• L-R: Good Time, I Am Not Your Negro, Faces Places, The Killing of a Sacred Deer (SBS Movies / Melbourne International Film Festival)
MIFF returns with a Cannes-tastic line-up and outstanding Australian movies too. We caught up with artistic director Michelle Carey to get her top tips.
By
Stephen A Russell

17 Jul 2017 - 3:55 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2017 - 3:55 PM

Harry Potter and Wolf Creek fans rejoice – Daniel Radcliffe and Australian director Greg Maclean have joined forces to light up the 66th Melbourne International Film Festival’s opening night.

The world premiere of Jungle returns to the magical Regent Theatre. Radcliffe stars as real-life intrepid adventurer, author and activist Yossi Ghinsberg. Adapted from his memoir by Justin Monjo, it depicts a youthful Ghinsberg heading deep into the Amazon and the three weeks of hell as he and his friends are left fighting for their lives.

MIFF artistic director Michelle Carey says it’s a thrill ride with a sterling performance from Radcliffe. “He’s really terrific. He’s made some interesting career choices in the past couple of years. Good on him. What he puts himself through in Jungle is incredibly gruelling.”

MIFF 2017’s Cannes highlights include BPM, Robin Campillo’s Grand Prize of the Jury and Queer Palm-winner, The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Killing of a Sacred Deer, starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Farrell, and celebrated French director Claire Denis’ Let the Sunshine In, featuring Juliette Binoche. 

The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra will perform Jonny Greenwood’s stirring score to Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood and the Astor Theatre hosts an all-night sci-fi extravaganza.

Ben Elton’s WA-set comedy Three Summers is the Centrepiece Gala, starring Magda Szubanski, Michael Caton, Deborah Mailman and John Waters, while closing night movie Gurrumul pays tribute to the seminal Indigenous musician and activist.

With something for everyone, Carey recommends being adventurous. “Some audience members research everything and know exactly what they want to see and at the complete opposite end of the spectrum there are people who just take a chance and that’s what I find really exciting. It’s how we all got into cinema ultimately, right? We just found that film that was like, ‘wow, cinema is magic’.”

Michelle Carey’s top picks:

Wonderstruck

Todd Haynes follows up his luscious Patricia Highsmith romance Carol with yet another visually stunning adaptation, this time The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian Selznick’s dual narrative Wonderstruck. Reuniting with Julianne Moore, it also stars Millicent Simmonds and Oakes Fegley as two deaf 12-year-olds Ben and Rose, separated by 50 years and yet strangely connected.

The thing with Todd Haynes, every film he does is so different and I just find that really exciting in a filmmaker,” Carey says. “He still has a certain style, but you just never know what he’s going to go for next.”

Beach Rats

A big hit at Sundance, Eliza Hittman’s follow-up to her acclaimed 2013 debut It Felt Like Love features an impressive central turn from Brit actor Harris Dickinson as a suburban Brooklyn teenager at a loose end and avoiding his father’s slow death at home. Juggling a new girlfriend by day and cruising men online and then at a beach by night, it’s a steamy sexual awakening.

“This is not cool New York, this is suburbia, and he’s a little bit of a jock,” Carey says. “It’s about how he’s navigating his sexuality within this context of working class jock friends.”

The Killing of a Sacred Deer

Farrell teams up with Lanthimos once more alongside his The Beguiled cast-mate Nicole Kidman for the Greek auteur’s follow up to The Lobster. Featuring kinky sex and a creeping sense of unease, Carey says the Cannes debut grips from the outset.

“It was so edge of your seat. The use of music puts you in a particular space from the very first shot. I won’t tell you what it is, but it sets you up for what kind of film you’re in for…”

Loveless

Leviathan director Andrei Zvyagintsev returns with his latest searing slice of Russian life writ large in Loveless. Maryana Spivak and Alexey Rozin star as warring parents whose marriage is exploding in the most bitterly toxic fashion. Sadly, their 12-year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) is collateral damage, forced to hear them fight to foist his unwanted presence on each other.

