Tuesday, August 19, 2014


So, MIFF 2014. A mild winter presaged less than rugged up strides to the venues for my three week holiday (two for movies and one for recovery) but the day of my first screening was the coldest of the year. One and a half colds kept me indoors but they were only passing affairs. Microbes aside, although nothing out of the program on first look leaped out but I managed to glean the necessary very little about those that looked enticing and left the rest to risk. See below. Not too shabby.

The first year we had the Android app I had to stay home and nurse a broken leg. Using it last year was ease itself and this year was even slicker. There was a serious glitch at one point whereby the My Tickets link led to the entire program with the wishlist hearts confounding things even further. This made for a few fumbling moments approaching the scannervolk. That was sorted though and I had no trouble selecting and booking my initial minipass thirteen (those daytime sessions). When it's up and running which is usually the case it is a complete improvement on both paper ticketing and the credit card passes (lost by the admin one year and arrived in the very nick of time for the start day another). The effect this has on queueing is a profound pleasure. Hurrah for the app!

Only had to queue once due to first day gremlins with the scanners. I'm a front sitter. I got to the Forum last Sunday at 4pm for Hard to be a God. The line went around the block. I moseyed down to the club for ten minutes until it had gone in and happily took a favourite spot. There was even a friend of mine in the next seat. Doesn't get better and I'll just rub in that knowing this negates the only advantage I'd use from being a MIFF member.

Apart form the grossly overpriced wine from a sponsor the ambiance of the Forum downstairs is one of the atmospheric points of magnetism for the festival each year. That combination of classical Rome and Danger Diabolik lighting is irresistable. Didn't go to much in the way of events there this time (nothing can top the Romero interview and Q&A in the terrible winter of '08.

Clint Cure and I leaving the Festival Club after the
final session at the Forum, Hard to Be a God.
My old luminous nose problem is back.

There was no MIFF trailer this year. These fatiguing jokes over the last few years have proved excellent at draining the blood from the faces of the hardiest of cinephiles. Even if the joke were a good one it would wither to the quality of a bachelor uncle at Christmas telling the same joke every year. This year this was replaced by the number plate ad which was funny the first time (but I kept forgetting what it was advertising). Well done, thou good and faitful fest. You can keep making trailers but perhaps just consider stringing some clips of plain beauty together and setting that to music. The jokes don't just wear off, they wear.

Capitol Cinema and Treasury Theatre, so fondly recalled from festivals o' yore. The Treasury, once the State Film Theatre, served as an arthouse, giving space to the Melbourne Cinemateque after it's move from the Glasshouse at RMIT. It really did feel good to take the brief stroll from my place to the Treasury and reminded me of years of great gems on offer just down the road. It's where I saw the supposedly lost Ghost Ship (on film!) with a Val Lewton afficianado, Tarkovsky's Sacrifice, the then Spoleto Festival's free literary documentaries about Gertrude Stein and William Burroughs among others. And it was also where I would go to see MIFF films in the late 90s/early 00s.

At the much missed Treasury for
Breadcrumb Trail.
And the Capitol? Saw so much there and would choose screenings there just for the ceiling. Among many the great Primer and the fandom cooling Doppelganger. Just one there this year: Sion Sono's insanely fun Why Don't You Play in Hell?

That fab ceiling


First impression is that while none of the titles I saw leaped out and tweaked my nose with breathless anticipation I did manage to be impressed by more than I'd usually settle for. I went to a few more but even so. Normally, I'd be happy with four out of my mini pass thirteen if those four really got me. At this count five great moments out of seventeen and most of the rest good to really good is doing pretty well. Here's a quick run down:

Sorcerer's old school white knuckle action and sheer force of the narrative of its fable made me forget it was a remake (although reimagining really does apply to this one. It makes Friedkin's glamour run from French Connection to Cruising flawless. Astounding!

Why Don't You Play in Hell? showed Sion Sono in top tight form as he smashed amateur filmmaking and Yakuzas together with a eulogy for the grandeur of 35 mm. Mad as a milliner and percussively funny.

Song from the Forest kept its anger cool as a good man who chose the daily difficult reality of village life in Central Africa over affluence in New York because of music relates the story of his decision and his reception of the world he thought he left behind.

Breadcrumb Trail showed that all you really need to do to piece together the story of a seminal album is to ask nicely and be patient when the answer is long and wordy. A great documentary feels like it is part of the fabric of its subject. This one even talks like it.

Hard to be a God which I was expecting to be a mix of Tarkovsky and Bela Tarr proved to be neither but offered so much in its message and delivery method that it proved to be very much of its own kind. It lingers and acquires more sense than its viewing, like the experience of something that happened in your own life.

Honeymoon might have benefitted from pivoting on a less absurd coincidence if it was going to get all grim and Scandinavian (I know it was Czech, that's not what I mean). Good performances, though.

Particle Fever might have given us more of its science and less of the human face of quirk.

Life Itself celebrated a great cineaste with a constantly apparent memento mori. I warmed to it far less than I do to Ebert's writing.

Rigor Mortis served up some fine Hong Kong horror playing mercifully little for laughs. Wasn't particularly scary either, though.

Come Worry With Us presented a cool indy band as people who have to put up with the same kind of life events as the rest of us but was probably too long for its material.

I Origins betrayed its own character's conviction with more of a Hollywood ending than I was expecting from the maker of Another Earth. That said, very fine dialogue and performances and a superb conceit of taking a highly unscientific notion and describing it scientifically. This team needs work but boy are they making headway.

Trap Street surprised with the subtlety of its fable about trust in the surveillance age but perhaps it could have taken one more pace into its own darkness.

Our Sunhi a fine deadpan comedy more Preston Sturges than Jacques Tati about the identity one professes and that bestowed by others. A gentle but firm hand on the helm kept it from cuteness and delivered a beautifully loopy (in more than one sense) final act.

Exhibition gave us an absurdist take on domestic space so dry it could been by Samuel Beckett's ghost which also means it got pretty funny when it needed to. Joanna Hogg's on the watch list.

When Animals Dream began so promisingly as a kitchen sink realist take on a risky horror sub-genre, persisted with that strongly but lost it to conventionality in the final act which played out like a non-scary copy of an 80s teen horror. Pity.

The Search for Weng Weng was rendered unbelievable to me by something it meant to sell: the filmmaker's sincerity. What can you say when a documentary that claims to be a celebration of a life through that of the documentarian and you still know nothing of the subject beyond a few clips you're meant to ridicule?

So a good un this year with a decent swag of transforming moments, a big happy middle section and only a brace of disappointments. Caught a cold. Slept in. Socialised and drank a lot of champagne. Had a lot of hangovers and plugged in once again to the great circuit of cinema major. Yes, it's still worth getting up in the morning on my holidays to grimace through some freezing air currents on the tightening walk to the venues. I still love treading the carpet of the Forum's mezzanine for a choctop or a coffee before going in. And I love sitting in any of the venues surrounded by other cinephiles who are almost always filling the seating to witness things they might never see again.

Right, that's done. And I'll do the lot again next year.

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