MIFF 2018, flickering

MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

ACMI
COMEDY THEATRE
FORUM THEATRE
HOYTS CINEMA
PALACE KINO CINEMA
REGENT THEATRE

Thursday 3rd – Sunday 20th August, 2018

Sixty-four films had been booked and though it seemed an impossible amount to see, each time I looked over the list, I could not cut a single one. I decided I'd let my body and work commitments make the cut for me instead. This meant a couple of documentaries and features I had anticipated were dropped, such as A Woman Captured, but perhaps I will still get a chance to see them later on.

Rewind. Here is a look at the fifty-seven chiefly glorious films Louise and I did see. 

3rd August:
Day 1
Film 01, AT WAR (Stéphane Brizé)
Film 02, 3 FACES (Jafar Panahi)
Film 03, ÁGA (Milko Lazarov)
"I had a dream yesterday. I am walking across the open tundra. While I am walking, I see a naked baby playing on the ice. I think he is going to get cold, so I pick him up and bring him home. Then I get tired and fall asleep. When I wake up, I see the boy has turned into a big polar bear. He takes me away, far from home. Then suddenly the polar bear turns into a young man. His home turns out to be a hole in the ground. We go down deeper and deeper into the hole. It’s wonderful! All the stars from the sky have fallen down there. Everything’s so bright that I go blind. I forget who I am, where I’ve been, where I come from, who I used to be. I forget everything. And then I woke up.”
(Sedna recounted her dream to Nanook as they lay in their yurt weighted upon the tundra (Ága)) 

A story told to a radio’s static. An orchestral score, Mahler’s Fifth. The crack of ice. The crunch of permafrost. Blinding light. A reindeer on the horizon, mythical or real, elusive, for sure. A cancer spreading; in the body and through the land. Black holes in arctic hares, and an earth mined with no hope of undoing greedy wrongs. #MIFF2018 started; MIFF beautiful. Like a face framed by pearls. Like rocks shaped like a family, fixed for all time in the landscape. Legs are like family, “one can’t do without the other”. From the factory floor, picket line roar of At War to the hopeful notes found dotted throughout 3 Faces, from France to an Iranian village and finally the arctic tundra, unions and livelihoods. MIFF is off to a terrific start. 61 films to go! And you’re coming with us.

4th August:
Day 2
Film 04, THE WILD PEAR TREE (Nuri Bilge Ceylan)
Film 05, GOOD LUCK (Ben Russell)
Film 06, THE SEEN AND UNSEEN (Kamila Andini)
MIFF day 2, upon a sensory threshold, in a field beneath the full moon. Seen unseen, in a liminal state; lo! I have a monkey’s tail. And, with luck, their agility; now I can spring! In this ‘other’ realm, where the ghost children beat-flap-beat their wings and roll like stones across moonlit fields and the hospital floor, perhaps, with a beak from a flower and yellow circles upon my shins connecting to my spurs, I can become a rooster, like Tantra and her twin (‘buncing’) brother, Tantra. The mesmerising choreography within The Seen Unseen gave me borrowed feathers and a beautiful close to Saturday’s lineup.

Earlier, we had been in the hypnotic loop of Good Luck, down a copper mine in Serbia and panning for gold in Suriname, splitting a rock in two only to find it was now whole, only to split a rock in two, find it whole, split in two, find it whole, split in two.... and in a state of hopelessness in Turkey at the Comedy (The Wild Pear Tree). The Seen Unseen restored hope in humanity. We are ready for day three.

5th August:
Day 3
Film 07, EX LIBRIS: THE NEW YORK PUBLIC LIBRARY (Frederick Wiseman)
Film 08, THE IMAGE BOOK (Jean-Luc Godard)
Film 09, DOGMAN (Matteo Garrone)
Wreath my stone lion, MIFF2018 day 3, you’ll find me in the library, combing through digital files for images of ‘dogs in action’. Dogs, leaping; chewing a ball until it is no longer resembles a ball; leaping, wet; airborne. Sweeping through places, airborne too, in on quiet activities to standing further back, praising “the poetry of reality” (Richard Dawkins) and finding interest and definition in the method (Edmund de Waal). Ah, today’s enlightenment and expansion, followed by Godard’s collage, and a fable, replete with dogs in the action of bearing witness, and a character named Marcello reminiscent of a Modigliani painting. Great! Fatigued. But great.

