As the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival draws to a close, I’ve selected a number of films which sat above the rest. Here are my personal highlights from the festival.
From director-duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Resolution, 2012; Spring, 2014) comes an enticing horror film. It’s found-footage horror without the found-footage, it’s abstract but penetrable. As with their first feature Resolution, the brothers have created something that with toys with and eschews classical conventions while also acting as general commentary on cinema itself. The Endless is terrifying, exciting and very, very clever. Best of all, it was made on a very small budget that is not at all reflected in the film’s high standard of post-production quality.
Taking many of its cues from Andrzej Żuławski‘s Possession (1981), The Untamed is a surreal blend of social drama, sci-fi horror and erotica. Directed by Amat Escalante, this film is just as daring as that combination of genres would suggest. What supposedly inspired this film was a news article about a man who had drowned, and the headline read “Faggot Drowned”. Escalante was apparently so appalled by this that he set out to counter-actively make a film about sex, homosexuality and violence. Perhaps a tentacle-sex alien in rural Mexico is somehow less terrifying than our own capacity for inhumanity.
Spoor is one of those curious films that seems to have gone unnoticed by many at the film festival. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, Spoor tells the story of a lonely old Polish woman who has a soft-spot for animals. Unfortunately, rural Poland is a good spot for game hunters who will never stop revelling in the act of killing. Then the hunters begin to drop dead one-by-one, with the only apparent culprits being the woodland creatures themselves. Part eco-warrior film, part murder-mystery, Spoor closely examines a society that is obsessed with consuming meat and dominating the earth .
My favourite of all of the retrospective films at MIFF was Ann Turner’s Celia, starring twelve-year-old Rebecca Smart. A relatively hitherto undiscovered Australian gem, Celia explores the relationship between childhood and fear. Set amidst the Cold War paranoia of the 1950s, the film draws parallels between the persecution of the ‘Reds’ and the plight of the rabbits during the national push against the rural rabbit plague. On top of this, ghoulish details from Celia’s nightmarish hallucinations blur the line between real and imagined monsters.
The Silent Eye
Directed by innovative Australian filmmaker Amiel Courtin-Wilson, this experimental documentary plays out like a dreamy musical waltz from start to finish. It captures the lives of two musical pioneers – free jazz maestro Cecil Taylor and dance artist Min Tanaka. The entire film is a series of wordless performances that were shot over three days. The Silent Eye has an incredible inception story – Courtin-Wilson sat outside the notoriously aloof Taylor’s apartment for a week before he was let in, becoming his quasi-carer. What follows is an intimate, abstract ballet that pushes both performers to their emotional and physical limits.
The Best of the Shorts: The Burden, Mrs McCutcheon and Fry Day
I found it impossible to choose just one of these over another, as all three are equally incredible. The Burden, a Swedish stop-motion animation, captures the lives of several groups of anthropomorphic animals in depressing, darkly funny musical vignettes. Each animal chants about loneliness late at night, against the backdrop of an isolating industrial estate. Mrs McCutcheon, on the other hand, is a heart-warming film about gender roles in the context of primary school. It manages to frame a modern political context within a colourful portrait of endearing childhood innocence. Lastly, Fry Day is a provocative reminder of the dangers of entrenched toxic masculinity. Set in the hours before the execution of notorious serial killer Ted Bundy, it follows a young female photographer who finds herself caught in a never-ending web of male violence. All three shorts are excellent pieces of cinema that ought to be seen.
And that’s all of my picks for the festival! There are, of course, many films that I haven’t mentioned which are also worth seeing. The Melbourne International Film Festival will return in August next year.