Category Archives: Melbourne International Film Festival

MIFF report back #2: The Neon Demon

Neon Demon 1It is easy, indeed, tempting, to over analyse Nicolas Wendig Refn’s latest film, the fashion satire/psychological horror The Neon Demon, currently showing at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival. It is a film that doesn’t stand up to too close a critical scrutiny. It is also one that, as far as I am concerned, did not require it as a condition of my enjoyment.

Jesse (Elle Fanning) is the latest in a long queue stretching back into the last century, of wide eyed female ingénues fresh off the bus/plane/train and desperate to make it in Tinsel Town. She has her sights set on cracking the cutthroat world of high fashion modelling. In an industry where nineteen is considered on the verge of being past it as a working model, her non-surgically enhanced natural beauty is enough to make even the most jaded photographer stand up and pay attention.

It is not long before Jesse is taking part in fashion shoots and modelling clothes on major catwalk shows, much to the intense chagrin of other models Gigi (Bella Heathcote) and Sarah (Abbey Lee), also out to do what ever it takes to succeed and incredibly jealous of Jesse’s meteoric rise. Gigi and Sarah are also insecure, bitchy, cynical and angry, further alienating them from Jesse, who exudes an air of clam self-confidence and poise. … Read more

MIFF report back #1: The Family

The Family 1Nothing says creepy quite like washed out old home movie and grainy television footage and there is plenty of both in The Family, my first movie at the 2016 Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF). It is a fascinating, at times chilling, occasionally frustrating examination of the sinister Melbourne cult of the same name.

Growing up in Melbourne in the seventies and eighties, I have vague memories of the Family getting the odd media mention. Like a lot of others, I was also familiar with the images of the child members of the Family, their matching clothes and blonde bobbed haircuts giving them more than a passing resemblance to the weird half alien children in The Village of the Damned, the 1960 science fiction film based on the 1957 John Wyndam novel, The Midwich Cuckoos.

Established on the outskirts of Melbourne in the early 1960s, the Family largely evaded official and media scrutiny until 1987, when police raided their secluded house near Lake Eildon, central Victoria. The raid kicked off a police investigation into the cult, the starting point and main narrative of the documentary.

The Family was created by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a narcissistic, megalomaniac yoga teacher, and Raynor Johnson, a prominent English physicist with an interest in mysticism (and the former master of Melbourne University’s Queens College in the early 1960s).… Read more

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