Today’s the last day of Melbourne International Film Festival, and it’s also my first year attending the festival. I didn’t manage to catch a lot of films (unfortunately, a uni student budget doesn’t really cut it), but I had a really enjoyable time. Here’s a list of the movies I saw, it includes pictures, personal comments, even more gratuitously personal tweets and external links to more objective reviews*!
The Act of Killing (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2013)
The first film I caught at MIFF was The Act of Killing. I was pretty dismayed that I needed to queue for seats for at least half an hour before the screening. The line snaked its way out of the theatre, it was at least 50 metres long, and it wasn’t the best weather either:
— Patricia Tobin (@havesomepatty) July 28, 2013
The Act of Killing is a documentary about the Chinese communists’ massacre in 1960s Indonesia. It’s a really shocking doco – there aren’t any gory images, but just celebrated killers and a really terrible society that is knee deep in corruption, misogyny, racism and bigotry. The Act of Killing is a highly compelling and powerful film that features an astonishing amount of shockingly brutal authenticity. I was really shaken by this doco (mainly due to personal reasons, which I will delve into later), and I recently attended a session that featured some academics and director Joshua Oppenheimer via Skype. This session helped in shedding some light on my initial thoughts of the film, which can be read in full here.
Oppenheimer stated that docos as a collaborative project between subject and filmmaker, it isn’t a “fly-on-the wall” experience we’re more aware of. He admitted to intervening in some moments, and his five-year filming experience was a transformative, personal and shared journey (he still keeps in touch with Anwar Congo, the film’s subject and also celebrated mass murderer). I think The Act of Killing forces the audience to struggle with empathy and compassion, because it makes these killers so very human. In my review, I wrote about a politician’s “very limited” crystal collection and Oppenheimer mentioned that this collection was meant to reflect the objectification of women in Indonesian society. This totally went over my head when I was watching the film, and it shows how multi-layered and intricate The Act of Killing is (or perhaps I’m just a poor critic).
On a fundamentally selfish level of reflection, I am really thankful that I wasn’t born in Indonesia. I’m a Chinese Singaporean, and I have Chinese relatives in both Malaysia and Singapore. I’m horrified that my neighbouring country, Indonesia, is so blatantly racist towards their own Chinese citizens. Growing up, I knew a few Indonesian Chinese schoolmates who were either on scholarship to study in Singapore, or who had migrated from Indonesia. I only now realise I was so unaware of their past, and never questioned that their non-Chinese-sounding surnames was actually adopted to escape from the Suharto regime. My ignorance is appalling, and I really ought to be more aware about my ASEAN neighbours.
Self-indulgence aside, here is my full review for Australian Film Review.
Valentine Road (Marta Cunningham, 2012)
Perhaps not as powerful as The Act of Killing, Valentine Road is a decent documentary about the killing of a teenage cross-dresser in high school. It’s another case of the straight, white male winning again!
Valentine Road paints a horrifying case of victim-blaming, as one detective states, “They made a murder victim the cause of his own murder”.
What Maisie Knew (Scott McGhee & David Siegel, 2013)
I recently saw a publicity display for What Maisie Knew, to be released at Palace Cinemas soon, and was so disappointed. It’s other sure sign of poor marketing – it was a cardboard cutout of Alexander Skarsgård carrying Onata Aprile, and a sign that read something along the lines of, “Is he the hottest stepdad in New York? Instagram this and stand a chance to win to New York!” etc. etc. As much as I do agree that Skarsgård is very, very hot, and is a definitely a drawing factors for girls to catch this film, it drastically reduces his role in the film, while belittling the entire production of What Maisie Knew.
A friend commented that she heard What Maisie Knew was a bad film, and I’m quite puzzled by this. The film is shown through the perspectives of Onata Aprile’s character, Maisie, a young girl who is in between her parent’s messy divorce. Like a young child, she isn’t entirely aware of everything that is going on and adults are just having mysterious conversations. What Maisie Knew is a really delightful film. I enjoyed the performances by a post-Partridge Steve Coogan and Julianne Moore, and of course, Skarsgård, displays some true talent here. Now, can movie publicists just promote a film because it’s good, and not because a hot actor is hot?
Prince Avalanche (David Gordon Green, 2013)
I love Paul Rudd. There, I said it. I know Jeff Winger doesn’t, but I always found Rudd really likeable. I even watched Our Idiot Brother primarily for him (big mistake). Rudd does depart from his conventional nice-guy role in Prince Avalanche, and I hope he continues to do so. Oh, I really enjoyed Prince Avalanche too. (Review to be up soon*)
Capturing Dad (Ryota Nakano, 2012)
My tweet says it all:
Capturing Dad was kinda weird yet also really sweet. #MIFF2013
— Patricia Tobin (@havesomepatty) August 9, 2013
Capturing Dad is more weird than a Wes Anderson-kinda quirky. It includes some slightly strange family in-jokes and terms of affection, and some surreal vibes too. My friend just noted that, “Oh, it’s a Japanese film – of course it’ll be weird!” I doubt it, but it’s overall message is quite sweet and touching. (Review to be up soon*)
Mistaken for Strangers (Tom Berninger, 2013)
I initially assumed that Mistaken for Strangers was simply a documentary about The National, but it turned out to be a bit more than that, and it was a nice surprise. I really like The National and I’ve seen them live once in 2011. I assume that most members of the audience are fans of The National as well, but the doco turns the spotlight on the brotherly relationship between man-boy Metalhead slacker Tom Berninger and his brother, lead singer Matt Berninger.
Mistaken for Strangers is highly meta, showing Tom’s editing process and his own troubles in filming. It’s also quite endearing to see the brothers bicker, and it shows them at their most personal level (Tom’s struggles with being the underdog, Matt’s difficulties as a musician). But plainly speaking, they’re just really likeable, normal people. Mistaken for Strangers feels more like a work in progress, it could kind of go on forever – sibling rivalry and familial relations exists a whole lifetime, after all. It does have a bit of an unresolved ending – Matt singing into his microphone, pulling his way through a packed crowd and Tom, clad in a “Security” t-shirt, tailing him and unwinding the mike cord – but, it’s really quite metaphorical. Having a rock-star brother is not easy, but maybe Tom is okay with supporting his older brother, every stage of the way.
On a side note, Forum Theatre is a great place to catch a film. It’s quite grand, and the last time I was there was to see Irish comic David O’ Doherty (to pay for his hypnosis sessions). Note to self: I need to see more things at Forum Theatre!
I had such a terrific time with you, MIFF, and (hopefully) I’ll be seeing you next year.
*Some of my reviews aren’t online yet, but it’ll be updated once they are.