Seven films not to miss at the 2017 Melbourne International Film Festival

One of the oldest film festivals in the world, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) returns next Thursday, and with it are hundreds of screenings across more than three weeks. We went through the full list (so you didn’t have to) and bring you our seven picks of the festival. And in no particular order, they are…

Jungle (Australia)

Daniel Radcliffe joins Wolf Creek director Greg McLean in the Bolivian rainforest for a gloriously tense survival thriller based on the bestselling real-life story of adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg.

In the early 1980s, 22-year-old Israeli backpacker Yossi Ghinsberg and two friends – Swiss teacher Marcus Stamm and American photographer Kevin Gale – set off from the Bolivian city of La Paz on what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime. Leading the way into the uncharted Amazon was an Austrian expat named Karl Ruprechter, who had met the friends just days before and claimed to be familiar with the region. But their dream trip soon turned into a wilderness nightmare from which not all of the men returned.

Adapting Ghinsberg’s acclaimed memoir, Greg McLean moves beyond his previous horror fare to take on an altogether different kind of fear in Jungle, all the more potent for being true. Daniel Radcliffe continues pushing his post-Potter career to the extreme, ably supported by Alex Russell (fellow MIFF Premiere Fund title Cut Snake, MIFF 2014), Joel Jackson (Peter Allen: Not the Boy Next Door) and Thomas Kretschmann (Avengers: Age of Ultron, Dracula).

Scripted by Justin Monjo (INXS: Never Tear Us Apart) and supported by the MIFF Premiere Fund, Jungle is a stunningly shot, edge-of-your seat story of survival and self-discovery.

Jungle will be screened as part of the opening night gala of MIFF on 3rd August, and then there will be additional screenings on the 11th and the 17th, as well as a captioned screening on 20th August.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (UK/USA)

International purveyor of the bizarre Yorgos Lanthimos brings Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman together (for the second time this year – you’ll also see them in Sofia Coppola’s The Beguiled) in this darkly comic modern rendering of an ancient Greek morality play.

Steven (Farrell) is a highly regarded, charismatic cardiologist from Cincinnati, living in a prosperous suburban paradise with his beautiful wife Anna (Kidman) and two loving children. But his world is upended when his strangely intense friendship with a teenage boy (Barry Keoghan, last seen in Mammal, MIFF 2016) takes a sinister turn, and the doctor is forced to confront an unthinkable sacrifice.

MIFF favourite Yorgos Lanthimos and regular co-writer Efthymis Filippou (The Lobster, MIFF 2015; Alps, MIFF 2012) return to the festival with a film that draws its inspiration from Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis, while intensifying the director’s idiosyncratic taste for deadpan humour and unsettling provocation.

The Killing of a Sacred Deer screens on the 12th and the 14th.

Good Time (USA)

Robert Pattinson electrifies in this pulse-quickening heist thriller from American indie stars Josh and Benny Safdie, one of the most buzzed-about hits at this year’s Cannes festival.

White-hot directors Josh and Benny Safdie (Heaven Knows What, MIFF 2015) return to the festival with a distinctly American genre outing, headlined by a never-better Robert Pattinson as a low-rent bank robber plunged into a dizzying, labyrinthine odyssey through the New York City underworld.

With evocative cinematography from Sean Price Williams (Kate Plays Christine, MIFF 2016; Queen of Earth, MIFF 2015) and a jittery, Tangerine Dream-like electronic score by Oneohtrix Point Never, the Safdies’ latest is a thrilling, dazzlingly crafted descent into violence that recalls less the retro fetishism of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive than the heady realism of ’70s crime joints such as Mean Streets and Dog Day Afternoon.

Good Time screens on the 4th and the 11th.

Wonderstruck (USA)

Julianne Moore reunites with Todd Haynes in this intoxicating, visually ravishing adaptation of Hugo writer Brian Selznick’s illustrated tale of two deaf runaways and the glimmering, redemptive magic of cinema.

