Melbourne 2014: The Full Program Reveals A Full-Bodied Selection of Cinema

Contributing Writer; Melbourne, Australia (@Kwenton)
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The Melbourne International Film Festival is now in full swing having revealed its program mid-week. Tickets have opened for members and media alike. The program itself is one of the more exciting and well-rounded ones in MIFF history. It consists of richly layered European cinema, crazy and provoking Asian films; perhaps its strongest Asian line-up in years, accessible American Indie, Cult classics and cutting-edge genre as well as fascinating In Focus program streams, including India and Hong Kong horror!
Media release just after the jump, followed by my most anticipated 10 films.

The 63rd Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) launched its full program, consisting of 341 films, 17 program strands, 28 world premieres, 168 Australian Premieres and more than 71 local guests.

The Australian Premiere of Felony, directed by Melbourne filmmaker Matthew Saville, written by and starring Joel Edgerton alongside a ferocious turn by Tom Wilkinson will close the festival this year.
Three detectives become embroiled in a tense struggle after a tragic accident that leaves a child in a critical condition. One is guilty of a crime, one will try to cover it up, and the other attempts to expose it.

Simon Pegg's Kill Me Three Times has vanished into the aether, so instead this year's festival marks the world premiere Centrepiece Gala screening of Cut Snake, a crime thriller from director Tony Ayres (Home Song Stories). Demonstrating how one man's biggest enemy in moving forward can be himself.

Home-grown talent takes centre stage in the Australian Showcase section with three more Premiere Fund films receiving a world premiere at MIFF this year: Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films, a feature documentary and not a tame exploitation effort from Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood); The Legend Maker, a dramatic thriller from Ian Pringle, in which an ageing criminal needs all his cunning to survive; and My Mistress, a love story starring Emmanuelle Béart and Harrison Gilbertson.
Other Australian offerings include Fell, a film about two very different men linked by grief and remorse, from award-winning short filmmaker and MIFF Accelerator alumnus Kasimir Burgess; and Ukraine is not a Brothel, a documentary from Melbourne's Kitty Green, who captures the passions and many paradoxes of the Ukrainian feminist group FEMEN.

A new program strand, I Dream of Genius: Science & Technology on Screen showcases the practical, philosophical and potential facets of science and technology in our daily lives. Web Junkie is an engrossing look inside one of China's prison-like rehabilitation camps for internet-addicted teens; Happiness, winner of Sundance's World Cinema: Documentary Award for Cinematography, follows the introduction of television into a remote Bhutan village; and the Sheffield Doc/Fest Audience Award winner, Particle Fever, tells the story of the Large Hadron Collider's discovery of the Higgs boson "God particle".

MIFF will go beyond the glossy Bollywood façade to present an authentic portrait of contemporary Indian life via the spotlight India in Flux: Living Resistance, showing audiences another side of one of the world's most rapidly developing nations, this documentary program includes: Anand Patwardhan's multi-award-winning Jai Bhim Comrade, which shines a light on a centuries-old conflict in Mumbai drawn along caste lines, where people are denied everything and forced to live in a world of scorn and prejudice.

In a sign of the times, MIFF has curated a new program Celluloid Dreams: Films Shot on Film, showcasing works that fully embrace 20th century celluloid technology to give their 21st century cinematic storytelling a unique edge. Offerings include: Happy Christmas, in which wildly prolific lo-fi auteur Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies) reunites with Anna Kendrick for a candid and wry exploration of 'adultescence'; Hard to Be a God, inspired by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky's sci-fi novel of the same name, from the late enfant terrible of Russian filmmaking Alexei German; and Manakamana, a rhythmic meditation on pilgrimage in the age of mass transportation, set in central Nepal's mountains and jungles.

A Perfect Midnight: Haunted Hong Kong takes a sampling of the supernatural to present spooky cinema from our regional neighbour. Screenings include Rigor Mortis, from pop star-turned-actor-turned-filmmaker Juno Mak, who cements his predilection for extreme Asian horror with one of the first jiang-shi films (Chinese hopping vampire genre) in over 20 years; and Mr Vampire, the 1985 film from Ricky Lau, which reigns as a cult cinema must-see for fans of Hong Kong cinema, horror and comedy.

