For Melburnian cinephiles, the 21st century has been a time of convenience and frustration. Granted an unprecedented catalogue of films through DVD distribution and the advent of peer-to-peer file sharing, we have been simultaneously faced with the steady decline of local independent and arthouse cinemas. The variety of good new films screening at any given time is, therefore, severely constrained.
The exception, happily, is the annual Melbourne International Film Festival: a two-and-a-half week course of the previous year’s award-winners, auteur pieces and obscurities from around the globe. While at least some of the films shown at MIFF are likely to receive limited distribution over the next 12 months, there are many that will never shadow a Melbourne screen again; as such, it may be wise to check out some of the more obscure titles in the schedule. With that in mind, Lot’s Wife has compiled a list of five films to watch at the 2012 Melbourne International Film Festival.
Revered in academic circles, Chantal Akerman has rarely received much in the way of mainstream recognition. It’s understandable, perhaps, given her commitment to challenging film conventions; still, it seems a shame that her work is not more widely seen. Her early films, such as three-hour-long minimalist epic Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles and experimental personal odyssey Je, Tu, Il, Elle, are rightly regarded as masterpieces of feminist cinema: films that drastically subverted both the visual language and appearance of the (then, as now) male-dominated art-form. Almayer’s Folly, her first fictional feature in close to a decade, takes a Joseph Conrad novel as its source, and, presumably, tool for reinvention.
One of the world’s greatest active filmmakers, Michael Haneke has often addressed discomforting subject matter: in Funny Games, he called upon a home invasion narrative to deconstruct Hollywood movie violence; in The White Ribbon, he showed the destruction wrought upon society by patriarchal cruelty. Amour, in contrast, seems a gentler work; an intimate study of the effects of old age on the lives of a married couple. Sentimentality, doubtless, shall be thoroughly absent — Haneke has never been anything but rigorous — all the same, there appears to be no irony in the film’s title. Amour already has a sizeable reputation to live up to, what with its Palme d’Or victory at Cannes and near-universal critical acclaim, but it looks every bit as good as hoped.
It may seem paradoxical, but it’s pertinent to note that the black comedies of Todd Solondz — filled, always, by the most fucked-up characters imaginable — contain a note of humanism that few American filmmakers care to reach; his parades of sociopaths, paedophiles and social incompetents both a tableau of human frailty and a cry of outrage against the cruelty society inflicts upon its outsiders. Dark Horse, Solondz’s latest production, promises to be yet another piece of excruciating feel-bad cinema — not enjoyable, by any means, but at the very least deliciously cynical.
Into the Abyss
It seems like a project made in heaven: Werner Herzog and capital punishment! Not that we think Herzog deserves a stint in the electric chair; more, that the probing, eccentric nature of his style as a documentarian seems perfectly suited to the subject of the death penalty. Here, the veteran German filmmaker takes an American case-study as a starting point and uses it to construct a complex analysis of a divisive topic. It can’t possibly be anything less than fascinating.
Pink Ribbons, Inc.
Charity, we learned in the fall-out over The Chaser’s War on Everything’s ‘Make-a-Realistic-Wish Foundation’ sketch, is not a topic that many of us are comfortable seeing mocked. Neither, it seems, do we like to see it treated sceptically; a tendency that, as this documentary demonstrates, corporations are more than willing to exploit. A searing exploration into the breast cancer industry, Pink Ribbons, Inc. is a badly-needed bucket of cold, pink-lidded Mount Franklin water.
MIFF runs from Aug 2 – Aug 19. Purchase tickets at the Forum box office or at www.miff.com.au.