Apologies for the lateness of this week’s blog.  I’m late even by own standards.  I have a good reason though.  I spent Saturday through Monday attending the Melbourne International Film Festival.  It was my first trip to MIFF and I made the most of it by squeezing in 12 films inside of the 3 days.  I was a little worn out by the end and I’ve been trying to catch up on reviews and other stuff ever since.


What Did I Just See?


The Festival started rather strangely when I went to a 1:30pm on the Saturday to see Werner Herzog documentary, Into The Abyss.  It look great on paper – an interview with a criminal on death row and those who were affected by the crime.


It wasn’t until after the film finished that I realised… we’d been shown the wrong movie!  Instead of watching Herzog’s film, they showed 2 episodes of his television series, On Death Row.  I hadn’t noticed during the screening as it’s the same filmmaker and the same subject matter.  And let’s be honest, how many people are really paying attention when the show the title at the start?  It seems I wasn’t!


A fellow critic from Melbourne, Glenn Dunks, summed it up best with his tweet – “Well there's a #miffhap for the ages. INTO THE ABYSS was actually not INTO THE ABYSS.”


I’ve reviewed more than 3,300 movies but this was definitely a first for me.  I watched a wrong movie and hadn’t noticed.


Laughing Hard


Late on Saturday night, I saw a film called The Legend Of Kaspar Hauser.  It was one of the worst films I have ever seen in my entire life.  I am not over exaggerating.


It’s a black & white Italian film that centres on a mysterious guy who washes up on a island and is trained to be a DJ by the town’s sheriff.


It was difficult to follow and utterly bizarre.  It’s as if the director had deliberately made a film to torture the audience.  My first thought on exiting the theatre was that I’d rather kill myself than watch it again.  There were plenty of walkouts and I envy those who left early.


The only positive to come out of the experience was a hilarious chat with a few fellow critics after the film had concluded.  The tag line of this year’s Festival is “not all films make the cut” but it seemed horribly inaccurate given the film we had just seen.


That said, a quick look at my Twitter feed showed that there were some who liked the film.  They described it as a “cult classic”, “strangely mesmerising” and “the most pleasing thing I’ve seen in a long time.”  It goes to show that we all have different tastes.


The post film-chat wasn’t the only funny part of the experience though.  About two-thirds of the way through the film, a guy got up to answer his mobile phone.  Instead of leaving the theatre, he stood up and hid behind the curtains (that line the walls of the cinema) near the front row.  I think the next 5 minutes was spent watching the lump behind the curtain and waiting for him to emerge.  Who does that, really?


Searching For A Great Film


For me, my favourite film of the Festival was Searching For Sugar Man.  I’m a sucker for a great documentary and this one delivers.  It’s about a mysterious singer known as Rodriguez who recorded two albums in the United States in the early 1970s.  Both were huge flops.  He then disappeared off the face of the earth.  What he didn’t realise is that his songs became huge hits in South Africa and helped rally people against the government at the time.


It’s a riveting documentary with a strong narrative and plenty of twists.  Director Malik Bendjelloul attending the Festival and hung around for a terrific Q&A.  He was great to listen to and I amazed to learn that some of the scenes in the film were shot using his iPhone (after he’d blown his tiny budget).


The film won the audience award for the best documentary at the Sundance Film Festival earlier in the year and it looks like it’ll be getting a limited release at cinemas across Australia around October.  Forget Spider Man and Batman.  The film you need to be seeing this year is Searching For Sugar Man.


A Quick Film Wrap


I haven’t had a chance to review any of the films in full as yet but here’s a quick summary of the films I saw…


Robot & Frank is set in the near future and is about an elderly man suffering from dementia who is given a robot by his son to help cook and the clean the house.  The robot ends up being used for a rather different purpose and this warm-hearted comedy is boosted by a great central performance from Frank Langella. Grade: B+.


Into The Abyss can’t be reviewed as I didn’t see Into The Abyss!  Grade: Unseen.


Monsieur Lazhar was nominated for best foreign language film and begins with a shocking event – a teacher committing suicide in a classroom.  We then follow the kids trying to cope with the grief and a mysterious substitute teacher who tries to help them.  I was expecting more from the finale but this is a still a moving drama.  Grade: B+.


Just The Wind has very little dialogue and is a Hungarian film that follows a family of gypsies who are worried about a wave of murders in the area.  I enjoyed the film’s ominous tone but you always have a sense where it’s heading and I never attached myself emotionally to the characters.  Grade: B-.


The Legend Of Kaspar Hasuer was one of the worst films I’ve ever witnessed.  It’s utterly bizarre and if made solely to torture the audience.  Grade: F.


Facing Mirrors was a terrific film about a young woman from Iran who wants to undergo a sex change operation but instead, is being forced into a loveless marriage by her father.  She befriends a taxi driver who helps with her plans to flee the country.  It took a little while to warm but it develops into a gripping drama.  Grade: A-.


Chicken With Plums is from the director of Persepolis (one of my all time favourite animated films) and has an unusual premise – a violin player decides to commit suicide after his wife destroys his favourite violin.  It finishes on a nice note and there is some beautiful imagery but on the whole, it didn’t draw me into its fable-type world.  Grade: B-.


Your Sister’s Sister is largely set in one location and features only 3 characters of significance.  A guy and two girls are spending a few days together in a holiday home and all are looking for a way to escape their problems in the real world.  This was an enjoyable comedy-drama filled with lengthy dialogue-driven sequences.  Loved the cast.  Grade: A-.


The Sessions is a well-paced drama about a 38 y/o man who has been paralysed from the neck down since he was a child.  He is introduced to a sex therapist who tries to provide him with his first real sexual experience.  It skirts around a few issues but for the most part, it was an eye-opening drama with two nice performances from John Hawkes and Helen Hunt.  Grade: B+.


V/H/S is a dumb horror film about a group of guys who find a series of VHS tapes that contain some shocking footage.  There are a few “jump out of your seat” moments but the shaky cam and “found footage” format got tired very quickly.  Oh, and there’s no plot.  Grade: C+.


Searching For Sugar Man is a wonderful documentary that looks at the way in which a unknown musician became a huge star in South Africa in the 1970s.  A shame he didn’t know it!  This is superbly told with a strong narrative.  It teases the audience with mystery and then leaves you inspired.  Grade: A.


Sound Of My Voice is a fictional drama about a husband and wife who try to infiltrate a small cult and expose their methods in the media.  It had me intrigued… until its unsatisfying ending that made little sense.  Grade: B.


All in all, it was a great trip to MIFF (Melbourne is my favourite Aussie city) and I can’t wait to get back there again.