Ten Movies You Really Need to See at the 2022 Melbourne International Film Festival
If August in Melbourne arrives, lines of movie lovers aren't snaked around the Forum, rushing up and down Swanston Street isn't the city's favourite form of exercise, and "what did you just see?" isn't opening every conversation, is it really August in Melbourne? Technically, yes. Emotionally, for cinephiles who've flocked to the Melbourne International Film Festival for decades, no.
Thankfully, until Sunday, August 21 in 2022, it truly is August in Melbourne. MIFF is here. MIFF is underway. MIFF is happening in cinemas, projecting hundreds of films across the silver screen around town, right now in fact.
The highlights are many. The return of Melbourne's MIFF-going rituals, on pause for the past two years, ranks right up there — but every film festival is always about the movie marvels that grace its theatres. A selection will still stream online, too, in wonderful news for film fans who can't live and breathe the fest for its entire 18-day run, or reside outside of Victoria; however, MIFF's heart beats loudest inside a cinema.
If that's your happiest place as well, that's understandable. It is the most glorious spot for a movie buff to be. And, you have plenty to pack into MIFF's big in-person return, plus plenty of titles to pick from as well — including these ten must-sees that are only hitting the fest's big screens.
Flickering across a cinema screen, even the greatest of movies only engage two senses: sight and hearing. We can't touch, taste or smell films, even if adding scratch-and-sniff aromas to the experience has become a cult-favourite gimmick. British director Peter Strickland hasn't attempted that — but his features make you feel like you're running your fingers over an alluring dress (In Fabric), feeling the flutter of insect wings (The Duke of Burgundy) or, in his latest, enjoying the smells and tastes whipped up by a culinary collective that turns cooking and eating into performance art. Yes, if you've seen any of his movies before, Flux Gourmet instantly sounds like something only Strickland could make. While it's spinning that tale, it literally sounds like only something he could come up with as well, given that his audioscapes are always a thing of wonder (see also: the sound-focused Berberian Sound Studio). And, unsurprisingly due to his strong and distinctive sense of style and mood, everything about Flux Gourmet looks and feels like pure Strickland, too.
The setting: a culinary institute overseen by Jan Stevens (Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones), that regularly welcomes in different creative groups to undertake residencies. Her guests collaborate, percolate and come up with eye-catching blends of food, bodies and art — hosting OTT dinners, role-playing a trip to the supermarket, getting scatalogical and turning a live colonoscopy into a show, for instance. Watching and chronicling the latest stint by a 'sonic catering' troupe is journalist Stones (Makis Papadimitriou, Beckett), who also has gastrointestinal struggles, is constantly trying not to fart and somehow manages to keep a straight face as everything gets farcical around him. Asa Butterfield (Sex Education), Ariane Labed (The Souvenir: Part II) and Strickland regular Fatma Mohamed play the three bickering artists, and their time at the institute get messy and heated, fast — but this is a film that's as warm as it is wild, and stands out even among Strickland's inimitable work. Also crucial: riffing on This Is Spinal Tap.
FIRE OF LOVE
What a delight it would be to trawl through Katia and Maurice Krafft's archives, sift through every video that features the French volcanologists and their work, and witness them doing their highly risky jobs against spectacular surroundings. That's the task that filmmaker Sara Dosa (The Seer and the Unseen) took up to make this superb documentary about the couple's lives — although, as magnificent as this incredibly thoughtful, informative and moving film is, it makes you wonder what a sci-fi flick made from the same footage would look like. There's a particular sequence that cements that idea, set to the also-otherworldly sounds of Air, and featuring the Kraffts walking around against red lava in their futuristic-looking protective silver suits. The entire enchanting score springs from Air's Nicolas Godin, and it couldn't better set the mood; that said, these visuals and this story would prove entrancing if nary a sound was heard, let alone a note or a word.
For newcomers to the Kraffts, their lives make quite the tale — one of two volcano-obsessed souls who instantly felt like they were destined to meet, then dedicated their days afterwards to understanding the natural geological formations. More than that, they were passionate about analysing what they dubbed 'grey volcanos', which produce masses of ash when they erupt, and often a body count. Attempting to educate towns and cities in the vicinity of volcanoes, so that they could react appropriately and in a timely way to avoid casualties, became a key part of their mission. This isn't the only doco about them — in fact, German director Werner Herzog is making his own, called The Fire Within: A Requiem for Katia and Maurice Krafft — but Fire of Love is a gorgeous, sensitive, fascinating and affecting ode to two remarkable people, their love, their passion and their impact. It's also benefits from pitch-perfect narration, too, courtesy of actor and Kajillionaire filmmaker Miranda July.
