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Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) Picks: Week Two
With the 61st Melbourne International Film Festival now in full, glorious we pick out some more selected highlights from the bountiful schedule. Enjoy.
PINK RIBBONS, INC. **** (98 minutes)
Screens: Monday 9pm Greater Union; Thursday 4pm Forum
One of the hallmarks of a great documentary is telling you something you never expected to hear. The pink ribbon has become such a ubiquitous, all-embracing, positive emblem of the breast cancer cause that it's difficult to see any downside - yet that's precisely what this brave, highly polished film does with unflinching gusto. Based on the 2006 Samantha King book Pink Ribbons, Inc: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy, director Lea Pool and producer Ravida Din dig deep into the hot-button issues of mis-directed research, corporate appropriation, jingoism, alienation and how little attention the matter of prevention receives compared to the search for a cure. The film provocatively argues how the cause promotes a "tyranny of cheerfulness" (as King puts it) that reinforces the interests of certain sponsors and deflects much-needed focus away from effectively dealing with breast cancer. Critically lauded in North America, this Canadian film will, if nothing else, make you think twice every time you see a pink ribbon.
BIG BOYS GONE BANANAS! ***1/2 (87 minutes)
Screens: Friday 6.30pm GU; Sunday 9pm GU
You can't bite a big corporation on the ankle with your little film and expect no response. That's the big lesson Swedish film director Fredrik Gertten registers with his engrossing chronicle about how his 2009 documentary Bananas!, about exploited banana workers in Nicaragua, resulted in a prolonged legal battering from the monumental multi-national Dole food company. Though too-easily framed as a "David and Goliath" battle, part of Gertten's aim here is to illustrate how the fight to get his film seen in the face of lawsuits and the company's frighteningly vigilant PR machine exacts a huge price.
CONISTON ***1/2 (57 minutes)
Screens: Friday 6.30pm Kino Cinemas
In an excellent exercise of historical correction, the little-known 1928 massacre of indigenous people in the Northern Territory is reconstructed with unnerving survivor testimonials that are hard to listen to and brutal re-enactments that are hard to watch. The murder of a white dingo hunter leads the local law man William Murray, also the region's "Protector of Aborigines", to embark on a cold-blooded killing spree in reprisal. Far more were slaughtered than the official report records, a point directors David Batty and Francis Jupurrurla Kelly highlight as one of a host of facts all-but-buried by the settler version of history.
CROKER ISLAND EXODUS *** (65 minutes)
Screens: Saturday 1.30pm ACMI
The perilous overland odyssey undertaken by nuns and about 100 indigenous children during the opening rounds of World War 2 is recounted in moving detail by director Steven McGregor. Interviewing several very old women (whose memories are sometimes in amusing conflict) the story involves how nuns on the Croker Island mission, near Darwin, refused to abandon their charges despite being told to. Defiantly, they lead them on a trip across the country on trucks, trains and foot that took them to Sydney where their lives were allowed to flourish. The climactic reunion makes for a touching pay-off to a beautifully told yarn.
METHOD TO THE MADNESS OF JERRY LEWIS *** (116 minutes)
Screens: Friday 4pm Kino; Sunday 1.30pm GU
Ironically, the bigger a Jerry Lewis fan you are the more likely you are to be disappointed by this glowing valentine to his undoubted talent as a comic and pioneering vision as a filmmaker. The copious clips from his films and live acts deliver loads of laughs and a formidable line-up of luminaries - including Jerry Seinfeld, Steven Spielberg, Chevy Chase and Carol Burnett - pour richly deserved plaudits on him. Yet his lesser films - including the legendary, unseen Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried - health troubles and philanthropic work receive little to no coverage. The film is certainly entertaining, but those looking for something beyond the obvious box ticking will find it a tad unsatisfying.
BULLY **1/2 (99 minutes)
Screens: Friday 11am ACMI; Sunday 1.30pm GU; Tuesday 11am ACMI
There is plenty of virtue in focusing on the victims of schoolyard bullying, and the case studies presented by director Lee Hirsch in this rally-rousing American documentary are full of tragedy and anger. For all its good intentions, however, the film does not fight hard enough to rise above the emotions of the issue to explore real solutions. Apart from demonstrating how officials appear to be in denial about the extent of the problem, the film essentially throws it back on the filmgoer to do something. A good film, it has ignited much debate but could have leaned harder on those responsible.
ERRORS OF THE HUMAN BODY ***1/2 (100 minutes)
Screens: Saturday 11.30pm GU
The superbly directed, coolly atmospheric directorial debut by Australian Eron Sheean tracks the tale of a genetic scientist (Michael Eklund) who joins a well-funded German research facility where cutting-edge work is being done. Trouble is, only some of it is authorised. Most of the action takes place in corridors and laboratories lined with microscopes and cages of white mice, and Sheean - who co-wrote the screenplay with Shane Danielson - builds considerable tension from the signature silences of such environs. Stylistically, the film harks back to the more interesting films of David Cronenberg, who has since lost his taste for this type of science-edged spookiness.
LASSETER'S BONES **** (99 minutes)
Screens: Sunday 4pm ACMI
In a splendid example of the sort of subjective documentary film-making championed by Werner Herzog, local director Luke Walker throws himself into the legend of Harold Lasseter, the explorer who claimed in the late 1800s to have stumbled across a mother lode of gold in the middle of the outback. Nobody else has ever seen it, so Walker takes us on an absorbing psychological and geographical journey in his first-person struggle to disentangle fact from fiction. The film is a courageously mounted venture in which myth busting and myth building struggle for supremacy. Indeed, Walker's trek into the outback to try and locate Lasseter's Reef is as much about the nature of historical "truth" as it is about finding the damned thing.
MODERN ROMANCE **** (93 minutes)
Screens: Tuesday 4pm Forum
The early films of American comedian and filmmaker Albert Brooks remain largely under-appreciated for their cutting, subtle insights into the insecurities and obsessions of yuppie-era America. In his largely unknown romantic-comedy gem Brooks plays Robert Cole, an emotionally erratic film editor who can't decide whether his love for on-again, off-again girlfriend (Kathryn Harrold) is enough to make him commit. Very funny, largely unrelated scenes of him trying to improve an awful science fiction film (its director is played by James L Brooks, who would later direct him in Broadcast News) play perfectly against those where he tries salvaging his emotional life. An absolute must for film comedy buffs.
HOLY MOTORS *** (115 minutes)
Screens: Saturday 9.15pm Forum; Tuesday 6.30pm Forum
One of the reasons we go to film festivals is to sample cinema that is strange, unconventional and with little interest in being understood by normal people. French director Leos Carax succeeds admirably with his nocturnal road trip in which a diminutive man (Denis Lavant) is driven around Paris in a limo to partake in a series of random activities. These include performing in a motion capture special effects sequence, getting friendly with Kylie Minogue and getting even more friendly with Eva Mendez. As an oddball art film that openly invites you to wonder what it's all about, the film lacks ambition or any real vision, but it's certainly never boring.
For more info, visit www.miff.com.au