Sunday 16 August 2015

Top 10 Films at the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival

So two and a half weeks of craziness come to an end, and after getting to watch a mere 50 films, I now present you my Top 10 movies from the 2015 Melbourne International Film Festival.

1. Mustang 

Admittedly, when I think of countries creating brilliant cinema, Turkey is not one of the first countries I think so, but this will change with Mustang. Similar to that of Sofia Coppola's The Virgin Suicides, five sisters are locked inside their house by their uncle and grandmother after they are seen rubbing their legs against boys' necks in the beach. The girls are subjected to virginity tests and systematically married off to local boys with devastating results. 
The five females are incredible in this, and worth noting this is the first time any of them have acted in a movie. Gunes Nezihe Sensoy, who plays the youngest sister Lale, in particular has such a strong screen presence, that it would be a shame if we never saw her on the big screen again.
The suspense builds up in this tragic but uplifting story about the suppression of female sexuality by the patriarchy and how in many cultures women are still being seen as just a mother or wife. 
The film also boasts a beautiful score by Warren Ellis.
The trailer is in Turkish still but I think you can see the brilliance of the film beyond the language.

This documentary on the rape epidemic across American college campuses is brutal. I went through a wave of emotions watching this from sadness and despair to frustration and anger at hearing these women recount these traumatic events to only be met with scepticism and derision.
We follow Andrea Pino and Annie E. Clark, who were both raped while at college. Upon reporting this, their colleges attempted to sweep it all under the carpet but these two women fought back and filed a Title IX against University of North Carolina for being excluded from participation in, being denied the benefits of, and being subjected to discrimination on the basis of sex. 
It's disgusting that in some cases, the same person is mentioned by these women as raping them yet the student is still permitted to be on campus. In fact, an astronomically higher number of students have been expelled over plagiarism than sexual assault (and in some cases that number doesn't even get to double digits). 
It is stated that many of the colleges mentioned, including Harvard, refused to report or investigate these claims as it would mean potentially losing money from its stockholders. Ironically, if found guilty, of violating Title IX, the result would be losing its federal funding. 
This is a powerful documentary that cuts right to the bone about rape culture and the treatment of victims of rape that everyone ought to watch.

Continuing on with last year, the late night screenings at MIFF have proven to be a winner again and top of the list was The Invitation
Will and Eden were married with a child but after their son's death, they separated. Two years later, Will and a group of friends are reuniting for dinner at Eden's along with her new partner. 
Right from the very beginning, the suspense of the story sucked me in and had me feeling very uneasy. Throughout the whole film we are questioning whether Will has legitimate reasons to be suspicious or is he still being haunted by the death of his son. And it's not until the last ten-fifteen minutes where the answer is made clear and things really begin to shake up.
I really enjoyed seeing a film that had a variety of ethnicities portrayed and not just white American folk. It felt so much more authentic this way too, so the suspense created was even more intense. Emayatzy Corinealdi is superb as Will's new girlfriend Kira, as were Mike Doyle and Michelle Krusiec.
The final shot is pure genius and the ramifications of that evenings events are fully felt.
Unfortunately, there is no online trailer, so you'll have to make do with the image below and an interview with its Director Karyn Kusama.

Well this would be the quirkiest, weirdest film I saw at the festival. Directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos (Dogtooth) in his English-language debut, The Lobster is based in a world where being with a partner is literally a matter of life and death. Colin Farrell plays David, a man who has 45 days to find his mate at The Hotel before he is turned into an animal of his choosing, in this case, a lobster.
There is a great supporting cast here including Rachel Weisz, Ashley Jensen, John C. Reilly and the always wonderful to watch, Olivia Colman.
Lanthimos creates this world that the strangeness of where we find ourselves is soon accepted as the norm, that this is the world we now live in. It is full of hilarious moments and also suspenseful moments, including one particular scene that had the whole audience squirming in their seats.
This one is definitely worth a rematch as I am sure there are plenty of small things that were missed using the first viewing.
No trailer for it online, but here's a nice clip from the film.

The second documentary in my top ten, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, looks at the women who founded the feminist movement of the 1960s. Through a very balanced use of current day interviews and archival footage, there is a strong indication of the barrier these women faced and the bravery they possessed - and still do on both counts. 
All the interview subjects were fascinating and added much to then overall story that first time documentarian Mary Dore is telling.
An insightful yet entertaining look at the discrimination and issues women fought and how it grew (and continues to grow) to include all ages and social groups, such as Black Sisters United, who had to also fight to be recognised as equal to white women as well as men.
This documentary provides context and the roots of the word "feminism" and the rights that women have been fighting for. 