Thanks to everything from The Saddle Club and I Hate My Teenage Daughter to Sweet/Vicious and The Bold Type, Gold Coast-born Australian actor Aisha Dee knows what it's like to live life through screens. She's been acting since she was a teenager, and she's charted the highs of her chosen profession — all in front of a lens. In Sissy, she hops in front of a camera again, naturally, and not only once but twice. In this delightfully savvy and funny Aussie horror film, Dee turns in a wonderfully layered performance as the titular Instagram influencer, whose soaring follower count, non-stop flow of likes and adoring comments, and online fame all stems from her carefully poised and curated wellness videos. Also known as @SincerelyCecilia, the character's sense of self springs from that virtual attention too; however, when she reconnects with her childhood best friend Emma (co-director/co-writer Hannah Barlow), gets invited to her bachelorette weekend and finds old schoolyard dynamics bubbling up, that facade starts to shatter.
If Mean Girls was a slasher film set in a remote cabin in rural Australia, it might look something like Sissy — and that's a compliment multiple times over. Every horror movie wants to be smart and savage on multiple levels, but Barlow and fellow co-helmer/co-scribe Kane Senes (reteaming after 2017's For Now) weaponise everything from influencer culture and pastel, rainbow and glitter colour palettes to toxic friendships, all while spinning a clever, cutting and comedic take on the impact of bullying. They also fill their feature with as gloriously diverse a cast as Australian cinema has boasted, and with one helluva lead performance. If Carrie was set in today's always-online world, amid cancel culture and plentiful praise at the press of a button, it'd look like this, too, but this instant Aussie horror classic takes its own bold stab at plenty of genres.
THE QUIET GIRL
When Normal People became the streaming sensation of the pandemic's early days, it made stars out of leads Paul Mescal and Daisy Edgar-Jones, and swiftly sparked another Sally Rooney adaptation from much of the same behind-the-scenes team. It wouldn't have been the hit it was if it hadn't proven an exercise in peering deeply, thoughtfully, lovingly and carefully, though, with that sensation stemming as much from its look as its emotion-swelling story. It should come as no surprise, then, that cinematographer Kate McCullough works the same magic on The Quiet Girl, a Gaelic-language coming-of-age film that sees the world as only a lonely, innocent, often-ignored child can. This devastatingly moving and beautiful movie also spies the pain and hardship that shapes its titular figure's world — and yes, it does so softly and with restraint, just like its titular figure, but that doesn't make the feelings it swirls up any less immense.
McCullough is just one of The Quiet Girl's key names; filmmaker Colm Bairéad, a feature first-timer who directs and adapts Claire Keegan's novella Foster, is another. His movie wouldn't be the deeply affecting affair it is without its vivid and painterly imagery — but it also wouldn't be the same without the helmer and scribe's delicate touch, which the 1981-set tale he's telling not only needs but demands. His focus: that soft-spoken nine-year-old, Cáit (newcomer Catherine Clinch), who has spent her life so far as no one's priority. With her mother (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, Shadow Dancer) pregnant again, her father (Michael Patric, Smother) happiest drinking, gambling and womanising, and her siblings boisterously bouncing around their rural Irish home, she's accustomed to blending in and even hiding out. Then, for the summer, she's sent to her mum's older cousin Eibhlín (Carrie Crowley, Extra Ordinary) and her dairy farmer husband Seán (Andrew Bennett, Dating Amber). Now the only child among doting guardians, she's no less hushed, but she's also loved and cared for as she's never been before.
For fans of damn good coffee, and hot — lovers of black-and-white zigzag-patterned floors and fish in percolators, too — one type of documentary stands out above the rest. There aren't all that many of them, but they certainly do take viewers to a place both wonderful and strange. Those films? Docos about David Lynch, of course. Lynch/Oz is the latest, after Lynch (One), David Lynch: The Art Life and Blue Velvet Revisited, and it's essential viewing for devotees of the Twin Peaks, Eraserhead, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive filmmaker. Director Alexandre O Philippe clearly adores Lynch, too, just as he adores making movies about movies (see also: Doc of the Dead, the Psycho-focused 78/52, Memory: The Origins of Alien and Leap of Faith: William Friedkin on The Exorcist. And, he's blatantly all in on the idea that the yellow brick road, and everything else in Victor Fleming's beloved big-screen favourite The Wizard of Oz, has been a big influence upon his latest subject.
