novice and the van driver) and subsequent discussions and negotiations between various parties.

At one stage, the negotiations appear to be at a stalemate as the delegation returns to Moscow, and no word is heard for many months. Mr. Vig appears to be at least partly motivated by self-interest (he wants pilgrims to stay and maintain the building), and his demands are sometimes met with amusement by the Russians.

The most captivating aspect of the film is Vig himself and his many idiosyncrasies. Not only does he look like someone from another century, but he is stuck in his ways and he admits it. He doesn’t like the nuns and mentions he doesn’t get on well with people. He has only been fond of one person in his life and he’s long dead – his father. Vig didn’t relate particularly well with his mother, which he attributes to her nose. Vig has a thing about noses. And ears, too!

The Monastery won the The FIPRESCI Award for Best Documentary at The Sydney Film Festival. It’s not an insightful documentary, but it’s what you might call a human interest film and is entertaining.

The Monastery screened as part of MIFF's Documentaries. It screens again on Sun 31 July at 11am at the Regent Theatre. Official website.

Still Life (Sanxia haoren, Jia Zhang-Ke, China/Hong Kong, 2006)
Ancient towns have been submerged along the Yangtse River in China as part of the Three Gorges Dam project. Jia Zhang-Ke has created a contemplative and compassionate human drama set in the region, depicting two separate protagonists attempting to locate missing ones who lived in areas now underwater.

I'm not a great fan of high definition digital video photography, but this sublime film takes advantage of the benefits of the technology while avoiding most of the pitfalls. I was seriously sleep-deprived while watching the film and never got close to nodding off, even though there are very long takes where little seems to happen. Yet in the long takes, there are many passing details, the beautiful movements of the camera taking in rich and authentic details of people, situations, implements, household paraphernalia and gorgeous sweeping vistas. The latter appeared to be enhanced using filters, which seemed to compensate for the loss of aesthetics that comes from not shooting on 35mm film. This film was visually beautiful, though that really only served what was an extremely well-made film.

As a fan of world cinema, I found the attention to detail fascinating. The director seems to be sharing the idiosyncrasies of the struggling local culture, customs and demeanour with a real sense of compassion. I found it poetic, uplifting and moving. Paraphrasing MIFF executive director Richard Moore who quoted the director (and who was in attendance as a guest of the festival) in introducing the film: "I originally wanted to make films that would change the world... I now realise this is not possible, and I just wish to make films that make people sigh." It worked with me.

The session I attended sold out. Still Life sscreened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Tue 7 August at 7pm at the Regent Theatre.

Savage Grace (Tom Kalin, Spain/USA, 2007)
Having seen quite a few films produced by Christine Vachon, I recognised a similar aesthetic in this film. Vachon's films often portray unconventional sexuality or other challenging social themes, but in a stylised way that is more accessible to wider audiences than grittier arthouse films. This film would make a terrific companion piece to Christophe Honoré's Ma mère, as it tackles similarly challenging themes, though it is based on a true story and is much more digestible for audiences. The parallels between these stories are remarkable.

Julianne Moore is an actress I admire and takes top billing. Her performance was as good as usual, portraying
Barbara Daly Baekeland, wife of the Bakelite heir. Eddie Redmayne's portrayal of her homosexual son was for me the stand-out performance. The film is set in various countries - the US, France, Spain and England - and the visuals are excellent. It takes a while to get a handle on where the film wants to take us, but it culminates in a chilling end. Worth seeing for the brave risks it takes and succeeds in delivering.

The screening I attended was introduced by the director, Tom Kalin, who mentioned this was only the third ever screening of the film. Savage Grace screened as part of MIFF's Forbidden Pleasures. It screens again on Sun 12 August at 3pm at the Forum Theatre.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Friday, July 27, 2007

MIFF Day 2

Day 2 of MIFF, and the first 'real' day of screenings. I managed three films, which is about as much as I want to see in a day (I'm concerned about film-fatigue). Each of the three films was very different to the other, and I enjoyed them all.

Tuya's Marriage (Tuya de hun shi, Wang Quan'an, China, 2006)
This is an exotic film that recalls other indigenous Mongolian tales by Byambasuren Davaa such as The Story of the Weeping Camel (2003) or The Cave of the Yellow Dog (2005). It also has much in common with the Tibetan film Himalaya (1999) and rural Iranian cinema. The story, like that in each of these other films, is very simple - a woman's husband is incapacitated and she seeks a new man who will support the old.

