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Four Evenings with MIFF

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The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) just ended its in-person screening session for the 2023 season. A cultural staple of this city, this year's line-up featured notable headlines like Past Lives (2023), May December (2023) and Monster (2023). The full line-up is incredibly detailed across regional and sponsored program stands. MIFF culturally has been bringing beautiful, otherwise never-to-be-screened international treasures to Australian theatres for decades. Determined to make the most of the program this year, I attended four different screenings at four different venues to fully indulge in the variety of MIFF.

Femme (2023), at ACMI

Femme was a difficult start to the festival for me. Unsettling, violent, and deeply immersive, the widescreen at ACMI 1 meant that I was constantly on edge, even on the far side of the theatre. Pitched as a “Hitchcockian queer noir” about a drag queen determined to turn the tables after an assault, Femme was a nothing-held-back takedown of masculinity, violence and repressed sexuality.

So many scenes in this film continue to linger viscerally in my mind, causing me to walk faster at night and stiffen every time I hear a group of men laugh a little too loud. Dually memorable and branding.

Femme featured long, extremely well-choreographed fight scenes. There's something so beautiful about the communal experience of cinema; even in those horrifying and long-drawn fight scenes, I could feel the suspended breath of everyone in the room alongside me. The scenes were so immersive and well-acted that I was squirming and pulling at my hair to tether myself to the moment. Instead of feeling like I was going to watch someone in a film die, it genuinely felt like I was about to witness an actual death in front of me at 10 pm on a Monday night.

I do believe ultimately that it was a product of mismarketing. I could feel a shared sentiment of being duped by the tagline of a queer, Hitchcockian revenge thriller. There was no catharsis to be found anywhere in this film, and it was less thrilling and more unsettling.

The Breaking Ice (2023), The Capitol

The Capitol as a theatre is deeply uninspired. Something about the white, puffy, geometrical walls feels like you’re lodged in a strange, Styrofoam oesophagus—alien feeling. However, it was oddly perfect for The Breaking Ice. Set in one of the coldest regions of China, The Breaking Ice is littered with beautiful wide shots of snow and ice landscapes, mountains, and cold, jagged scenes that reflect blue and white on The Capitol’s walls.

The film itself seems to be a new addition to the ever-growing ‘Millennial Malaise’ genre, dedicated to the listlessness of young adulthood in modern society. Following three incredibly lost, suffering and aimless young adults in a small Chinese town bordering North Korea, the story itself lingers and meanders in crevices of adulthood, lodging its talons into anything with solidity. It is imperfect as a cohesive story, but intentionally so, desiring, as Antony Chen himself confirmed in a Q&A at the end of the showing, a very modern young story of a growingly aimless and disheartened generation. There are deeply relatable depictions of love, depression and filial conflict, all timeless sentiments and themes that will resonate with many young people.

Cobweb (2023), The Forum

Comedies were made to be seen in collectives. A strange, social dialogue is at play when you watch a comedy in a cohort, as others laughing around you seem to dictate your perception of the film and behaviour in response. Streaming really killed the comedy.

I genuinely believe Cobweb, shares this sentiment and was designed for the cinema experience. The film follows a directorial assistant-turned-director after the death of his mentor. Haunted by dreams of a perfect film, he is convinced that he must edit his script after it has been filmed, as this is the masterpiece of his entire life’s creation. He and his unlikely supporters do whatever it takes to bring this film to light and leave the shadow of his great mentor. Naturally, chaos ensues in a delightful and gratifying way as characters interact, relationships are slowly revealed, and people do whatever they can to ensure this film goes to production. As the name suggests, every character possesses ideals and relationships that are deeply entwined with one another, and as one thread in the web unravels, everything immediately comes crashing down.

The film's climax resounds in a one-take shot that the director has been dreaming of for weeks. Throughout the film, we as the audience are spun around from voyeur to co-conspirator back to the audience. Cobweb is an incredibly witty and slick comedy with fantastic performances that are deeply enjoyable to watch with a crowd.

Medusa Deluxe (2022), Hoyts

Unintentionally, I chose another film centred around the one-take shot. Any film studies and cinema lover can simply appreciate the continuous shot for the mastery and meticulous organisation it requires, even if it isn’t always the most effective choice. I think others may disagree, but I thoroughly enjoyed the choice to utilise it here. Medusa Deluxe, filmed entirely in one-take, truly felt like a moment in time that the audience were lucky voyeurs for. The continuous shot made the film feel like a play instead of a slick feature, allowing each ensemble member and their relational dynamics to shine.

The beauty of a one-shot take is that it positions the camera as another player in the scene, instead of the object the actors are performing for. For Medusa Deluxe, a murder mystery set during a hairdressing competition, this had the brilliant effect of maintaining a sense of suspense throughout the entire runtime and allowed the actors to bare their full repertoire to the audience and fully embody their roles. Every actor brought their all to their characters, and though the plot was somewhat underwhelming and confusing at times, the performances remain deeply memorable.  

 
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