MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2000: PREVIEW
WHAT’S OUT THERE, WHAT ISN’T
Our man in Melbourne, JAKE WILSON, pores over the program for this year's Melbourne
International Film Festival,
picking his favourites and lamenting some omissions. And below, ANDREW L. URBAN has a further word
about the Australian features and talks to festival director Sandra Sdraulig, who leaves the post after four years.
‘See what’s out there,’ runs the slogan for this year’s Melbourne
International Film Festival. Pessimist that I am, I’m more inclined to notice what
isn’t out there – in particular, numerous internationally praised films that I
was hoping to see. Where, for example, is Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne’s Rosetta, the
controversial winner of the Palme D’Or at last year’s Cannes Film Festival?
Where is Bruno Dumont’s L’Humanite, the equally controversial runner-up? Where
are the new or newish films by such noted directors as (for example) Manuel de Oliviera,
Aki Kaurismaki, Olivier Assayas, and Harmony Korine?
Still, if you look closely at the program,
there are enough movies here to suit most tastes, most of the
As usual, the centrepiece of the program is
the International Panorama, which includes new films from all
over the world - beginning with the opening night film, Curtis
Hanson's Wonder Boys (starring Michael Douglas, cast against type
as a pot-smoking literature professor). This section includes
most of the highest profile screenings: among those bound to
attract large crowds are Mary Harron's serial killer satire
American Psycho, Wim Wenders' The Million Dollar Hotel (with a
script by Bono from U2), Roman Polanski's The Ninth Gate
(starring Johnny Depp), and Stephen Frears' High Fidelity.
Another welcome inclusion is Steven Soderbergh's The Limey, an
offbeat thriller he shot in between making Out Of Sight and Erin
Brockovich, which somehow failed to get a cinema release here
when it was first made.
Further off the beaten track, the Regional
Focus program - which concentrates on work from the Asia Pacific
region - has a commendably eclectic selection of films, ranging
from horror (Nakata Hideo's Ring and Ring 2) to action (Lee
Myung-See's hyperstylish Nowhere To Hide) to Shinji Aoyama's
Eureka, a four-hour drama about the aftermath of a bus hijacking,
which won the International Critics' Prize at Cannes this year,
and which critics have compared to the work of John Ford.
There's also an unusually
interesting-looking batch of Australian features. I'm especially
keen to see the closing-night film, Mallboy, directed by Vince
Giarrusso of the band the Underground Lovers. As the title
suggests, it's about a kid who spends a lot of time in shopping
malls, where he shoplifts, sells drugs to his friends, and
generally hangs out. It's a very plausible premise, and in
publicity shots the main character - Kane McNay from SeaChange,
in black beanie and windcheater - looks exactly right; hopefully
this will be the rare Australian film that achieves realism
without getting preachy or melodramatic.
Also in the program are two new films,
Innocence and Father Damien, by one of Australia's most enduring
auteurs, the erratic but often interesting Paul Cox. And Mark
Savage's Sensitive New Age Killer has got to be a novelty - it's
not often anyone sets out to make a full-throttle,
all-guns-blazing action movie set in Melbourne. (The last person
to try it was Jackie Chan with A Nice Guy; Savage shot a
documentary about the making of that film, so he's learnt from
Here’s my shortlist of screenings
I’m determined not to miss.
The title translates as ‘good work’ –the latest by French director Claire
Denis, subject of a deserved (and, for once, just about complete) MIFF retrospective.
It’s a romantic mood piece set among soldiers in the Foreign Legion, loosely inspired
by Herman Melville’s Billy Budd. Overseas critics have called this a masterpiece, but
warned viewers not to expect much of a storyline. Those who know Denis’ work
won’t need to be told.
Samira Makhmalbaf’s first feature, The Apple – made when she was just 18 –
was one of the very best films at last year’s MIFF, tackling a tricky subject (the
real-life plight of two mistreated children) with uncanny fleetness and poise. This
follow-up is about a group of teachers scouting for pupils on the Iranian-Kurdistan
border; it’s billed as a suspense film of sorts.
Branded To Kill.
The flagship movie for the festival’s Seijun Suzuki spotlight (curated by Philip
Brophy) this is described as a hitman thriller with avant-garde styling and kinky sexual
twists. Suzuki, a director of violent 60s Japanese B-movies, has a sizeable cult
reputation; my knowledge of his work is extremely limited, which is why we need festival
programs like this one. Jim Jarmusch cited Suzuki as a key influence on his own hitman
movie, Ghost Dog, and that’s enough of a recommendation for me.
The Discreet Charm Of The Bourgeoise.
To celebrate the hundred-year anniversary of the birth of legendary surrealist filmmaker
Luis Bunuel, the MIFF is screening a few of his best films, including this 70s classic
about a group of well-groomed French people looking for a place to have dinner. Because
Bunuel isn’t an obviously spectacular director, you might suppose that it
doesn’t matter whether or not you see his work in a cinema. In fact, in this case,
the opposite is true: the big screen transforms the film, lending an ironic dignity and
grandeur to the most seemingly silly, inconsequential characters and events. Let’s
hope they get a decent print.
Peepshow: Titillation & The Moving Image.
A program of experimental film and video (curated by Clare Stewart) on themes relating to
nudity, sex and voyeurism. If this is a marketing gimmick, it’s a venerable one: for
almost the entire history of cinema, experimental films have lured audiences with the
promise of explicit and transgressive sexual content. And why not? But expect some formal
thrills as well as the other kind.
Spectres Of The Spectrum.
The last Craig Baldwin film I saw, Tribulation 99: Alien Anomalies Under America, was a
weird, manically edited, and largely indecipherable 'found footage compilation' designed
to prove that all 20th century history was controlled by alien reptiles (or something).
