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MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1-4

MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1-4

A Bumpy Beginning
Jul 26, 2011

Missed screenings and faulty projectors have ensured that my first few days at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) have gotten off to a bit of a rough start. Yet as I wearily type this at quarter-to-one in the morning, in full awareness that I have to get up in six hours so I can be on time to University, I rest assured in the knowledge that it only takes one great film to turn it all around.

But I’ll get to that in a minute.

While the festival festivities technically kicked off on Thursday night with the opening film and after-party, for plebs/cheapskates like me the festival doesn’t really begin until Friday. Unfortunately, this didn’t exactly work out either. I was meant to be attending a screening of the award-winning documentary Tears of Gaza on Friday afternoon, only to discover the day before that I was rostered on to work my “real” job. With an 8pm, non-MIFF screening of The Blues Brothers to attend in the evening, it seems my 2011 MIFF experience was not fated to begin until Saturday.

Still, on Saturday morning I set off bright and early with my girlfriend into Melbourne’s CBD for my first film at The Australian Centre for the Movie Image (ACMI) in Federation Square. Arriving in the city just after 10 for an 11 o’clock screening, we had a chance to check out the Stella Artois MIFF Lounge and MIFF Box Office (both located in the Forum Theatre right across the road from ACMI). It was there I bumped into Simon Miraudo of the Quickflix blog. Simon, with whom I have been Twitter friends for some time, and have even podcasted with on one occasion, is taking part in the MIFF 60-films-in-17-days blog-a-thon, so we only had the chance to chat for a moment before he had to rush off. Still, it’s always nice to meet fellow bloggers, and I hope it will be the first of many such chance encounters.

After grabbing a quick coffee, we settled into the rather rigid seats for our very first film: Mohamad Rasoulof’s Good Bye [Bé omid é didar], an Iranian film about a pregnant woman trying to flee from the country that is persecuting her and her fugitive husband. I’d selected the film with my girlfriend in mind – she, like me, is in the midst of her liberal arts education, and is always down for commiserating about the plights of oppressed minorities from any and all corners of the globe. Good Bye certainly had this in spades, but it also had a tendency to keep the audience at arm’s length, both emotionally and in terms of communicating the gravity of the situation the protagonists find themselves in. Many of the scenes in the film are intentionally mundane, and while it was effective way of demonstrating the marginalised position of women in Iranian society, it was also occasionally quite dull.

0400191 e1311593912611 600x286 MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1 4Mohamad Rasoulof’s Good Bye [Bé omid é didar].

Frustratingly, whatever quiet qualities the film did possess were undercut by the first of many technical faults that seemed to follow me wherever I went. Coming from the bottom right hand corner of the theatre, for the entire two hours, was a high pitched whistling noise that was impossible to ignore. Afterwards we theorised what the noise might have been – perhaps the breathing apparatus of an elderly patron, or an ACMI employee making cup after cup of tea?

(I reached out to the ACMI Twitter account, and eventually discovered it was a faulty air conditioner… I think our explanations were more interesting. Either way, it has apparently been fixed).

Good Bye was preceded by a short Iranian film called The Accordion. It was a rather sweet little story, but unfortunately for me it also meant that by the time the lights came up, I was already a couple of minutes late for my 1pm showing of Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams, which was playing up the other end of Swanston St at the Hoyts Multiplex in Melbourne Central (presumably because the arthouse theatres MIFF usually commandeers don’t have the capacity to project 3D films).

By the time I arrived at Melbourne Central I was 20 minutes late. But as luck would have it, there were apparently major faults with the sound system, and after the crowd starting shouting and stamping their feet (which I’m actually extremely sorry I missed), the projectionist decided to just restart the whole thing. So by the time I rushed into the theatre, the film had just begun… for the second time. Not so luckily, because I was amongst the last people in, I was seated in the very front row, and spent most of the movie craning my neck trying to make out the screen.

cave of forgotten dreams movie stills 51 e1311560697723 MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1 4Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams.

In retrospect, this less-than-ideal seating position may have impacted on my rather negative review of the film, and particularly of its 3D elements. As it stands, I’m thoroughly convinced the movie would have been far better and more informative (although probably not as unique) if it had been directed by someone – anyone – other than Werner Herzog.

The films ludicrous epilogue was considerably heightened by the fact that those technical faults reared up again, as the movie came grinding to a halt right in the middle of one of the inexplicable moments of voice-over narration. The lights came up and down a few time, and a poor young MIFF volunteer girl tried timidly to inform the restless audience that the film would be up and running again soon. It was. And then it froze, again. By this time a good half the audience had left, including Glenn Dunks of Stale Popcorn and Paul Nelson of Cinema Viscera. I myself stuck it out, only to learn once the film eventually got going that it was only about a minute from the end. Damn.

The rest of my Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning was taken up by various personal commitments including my brother’s eighteenth birthday. But by 6pm on Sunday evening, I was in line at the Greater Union Cinema in Russell Street for my third film of the festival, the British/American/Indian documentary The Bengali Detective. Going in, that was about all I knew. As it turns out, the film follows a team of private detectives in Kolkata as they manage three cases: tracking an adulterous husband, thwarting a ring of shampoo counterfeiters, and solving a grizzly triple homicide.

1128828 the bengali detective1 e1311593608939 MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1 4Brian Cox’s The Bengali Detective.

In short, I thought this film was absurd — and not in a charming or interesting kind of way. Interspersed throughout the movie is footage of the detectives training to audition for – of all things – a TV dance program. These ludicrous moments strike sharp and jarring contrast with the otherwise serious subject matter, including the frequent references to the ever worsening health problems of the lead detective’s wife. Director Brian Cox also pays some small lip service to the greater social issues of law enforcement and corruption in India; issues that, had they taken any kind of central focus, would have made for a far better film.

By the film’s end, I sorely regretting not choosing to see the schedule-clashing Martha Marcy May Marlene instead, as positive reviews began littering my Twitter feed. Next, I headed down to the Forum for the screening of Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation [Jodaeiye Nader az Simin] – a film I hoped would be, at last, truly excellent. But first I had to conquer the enormous queue that was beginning to engulf the entire block. Clearly I wasn’t the only one who had heard the buzz for the film out of the Venice and later the Sydney Film Festival (where the picture took home the Golden Bear and Sydney Film Prize, respectively). So there I was, queuing in the freezing cold for 45 minutes whilst busting for a pee. It’s safe to say, by the time I got inside, the movie needed to be pretty bloody good.

jodaeiye nader az simin original1 e1311593653112 600x270 MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1 4Asghar Farhadi’s A Separation [Jodaeiye Nader az Simin].

Blessedly, it was sublime.  An achingly real, stunningly acted, morally complex and emotionally gripping family and legal drama, it is hard to imagine many films for the remainder of the festival coming close to this one. Look for my full length review in the next day or two, and do everything in your power to catch up with it if you can. (The second session at MIFF, unfortunately, is already sold out.) Yet another massive technical stuff-up – a projection error that meant we couldn’t read the subtitles for a good two minutes in one of the films climactic final scenes – couldn’t detract from this amazing film.

As I left the Forum and jumped straight on the tram that would take me home, I felt both relieved and reinvigorated. The next few days bring screenings of films that have already received much critical attention, including Takashi Miike’s 13 Assassins and James Marsh’s documentary Project Nim. So despite a bumpy beginning, I am ready and eager for more.

Tom Clift is a web-based film journalist from Melbourne, Australia. Visit his website here: http://reviewsbytom.blogspot.com.

You can read all of Tom Clift’s coverage of MIFF 2011 here.

miff 20111 MIFF 2011 Diary: Days 1 4


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