“I was completely destroyed by it, I was just a puddle,” Carey says. “I found it so powerful. It’s the Cannes film I’m still thinking over the most. We have to open ourselves up to what cinema can mean, and there can be some pain in that pleasure.”

Faces Places

Powerhouse pioneer of the French New Wave and all-round inspirational person Agnès Varda marks her first co-directorial turn with renowned photographer and visual artist JR. Hitting the road together, they drop in on tiny French towns in a van mocked up to look like a giant camera. While Jean-Luc Godard proves elusive, the real joy of the movie is the many ordinary folks the pair engage with along the way, creating art and letting them talk candidly about their lives.

“It’s a must-see in the Headliners section,” Carey insists. “It’s just a gorgeous, life-affirming documentary and exactly what you want to see after Loveless.”

Rabbit

Adelaide seems to be a creative hot spot for fantastical Australian films at the moment, what with Rosemary Myers’ 2015 hit Girl Asleep and last year’s Boys in the Trees by Nicholas Verso. Add to that duo writer/director Luke Shanahan’s debut feature, the gothic thriller Rabbit. The MIFF Premiere Fund-supported movie stars The Great Gatsby’s Adelaide Clemens as a medical student who returns home determined to find her missing-presumed-dead twin sister.

I loved it,” Carey enthuses. “It’s a kind of a gothic fairy tale with stunning cinematography by Anna Howard (MIFF 2012’s Errors of the Human Body). There are bits of Kubrick and Sofia Coppola, it’s very stylish.”

Have You Seen the Listers?

Joining Rabbit on the list of MIFF Premiere Fund movies enjoying their world premiere, All This Mayhem director Eddie Martin turns his documentary lens onto globally renowned Australian street artist Anthony Lister, charting his stratospheric rise and the family drama behind it.

“This is really great because Anthony has so much footage of himself captured over 15 years,” Carey says. “I recently watched the Janis Joplin documentary Janis: Little Girl Blue and it’s amazing how little footage they had to work with compared to something like this or Amy.”

The Venerable W

The final instalment in Barbet Schroeder’s ‘Trilogy of Evil’ cycle, afterGeneral Idi Amin Dada: A Self-Portrait and Jacques Vergès in Terror’s Advocate, The Venerable W explodes the peace-loving image of Buddhist monks during the course of his jaw-dropping discussions with Republic of Myanmar-based The Venerable Wirathu.

“This was one of my fave docos,” Carey reveals. “This guy is a complete Islamophobe. It’s completely controversial. You know he’s a monk, he looks like a monk, he does things that monks do, but the stuff that comes out his mouth! He seems to have no idea what he’s saying is so unbelievably terrifying and wrong.”

I am Not Your Negro

Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, Raoul Peck’s I Am Not Your Negro is a staggering indictment of race relations in America. As its basis, it uses the treatment for an unproduced book by deceased academic, activist and queer icon James Baldwin. Incensed by the slaughter of his friends Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Medgar Evers, Baldwin’s insights on the Civil Rights Movement resonate chillingly, overlaid with images of the Ferguson riots and the killing of kids like Trayvon Martin, showing just how easily rights won can be lost and how much work is yet to be done.

“Baldwin is an icon, his writing is so beautiful and he’s so magnetic on the screen, with an amazing face and that great voice,” Carey says. “It says so much about today. Raoul Peck is a very angry filmmaker and I think that’s really great in this documentary, that anger.”

Good Time

Another Cannes highlight, the Safdie brothers’ heart-pounding Good Time is anything but for Robert Pattinson’s desperate crook on the run, trying to rip off anyone in the way of a brand new life for him and his brother with learning difficulties, played by co-director Ben Safdie. It also features an unapologetically intense soundtrack by electronic musician Oneohtrix Point Never.

“It’s heart-stopping,” Carey says. “The opening crane shot of Manhattan is like something out of a Michael Bay film. The Safdies have empathy for these characters who are flawed and make the wrong decisions. Not everyone has the education and opportunity in life, and they take notice of these other lives that aren’t the nice Woody Allen middle class Manhattanites.”