Sunday 11 August 2013

My top 10 films at the Melbourne International Film Festival

So two and a half weeks of craziness come to an end, and after getting to watch a mere 37 films, I now present you my Top 10 movies from the Melbourne International Film Festival.

1. Stranger By The Lake

This French thriller takes place at a quiet lake where men spend the day swimming naked and cruising the neighbouring forest. When Franck witnesses a murder at the lake, it turns into a deadly infatuation with the killer and from there the tension builds to an intense final few scenes.
At times quite Hitchcockian, the story is engrossing and the character development of the three leads was done quite well. I really enjoyed the lack of music on this film and how the natural sounds were used to really amplify the suspense.
Despite it's graphic gay sex scenes, it would be a shame to consider this film as a "gay" movie, as it really is just a film where the characters happen to be gay.

2. Omar

Looking at the Israeli-Palestine conflict, Hany Abu-Assad's film is, at its core a love story. Omar and his friends retaliate against the Israel army which results in Omar getting arrested and forced to either betray his friends or stay locked up whilst trying to keep the girl he loves and risks his life for every day.
The filming of this was absolutely amazing and the way the environment and people were shot really drew my breath away. I liked how the clean the cuts were and the polished look of the film was in direct contrast to the actual violence and life situations that were being presented.

It took me a bit to warm to this quirky, whimsy film directed by Bob Byington but once I did, I absolutely fell in love with it. It's a romantic comedy but not quite romantic and not quite comedy. 
Over the span of 35 years, we see the life of Max Youngman and the people who come in and out of his life. There is a surreal atmosphere to this film and sometimes you have to forget logic and accept what you are seeing, but this is a movie after all so it shouldn't be hard to. 
The acting is spot on and includes Nick Offerman from Parks and Recreation and Megan Mullally. 
There is a strong philosophical tone to this film but it is not shoved down your throat, so you can appreciate it on face value or you can delve a little deeper into the thoughts and experiences of the character and yourself.

A group of children are playing "I Capture the Flag" in a nearby forest, and despite this being just a game, it becomes a whole lot more to these kids, with loyalties tested, betrayals, mutiny and death. With their imaginations working on overload, paint-filled balloons become bombs, trees become control towers and sticks become guns and everything is at stake.
Firstly, these child actors do an amazing job - Michael Friend is the top of the list here and is very convincing as the despicable and power hungry Skinner. You do forget at times they are indeed playing a game and these are children and not men fighting in the war. The imaginary scenes between Jess and Quinn were quite tender and I really appreciated how directors, Jason Lapeyre and Robert Wilson didn't allow this film to go into Lord of the Flies territory.
A great film about childhood friendships.

Ok, so I will admit, I did shed a few tears in this one. This Belgian film looks at the relationship of tattoo artist, Elise, and banjo playing cowboy Didier. The story unfold in a non-linear structure, constantly going from the past to the present until the (for me) very unexpected conclusion. 
The two leads - Veerle Baetens and Johan Heldenbergh - have such strong chemistry together and you get a very good sense of their desperate clinging of the past whilst trying to move forward with their lives after they find out their young daughter has a terminal illness.
But don't worry, this is not some Jodi Piccoult-like story, it's a very real, emotional and moving but not melodramatic look at two people's lives together and love for each other. 

6. Stoker

I was very cautious of seeing this, especially as Nicole Kidman seems to be the kiss of death in films lately but I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it's because Kidman is more of a supporting actor here and it is really Mia Wasikowska and Matthew Goode's time to shine.
When India's (Wasikowska) father is killed in a car accident, his brother Charlie (Goode) comes to stay with them. The mystery surrounding Charlie slowly and intensely builds in this very clever script written by Prisonbreak's Wentworth Miller. There is a very strong Hitchcock influence in this film with luscious visuals and doubt and suspicion being cast everywhere.
Goode is perfect as the questionable villain and you can clearly see him relishing playing Charlie. I did find Wasikowska's India every so slightly annoying and reminding me of Wednesday Adams but I am willing to overlook this in an otherwise near perfect film.

In an unnamed war-savaged Middle Eastern country, a woman tends to her husband who has been comatose for the last 16 days. She begins to speak to him and fill him on the dissatisfaction she has felt in life and reveals secrets she would never dare tell him otherwise. Whilst tending to her husband she must also provide for her two daughters and protect themselves from the daily bombings and shootings they face. 
Golshifteh Farahani portrayal of the unnamed woman is heartbreaking but also uplifting. I was captivated by everything; her looks, her clothes, the way she waked and talked. A strong woman who does everything she can to survive whilst still abiding by the restrictions imposed on her for being a woman.
The country is unnamed, there are no names mentioned, thus reinforcing to us that this situation could be happening anywhere at anytime and bringing to the surface the struggles women face in many many countries such as this.
Atiq Rahimi's has directed a beautiful story where not much happens but at the same time so much happens.

My favourite documentary of the festival and one that was seen by pure chance, this is another look at women being seen as second class citizens but in a very different way.
Miss Nikki is responsible for creating the first ever female pop group in Myanmar: The Tiger Girls. 
This isn't some Popstar/Australian Idol documentary though, as the five members of the groups share with us their thoughts, ideas and dreams of what they want to do with the rest of their life.
There are the universal issues here with image, celebrity and marketability but at the heart of this story is the oppression these girls face on a daily basis but also the excitement of the future once Aung San Suu Kyi is released from house arrest.

Another film that looks at women and gender limitation and expectations - this time in the 1950s. A group of schoolgirls form a gang, Foxfire. Initially, they do small things such as spray-painting a teacher's car and painting their symbol on public property but things eventually escalate and ideals and dreams are questioned by all as they try to determine what is is they want.
Just as in "I Declare War", the young actors in this are impressive and do well in capturing the joys, frustration, fear and anger of being a young female in this era. The story develops along nicely and consistently but at 2.5 hours, it runs a little bit long and making it even 20 minutes shorter would have made such a bigger impact and statement to the audience.

Another film I watched by pure chance and wow...there was so much crazy in this and such a bizarre story I can't even explain it. The world is being taken over by aliens (or something) and there's a drug derived from soy sauce that let's you see dead people (or something) and something about parallel worlds and time travel and talking dogs (or something). It made perfect sense at the time though.
I really can't say much else about this film, except that it is highly enjoyable and despite all the vagueness of my review, I did find the story quite easy to follow just so long as you're willing to suspend all belief and just agree with what is happening.

I would also like to give some honourable mention to the following:

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