Fifty years apart, two hard-of-hearing 12-year-olds, Ben and Rose, wrestle with a world not made for them. For Ben, in 1977, the loss of his mother leads him on a quest to discover the true identity of his father, while Rose, in 1927, is dealing with her own domineering father, an emotionally distant figure who pushes her into the refuge of silent film. But when they each choose to leave for the dreamlands of New York, their separate stories will become powerfully and inextricably entwined.

Indie darling Todd Haynes returns to the screen with the enchanting and magical Wonderstruck. Joining Moore are Michelle Williams and hearing-impaired newcomer Millicent Simmonds in a remarkable turn as the headstrong Rose, ensuring that Wonderstruck casts a glittering spell of sound, image and silence that lingers until well after its last mystery has been unlocked.

Wonderstruck screens on the 5th and the 13th, and there’ll also be a captioned screening on the 20th.

Ask the Sexpert (USA)

Mahinder Watsa is 93 years old and the Mumbai Mirror’s resident sexpert. Vaishali Sinha introduces us to a man who’s heard it all and is fighting for a fairer, freer and more loved-up India.

Since 1976, Mahinder Watsa has been India’s foremost sexologist, a straight-talking skewerer of tradition and superstition who has dished out frank and funny sex advice to generations of confused Indians. His profile is huge, his fans legion, and their constant arrival on his doorstep an impediment to daily life. But one doesn’t talk about sex in India without making a few enemies, and one hardcore conservative activist will do whatever he can to shut Mahinder down.

From up-and-coming documentarian Vaishali Sinha comes Ask the Sexpert, a deliciously tongue-in-cheek profile piece that masks a deadly serious core. In a country where sexual confusion is rife, misogyny is ingrained and child abuse is at epidemic levels, Watsa is a one-man army of information and understanding, and Sinha’s film lays bare the life-and-death stakes behind his smiling façade.

Ask The Sexpert screens on the 6th and 19th.

Something Quite Peculiar: The Lives and Times of Steve Kilbey (Australia/UK)

The Church’s Under the Milky Way is one of the great Australian anthems. But for the man who wrote it, success became a portal into a world of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll that almost destroyed his life. This is the story of Steve Kilbey.

By any metric Steve Kilbey, frontman of Oz rock pioneers The Church, has been one of Australia’s most prolific and influential musicians. Over 40 years he’s released more than 750 songs across almost 50 albums, earning himself endless accolades and a place in the ARIA Hall of Fame. But most people know him for his 1988 international hit, Under the Milky Way – a self-described “accident”, which kickstarted a lost decade of heroin addiction and would eventually cost him his family and almost his mind.

From one of our foremost film chroniclers of Australian rock, Mike Brook (Don’t Throw Stones, MIFF 2014), comes the warts-and-all tale of one of our most talented, troubled rock’n’roll legends, all the way from rags to redemption. Fuelled by Kilbey’s own brutal honesty and based on his memoir of the same name, Something Quite Peculiar delivers everything you’d ever want from a rock doc – dizzying stories, unsparing confessions and incredible music.

Something Quite Peculiar screens on the 5th and the 9th.

Unrest (USA)

Growing from a video diary director Jennifer Brea made for her doctors, Unrest takes an intimate and stirring look at the lives of those suffering from a widely misunderstood disease.

At 28, Harvard PhD student Jennifer Brea is about to marry the love of her life when she is struck down by a sudden fever that leaves her bedridden. Diagnosed with myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), commonly known as chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), Brea reaches out online and discovers a hidden community of millions who, like her, are confined at home by the ravages of ME.

As Brea and her husband grapple with their new reality, they find solace in her ever-expanding online network, and the burgeoning collection of videos that ended up spawning Unrest. Managing a global production team largely from her bed, the first-time director introduces us to four other patients – in the US, UK and Denmark – and lets them tell their extraordinary stories, showing the impact ME has not just on its victims but also their relationships and families. Ultimately, though, Unrest tells a story of hope and resilience in the face of life-altering loss.

Supported by a hugely successful crowdfunding effort embraced by the passionate ME/CFS community, Unrest made its debut at Sundance, where it won the Special Jury Prize for documentary editing.

Unrest screens on the 5th and the 7th.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from the 3rd to the 20th of August at various cinemas and venues around Melbourne. For tickets to these films and more, head to the event’s official website.


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