The cinematography is beautiful with the harshness of the inner Mongolian landscape captured aesthetically. Dialogue is sparse, and the film is very observational, documenting a way of life that is gradually receding into the past. The herding and riding of animals, the digging of wells, the visits from potential suitors and other aspects of rural life are nicely captured, and contrast against the oncoming tide of modernity.

Thematically, the film has more in common with Breaking the Waves (1996), my favourite Lars von Trier film. There is both humour and heartbreak as the story unfolds. I didn't find the film quite as effective as Weeping Camel but a nice bit of cultural diversity that's worth seeing to break up some of the more challenging films I'm planning to see at MIFF.

Tuya's Marriage
screened as part of MIFF's World Stories. It screens again on Sunday 29 July at 3.10pm at the Forum Theatre.

Breath (Soom, Kim Ki-duk, South Korea, 2007)
This is the third film I have seen by Kim Ki-duk. Each one has been very different to the other, and I have loved them all. Address Unknown was bleak and emotionally challenging, Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring was beautifully poetic, while Breath is hard to describe. It has aspects of the earlier films - it's visually poetic and bleak - but it's very different to both most notably for its surreal/absurdist devices combined with very black humour (slightly reminiscent of some of the work of Raúl Ruiz).

Sparse dialogue makes for great intrigue as we attempt to make sense of the two main protagonists and what they have in common. One, a man on death row, the other a suburban mother who follows news of his exploits on the TV. To discuss how the story unfolds is to spoil the film if you haven't watched it. However, the story is so elusive, that even with the details, much remains unexplained, adding to the mystique of the film. The prisoner does not speak during the film and the mother does not speak to her family; she is on screen for about twenty minutes before we hear a word uttered from her mouth.

There is a really competent and confident film-maker at work in Kim Ki-duk, and he's not afraid to experiment. Beautifully photographed in winter, the use of steel/blue tones indoors accentuates the sense of cold and contrasts some of the surreal aspects. The film is contemplative, giving one ample opportunity to appreciate the superb visual aesthetics and make sense of the narrative. I enjoyed this film immensely, and highly recommend it.

screened as part of MIFF's Neighbourhood Watch. It screens again on Sunday 12 August at 11am at the Forum Theatre.

Shotgun Stories (Jeff Nichols, USA, 2007)
This is a chilling film made with minimal resources that grabs you by the jugular and doesn't let go - a family tragedy that reeks of Shakespeare. A father has died leaving two sets of sons behind (by different mothers). The older sons were abandoned when young and when they turn up at the funeral held by the younger sons, old hostilities surface. Much of the narrative unfolds without explicit explanation, and often with minimal dialogue. We get into the minds of the various protagonists largely by their actions.

Set in the cotton-growing region of Arkansas, it gives a view of Americans struggling in semi-rural life. The film cast is mostly with unknown actors and this is a strength that adds a level of realism to a film. While there is a sense of dreaded inevitability throughout, there is plenty of room for the unexpected, but not in a contrived Hollywood manner. The film is both very well written and impeccably directed. Remarkably, this is a directorial debut by Jeff Nichols who also wrote and produced the film. He is definitely a talent to watch.

As a slight negative, I don't know if it was the film or the venue (the RMIT Capitol theatre), but the visuals and sound didn't seem quite up to scratch. This bothered me slightly at the start, but once the story got into gear (pretty early in the piece), it was barely noticeable. I found the music enjoyable.

Shotgun Stories
screened as part of MIFF's International Panorama. It screens again on Monday 6 August at 7pm at the Regent Theatre. Official website.

