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From Lukas Moodysson’s provocative A Hole in My Heart to Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s confronting 4, this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival explores edgy European cinema, as well as films direct from Cannes, and takes a look at Chinese cinema, with a focus on the revealing and entertaining director, Fruit Chan – among many other things, as Executive Director James Hewison unveils the 2005 edition. Andrew L. Urban reports.

As usual, James Hewison flew to Sydney to host a media lunch announcing details of the program for this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival; no other film festival goes on an interstate roadshow to tout its program, and it sends a loud signal - via the media – that Sydney-siders are welcome and indeed encouraged to sample the Melbourne event, even though it follows Sydney’s own film festival by a mere month (July 20 – August 7, 2005). And as the two festivals drifted apart in timing over recent years (at one stage they overlapped), they have also taken different tacks in programming.

"Opening and Closing Night choices"

From the Opening and Closing Night choices – Australian Rowan Woods’ Little Fish and Hong Kong’s Johnny To’s Election – to the various side bars and sections, Melbourne offers a completely different fortnight of film. 

Written by Jacqueline Perske, directed by Rowan Woods with a cast that includes Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving, Noni Hazlehurst, Sam Neill, Martin Henderson and Dustin Nguyen, Little Fish (screening courtesy of Icon Film Distribution) is a deeply affecting drama about a young woman (Blanchett) who must learn to confront her fears in order to find happiness and escape the pain of her recent past.

By contrast, Election is a muscular and dense film noir-meets-contemporary Hong Kong, as warring Triads wrestle for honour, brotherhood and ultimately leadership. Direct from the 2005 Cannes Film Festival where it screened in Official Competition, Election is the latest masterwork from Hong Kong auteur Johnnie To, whose tight direction of an all star cast including Tony Leung Ka Fai and Simon Yam, combined with the powerful imagery of cinematographer Cheng Sui-keung, has resulted in what Hewison calls “a taut action drama that will mesmerize viewers and catapult Johnny To into another echelon.” Johnnie To will be a guest at this year’s Festival.

Indeed, Chinese cinema – this year 100 years old - is the centre of the Festival, with the pulse of contemporary China exemplified via the work of such celebrated young filmmakers as Jia Zhang-ke and his cinematographer-turned-filmmaker Yu Lik Wai. “The political and cultural upheavals that have rocked China over the last century have wrought a cinema of immediacy and transformation as the industry continues to enter uncharted waters, with foreign studios elbowing their way into a territory that has been hitherto largely off-limits,” says Hewison. “This year MIFF emphasises this distinctive new talent in Horizons: New Chinese Cinema.”

"global view"

The global view continues with New Europe: Visions from the Edge. “The effects of globalisation coupled with the tensions and shifting politics of Europe are giving rise to edgy new visions from the Continent,” says Hewison. “The output of these filmmakers is symptomatic of an immediate future that appears far less certain and optimistic than it once did, with the disintegration of moral and social order close at hand.

“From Russia to France and Finland to Poland, New Europe explores a vast region with myriad cultures and experiences, dreams and aspirations,” says Hewison, “and it is these very differences and divergences that have thrown up, in some cases, a radical and progressive cinema – far from socialised norms and expected freedoms.”

Hewison has slotted six films into this section: “The renowned Lukas Moodysson fires a salvo into a bleak social world with his film A Hole in My Heart, a disturbing exploration of emotional disconnection, morality and reality TV; Ilya Khrzhanovsky’s multi award-winning debut, 4, will satisfy viewers with an eye for the imaginative and an ear for the industrial. From its explosive opening, this is a highly idiosyncratic film about contemporary Russia; The acclaimed Claire Denis’ innovative and enigmatic The Intruder distils the visual and aural economy she achieved in Beau Travail. Through a ‘pure’ cinematic language, Denis portrays the story of one man’s quest for a new heart away from the traditions of Europe, and the physical and metaphysical journeys on which this quest takes him; Vít Klusák and Filip Remuuda’s doco Czech Dream is a delicious and telling satire of rampant consumerism – and perhaps an acknowledgement of the power of media manipulation.

“Other highlights include; Frozen Land, a beautifully realised, though uncompromising and fearless film where disparate characters share a common destiny, indeed tragedy; renowned writer Robin Campillo’s debut They Came Back proposes what if the people who died in the last 10 years stepped back into their old lives and therefore loved ones? Less zombie film than an austere psychological enquiry They Came Back is a tour de force; While Uno delves into the world of petty crime in urban Oslo, Stranger follows the emotional journey of a young 22 year old Polish girl.” 

And Malgosia Szumowska’s Stranger and Magrida Cardoso’s The Murmuring Coast represent a mini sidebar of Emerging Women Filmmakers from Europe.

"to load up on films at Cannes"

With MIFF’s July timing, Hewison is able to load up on films at Cannes each year, and this year is no exception: chief amongst those representing the Official Selection is the Belgian drama The Child (L’enfant) the winner of the Palme d’Or, a chilling morality tale of a young couple who sell their child on the black market. Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche star in Michael Haneke’s much-lauded thriller, Hidden (Cache) which garnered the Best Director Award, the FIPRESCI Award and the Ecumenical Jury Award; (Also from Cannes, as previously noted, comes To’s Election.) 

Jury Prize winner, Shanghai Dreams, from Wang Xiaoshuai, one of China’s leading contemporary filmmakers, takes us back to 1960s China when encouraged by the government, many families left their urban lifestyle to settle in the poor regions of the country, whilst Princess Raccoon is a delirious operetta with the luminous Zhang Ziyi (singing in Japanese!) from Japan’s Seijun Suzuki.

A late Cannes addition, confirmed only as this went to press (June 14) is Lodge H. Kerrigan’s claustrophobic but acclaimed Un Certain Regard entry, Keane, starring Damian Lewis .

Overview: Curated Spotlights will include:
· Horizons: New Chinese Cinema After a centenary of filmmaking in China, MIFF puts the spotlight on Chinese filmmakers of 2005.

· Sliced Life: Fruit Chan Amidst the bustle of Hong Kong streets, Fruit Chan has been revealing, often humorously, the daily travails of its people. Largely unknown in Australia, Chan will be one of our filmmakers in focus.

· Homelands Now: The Middle East in Focus will once again feature in the Festival, taking a closer look at the cinema and culture of the Middle East, highlighting the work of filmmakers such as Bahman Ghobadi.

· New Europe: Visions from the Edge As walls come tumbling down and borders are opened across the Continent, we reveal not only remarkable and fearless new talent, but also the immediate social and political frissures of those in the margins seeking identity and struggling with “freedom”. This section will include emerging women filmmakers from Europe.

· Cinema Argentino: Argentina has been decimated by social and economic woes, but from this calamity a generation of remarkable filmmakers has emerged.

· Zero to Hero: Survival of the Fittest The compelling and often deeply personal stories in this spotlight reveal the hopes, expectations, ambitions and fears of competitors who are driven in their pursuit of triumph.

· Brain Monkey Sushi 05: Raw Japanese Cinema returns with another mind and imagination-boggling, genre-busting collection of new Japanese features and shorts. 

· Backbeat is one of the most popular Spotlights, screening the greatest music documentaries around.

· Animation Gallery MIFF’s annual round-up of spectacular new animated feature films and shorts.

· Sideshow: New Media Highlighting new works in digital filmmaking and interactive techniques.

Published June 16, 2005

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A Hole in My Heart


Little Fish


The Child (L'Enfant)

James Hewison

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