Baldwin’s new film, set a few years into the future, appears to be designed along
similar lines, with spaceships, time-travel, telepathy, and people named after cartoon
characters. It will probably make no sense at all. Did I mention that Baldwin’s films
Raul Ruiz, another filmmaker who’s not afraid to plunge into incoherence, presents a
long-cherished project – his version of the final volume of Proust’s A recheché
de temps perdu. Ruiz’s wayward approach to narrative – his films are filled with
mysterious legends and anecdotes that collapse into each other like episodes in dreams
– guarantees that this will be anything but a straightforward, literal adaptation.
The amazing cast includes Catherine Deneuve and none other than John Malkovich as the most
famous homosexual in literature, the Baron de Charlus.
The Wind Will Carry Us.
Though none of his films have ever received a commercial release in Australia, Iran’s
Abbas Kiarostami currently must be one of the most highly praised filmmakers in the world.
Nothing could be less dependent on hype, however, than his films themselves, which remain
stubbornly focused on ordinary people with practical problems, and which serenely ignore
(above all, in their utterly distinctive sense of time) most conventional wisdom about how
to tell a story. This latest film revolves around four strangers who come from the city to
a remote Iranian village; advance word suggests it shouldn’t be missed.
What else? Well, there’re several other experimental film compilations; a
collection of BBC biopics of composers by Ken Russell; a short film competition; a cluster
of music films; an extensive program of film-related speeches and panels; an animation
sidebar, including a homage to pioneer silhouette animator Lotte Reiniger; a handful of
mainstream Hollywood films that are bound to get a commercial release later on; an
unusually promising selection of Australian features; and many, many other movies which
may or may not deserve your attention.
And if none of the above grabs you, there’s also the Melbourne Underground Film
Festival, running July 20-26 alongside the official program. This is an event set up by
filmmaker and sometime nightclub-owner Richard Wolstencroft, who was pissed off that the
MIFF rejected his latest opus, the helpfully titled Pearls Before Swine. Program details
to hand are sketchy, but the focus will be on exploitation-style movies – erotica,
horror, sci-fi – with a retrospective of ‘Australian cult cinema’ going
back to the ‘70s. Could be cool, could be slightly dodgy, most probably a bit of
both. But the more alternatives distributors and exhibitors offer us, the more chance we
have to truly ‘see what’s out there’ – and that has to be a good
AUSTRALIAN FEATURES & OPENING NIGHT AT MIFF
By Andrew L. Urban
With two new Paul Cox films in the one festival (Innocence and Father Damien),
Melbourne pays homage to the man it drove away. Cox is making films in Adelaide, in
Sydney, in Europe and in Hawaii - anywhere but Melbourne, where he feels he is not
appreciated. That can only be partly true, as this programming demonstrates.
Innocence is a film that shows Paul Cox at his most romantic, in the truest sense of
the word, telling a story about a love that never dies. The lovers are elderly, and they
have spent their lives apart. They meet one spring and are forced apart, but meet up again
in the autumn of their lives. Charles Tingwell and Julia Blake are superb. As for the
story of Father Damien, I haven't seen it, but this, too, is a romantic story - although
of a different kind. Here, it's human nature at its noblest. And boasts interesting
casting: David Wenham, Sam Neill, Derek Jacobi, Peter O'Toole, Kris Kristofferson . . .and
Kate Ceberano as a Hawaiian Princess.
Better Than Sex and My Mother Frank opened and closed this year's Sydney Film Festival
respectively, and both deserve a festival showcase prior to their commercial release. Of
course, the old argument about festival screenings mopping up potential box office dollars
Mallboy is the closing night film, a memorable debut by Vincent Giarrusso, shot in
Melbourne with a terrific young cast and an unpredictable edge, covering three days
crucial in the life of 15 year Shaun, marvellously portrayed by Kane McNay.
The Australian Showcase also includes Daniel Nettheim's youth comedy Angst and several
documentaries, including Tosca, a splendid, funy and insightful fly-on-the-backstage-wall look at the Australian Opera.
With the choice of Wonder Boys as Opening Night film and its director Curtis Hanson a
festival guest, Sandra Sdraulig signals her respect for screen writing as well as
directing. To some people, a commercial film (opens here on August 3 - as the festival
draws to a close) such as this has no place in a festival but others welcome the chance to
see it in this context. Certainly, the film and the talent involved justify a spotlight.
It could be argued that its presence in the festival alerts the greater public to the
film's credentials - and that having Michael Douglas as its star should not lead us to
premature assumptions about the film.
But Sandra Sdraulig's response is different: she says she doesn't find it "a
persuasive argument" that commercially releasing films should be kept out of
festivals. "You're celebrating filmmaking over the past 12 months so it's important
to juxtapose those films that will get a release with those that won't." She says it
would be absurd to leave out of the program a film that's so "sharply scripted and
wonderfully observed as Wonder Boys," for instance.
Sdraulig says the festival, with 350 films from nearly 40 countries, offers
"astronomical choice. At any given time you could have four options to choose from,
and I think it's important to offer audiences a mix of safe and adventurous choices."
She leaves the festival at the end of this year's event having lifted box office 87% during her term, with
admissions up from 55,000 to over 100,000. "It's good to leave it in a healthy state
and I think in a creative situation like this, where you are making decisions about what
people see, it's good to have new blood."
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49th Melbourne International Film Festival
July 19 - Aug 6, 2000
For the past two years, the directors of all three major Australian city film festivals -
Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane - have been women. Last year was Gayle Lake's first in
Sydney and this year it's Sandra Sdraulig's last in Melbourne.
Opening night film:
Closing Night Film:
The Limey, starring Terrence Stamp
Titus, starring Anthony Hopkins
My Mother Frank