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Upcoming Melbourne film events

For those who are festival shy or just can't make it to MIFF, there are other film events happening outside of the event up to the end of August. For example:
  • Cinema Nova's Puglia Film Festival starts today and runs to Sunday. It includes 6 features and a number of shorts from contemporary Italian directors. If it weren't for MIFF, I'd be there. More details.
  • Nova is also hosting a one day event: Africa's Last Colony – Western Sahara in Film on Wed 1 August. There's three sessions: 12pm, 2.30pm & 5.30pm. "Film-makers from Australia, Uganda, Zimbabwe, USA, UK and Spain have all been moved to give the Saharawi people a voice so they might show their situation to the world on film. Their work reflects both an emerging cinema of Africa and the difficulty of getting your voice heard in a noisy world." More details.
  • Kino Dendy have a preview screening of Burke and Wills followed by a Q&A session at 6.30pm on Wed 8 August. Burke and Wills is an unconventional effort with interesting results, made on a low budget by Oliver Torr and Matthew Zeremes, who star in the film and will be attending the Q&A. The film opens for a limited season at the Dendy on the following day. More details.
  • Inside Paris and Sicko open in cinemas on 9 Aug.
  • Les Enfants du Paradis (Marcel Carné, France, 1945) screens at the Astor Theatre on Wed 15 Aug.
  • ACMI is hosting the inaugural Australian Malaysian Film Festival over the weekend of 18 - 19 August with three films: The Red Kebaya, Chermin and Puteri gunung ledang. I'm always up for a new film festival and will definitely try to check out this one. More details.
  • The AFI screenings commence on Monday 20 August at the Como cinema with Rolf de Heer's Dr Plonk (which I believe is completely full), and continues with screenings of the other AFI award contenders over the following three weekends. These screenings are free for AFI members, who are invited to vote on their favourite films. More details.
  • After the break for MIFF, Melbourne Cinémathèque screenings resume on Wed 22 August at 7pm with screenings of Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., Eric von Stroheim's Queen Kelly and Alan Schneider's Film by Samuel Beckett. More details.
  • Not really a film event, but something I plan to attend is a poetry reading, Poets Against the War. Fellow blogger Alison Croggon of Theatre Notes and others "discuss Iraq and how the small clear voice of poets can break through the rhetoric". It's on at the Beckett Theatre, 1.30pm - 2.30pm on Sun 26 August. More details.
  • The Astor Theatre has a Polanski double on Mon 27 August at 7.30pm with Repulsion and Cul-de-sac.
Check the respective links for further information. These and other events may be found in Melbourne Film Blog's Calendar of Film Events in the sidebar.

GetUp clip

I just received the latest GetUp newsletter and couldn't resist posting this.


Thursday, July 26, 2007

MIFF Day 1 - Opening Night pt.2

Sicko (Michael Moore, USA, 2007)
This was a great choice of opening night film. Controversial, entertaining, socially and politically relevant, it had people in their seats in animated conversation after the film ended, continuing to the after-party. What more could you want?

Michael Moore is always good value - when he's good he’s good, and when he’s bad, he’s better. A buzz preceded the film and for good reason. No doubt the buzz will grow locally.

Ever since his 1989 debut with Roger and Me, continuing with his TV series The Awful Truth (which screened here some years ago on SBS) and his more recent Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 911, Moore has shown he has a knack for making serious social and political issues accessible and digestible for cinema audiences. Using irony, sarcasm, humour and entertaining visuals along with serious explorations of the truth, he has been credited with a major revival in documentary. So much attention does he command that now a documentary has been made about him: Manufacturing Dissent: Michael Moore and the Media, also screening at MIFF, challenges the methods used by Moore.

The failings of the US health system are reasonably well known – the wealthiest country in the world does not provide adequate care for the health of its citizens to the extent that life expectancy is relatively low (just above Cuba). Some may question how relevant a film about the US health system is to us as Australians? Well, quite a lot, actually. More on this soon.

The film starts off with a few case studies of individuals who have been denied cover by their health insurance companies. Moore’s methodology is similar to that employed in Bowling For Columbine. All his films could be called ‘agenda films’, but like Columbine, there was a lot of investigative work in order to uncover various rorts, bad practices and political conniving.

Hilary Clinton put much effort into promoting a national health scheme in the early days of her husband’s presidency and was subjected to a massive demonisation program by the conservatives that basically killed the idea. “Terrible waiting lists”, “poor standards of health”, “lack of choice of doctor” were various doom and gloom predictions by the Republicans.

Much of the film is spent demonstrating how false this propaganda was. Moore travels to various countries interviewing families, patients and medical staff to get their perspectives on the local health systems. This is where the relevance to Australia comes in. The systems in Canada, England, France and even Cuba are all better than ours – but are strangely similar to what we once had. Under the current government (though certainly not started by it), we are clearly moving in the direction of the US model (and not just in industrial relations). We have much to fear.