6th August:
Day 4
Film 10, BIG FISH & BEGONIA (Xuan Liang, Chun Zhang)
Film 11, THE EYES OF ORSON WELLES (Mark Cousins)
Film 12, DEAR SON (Mohamed Ben Attia)
Film 13, WHAT WALAA WANTS (Christy Garland)
Diamond dust and fictional creatures! I have dragged myself through the pictorial plane of a fable, with a ‘sweet-pea, cutie-pie’ chihuahua under the crook of my arm, permitting “the organisation of one’s senses” and concluding, to bend the words of Cézanne, that I am not in a copy, but “parallel to nature”. Cylinder at the ready for what awaits me on day 4.

* * *

Walking home from day 4 filled to the seams with possible compositions for the page, plate, and screen, sparked by Orson Welles’s drawings and paintings which relished taking a line for a walk, and the idea that “if you want a happy ending, [it] depends, of course, on where you stop your story [or line]”. Today, which is already yesterday, according to the clock, we swam with red dolphins (good souls) and supposedly tarnished, by comparison, rats (bad souls), and delighted seeing a red fish from Big Fish & Begonia appear in the cinematic love letter lines of The Eyes of Orson Welles. I’d quite forgotten how much I enjoyed the unintentional visual links you can find from one film to the next. Not just themes or ideas, but little pieces, all caught in the net. Day 4, torn from present day Tunisia (Dear Son) and Palestine (What Walaa Wants), delivered a hopeful ending, depending on where you stop.

Goodnight.

Postscript: Drawings like film sets (thank-you, Orson), and rounded rodents held within a large toy rat costume, perched upon a shoulder, and diving in search of human treasure (courtesy of Big Fish & Begonia), on our mind. Unsurprisingly, beautifully. MIFF making way for ideas.

7th August:
Day 5
Film 14, SIGHTED EYES/FEELING HEART (Tracy Heather Strain)
Film 15, THE GIRL WITHOUT HANDS (Sébastien Laudenbach)
Film 16, WAJIB — THE WEDDING INVITATION (Annemarie Jacir)
“I want to fly! I want to touch the sun!" "Finish your eggs first.”
― Lorraine Hansberry, A Raisin in the Sun

Day 5 burned bright by way of Sighted Eyes | Feeling Heart and continued to glow thanks to Annemarie Jacir’s Wajib — The Wedding Invitation, so much so that we drew the day to a close earlier than planned. Handing out wedding invitations in Nazareth, eating hummus, at the same time as being nibbled by a Grey parrot (Psittacus erithacus), yes, here we will stay; pass the warm bread. “Let the future begin!" With wings, let the future begin.

“Write if you will: but write about the world as it is and as you think it ought to be and must be—if there is to be a world. Write about all the things that men have written about since the beginning of writing and talking—but write to a point. Work hard at it, care about it. Write about our people: tell their story. You have something glorious to draw on begging for attention. Don’t pass it up.”
— Lorraine Hansberry speech, ‘To Be Young, Gifted, and Black’, given to Readers Digest/United Negro College Fund creative writing contest winners, NYC, 1st May, 1964.

(Earlier.)

8th August:
Day 6
Film 17, THE OTHER SIDE OF THE WALL (Pau Ortiz)
Film 18, SOFIA (Meryem Benm'Barek)
Film 19, THE CHILDREN ACT (Richard Eyre)
Film 20, THE GREEN FOG (Evan Johnson, Galen Johnson, Guy Maddin)
She picked up the phone, but all she could hear was birdsong. Birdsong and the whistle of a frog. But I might be mistaken (The Green Fog).

