Category Archives: Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF report back #5: Downriver

DOWNRIVER1170Grant Scicluna’s debut feaure, Downriver is a dark tale of secrets and redemption set in a small rural town. Although, I haven’t seen Scicluna stress the theme anywhere, it is also a film largely dominated by gay male relationships.

The film opens with eighteen-year-old James (Reef Ireland) being confronted upon his parole by the mother of a child whose death by drowning was the reason for his lengthy incarceration. The body of the boy has never been found, a fact that particularly haunts the mother. James suspects his childhood friend Anthony (Thom Green), who was also present when the child died, hid the body but he was never charged.

Once free, James is obsessed with finding the boy’s body. He defies his parole officer and his mother (Kerry Fox) and goes to stay at the caravan park near to the river where the death took place. James confronts Anthony, who claims to know nothing more than he has already told the police. He befriends Damien (Charles Grounds), an impressionable young man also staying at the caravan park, and who turns into an ally of sorts in James’ mission.

It becomes apparent very quickly that Anthony’s silence is bound up in a much larger and darker conspiracy involving the boy’s death and Anthony’s extremely dangerous family.… Read more

Miff report back #4: Cartel Land

CartelCartel Land, Matthew Heinemann’s gripping third documentary examines vigilantism, the so-called war on drugs and the break down of state authority on both sides of the US/Mexico border. Unintentionally or otherwise, it is also a powerful depiction of the nature of masculinity in conflict zones.

The story focuses on two men on either side of the border. Tim ‘Nailer’ Foley has been a survivor of child abuse, a drug addict and a hard working family man, in that order, before the 2008 recession capsized his economic hopes and eventually led him to the US side of the Arizona border with Mexico. There he began a one-man effort to prevent the spread of human and drug trafficking onto America soil, which has slowly attracted other followers, largely men, but also a few women, who share his concerns.

Charismatic surgeon Dr. Jose Mireles leads a vigilante movement known as Autodefensa in a fight against a vicious drug cartel known as Knights Templar that has infected every aspect of the poor central Mexican province of Michoacan. What started off as Mireles and a few of his neighbours deciding it is better to risk death fighting than passively accept the slow motion annihilation promised by the cartel, has snow balled into a major movement.… Read more

MIFF reportback #3: Phoenix

phoenix-2Sometimes I wonder whether it’ll ever be safe to venture back into the cinema without having to watch yet another incredibly complex, supposedly sexually transgressive, domestic wannabe neo-noir that looks and feels like another variation on Gone Girl. Which is what I really liked about the 2014 German thriller, Phoenix, part of the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). It was none of those things.

There is no artifice or unnecessarily complexity in the plot of Phoenix. It is just a solid, engaging, almost pitch perfect historical thriller that also makes some interesting observations about the nature of memory and collective historical amnesia in the face of great tragedies like the Holocaust.

Nelly (Nina Hass) is a former singer and concentration camp survivor. The war has left her damaged, physically via a gunshot wound to her head, and psychologically due the trauma of what she has experienced. She is brought back to post-war West Berlin under the protection of her friend, Lene (Nina Kunzendorf). Lene organises for Nelly to have facial reconstruction surgery, after which the plan is for Nelly to put her financial affairs in order – she is heir to a substantial amount of money – and the two of them to travel to Palestine to help establish a homeland for the Jews.… Read more

MIFF report back #2: Sunrise

Sunrise

A key question for me from Partho Sen-Gupta’s second feature film, Sunrise, which played as part of the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival, is how does one make a gripping crime film out of a pervasive social problem like child trafficking? If this was indeed Sen-Gupta’s intention, I’m not sure he has entirely succeeded. That said, there is a lot to recommend it.

The narrative spine of Sunrise is fairly straightforward. Joshi is middle aged Inspector working in a poorly resourced unit of the Mumbai police. His life has been in tatters ever since a person or persons unknown kidnapped his young daughter, Aruna, in front of her school years ago. The crime has destroyed his wife’s sanity and threatens to do the same to him. Compounding his trauma is the fact that the unit he works in deals with other parents who have had similar experiences. Joshi and his colleagues are largely unable to help these people, usually because their resources and methods are no match for those of the criminals responsible for the disappearances.

Joshi spends his nights obsessively searching for Aruna. He thinks he sees her everywhere. One night he stumbles out of the torrential monsoon rain into a nightclub called Paradise. Through the crowd Joshi spies Aruna amongst a group of young girls dancing on stage.… Read more

MIFF report back #1: The Duke of Burgundy

DukeofBurgundyFilmPage

I watched Peter Strickland’s latest offering, The Duke of Burgundy, already being a big fan of his 2012 effort, Berberian Sound Studio. I appreciated Berberian Sound Studio as an homage to the Italian giallo horror films of the seventies and didn’t need any more encouragement to see his new one other than the fact it was Strickland’s tribute to the seventies Euro sleaze films of directors like Jesse Franco and Walerian Borowczyk.

But it wasn’t until about twenty minutes in to The Duke of Burgundy, that I felt I ‘got’ what both movies were trying to do and just how clever Strickland’s approach is.

The Duke of Burgundy is about the BDSM relationship between two female entomologists, Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), the submissive, and her older dominant lover, Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen, who you may recognise from the Danish television series, Borgen). The story is set in an unspecified provincial European town in what looks like the seventies and, as you’d expect if you’ve seen Berberian Sound Studio, Strickland nails every aspect of recreating the genre: the aesthete, the soundtrack, the surrealistic ambiance, how the characters feel and react, the sex, which alternatives between being outright smutty and languorously erotic. Woven into this are some wonderfully deft touches, including the complete absence of men and the strange, sexually charged club in which women get together to discuss matters entomological.… Read more