My first film of day nine was another early morning session at ACMI, which I came to learn was a slot intended largely for school trips. I skipped one of these sessions back on day two, but this time I had already seen the film playing across the road at the Forum, so I decided to grin and bear it, and watched the film with a few hundred children. Behaviour-wise, they were better than I expected, but this was still easily the most disrupted session of my festival (or at least on equal footing with the other similar session on my final day at MIFF). I’ve learned a thing or two about which sessions to skip the next time I come to Melbourne.
What’s in the Darkness (Yichun Wang, China, 2015)
I suspect the director intends this film to be read as a scathing indictment of China’s police force, since that’s the shape it takes overall. Moment to moment, though, it plays as yet another underwhelming coming of age tale, following a teenage girl and her classmates. Her incompetent father is a detective tasked with locating a serial killer targeting young women in the area. A Hollywood film might task the teenager with solving the murder herself, but that’s not the case here. The murders serve mostly as an ominous background to a film about regular school life. Not quite recommended.
The Turning Forest (Oscar Raby, UK/Australia, 2016)
This year’s film festivals have played host to a variety of virtual reality sessions aimed at introducing the newest consumer version of the technology to a wider audience. This is a 10-minute animated short presented in 3D VR on an Oculus Rift, which is the cheaper of two high-end PC-based VR headsets now available. The interactive film plays out in first person, allowing you to turn a full 360 degrees at all times, and has you exploring a forest until you meet a dragon, which takes you for a ride on its back. This technology is so, so close to making sense for a home user, questions of available content aside. True immersion is hampered by the thick, heavy cord which hangs from the back of the device on your head. My understanding is that making the device wireless would cause the image to lag slightly behind your movement, potentially causing motion sickness, but once that problem is solved (and it will be) this technology could become very exciting.
Another coming of age story, though a better one. Co-written by Girlhood (2014) director Céline Sciamma, this film follows Damien and Tom, teen boys who regularly clash violently at school. Tom’s mother becomes sick, and Damien’s mother (a doctor) invites Tom to stay at their house. Regular festival attendees will know where the boys’ relationship is going, even if they haven’t seen the ‘LGBTIQ’ tag on MIFF’s genre list for the film. Strong performances and quality dialogue make this an above-average film, despite a lingering sense of familiarity and predictability. Recommended.
The Unknown Girl (Jean-Pierre & Luc Dardenne, Belgium/France, 2016)
The latest from the Dardennes brothers was considered a mild disappointment by most critics at Cannes, but a below-average Dardennes film is still an exciting piece of cinema. Adèle Haenel’s performance is a real highlight here, as she manages to convey strong emotional reactions hidden behind a stone-faced exterior. She plays Jenny, a young doctor who finds herself drowning in guilt after she refuses after-hours access to a woman who turns up dead the next morning. She searches for answers, not necessarily to unmask a killer, but simply to learn the right name to write on the girl’s tombstone. Another quality film from a pair of masterful directors, displaying once more their knack for powerfully exploring human behavior. Recommended.
Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas, France, 2016)
Thithi (Raam Reddy, India, 2016)
I was a little sleepy in this one, first thing in the morning, so my opinion on it should be considered shaky advice at best. That said, it’s a long, slow-moving film that didn’t do a great job of keeping me awake. The title refers to a funeral celebration held eleven days after a death: a custom specific to the regional south of India. The deceased in this case is Century Gowda, named for his great age, who spends the first five minutes loudly criticizing everybody who enters his vision, then immediately keels over. The film finds low-key humour in the arguments between the Gowda’s descendants as they disagree over parts of the ceremony. It’s funny, but not funny enough, and for far too long. Not recommended.
As I Open My Eyes (Leyla Bouzid, France/Tunisia/Belgium/UAE, 2015)
A moving film set in the days leading up to the Tunisian Revolution which started the Arab Spring, shown from the perspective of a teenage girl crying out for change in her country. Baya Medhaffer gives a great performance as Farah, who has the grades to become a doctor, but instead hopes for a career in music. She sings for a protest band despite her mother’s wishes, standing up to a regime only too willing to crush her for it. The film looks at a whole country’s desperation through the lens of a single life. The music is a real highlight. Highly recommended.
The Commune (Thomas Vinterberg, Denmark, 2016)
Paterson (Jim Jarmusch, USA/Germany, 2016)
Another one from Cannes, this is my new favourite Jim Jarmusch film, and one of my favourite films of the year. Paterson is both the name of a city in New Jersey and the name of a bus driver who lives there, played by a charmingly sedate Adam Driver. The film shows us a week in Paterson’s life as he drives his route, writes freeform poetry and spends time with his artistically-inclined girlfriend, his stubborn dog and the regulars at the local bar. It’s a very structured film, and each segment is so enjoyable that we look forward to the next time each location comes around. Jarmusch’s characters are so pleasant to spend time with that they don’t really need to do anything to make it a great film. Highly recommended.
Graduation (Cristian Mungiu, Romania/France, 2016)