Postscript: Walked home. Beat the tram. Enjoyed the stretch. Fell into soup. The joy, immense.

(Earlier.)

9th August:
Day 7
Film 21, PARIS IS BURNING (Jennie Livingston)
Film 22, NERVOUS TRANSLATION (Shireen Seno)
It can be of little surprise that we awoke with no idea of where we were. In Morocco to attend a business deal sealed and dressed as a wedding, but lacking the desired sparkle of a guest (Sofia)? In Mexico play-typing an email on a cardboard laptop with a beautiful young family of Honduran migrants holding tight and true while their Mum was incarcerated (The Other Side of the Wall)? No, it can be of little surprise. Such is MIFF. And as we watched the collage of film and ideas in The Image Book, and the spliced humour and new meaning within The Green Fog last night at ACMI, it can be no surprise that we awoke, bewildered, but with a keenness to return to work on our 15-metre collage of found material scanned from library books. Ripples in the Open will be on display in November of this year, but first, more sourcing and scanning and trimming and reinventing. And more MIFF. We are only a third of the way through all the films we plan to see. Swimming in a wonderful soup!

* * *

Day 7 took me back to the ‘80s. The ‘80s, but not as I experienced them. The ‘80s in the house of LaBeija, Ninja, Xtravaganza (Paris is Burning). The ‘80s through a doll’s house perspective. In the Philippines. (New York was a session ago — keep up.) With a white rabbit as a vessel to collect coins for white hairs plucked. With a Ningen pen 'for a beautiful life'. The promise of a beautiful life. Place your palm on the television set and feel the static, hear the bristle. Rewind a cassette tape. Make the sound of the air conditioner. Hear and mistakenly record the sound of a dog barking in the night ('Nervous Translation'). Looking into two worlds, up close. Immersive, private, imaginative, through a magical lens.

Where will tomorrow’s films transplant me?

10th August:
Day 8
Film 23, RETABLO (Alvaro Delgado Aparicio L.)
Film 24, SHOPLIFTERS (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Anguished. Pierced. Fatigued. Another glorious, visceral, day at MIFF. And …. shadows fall on the soul (César Vallejo, 1892–1938). With last night’s white rabbit still in my hand (Nervous Translation), to the Peruvian Andes, to Retablo, to see what further visuals I can harvest. Sweep, sweep, sweep. Alienation. Abandonment. Senselessness. Sweep, sweep, sweep.

* * *

Sweep, sweep, sweep. Thinking about what makes you read ‘frog’ where ‘fog’ is written (the word association of The Green Fog). Thinking about how the eye registers a miniature even when it is lifelike. More than the absence of details, is it the relative proportions being slightly off that first catches the eye? Sweep, sweep, sweep.

* * *

Day 8, a wonderful two-film day that was, for me, left hand resting in right, and I am reminded of the pleasure of a pair so complementary and different. Bitter sweet experience. Honesty. Love. The real bond of family that needn’t take only one form. Honesty and love make family. And, in Retablo, I am also reminded that you need to make artwork also for yourself. This is not a new revelation, but a reminder not to lose focus on the pleasure of making something and the honesty it too involves. Just as I felt I was becoming too focused on the outcome and how this will be achieved, there it was in the Peruvian Andes: enjoy making what you are making. My own retablo. For now. Enjoy making. The message, the honesty, it will be in there. Leave some potatoes for the dough, not just the eating.