This year MIFF delivers a retrospective on Jean-Pierre Léaud co-curated with Philippa Hawker. Known as the child of the French New Wave, Léaud has a gift for physical comedy, a singular approach to dialogue, and a distinctive presence. The retrospective will include screenings of François Truffaut's classic film, The 400 Blows, a bittersweet tale of a misunderstood adolescent, which went on to become one of the cornerstones of the French New Wave.

Always one of MIFF's most popular programs, Backbeat puts sonic visions on the big screen to capture the immense power of music. John Pirozzi attempts to reclaim the unheard musical history of Cambodia, from the grips of the genocide inflicted by the Khmer Rouge, in Don't Think I've Forgotten: Cambodia's Lost Rock and Roll. Time is Illmatic tells the story behind the most pivotal album in the history of hip-hop: Nas' Illmatic.

Truth remains stranger than fiction in this year's bumper Documentaries program which features Martin Scorsese and David Tedeschi's long-awaited documentary The 50 Year Argument. Travelling to the Congo for Virunga, director Orlando von Eiseniedel follows Belgian prince Emmanuel de Merode and his fellow rangers as they battle against the corrupt forces that threaten the national park's endangered gorillas; and Ryan White's The Case Against 8 which explores the historic case to overturn California's ban on same-sex marriage.

This year MIFF presents comedy Italian style with Commedia all'italiana. A unique opportunity to see the genre's best-known and most-loved films - in glorious 35mm projection - the program goes back to where it all began in the 1950s with Mario Monicelli's Big Deal on Madonna Street, a landmark of the crime caper genre starring Vittorio Gassman and Claudia Cardinale. Also screening is Pietro Germi's Divorce, Italian Style, in which Marcello Mastroianni plays a bored Sicilian baron, who hatches an outrageous plan to lure his wife into another man's arms so that he can justify shooting her.

The diversity of Australia's neighbouring filmmakers comes under the spotlight in MIFF's ever-popular regional focus Accent on Asia. From Mongolian love stories to Japanese madness and Filipino epics, the program includes two films from Taiwanese director Tsai Ming-liang: the Venice Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Stray Dogs, a bittersweet reflection on the people who fall through society's cracks, and Journey to the West, an almost wordless, meditative experience.  

Night Shift, the festival's annual cinematic showdown, is an undying favourite amongst adventurous audiences that have developed a taste for blood and weirdness. There are a dozen films to choose from: Housebound, the debut feature from Gerard Johnstone, about a petty thief under house arrest who can't escape the paranormal activity of her childhood home; cult auteur and MIFF regular Sion Sono's fun-lovingly bloodthirsty Why Don't You Play in Hell?

International Panorama is the annual program of the cream of the crop of world cinema. Audiences can catch James Gray's highly anticipated The Immigrant, starring Marion Cotillard as a Polish woman newly arrived in New York, who is forced into prostitution by a charming but wicked man played by Joaquin Phoenix; Abuse of Weakness, from uncompromising director Catherine Breillart, is the feature-length film telling the tale of how the filmmaker came to give over $1 million to a convicted conman; and Appropriate Behavior, directed by and starring the newest voice in indie cinema, Desiree Akhavan, is an amusing take on a bisexual Iranian-American woman trying to find her way in modern-day Brooklyn.

Taking the art of storytelling beyond the bounds of live action, this year's Animation program features new work from and about big-name animators and animation studios, as well as anime masterworks and documentaries. Michel Gondry's Is the Man Who is Tall Happy? takes Noam Chomsky's philosophical and linguistic work, and interprets it via the director's own unique style, translating theories and ideas into tangible animations; The Tale of the Princess Kaguya, directed by award-winning filmmaker Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies), is the tale of an old bamboo cutter who discovers a tiny girl inside a bamboo stalk.

That is a lot of films to get the eager MIFF punter thinking about where, when and what to see, but here is my personal top ten in no particular order that I cannot wait to get into.

J Hurtado, Jason Gorber, James Marsh and Pierce Conran contributed to this story.

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