When the grand dame of cinematic celebration in Australia, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), fires up the projectors and takes over the city once more for its 64th outing, the recently added Capitol Theatre bows out as the Greater Union replacement venue, adding instead Exhibition Street’s Comedy Theatre.
“A festival has to be nimble and responsive and not just do the same thing all the time,” Artist Director Michelle Carey says. “I find our audience goes with you.”
Taking over the head honcho post for the festival’s 60th anniversary placed a huge weight of expectation on her shoulders, but Carey says she’s finally found her groove. “It’s such a big festival, and I just really learnt to love it last year. I had so much energy.”
As she prepares to unveil the latest line-up (full program revealed tomorrow), we asked Carey her top ten picks of MIFF 2015:
1. Force of Destiny
Opening night commandeers Hamer Hall once more, with the Australian premiere of respected writer/director Paul Cox’s latest film, Force of Destiny. Starring David Wenham and Indian actress Shahana Goswami, the bittersweet romance draws deeply on Cox’s ongoing battle with cancer, though Carey notes it’s not a straight-up weepy.
“It's very moving, if anyone has ever been touched by illness in their family, which I think is most of us, but the character finds romance through it,” she says. “Paul is a very unique filmmaker; he certainly tells the stories he wants to, which is increasingly difficult to do these days. It’s going to be a very special night with all the cast on hand.”
2. The Lobster
One of this year’s MIFF highlights making the jump from the Cannes Film festival is remarkable Greek writer/director Yorgos Lanthimo’s English-language debut The Lobster.
Starring a quirky cast including Colin Farrell, Rachel Weisz, Léa Seydoux and Ben Wishaw, the somewhat barmy plot is set in a dystopian future where unfortunate souls who prove unlucky in love are transformed into animals and set loose.
“There’s always a lot of nerves around English-language debuts because not a lot of filmmakers translate so well, but this is great, with a terrific ensemble,” Carey says. “I don’t normally like Colin Farrell much, but he’s wonderful in this with a Ned Flanders moustache and paunch. It’s funny but really quite dark.”
3. Arabian Nights volumes 1, 2 and 3
Another Cannes treasure, Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’s three-part epic Arabian Nights also scooped the top prize at this year’s Sydney Film Festival.
Dramatising real human stories under the austerity measures endured by his nation post-GFC, and framing them with the ancient tales told by Scheherazade, Carey says it was a beautiful oasis amidst the hullabaloo of Cannes. She says the three volumes can either be viewed as stand-alones or back-to-back, weighing in at almost six and a half hours.
“How to describe it? It’s not a documentary, but there are documentary elements to it. The stories all kind of come together in the end. It’s a curious piece that’s quite special.”
Supremely talented Melbourne filmmaker Grant Scicluna has been a festival favourite for several years now, with his incredible shorts including The Wilding’s sexy prison thriller and moody black and white piece Hurt’s Rescue. This year marks his debut feature, Downriver, a recipient of the MIFF Premiere Fund aimed at supporting new Australian film.
A brooding mystery full of dark secrets, a shocking crime and queer sensibility, Carey says it’s not to be missed. “It’s so beautiful. I’ve been following Grant’s shorts for a long a time and have been really interested to see what he would do with his first feature and he totally owns it. It's very uncompromising and quite dark, but if you go with that it’s really rewarding.”
Carey also highly rates Nicole Ma’s Putuparri and the Rain Makers in the MIFF Premier Fund category.
5. Another Country
Directed by Molly Reynolds, Another Country showcases the magnificent David Gulpilil and celebrates the enduring culture of his people, the Yolngu of northeast Arnhem Land.
Expanding on the truth behind Rolf de Heer’s cracking drama Charlie’s Country, Carey says the essay documentary is a testament to Gulpilil’s incredible life and mesmeric talent. “What a guy. He’s got such an amazing sense of humour and it’s great to hear his voice telling his stories. It’s beautiful with really cinematic images.”