There were many profound moments in the film:

  • A young French man who had lived all his adult life in the US but found he had to move back to France when he was injured, in order to get medical treatment.
  • A community of Americans living in France who couldn’t believe how good the health and social welfare system was compared to home (Moore suggests this may be why the US is quick to alienate or denigrate France). One woman was brought to tears when she described the guilt she feels for accepting the benefits that France provides. As someone with a strong attraction to France, this gave me even more reason to want to go there.
  • One of the most profound moments was when a group of 911 volunteer rescue workers travels with Moore to Cuba, and the reception they received from this so-called evil nation. It brought this writer to tears.

There are many details I’d like to relay, but I've got to race out the door for my next MIFF screening. Best you go see this excellent and timely film for yourself.

Sicko screened as part of MIFF's Documentaries. It screens again on Sat 4 August at 9.35pm at the Regent Theatre, and is being released nationally on 9 August.

Opening Night pt.1 / Other MIFF-related posts / MIFF website

MIFF - Sold Out Sessions

As far as I can ascertain, this is the complete list of films that sold out at MIFF 2007:
  • Vitus, 10am Fri 27 July at ACMI
  • Still Life, 7.10pm Fri 27 July at the Forum
  • Corroboree, 7.20pm Fri 27 July at ACMI
  • Savage Grace, 9.15pm Fri 27 July at the Capitol
  • Accelerator Program, 3pm Sat 28 July at ACMI
  • Exterminating Angels, 9.20pm Fri 27 July at ACMI
  • Exit, 7pm Mon 30 July at the Forum
  • Buy a Ticket, 9pm Mon 30 July at Greater Union
  • Short & Local, 7pm Tue 31 July at Greater Union
  • Control, Wed 1 Aug at the Regent
  • Words from the City, 9.25pm Thu 2 Aug at ACMI
  • The Workshop, 7pm Fri 3 Aug at ACMI
  • Teeth, 7pm Fri 3 Aug at the Capitol Theatre
  • Manufacturing Dissent: Michael Moore and the Media, 7.15pm Fri 3 Aug at Greater Union
  • Dirty Three, 9pm Fri 3 Aug at Greater Union
  • September, 9pm Fri 3 Aug at the Capitol
  • Billy The Kid, 7.40pm Sat 4 Aug at ACMI
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, 9.15pm Sat 4 Aug at the Forum
  • In the Company of Actors, 1pm Sun 5 Aug at Greater Union
  • Beyond Our Ken, 3pm Sun 5 Aug at ACMI
  • Hana, 3pm Sun 5 Aug at the Forum
  • Bella, 5.30pm Sun 5 Aug at the Forum
  • The Armstrongs – The Movie, 7.3pm Sun 5 Aug at ACMI
  • Inland Empire, 9pm Tue 7 August at ACMI
  • I Served the King of England, 7pm Wed 8 Aug at the Forum
  • Little Red Flowers, 1pm Thu 9 Aug at ACMI
  • Spicks and Specks Trivia Night, 7pm Thu 9 August at the Forum
  • I Served the King of England, 7.15pm Thu 9 Aug at the Capitol
  • Paprika, 7.30pm Thu 9 Aug at the Forum
  • Inland Empire, 9.15pm Thu 9 August at the Forum
  • Azur and Asmar, 1pm Fri 10 August at ACMI
  • Lagerfeld Confidential, 5pm Fri 10 Aug at the Capitol
  • Once, 7pm Fri 10 Aug at ACMI
  • Hope, 9pm Fri 10 Aug at ACMI
  • The Holy Mountain, 11pm Fri 10 Aug at the Capitol
  • Black Sheep, 7.15pm Sat 11 Aug at the Capitol
  • Zoo, 9.15pm Sat 11 Aug at ACMI
  • Control, 9.20pm Sat 11 Aug at the Forum
  • Savage Grace, 3pm Sun 12 Aug at the Forum
  • The Man From London, 5pm Sun 12 Aug at the Forum
  • 4 Months, 3 Weeks And 2 Days, 5.10pm Sun 12 Aug at the Regent
  • Scott Walker – 30th Century Man, 7.30pm Sun 12 Aug at ACMI
  • Manufacturing Dissent: Michael Moore and the Media, 7.30pm Sun 12 Aug at ACMI
  • This is England, 7.30pm Sun 12 Aug at the Forum (closing night film)

MIFF Day 1 - Opening Night pt.1

Surprise local short opens the festival
There was a surprise short documentary prior to the screening of the official opening night film, Sicko. Remember My Name is a subversive project that was conceived, written, produced and co-directed (with two others) by local film-maker Bowen (Bo) Duffy. I have met Bo several times with another of the film's participant's at a certain inner city cafe.

