Judging purely by the quality of the films I have seen, days five through nine at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) have been a marked improvement on my bumpy days one to four. With a combination of intriguing documentaries, moving dramas and one outrageous comedy, in the last five days I have seen six films, almost all of which have managed to live up to my increasingly high expectations for what the festival has to offer.
It all got off to a rather ignominious start however. Monday was my first day back at University, the first of a strenuous two day week (one of the perks of being an Arts student). Because of this, I was unfortunately unable to attend any screenings. Tuesday evening however brought two quality films – a Filipino documentary entitled Give Up Tomorrow, as well as Takashi Miike’s highly buzzed-about Samurai epic 13 Assassins.
Give Up Tomorrow was a gob-smacking watch, about a young man sentenced to death for rape, kidnapping and murder, despite being able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was on the other side of the country at the time of the killings. A devastating indictment of corruption at the highest levels of the Filipino government, the perversion of justice seen in this film was so bald-faced and extreme that it sometimes seemed to stretch credibility. I and two friends who attended the screening with me even commented on this fact after the film ended, only for a girl in the row in front to turn around and start talking to us. Apparently she is from the same village as the unfortunate young man in the film and recognized many of the faces who appeared on the screen. As for the corruption, in her own words: “it really is that bad”. The conversation was only very brief, but it was also pretty incredible, and a real indication of the kind of memorable experiences one can have at a film festival.
Michael Collins and Marty Syjuco’s Give Up Tomorrow.
Exiting the dark greater union cinema, I then got immediately back into the already rapidly growing line for 13 Assassins. After the first MIFF screening several days before generated plenty of positive reactions, mostly in the form of tweets reading “that was totally awesome!” it was clear this film was amongst the hottest tickets in town. Thankfully, unlike other MIFF queues I’ve been placed in, I got to spend a majority of the forty minute wait inside, and my seats were actually in a pretty good spot.
As for the film itself, I’ll agree with many of the tweets I read after the previous screening: it was totally awesome. Although not as action heavy as you might have expected, the combination of dramatic dialogue throughout and some sensational sword-play in the non-stop final act made 13 Assassins one hell of a good time.
Wednesday and Thursday represented quieter days in my festival schedule due to a whole range of “real world” issues far less fun and not all that interesting. I did however manage to attend one screening on Wednesday morning, of Project Nim, director James Marsh’s follow up to the amazing documentary Man on Wire. Sadly, I wasn’t nearly as endeared by this tale of a chimpanzee raised by humans as many were (both Simon and Jess of the Quickflix Blog admitted to being brought to tears by the film). Look for my full review coming soon – in the mean time I’ll just say that in my opinion, this scientific experiment seemed doomed from the beginning, and that most of the people involved were just a bit too naïve to garner much sympathy from me.
James Marsh’s Project Nim.
Thursday went by without any trips to the cinema. But after a long day of work on Friday, what better way to unwind in the evening with a trio of strong although very different films.
First up, at 6:30, was Ken Loach’s Route Irish. A story of a private military contractor murdered in Iraq, and the subsequent investigation by his best friend and his wife, like most Loach films it was well acted, filled with realism, politically to the point and very, very depressing. Worth seeing though, especially for a couple of really suspenseful sequences peppered throughout.
Then at 9pm I squeezed into the sold out session of Mike Mills’ Beginners, also the first screening I’ve attended at MIFF so far where the director himself was present. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Oliver, a man whose father (Christopher Plummer) comes out of the closet at the age of 75, and not too long after is diagnosed with terminal cancer. At the same time, Oliver must juggle a fledgling relationship with the beautiful Anna (Melanie Laurent). Mostly avoiding the clichés and irritating quirks of the independent relationship dramedy that the film very clearly is, Beginners is a sweet, subtle, emotional little picture that I highly recommend. I also stuck around for part of the Q&A with the charming director after the film, where he gave one lucky audience member a book of artwork from the film. Unfortunately I had to dash off to catch my final screening of the night.
Mike Mills’ Beginners.
That final screening was of James Gunn’s Super, a violent, pitch-black superhero comedy that, after a double dosage of heartbreaking verisimilitude and social important what-not, was a very welcome change indeed. Starring Rainn Wilson, Ellen Page, Liv Tyler and Kevin Bacon (plus a hilarious cameo from Firefly’s Nathan Fillion), this film is Kick-Ass with bigger balls. Unflinching, brutal, completely inappropriate and hilarious in an oh-so-wrong-its-right kind of way, Super elicited more laughs and groans from the audience than any other film of the festival so far. That said, while I loved the first 95% of the film, I did have rather series problems with the ending, where the violence went from shockingly comedic to just plain unpleasant. It was a real downer, and made me question how much I liked everything that came before.
So now I’m back where I was at the beginning of last week – sitting at my computer in the wee hours of the morning. After a few hours sleep, today (Saturday) will kick off my biggest day at MIFF so far: five films, starting at eleven o’clock in the morning and running through to that same time at night. Look forward to plenty more from me in the very near future.
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.
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