Serious young cinephile Shaun Heenan currently lives in South West Rocks in northern New South Wales. This is the first of a series of reports he will be posting about the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival.
This was my first trip to the Melbourne Film Festival, and my first trip to Melbourne. I took two weeks off work to attend the festival, and spent twelve days watching films non-stop, for a total of almost sixty films. I chose twelve days to match the length of my usual haunt, the Sydney Film Festival, though MIFF itself runs for eighteen days.
Patrons at MIFF are separated into two groups for queueing, with those who pay the yearly $95 membership allowed in first to have their pick of the seats. I ended up in the Member queues quite by accident, because a membership is required to purchase a Festival Passport, which allows you to book as many sessions as you want for $369. If you’re seeing more than about 25 films, it becomes cheaper to buy a full pass.
|Forum Theatre, Melbourne|
Mahana (Lee Tamahori, New Zealand, 2016)
The director and star (Temuera Morrison) of Once Were Warriors (1994) reunite for this 1960s-set drama showing the conflict between two proud sheep-shearing Maori families. Morrison is the clear highlight in his performance as the brutal patriarch of the Mahana family, though the film focuses on his quiet grandson Simeon (Akuhata Keefe, who is less impressive in his first role.) The film impresses while focusing on the practical survival of an outcast group of hard-working family members, but the drama during revelations of family secrets later on is much less convincing. Very mildly recommended.
Diamond Island (Davy Chou, Cambodia/France/Germany/Thailand/Qatar, 2016)
Straight from the International Critics’ Week at Cannes, this visually impressive but slowly paced film shows the disenfranchisement of Cambodian youths, growing up in a country which is moving away from them. The characters are a group of teenage construction workers, risking permanent injury to build a luxury resort none of them will ever be able to stay in. These themes are mirrored in a side-plot about a young man made comparatively rich due to his Western ‘sponsor’, whose nature is never explained, but sadly obvious. The aesthetic is the highlight here: the film filled with neon lights and dreamlike music. Recommended.
The first of thirteen Palme d’Or nominees on my schedule, and the winner of the main prize at the Sydney Film Festival. Sonia Braga’s performance dominates in this story about a retired music critic fighting against the system as wealthy developers try to buy her out of her beachside apartment.
There’s both humour and horror to be found as the rich dirtbags use nastier and nastier tactics to try to force Braga to move. I’ll need to revisit this one when I get a chance, since exhaustion caught up with me, but I was impressed by what I saw. Recommended.
I had also planned to see Mohamed Ben Attia’s Tunisian drama Hedi on this first night, but after nodding off a few times during Aquarius, I decided I was better off heading back to the hotel early to get some sleep. I’ll catch up with this one whenever I get the chance.
To start my second day at MIFF, I had originally booked Tommy Krappweis’ German YA fantasy film Mara and the Firebringer, but as I headed into ACMI for the screening I realised hundreds of schoolchildren had shown up on class trips to that session, and switched my ticket for the film playing across the street at The Forum.
Winner of the Tiger Award at Rotterdam, this film set in a Persian-language radio station in California has a sense of humour which keeps it mildly amusing throughout. Iran’s first heavy metal band has been flown to America to meet and jam with Metallica live on air, assuming the big-name band actually shows up at the station. Iranian musician Mohsen Namjoo does well in his performance as the ever-more-exasperated station manager (with an incredible hairdo) trying to fill time with impromptu programming as the band get later and later. Mildly recommended.
The Bacchus Lady (E J-yong, South Korea, 2016)
The story of an elderly Korean woman who works as a prostitute to pay for her son’s overseas education. She finds herself taking care of a child after his mother winds up in prison. The film draws attention to the real-life situation of many older Korean women left in poverty without savings or welfare, but fails to make its own story connect emotionally. The plot unnecessarily goes off on some pretty wild tangents, failing to recognise the simple human drama of the premise. Not recommended.
Harmonium (Kōji Fukada, Japan, 2016)
Winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes this year, Harmonium works really well for its first hour. This is a Hitchcock-style story of a man who inserts himself into the lives of a Japanese family. He has a mysterious history with Toshio (Kanji Furutachi), but it comes as a surprise to Toshio’s wife and daughter when the man is invited to live with them. All of this buildup is great. It’s an impressive thriller. And then something horrible happens at the halfway point, and the movie spends the remaining hour not knowing what to do with it. The second half fails as completely as the first half succeeds, meandering through misery without doing anything touching or clever. I can’t quite recommend this, but it’s close.
|Comedy Theatre, Melbourne|
The Salesman (Asghar Farhadi, Iran/France, 2016)
Asghar Farhadi is probably the most consistently impressive dramatist currently working. A Separation (2011) and The Past (2013) are two of my favourite films of the decade, and while The Salesman isn’t quite as good as those, it’s still one of the best films I’ve seen all year.
Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana’s (Taraneh Alidoosti) happy marriage is shaken after Rana is assaulted in the shower by a stranger in their first days at a new apartment. Emad begins looking for clues to hunt the man down, and Rana withdraws from the world. The character growth is more important than the mystery, and leads us towards an ending which surprises, but makes perfect sense after what we’ve learned about both characters. This film won the Best Actor and Best Screenplay awards in competition at Cannes. Highly recommended.
Staying Vertical (Alain Guiraudie, France, 2016)
More to come.....