The film took much planning, six weeks of rehearsals by a team of thirty and resulted in taking over the Bourke St. Mall for all of four minutes one day last December. Without any official permission, a ute fully laiden with equipment set up opposite Myers, trams were prevented from entering the Mall at all costs and the participants – with no form of identification on their bodies – mingled into the shopping crowd. About ten others armed with video cameras posed as tourists, but whose actual aim was to document the about-to-unfold subversion.

I won’t spoil the surprise by revealling what took place. Much of the film’s twelve minutes contained interviews with participants talking elusively about what was to transpire, the significance of it and why they chose to be involved. There was a couple of characters whose ad lib dialogues were absolute gems. This was an excellent programming choice for opening the festival – it’s local, subversive, good fun to watch and complemented the official opening night film. Check it out when it has its only other MIFF screening on Tuesday 31 July at 7pm at Greater Union.

"A group of ordinary people, disaffected by the way things are, see a different way forward and put their bodies on the line for change."

(To be continued with Sicko)

Links: Index of MIFF films reviewed to date / MIFF website

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Today's Leunig

Fired up after just leaving a comment on one of Alison Croggon's posts about politics - and there's been two other recent posts with related content - I figured I'd have a quick look at today's Leunig before I went to bed (yes, it's the wee hours). Lo and behold! What do we see? How appropriate and relevant to Alison's posts. I couldn't resist.

MIFF Inland Empire sold out

[update: see Inland Empire release date]

I predicted several weeks ago that Inland Empire would be the first film to sell out at MIFF. Yesterday I reported that the first session had sold out. I'm not sure how accurate my prediction was, but sure enough, the second session has now sold out as well. There are no more tickets for Inland Empire available at all. We're still waiting on Dendy Films for a release date (I received an email from them yesterday stating that no date has yet been set), other than 'the last quarter of 2007'.

The following is basically straight from MIFF's website:

Events that have sold out:

  • Vitus, 10am Fri 27 July at ACMI
  • Inland Empire, 9pm Tue 7 August at ACMI
  • Spicks and Specks Trivia Night, 7pm Thu 9 August at Coopers Festival Club at the Forum (more tickets may be released)
  • Inland Empire, 9.15pm Thu 9 August at the Forum
  • This is England, Sun 12 Aug at the Regent

Other sessions flagged as “selling fast”:

  • Still Life, 7.10pm Fri 27 July at the Forum
  • Azur and Asmar, Fri 10 August at ACMI

Monday, July 23, 2007

MIFF - Inland Empire 1st session sold out

Surprise, surprise! The first session of Inland Empire at MIFF has sold out, as I predicted. It screens 9pm Tue 7 August at ACMI, but there’s still tickets available for the 9.15pm session at the Forum Theatre on Thu 9 August.

Other events that have sold out are:

  • Vitus, 10am Fri 27 July at ACMI
  • Spicks and Specks Trivia Night, 7pm Thu 9 August at Coopers Festival Club at the Forum
  • This is England, Sun 12 Aug at the Regent

Other sessions flagged as “selling fast”:

  • Still Life, 7.10pm Fri 27 July at the Forum
  • Azur and Asmar, Fri 10 August at ACMI

I suspect that Vitus and Azur and Asmar have sold out due to school bookings, while This is England is the official closing night film. I have my bookings for Still Life, which is reputedly an excellent film, so if you're thinking about it, grab your tickets before they disappear.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Free MIFF Preview Tix

I can't make use of a free double pass to a MIFF preview screening of Interview on this coming Tuesday July 24 at 6.30pm at the Forum Theatre, the night before the festival officially opens.

If you're available, interested and can pick up the pass on Monday or Tuesday during business hours in the city, contact me via email.