"There is not a day that goes by when I don't think of The Wizard of Oz," Lynch has famously said — and Lynch/Oz explores the evident truth behind that comment. It traces Twin Peaks' red billowing curtains, and Blue Velvet's obviously blue version, back to The Wizard of Oz's green drapes. It spots Lost Highway's own version of a yellow brick road, Dune and Mulholland Drive's innocents whisked elsewhere, The Straight Story's focus on journeys and the wind rushing through Eraserhead. Philippe has the cannily edited filmic receipts to show all of the above, and to connect The Wizard of Oz to Lynch's constant interrogation of the gap between the American dream and the American myth, too. And, he has fellow filmmakers John Waters, Rodney Ascher (A Glitch in the Matrix), Karyn Kusama (Destroyer), and Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead (Synchronic) among Lynch/Oz's cine-essay guides. We're definitely off to see the wizards here.
YOU WON'T BE ALONE
Sometimes, a comparison is so obvious that it simply has to be uttered and acknowledged. That's the case with You Won't Be Alone, the first feature from Macedonian Australian writer/director Goran Stolevski, who also helmed MIFF's 2022 opening-night pick Of an Age. His debut film's lyrical visuals, especially of nature, instantly bringing the famously poetic aesthetics favoured by Terrence Malick (The Tree of Life, A Hidden Life) to mind. Its musings on the nature of life, and human nature as well, easily do the same. Set centuries back, lingering in villages wracked by superstition and exploring a myth about a witch, You Won't Be Alone conjures up thoughts of Robert Eggers' The Witch as well. Indeed, if Malick had directed that recent favourite, the end product might've come close to this entrancing effort. Consider Stolevski's feature the result of dreams conjured up with those two touchstones in his head, though, rather than an imitator.
The place: Macedonia. The time: the 19th century. The focus: a baby chosen by the Wolf-Eateress (Anamaria Marinca, The Old Guard) to be her offsider. The feared figure has the ability to select and transform one protege, but she agrees to let her pick reach the age of 16 first. Nevena (Sara Klimoska, Black Sun) lives those formative years in a cave, in an attempt to stave off her fate. When the Wolf-Eateress comes calling, her initiation into the world — the world of humans, and of her physically and emotionally scarred mentor — is jarring. With Noomi Rapace (Lamb), Alice Englert (The Power of the Dog) and Carloto Cotta (The Tsugua Diaries) also among the cast, You Won't Be Alone turns Nevena's experiences of life, love, loss, desire, pain, envy and power into a haunting and thoughtful gothic horror fable. To say that it's bewitching is obvious, too, but also accurate.
Three years have passed since Nadav Lapid's Synonyms became the hit of the 2019 Berlinale — the prestigious festival's well-deserved Golden Bear-winner, in fact — and the filmmaker's eagerness to examine what it means to be Israeli hasn't faltered. Ahed's Knee, his latest feature, also wowed a big international fest, sharing the 2021 Cannes Film Festival's Jury Prize with Memoria. It's another moral drama as well, the director's preferred kind of narrative. It isn't afraid to be biting and blunt, either. Lapid's way with images, from probing closeups to pointed roving, proves powerful again. Ahed's Knee is also just as determined to see meaning in movement, thanks to arresting dance scenes that spring suddenly. They rush across the screen, and into the story, like no other alternative is possible for the movie's characters at those points to deal with everything that life has thrown and blown their way. Yes, Lapid is still blistering, too, and has plenty of ways to make his work resonate and sting.
The black-clad Y (Avshalom Pollak, Mountain), Ahed's Knee's protagonist, would clearly like the same kinds of descriptions thrown his way. When the movie opens, he's casting for a film about Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi, who slapped a soldier and was arrested for it. That's all there in the title, as is the other reason that her story is known around the world: a member of the Israeli parliament said that she should've been shot in the knee as punishment. Lapid doesn't turn his feature into a making-a-movie movie, though, but follows Y to the dusty Arava Valley, where he's set to present a screening of a past film and answer questions afterwards. Ministry of Culture bureaucrat Yahalom (first-timer Nur Fibak) is eager to play host, but when she mentions that Y will need to sign a form agreeing only to speak on approved subjects, his sole day and night in town takes several turns.