11th August:
Day 9
Film 25, DRESSAGE (Pooya Badkoobeh)
Film 26, MOROCCO (Josef von Sternberg)
Film 27, BIRDS OF PASSAGE (Ciro Guerra, Cristina Gallego)
Film 28, AVA (Sadaf Foroughi)
An owl-like in appearance potoo awaiting a plague of insects. The pad of prehistoric feet of a jabiru (I think, or was it a heron or an egret? A bittern? Did we see their face? Did Úrsula tell me but I was too busy looking at her necklaces and talismans; the exhumed bones lovingly cleaned in readiness to take their final resting place in the clan’s cemetery; the desert; the green; you could almost smell it; and then it rained, outside the Comedy Theatre; a bewildering sensory experience. And so I ask: was it a jabiru?) as harbinger of bad things to come or mother protector, walking across the carpet. In La Guajira, with the Wayúu people (Birds of Passage) flung from the soft silvered tones of Morocco and Dressage at dawn: “estamos alrededor de tu fuego encontrando las palabras/ del silencio: donde anidan los pájaros del festín de la mañana” (“we are gathered around your fire finding the words/of silence: where the birds of the morning feast make their nest”), I collected horses, goats, birdsong to rival a violin, and one of Amy Jolly’s apples which rolled into film four and fell on the floor (in Ava). Animals aplenty, symbolism, and visual threads to tie. The makings of a good day.

(Poem by Miguel López.)

12th August:
Day 10
Film 29, THE CHEATERS (Paulette McDonagh)
Film 30, THE DEAD NATION (Radu Jude)
Film 31, ZAMA (Lucrecia Martel)
Film 32, YOMEDDINE (A.B. Shawky)
Some days roll, piece by idea, into a charmed and gruelling four-film day, and day 10 was one such day. One moment we were being swindled by the keys as the pianist played their own timed serenade to the McDonagh sisters’ The Cheaters (1929), and the next we were in a succession of glass-plate photographs (taken between 1937 to ‘44) in Romania, as the words of a Jewish doctor Emil Dorian revealed all and fell. In a saturated palette trance, we found ourselves in Zama with Don Diego de Zama and a llama, and heeded the whispered advice to keep our bloodied stumps in the sand if we wished to survive. (Hold on to the scene-stealing llama, it’s your only reprieve. This is brutal. This is colonialism. The cruelty of man. The greed of man. Then and now.) The furniture assembled on the sand, it could have come from the silent era, and a useless gift of a four-poster bed became a drying rack for dyed fabrics. With ears ringing from the relentless sound, doused in the sadness of it all, our final experience, the comparative Wizard of Oz tonic of Yomaddine by cart, with Beshay, Obama, and a donkey named Harby. Home is a leper colony. Home is true. And come judgement day (“yomaddine”), animals go straight to heaven. Those made into (tiger skin) rugs too.

13th August:
Day 11
Film 33, CENTRAL AIRPORT THF (Karim Aïnouz)
Film 34, WOMAN AT WAR (Benedikt Erlingsson)
Walking in to MIFF. Walking out from Iceland, Berlin, past, present, future, scramble. In and out, in and out.

* * *

Arrive. Wait. Depart. Uplift. Gathering visuals, delighting in right angles, and, above all, finding hope in the waiting, if only a spark, still a spark, over the course of a year in Germany. Indifference is a four-syllable word that does not apply to my time in Berlin’s Tempelhof Airport with an 18-year-old Syrian refugee named Ibrahim and an aspiring doctor from Iraq, Qutaiba. On a two-film day, sweeping from Karim Aïnouz’s Central Airport THF to the mossed and impossible Icelandic landscape of Benedikt Erlingsson’s Woman at War with power tools, vocal chords, and environmental cause at the ready, danke, shokran, Þakka þér fyrir.

14th August:
Day 12
Film 35, ONE DAY (Zsófia Szilágyi)
Film 36, COLD WAR (Pawel Pawlikowski)
Film 37, EVERYBODY KNOWS (Asghar Farhadi)
Film 38, ARCTIC (Joe Penna)
Wind proof the outer layer! Avoid weak ice! Whiteout! From day 12, we walked home from the 9pm session of Arctic with the sensation of still being in the film. We may have been dehydrated, but not enough to contemplate eating a handful of ice to convert to water. We had no polar bear upon our tail, considering us a meal, and less first aid smarts than Mads Mikkelsen, but determination grew with every step: home, cous cous, warm, sleep, home, cous cous, warm, sleep (Arctic). Last night we dreamt in black and white, and heard the beautiful song and spun the dances within Cold War. (Such music and dance, giddy within beautiful black and white compositions, and a final home again loop straight to the heart; shame it had to include the lovers, but we digress. Arctic survival point 7: don’t get lost. “Flat light conditions combined with blowing snow and sometimes featureless topography can make navigation difficult”.) This morning we contemplate what we have seen. Vineyards and long shadows cast by family ghosts, wedding guests and ransoms (Everybody Knows), the list grows long. Traffic, tights on, wrong shoes, under the table (One Day), the list grows longer still. More please.