Links: Blogging & Lynch in The Age

A month or two ago, I cancelled my Age subscription, for a number of reasons. It all started several years ago when the paper decided to take a new direction and try to take the very less-than-ordinary Herald Sun behemoth head on and go populist. Sports has to appear on the front page every day, regardless. AFL has to be prominent. Coverage of AFL has to be as if football is 'more than a game'. I've got nothing against the AFL or sport in general and am happy for it continue to enjoy massive coverage at the back of the paper. I do like sport (mostly as a participant), but I can't see that any sport deserves front page coverage.

Over time, other subtle changes have crept in, but I don't want to dwell on that. The reality is, the only reason I've hung on to my daily delivery for the last year or so is the
Sudoku puzzle. Yes, I'm a Sudoku nut, and the harder the puzzle the better. However, the Melbourne Film Blogger and family typically lunch on a Saturday and/or Sunday at a particular local cafe where (like just about every other cafe in Melbourne) newspapers are provided in ample numbers. So, while we wait for our order, I take the page that none of the others in the throngs that pour in over the weekend seem to care about, and fill in the puzzles myself. Same with weekdays when I go for a coffee at work (I'm not going to drink the instant stuff they provide in the kitchen).

With cafes providing papers (and not forgetting the online version), my only reservation about cancelling my Age subscription was that I might miss out on articles like I saw in the A2 section of yesterday's paper. One about blogging, the other about David Lynch. The first one is a decent post (decent as in long, 3343 words, the Age search feature tells me) by Sophie Cunningham, a contributor to Sarsaparilla, an online magazine that I subscribe (free) to. It was a well-researched and balanced article which discusses the pros and cons of blogging and how writers have found it useful, useless, time-consuming, time-wasting and more. I related to many aspects of it, and it complemented thoughts I've been having as well as the subject of Paul Harris' interview of me on 3RRR a few weeks ago (which I still haven't posted about, but something is in the pipeline).

The other worthy Age article was an interview by by Simon Hattenstone for London's Guardian. It appears to have been written some six months ago, but held off by The Age until now, with MIFF's screening of Inland Empire being imminent (August 7 & 9, followed by a limited release by Dendy sometime toward the end of the year). In it, Lynch dispels some rumours, confirms and sets straight others. As a film-maker who is appreciated as an artist, it's always good to hear from the man himself about his art.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

MIFF Films With A Release

Thanks to the super-sleuth efforts of Richard Watts at Man About Town, I have been able to collate further information about the films screening at MIFF that have a commercial release. The complete list of films screening that I posted some time ago indicates with an asterisk those with a release. Somehow or other, Richard has ascertained the distributors for most of these films. Putting that info together with the release dates I'm aware of, we have the list below.

The main benefit of this information is that we don't have to run around MIFF trying to squeeze in films that can be seen in the comfort of a commercial distribution. As I've mentioned previously, one needs to bear in mind that 'commercial release' could mean straight to DVD (and where known, this is indicated). The sheer number of titles being released by Madman Entertainment, for example, should indicate that some or perhaps most of these will go straight to DVD. On the other hand, Fay Grim is being released by Village Roadshow, which almost certainly will get a theatrical release (but I've booked a ticket and will see it at MIFF regardless).

The following list of 62 films shows the title, distributor and release date (where known). I have emailed most of the distributors below for further information, which I will update here as it comes to hand:

[Updated 24/7/07]
These titles are confirmed or likely to be released straight-to-DVD have been removed from the below list. They are: Syndromes and a Century, Out of the Blue, El Topo, The Holy Mountain, A Few Days in September, The Blood of Yingzhou District, Snoop Doggs Hood of Horror & Promised Paradise (likely, TBC). Some release dates have changed, most notably Rescue Dawn.