DREAMING WALLS: INSIDE THE CHELSEA HOTEL
Part of Manhattan since the 1880s, the Chelsea Hotel is as much a New York City icon as the Statute of Liberty or the Empire State Building, and as influential over the cultural landscape as well. It's where 2001: A Space Odyssey was written by Arthur C Clarke and Stanley Kubrick, where Janis Joplin and Allen Ginsburg have resided — Patti Smith, Madonna, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Leonard Cohen as well — and a key factor in the Andy Warhol co-directed 1966 film Chelsea Girls. It's the last place that poet Dylan Thomas stayed, and where Nancy Spungen, girlfriend of the Sex Pistols' Sid Vicious, was found dead. All of these details could fuel a documentary, or several, but that's not the approach that the Martin Scorsese-produced Dreaming Walls: Inside the Chelsea Hotel takes. As the building undergoes extensive renovations that've been happening for years, upending long-term inhabitants and transforming historic apartments, filmmakers Amélie van Elmbt (The Elephant and the Butterfly) and Maya Duverdier spend time with the people determined not to leave.
Everyone who still calls the Chelsea home knows the ins and outs of its past; "the ghosts who haunt it," as one puts it. But Dreaming Walls considers those everyday dwellers — most linked to creative fields in one way or another, of course — the life and soul of the current joint. That might be easy when so much of the place, and its gorgeous gothic architecture, is a construction site in the documentary's frames. The contrast between stripped-bare walls and jam-packed apartments that've been occupied by the same people for decades is haunting as well. It's no wonder that this ethereal and evocative film is largely content to loiter, to listen and to bear witness to the folks who've been there, seen it all, heard what they didn't personally experience and aren't willing to simply move just because a boutique spot is poised to take over.
ROBE OF GEMS
In the very first moments of her very first feature as a director — after working as an editor on films such as 2012's Post Tenebras Lux and 2014's Jauja — Natalia López demands her audience's attention. She earns it and ensures it as well, and looking away while Robe of Gems unfurls its story is impossible afterwards. To kick things off, a patient and painterly glimpse at the rural Mexican landscape comes into sight, fading up and bringing more and more dusty grey details with it with each second. Then, without the frame moving, a frenetic man is seen bashing and slashing through the plants. Next, it becomes apparent that there's a reflection as part of the image. And, it's also quickly evident that viewers are seeing someone else's vantage as they look on at the landscape. In fact, a couple peers out, in the middle of getting intimate (and immediately before flinging wooden furniture around, strewn pieces flying everywhere). With the 'start as you mean to go on' maxim in mind, it's a helluva opening.
López does indeed begin as she goes on, in a film that earned her this year's Berlinale's Silver Bear Jury Prize. The pivotal villa belongs to Isabel's (Nailea Norvind, Julia vs Julia) family, and offers somewhat of a respite from a marriage that's splintering like that thrown-about furniture, with the clearly well-to-do woman settling in with her children Benja (first-timer Balam Toledo) and Vale (fellow debutant Sherlyn Zavala Diaz). But tension inescapably lingers, given that the onsite caretaker María (newcomer Antonia Olivares) is unsettled by the disappearance of her sister, a plot point that makes a purposeful statement. The police are investigating, the cartel has a local presence, corruption is an ever-present force, and the gap between the wealthy and not-so is glaring. Progressing carefully from that powerhouse opening, Robe of Gems quickly seeps under your skin — and as its first visuals make abundantly clearly, every second is a marvel to look at.
If you somehow only knew two things about Japanese cinema — yes, just two — you'd likely be aware of its animation prowess thanks to the films of Studio Ghibli, and you'd probably also have crossed big-screen paths with a certain rampaging monster. Animated Godzilla movies exist, of course. They were always going to. That said, intriguing new feature Battlecry isn't one of them. Instead, it sees a different kind of creature, called shadow monsters, stalking an alternate 1980s vision of Tokyo that's clearly taken more than a few visual cues from Blade Runner. In this sci-fi vision, they're the result of a devastating drug called golden monkey, and they're starting to spread around the planet. That development sparks interest from two people: Soji, a soldier who can't escape the woes of his past, and Haya, a World Bank employee.
It should never cease to amaze anyone how diverse and inventive that Japanese animation constantly proves. Ghibli's output demonstrates that point again and again all by itself, but its adored films provide just one batch of examples. Everything from Akira, Ghost in the Shell and Neon Genesis Evangelion through to recent hits such as Your Name, Belle and Ride Your Wave makes the same point plain, too, and the list goes on. With Battlecry, first-time filmmaker Yanakaya crafted his gritty dystopia in a thoroughly DIY fashion solely on his computer. Although there's no literal fingerprints visible, obviously, there's still a handmade feel to the end result. That couldn't be more fitting for a film reimagines its setting with all the same lights, but with just as many shadows — and is determined to make its own imprint.