15th August:
Day 13
Film 39, A LETTER TO THE PRESIDENT (Roya Sadat)
Film 40, HAPPY AS LAZZARO (Alice Rohrwacher)
Film 41, TRANSIT (Christian Petzold)
Beneath a single light globe. Beneath the moon. Lit by a single source. In dream, awake, and awake, in dream. In the layered strokes of a painting. In Happy as Lazzaro, beautiful and sad. A wolf came close, and nuzzled the rarity of a good man. “Human beings are beasts”, informed the Marchesa Alfonsina de Luna, the queen of cigarettes, from her position of power, and she was right: everybody exploits somebody who in turn exploits somebody, and down the line it goes. A good person is a rare thing. In fable's truism. In life, where a hospitable offering of pastries can be snatched by the intended recipients; where people are enslaved and receive dust for their toil. Lazzaro remains because Lazzaro is, a symbol of hope, “a way of being” (Alice Rohrwacher). Timeless, beneath the moon. Howl. The music has gone from where it ought to reside.

16th August:
Day 14
Film 42, AND BREATHE NORMALLY (Ísold Uggadóttir)
(Preceded by MAGIC ALPS (Andrea Brusa, Marco Scotuzzi, @magic_alps))
Film 43, MOUNTAIN MIRACLE — AN UNEXPECTED FRIENDSHIP (Tobias Wiemann)
Film 44, THE RAPE OF RECY TAYLOR (Nancy Buirski)
Film 45, THE NIGHT OF COUNTING THE YEARS (Shadi Abdel Salam)
Sometimes a film so prizes away your outer shell, it lands directly at your jelly spot, and this morning’s And Breathe Normally, paired by the short, Magic Alps, did just that. Axe to sea, Kafka’s banishment “into forests far from everyone”. It was something of the unexpected, at 11am. A session we had almost thought of skipping in preference to work. Who am I kidding? It was the slow reveal of tale. The tenderness. The sadness. The futility. The hope. The Icelandic landscape. The sound of the wind. The rescue cat named Músi, and their little red harness. The search for place, the longing for stability, home, shelter. A tooth; all that remains of an angel wound around your heart. The quiet, everyday realness of it all. Realness preceded by a pioneer goat, named Salimah (played by a goat named Alice, and based on a story of the first recorded refugee to arrive in Italy with an animal, seeking asylum for them both), dusted by a blanket of snow / showered in feathers from a pillow; real / poetic; kapow. Collide. Devastation and strength, from beginning to end, day 14.

17th August:
Day 15
Film 46, THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING (Mila Turajlic)
Film 47, DISTANT CONSTELLATION (Shevaun Mizrahi)
Film 48, THE RIDER (Chloé Zhao)
Film 49, KUSAMA: INFINITY (Heather Lenz)
Dark hush, giddy rush. Last hurrah of MIFF, calling. 12 films still to see. Lead on, The Other Side of Everything.

* * *

MIFF day 15, with a keenness to revisit ‘Butcher’s Crossing’ by John Williams, and wide open spaces. Leaving the Forum, I whistled but Gus never came.

