Back to the source: MIFF 2009

It’s great to be back at MIFF after a hiatus of a few years. Since James Hewison stepped off the chair in 2006, I’ve found little in the program to fire up my genre-loving senses; in my uninformed view, there seemed to be too much unwatchable introspection and not enough raging gunfights. However, this year the program has ratcheted up many a notch, so I’m off to the movies for a week.

Things I’ve missed about MIFF: talking to complete strangers about films.
Things I somehow forgot about MIFF: queuing outside cinemas in the depths of winter.

Before we get to the good stuff, one thing that can’t be ignored as an Asian film reviewer at this year’s festival is the long shadow cast by the controversy surrounding the documentary 10 Conditions of Love, about exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer. Seven Chinese films have been pulled from the program in protest, and repeated attempts to hack the festival’s website have at times brought the online ticketing to a standstill. It’s a landmark moment for film festivals to resist outside attempts to dictate programming; while I’m not always down with Richard Moore’s taste in films, his backbone is now beyond question. I’m proud of Melbourne, and am curious to see how the other film festivals in the world follow on from here. You can read more at The Age and on the festival website.

Enough of the controversy; on with the program!

My MIFF actually kicked off in a non-Asian vein last week with a Wednesday screening of The Burrowers, a nihilistic horror western from the Cormac McCarthy school of the unredeemed west. While at times lacking in budget (the posse never rode into a town, nor through sweeping views of Monument Valley), it had great characters, a deepening mystery and a satisfying finale. Recommended to anyone who wants to see six-shooters vs. things that should not be.

The Burrowers screened at Kino, a fantastic, comfortable and modern cinema; it’s spinal damage all the way from hereon, as every other film I’m seeing is at the unreconstructed temple of 1970s film-going that is the Russel St Greater Union. Given the great venues of the past (the Regent, the Capitol, the Village Bourke St) this seems to suck the atmosphere outta the fest.

Thankfully, a good film can transport your complaining arse right out of a bad seat. I was mesmerised by Bong Joon-ho’s new film Mother, an on-the-surface simple story of a mother who, convinced of her son’s innocence, sets out to prove it. Each of Bong’s films somehow seem to be more exceptional than the last, no mean feat with a C.V. that already includes Barking Dogs Never Bite, Memories of Murder and The Host. Each of them, irrespective of the occasional appearance of monsters or serial killers is about ordinary people, and Kim Hye-ja’s depiction of the mother as at once utterly determined and bone-weary is enthralling from the first glimpse of her to the last. In that tired dodge from lazy reviewers the world over, I’m not going to synopsise it (I’m not even sure if that’s a real world), as the charming way it unravels and then confounds you can only be experienced at first hand. Strangely comic and strangely tragic, it’s another extraordinary effort from a superb film-maker.

As usual, Bong saves a sublime moment of poetry for the last shot, sadly robbed of its power by the vast number of the audience who got up and left during it. Now, while I have some sympathy for the need to relieve the pressure of a two-hour bout of Greater Union arse, but why is it that an audience which is supposed to have the highest regard for film in Melbourne is often the most poorly behaved?

Next up, the animated dogfights of The Sky Crawlers!

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