The world premiere crowns a Gulpilil retrospective that includes Charlie’s Country, Rabbit Proof Fence, Walkabout, The Last Wave and Ten Canoes.
6. Holding The Man
This year’s centrepiece gala is the long-awaited filmic adaption of Timothy Conigrave’s classic Australian memoir Holding The Man. Directed by Candy helmer Neil Armfield, it depicts a beautiful high school romance that blossoms into enduring love and then, tragically, faces the onset of the HIV/AIDS crisis.
Packed To The Rafters and Wolf Creek 2 star Ryan Corr plays Conigrave with Craig Stott as his footy captain lover, John Caleo. A heartfelt romance and a heavy-duty hanky destroyer, Holding the Man also stars sterling talents Guy Pearce, Anthony LaPaglia, Sarah Snook and Kerry Fox.
“It’s such a special film, and my pick of the festival,” Carey says. “It’s been our biggest seller of everything we’ve announced so far.”
7. City of Gold
MIFF’s Big Screen Cuisine stream celebrates food in film, with brilliant documentaries including For Grace, about owner/chef Curtis Duffy’s quest for Michelin star recognition with his own restaurant and the heavy personal cost, and also Foodies, examining the food blogger phenomenon, but Carey’s personal pick is Laura Gabbert’s City of Gold.
Giving us a glimpse into the work and passion of the only Pulitzer prize-winning food critic Jonathan Gold and his culinary adventures around Los Angeles, Carey says he’s a character and she can’t wait to host him as a guest of this year’s MIFF.
“It’s as much about him as it is about the city of Los Angeles and LA foodie culture,” she says. “He's not just into high-end restaurants. He loves the local taco truck and the ma and pa Korean take-out place just as much, as long as the food’s good.”
Always pushing boundaries, Argentinian director Gaspar Noé’s latest, Love, is, funnily enough, a love story between a boy and two girls, complete with graphic 3D sex scenes, though Carey says it’s not as shocking as you might expect.
“It’s actually quite subdued by Gaspar’s standards,” she laughs. “So much has been made about the sex, but it’s reasonably tame. It’s just it has a constantly erect penis, and that’s something we’re not used to seeing. I personally wasn’t shocked by it. The thing that touched me most is the romantic relationship.
“It divided people in Cannes, but I think a lot of that is to do with the fact most critics saw it at 1am after a very long day of queuing and Gaspar was dancing too much on the red carpet, holding everything up.”
9. Heaven Knows What
Carey was keen to showcase the challenging work of talented sibling directors Ben and Joshua Safdie at this year’s MIFF, and both will be guests of the fest. Their latest melodramatic masterpiece Heaven Knows What forms the cornerstone of a mini-retrospective.
Based on the best-selling book by Arielle Holmes detailing her life doing heroin on the streets of New York, she plays Harley, a lightly fictionalised version of herself alongside mostly real homeless folks, other than professional actor Caleb Landry Jones who plays her sometime partner, the abusive Ilya.
It’s an emotional whirlwind with a devastatingly unglamourised take on street life and a killer soundtrack. “We walk past people like that all the time, they’re in the background of our life, so why not make a film about them?” Carey asks.
10. Mistress America
Brooklyn born and bred writer/director Noah Baumbach reunites with festival favourite and Frances Ha star Greta Gerwig in upbeat closing night flick Mistress America, that Carey says has the feel of a 1930s screwball comedy.
Gerwig, who also co-wrote the piece, plays Brooke, a self-styled entrepreneur who seems to have it all together until her soon-to-be-step sister Tracy (Lola Kirke) shows up and the cracks start to appear in a hilarious way.
“Brooke is quite different to Frances Ha, but Greta is always Greta, and I love her,” Carey admits. “It’s like a Carole Lombard film with razor sharp dialogue very quickly delivered.”
Image credit: The Lobster via IMDB