“But whatever he spoke he knew would be but another name for the wildness that he sought. It was a freedom and a goodness, a hope and a vigor that he perceived to underlie all the familiar things of his life, which were not free or good or hopeful or vigorous. What he sought was the source and preserver of his world, a world which seemed to turn ever in fear away from its source, rather than search it out, as the prairie grass around him sent down its fibered roots into the rich dark dampness, the Wildness, and thereby renewed itself, year after year.”
— John Williams, Butcher’s Crossing

Postscript: A wolf regards the stars. And visuals from MIFF pad through my dreams. Sounds and smells too. The key in the lock, unturned; the creak of the parquet flooring; the liberal application of silverware polish, harvested from yesterday’s screening of The Other Side of Everything (Mila Turajlić). In a Belgrade apartment, former professor of engineering and political official and (always, through and through) activist Srbijanka Turajlić inspired thought and response. It is not enough to sit in a room and grumble about what you see (or choose not to see) happening around you and not do something about it. You have a responsibility to speak up, take action, bring about change. “We were living in a parallel reality, which I think is a danger your generation is also in as you build your lives outside the system. In building your life by ignoring the circumstances you fail to see the moment those circumstances change dramatically.”

18th August:
Day 16
Film 50, THAT SUMMER (Göran Hugo Olsson)
Film 51, THE DAWN WALL (Josh Lowell, Peter Mortimer)
Film 52, CAPHARNAÜM (Nadine Labaki)
Film 53, YOURS IN SISTERHOOD (Irene Lusztig)
Still cloaked in Kusama's watercolours, collages, colour, and drive, a four-film day, a September song; a porthole of raccoons; a clowder of cats, poised wise like oracles of classical antiquity; a portrait of another time (in the frame); a portrait, on the screen, courtesy of rediscovered footage (That Summer). We scaled the vertical rock formation (El Captain, Yosemite National Park), the dawn on our shoulder, and were moved by the performance of Zain Alrafeea and the music within Capharnaüm. (The word, capharnaüm, a “disorderly accumulation of objects”, and place, a “city of ancient Palestine on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee”.) From the reading boxes of mostly-unpublished letters to the editor, a conversation, then and now (Yours in Sisterhood), “oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few / September, November / And these few precious days I'll spend with you”. These precious days.

19th August:
Day 17
Film 54, THE THIRD MURDER (Hirokazu Kore-eda)
Film 55, PICK OF THE LITTER (Dana Nachman, Don Hardy Jr.)
Film 56, THE INSULT (Ziad Doueiri)
Film 57, GIRL (Lukas Dhont)
And so MIFF has come to a close, but not before day 17 enveloped us in the hush of the courtroom, accompanied by the hopeful/hopeless chirrup of one unseen songbird (of a handful) set free, but which ultimately cannot survive in the wild, and the ache of the piano (thanks to Ludovico Einaudi, naturally). Dusted in snow, and with the faint smell of gasoline in the air, from The Third Murder we took our seats in another courtroom, this time in Lebanon (for The Insult), and among a ‘P’ litter of potential guide dog puppies, Poppet, Primrose, Phil, Patriot, and Potomac, licking, wobbling, bounding, growing and very, very smart (Pick of the Litter). Unsurprisingly, our resolve to foster another cat or kitten for the RSPCA in spring was strengthened. And we spun to the studios of Ballet Vlaanderen to see a little of the choreography of Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui on the screen in Girl. (The film was inspired by a newspaper story about “about a young girl Nora, who wanted to become a ballerina but she was born with the body of a boy” (Lukas Dhont).) Late, up close, in Hoyts, for our last session. Lara, oh Lara!

“I wanted to play Lara because she is a heroine. I read the script with my parents and I knew straight away it was a project I had to be involved with. I admire Lara’s courage and persistence. She feels bad about her body, but to model your body into something takes time, as it does with dance. I prepared physically and learned pointe and the makeup and clothes automatically made me feel more feminine. I also worked a lot with my voice.”
— dancer Victor Polster

Curtain down, house lights on. The end.

(Earlier.)

Top ten?

 

Image credit (left to right): Bill Shepherd, Jack Fletcher (cinematographer), unidentified bit player and director Paulette McDonagh on the set of The Cheaters, a 1929 silent film by the pioneering McDonagh sisters, recently restored by National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, title: 764800