6. Pawno

This is the only Aussie film in my top ten. Filmed in Footscray, it revolves around a pawn storeowner and the various interactions had throughout a day with its residents.  It's a character driven story on these people just trying to get by.
The cast does a stellar job with everyone making their characters believable and honest in a relatively short amount of screen time for each one. Kerry Armstrong is brilliant as ever and Mark Coles Smith is in great form too and someone I need to see more often.
Kudos to the team for portraying a real Australia with a number of multicultural castings, and similar to The Invitation, not making it seem like we live in a country full of white people. The other refreshing thing about Pawno is that it's not a typical Aussie movie set in the outback and there's no "Castle"-ness to it, which I think adds to its wider appeal.
If you liked The Little Death - and let's face it, who didn't, you would absolutely love this and hopefully it gets a wider release soon.
Could have done without the ukulele playing scenes though.

7. How To Dance In Ohio

The third and final documentary in my top ten, and from the very first scene I fell in love with How To Dance In Ohio. The film looks at a group of people on the cusp of adulthood who happen to also be on the higher functioning end of autism. 
While it mainly revolves around an upcoming formal where they will need to work on social skills to dance and interact with each other, there are side stories that look at the kind of life they can lead on a greater scale. 
There are some truly touching moments from these people as well as their parents as insecurities and fears and anxieties are discussed. 
Having worked with children with autism on the lower end of the autism spectrum, I often wondered about what life they could lead once they did hit their 20s and while they are nowhere near as functioning as these people, it is heartwarming to know that there are services and support available to them.

The Chosen Ones looks at the sex slave trade with a bit of a twist in that the main focus on the story isn't necessarily the 14 year old girl forced to sleep with all these men but her "boyfriend's" guilt and remorse at what he has done. I personally had real difficulty feeling any sympathy for him, especially with what he does to try and save his "girlfriend" from a life of being used and abused.
It's confronting stuff and the way David Pablos has filmed the sex scenes is simple, effective and stays with you for a long while after the film ends. 
What hope there is here is minimal and the idea that this cycle will continue on with other girls is a harrowing feeling. 

9. Spring

I do love a good horror film but I am over all the blood and gore that people think is necessary to make an effective horror film. Spring however does not rely on that with its very clever, romantic comedy with a touch of horror. As my friend described it, it's Before Sunrise with a twist. 
Beautifully shot in Italy, the editing and filming is quite breathtaking and you are taken in by the beauty of the Italian city the American tourist finds himself in.
Lou Taylor Pucci and Nadia Hilker share some great chemistry on the big screen and they bring a realness and believability to the plight they find themselves in, especially Hilker, who nails her role and convincing us that what she is saying is completely logical and true. 
The ending, while unexpected, is actually quite fitting and a nice change for once in the horror genre. 

10. Phoenix

Bringing in the top ten is German film, Phoenix, which is a post World War 2 story that isn't often told. It's an exploration of what happens after the war is over and people are now attempting to get on with their lives and trying to forget the terrible things they have had to endure.
Strong performances from the two leads - Nina Hoss and Ronald Zehrfeld, especially from Hoss who is playing a woman pretending to be someone else pretending to be someone else who is in fact that woman. 
The final scene is possibly one of the most powerful scenes of any film I saw during the festival and takes it back to the simplest form of humanity.
No subtitles for the trailer but you can still see the beauty and allure of this film.

And the rest:

The Overnight
Robot Overlords
Graceful Girls
Tyke Elephant Outlaw
Life Kills Me

The Witch
Our Little Sister
Peggy Guggenheim
Stories I Want To Tell You In Person
The Maid
Goodnight Mommy
My Skinny Sister
Fort Buchanan
Turbo Kid

The Diary of a Teenage Girl
These Are The Rules
Me And Earl And the Dying Girl
Do I Sound Gay?
Ecco Homo
Being 14
Prophet's Prey
Nasty Baby

Early Winter
The Smell of Us
The Wolfpack
Two Shots Fired
Partners in Crime
In The Basement
La Sapienza
The Nightmare

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