4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days - Kojo - expected by October
Aachi & Ssipak - Madman - ?
After the Wedding
- Arkles - 16/8/07
Away From Her - Dendy - 27/9/07
- Hopscotch - 22/11/07
Black Sheep - Icon - 16/8/07
Black Snake Moan - Paramount - 2/8/07
Blind Mountain - ? - ?
Control - Dendy - 25/10/07
Conversations With My Gardener - Paramount - 23/8/07
Day Watch - 20th Century Fox - 13/9/07
Deep Water - Hopscotch - ?
Dirty Carnival, A - Madman - ?
Dirty Three - Madman - ?
Eagle vs Shark
- Icon - ?
- Madman - ?
Fay Grim - Village - ?
Fido - ? - ?
Forbidden Lie$ - Palace - ?
Grace is Gone - Village - ?
Heartbreak Hotel - Paramount - ?
Home Song Stories, The - Dendy - 23/8/07
I Served the King of England - Paramount - ?
Indigenes - Madman - ?
Inland Empire - Dendy - 'late 2007'
Irina Palm - Sharmill - 20/9/07
Joe Strummer: the Future is Unwritten - Dendy - 13/9/07
Joshua - 20th Century Fox - ?
Lady Chatterley - Hopscotch - 18/10/07
Lagerfeld Confidential - Hopscotch - ?
Mighty Heart, A - Paramount - 30/8/07
My Kid Could Paint That - Sony - ?
Night - Dendy - 2008
Once - Icon - 30/8/07
Out of the Blue - Dendy - TBC
Paprika - Sony - ?
Red Road - ? - ?
Reprise - Madman - ?
Rescue Dawn - Hopscotch - 8/11/07
Searching 4 Sandeep - Hopscotch - 20/9/07
September - Hopscotch - 25/10/07
Severance - Icon - ?
Sicko - Village - 9/8/07
Signal, The - Madman - ?
Stephanie Daley - Madman - ?
Strange Culture - Madman - ?
Teeth - Village - ?
Tekkonkinkreet - Sony - ?
This is England - Madman - 16/8/07
Vitus - Rialto - 27/9/07
Walk into the Sea: Danny Williams and the Warhol Factory, A - Madman - ?
Words from the City - Madman - ?
Workshop, The - Hopscotch - ?
Year of the Dog - Paramount - ?

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Week in Review

With MIFF approaching, I've been preoccupied with planning for the big event. French classes have resumed (term 2), and I've got lots of homework. I'm also still a little fatigued from the Isabelle Huppert season at ACMI. Consequently, my only film-viewing this week has been the weekly Cinémathèque screenings and a kids' film today. Next week: MIFF starts.

  • The Bellboy (Jerry Lewis, 1960)
  • Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (David Yates, 2007)
  • The Frozen North (Buster Keaton, 15 min, 1922)
  • Sherlock Jr (Buster Keaton, 44 min, 1924)

The Bellboy
Jerry Lewis, as his own man, free from the Dean Martin partnership and captain of his own ship, was brilliant. I always remembered him from my childhood as slapstick, zany and over-the-top. In The Bellboy, his directorial debut, he uses some of the same trademark zaniness but with such restraint and intelligent application that it seems like almost a different Jerry Lewis to the one I remember.

Lewis' loud zany voice used to grate, but in this film it is used to a minimum. In fact he hardly speaks throughout the film, perhaps alluding to the films of Jacques Tati or the greats of the silent era such as Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton (the film screened after a couple of Keaton shorts). The film directly references Stanley Laurel, with a Laurel impersonator making a cameo. One gag between Lewis (whose character's name is Stanley) and the other Stanley was particularly poignant, a highlight of a film that has no weak spots and is consistently funny and intelligent.

The film beautifully captures both overstatement and understatement in physical comedy. It blends in the absurd/surrealism, self-deprecation, self-parody, subtle critique of the cult of celebrity and more. All done with perfect timing, not just in delivery, but with such skill in knowing when to stop and always with the unexpected. Not a hint of profanity or puerile toilet humour (it has a G rating).

It seems no-one knew better how to utilise Lewis' talents than Lewis himself. This film is one of the best comedies I have seen, ever. Contemporary cinema is seriously denied good comedy, and this film really underscores that. I look forward to discovering more of this great comic genius.

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix
I think you pretty much know what you're getting with any Harry Potter movie, but I found this one a bit tired and not quite up to scratch. The cinematography wasn't overly appealling, the lighting was too dark, there's way too much dependency on CGI, the narrative wasn't very coherent (perhaps it assumes you've read the book, which I haven't), the children have lost their cutesy factor and the film just seemed too long. But my six year old son and three year old niece loved it. For me, it was passable entertainment, but nothing special.

Buster Keaton
These films are a reminder that it doesn't take great technology to entertain the masses. That silent films can be more enjoyable than the vast majority of contemporary cinema, is a pretty sad indictment of how far we have (or haven't come). I don't feel particularly qualified to write about this from any historical perspective, but I did find them immensely enjoyable, intelligent, and funny. The gags were very clever and seemed quite innovative for the time.