Monday, 2 September 2019

September 5 to October 5

September 5:
The Farewell
Korean Film Festival

September 12:
Animals
Freaks

September 19:
Italian Film Festival - 3 films reviewed

September 26:
Buoyancy


I'm early this week as I am taking a (hopefully) well-deserved break from the movies.  I leave you with a few morsels to keep you going. Check out the Italian FF in advance to be ahead of the game, and my pick for the forthcoming weeks is definitely Buoyancy. Obviously much, much more is releasing in this time span and I hope to make a mammoth effort to catch up and fill you in upon my return to the coal-face. Among others releasing are: Downton Abbey, Halston, Birds of Passage and more. 

The Farewell
Director: Lulu Wang
Length: 98 min
© Roadshow - a family tries to hide the 
truth of Grandma's illness. 
Billi (Awkafina) is a young Chinese American, living in the USA and in regular contact with her beloved grandmother, Nai Nai (Shuzhen Zhao). When Nai Nai is diagnosed with terminal cancer, the family use the forthcoming wedding of a grandson as an excuse to gather in China for a farewell. But they also agree that Nai Nai will not be informed of her impending demise. How the family copes with this, and the stark differences between Western and Eastern ways of dealing with illness and death, is the theme of this endearing film. I'm not a huge fan of Awkafina; to me she should be "awkward-fina"; her uneasy presence bothers me, maybe because she seldom changes facial expression from one of hang-dog down in the dumps. (Note: most other reviewers love her - I'm completely out of step here). But overall, this is a film with universal themes - family, love, and how we choose to show (or not show) our emotions, and as such it has relevance and charm, mostly created by the stand-out performance of Zhou as a most lovable and pragmatic grandma. General critical acclaim has been off the charts, so I'm obviously the odd gal out here - again.
3.5 - well recommended!

Korean Film Festival
September 5-12, Melbourne
For other states, times, program and ticketing visit www.koffia.com.au


The Korean Film Festival returns for its 10th year. For those who missed the Cannes Palme D'or winner for 2019, the brilliant Parasite (reviewed by me on July 7) there is a chance to catch up with it. Meanwhile I highly recommend another fine film I've had the opportunity to preview:
Another Child: This is a surprisingly powerful story of two schoolgirls who become enemies when they learn that the mother of one is having an affair with the dad of the other. To make matters worse, the mother is pregnant. The dynamics of every relationship in this film feel so authentic. Dialogue is strong, characters' motivations easily related to, and generally the level of emotional engagement is compelling. And what an ending!!

In my absence . . .

September 12
Animals
Director: Sophie Hyde
Length: 109 min
© A smart story of female friendship, with wit
and plenty of fun
Aspiring writer Laura (Holliday Grainger) and sassy Tyler (Alia Shawkat) are inseparable best friends, sharing a flat in Dublin. They indulge in witty intellectual bantering and party hard with drugs and casual sex. When Laura meets classical pianist Jim (Fra Fee) the women's friendship is threatened, and Laura is suddenly faced with serious decisions - whether to change from the hedonistic adolescent lifestyle she's been leading, into a more mature, conservative mode of behaviour, which will of necessity jeopardise her relationship with Tyler. This clever film takes a fresh approach to a fairly well-worn subject. The women are open and strong characters, opposed to traditional female roles, yet both somewhat traumatised about approaching 30. Grainger and Shawkat feel highly credible together and are a lot of fun to watch. It's lovely that there is no judgmentalism towards any of the characters. They all just exist - struggling with their lives and choices, foibles and desires. Still it's nice to see both men and women being equally jerks and engendering both our sympathy and scorn.
3.5 - well recommended!

Freaks
Director: Lulu Wang
Length: 98 min
© Icon - a mysterious mish-mash of outsiders,
superheroes, abnormal folk and paranoia.
Seven year old Chloe (Lexy Kolker) is kept under lock and key by her father (Emile Hirsch). He warns her never to go outside, not even to look out the window. One day Chloe spies an ice-cream truck outside the window and escapes. She meets Mr Snowcone (Bruce Dern), and her life is transformed. Billed as a psychological thriller/horror, this film really confounded me. I initially thought I'm watching a simple story of a paranoid Dad, but gradually things reveal themselves - think "abnormal" people who bleed from the eyes (and are known as Freaks), folks with superpowers of telekinesis and thought control, possible government experiments, and more. I must confess I wasn't totally clear what was going on here. Maybe because I'm not really so au fait with all the elements woven here, or maybe because it's just somewhat confusing. My recommendation stems largely from the fine acting, rather than the tricky plot. 
3 - recommended!

September 19
Italian Film Festival
Melbourne 19 Sept - 16 Oct
Palace Como, Kino, Balwyn, Bay, Westgarth, Astor
For other states, ticketing, session times visit: www.italianfilmfestival.com.au

One of Australia's favourite festivals returns with plenty of excellent offerings, including the premiere of Ron Howard's much anticipated biopic Pavarotti.  And, as usual, lucky me has seen a few. Time to get organised as to what you will book to see, well in advance. 


Fiore Gemello (Twin Flower): Anna (Anastasia Bogach) has seen her father murdered, and now the man responsible is pursuing her. When she meets illegal African refugee Basim (Kallil Kone), the pair team up - him to protect her, and for mutual companionship, while keeping out of harm's way. The lead actors are the backbone of this film; they have a fragility and a strength that is nuanced. Their developing relationship is instinctual, as the traumatised Anna refuses to speak. The film reveals slowly why why of Anna's situation, and a gripping tension builds as a great counterpoint to the delicacy of the youngsters' friendship. Despite the grim settings, there is beauty in the film's humanity. 


The Vice of Hope: A much-awarded film. Set in Castel Volturno, north of Napoli, here is another grim drama dealing with the seedy side of Italian life. This time it's young women, many African, being kept as prostitutes, and the side-line - the sale of their babies as soon as they give birth. The central character is Maria (Pina Turco), who has suffered in her young life, finds herself pregnant and unwilling to remain  in her "job". This is a hugely confronting film, dark, sad but in a way strangely beautiful, with odd glimpses of compassion and humanity shining through. The soundtrack is noticeably splendid, and despite the depressingness of it all, I found myself completely drawn in. 


Banghla: This award-winning comedy is about a young man Phaim who, despite being Italian born, is always mistaken for being Bangladeshi. It is based upon the director's life and he in fact plays the lead. When Phaim falls for an outspoken Italian gal, Asia, trouble is guaranteed. There is something awkward about the lead character; he doesn't totally ring true, and of course the usual conflict of cultural values looms large in the plot. But it's a bit of light-weight fun, that will no doubt appeal to lovers of Italian comedy (which has never been me - give me the grit and sadness any day - they do it so well!)

September 26
Buoyancy
Director: Rod Rathjen
Length: 92 min
© Umbrella - a riveting film of slavery and 
exploitation
Winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Buoyancy is the story of Chakra (Sarm Heng), a 14-year-old Cambodian boy who is sick of working in the rice paddies and leaves home optimistically to seek work in Thailand. He is whisked away to work on a fishing trawler, where he and the other workers are literal slaves to a ruthless and cruel captain. (Rom Ran is amazing in this role.) Living under extreme privation, Chakra and the other enslaved workers are always a hair's breadth away from death. This brilliant and confronting film is inspired by the real-life tragedy of workers in the south-east Asian trawling industry. It is an important eye-opening insight into the modern slave trade, which, according to the film, affects more than 200,000 boys and men. Since the south-east Asian industry supplies 40% of the world's seafood, it makes one rethink just which prawns and other seafood we should be buying to be ethical in our choice.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

August 29th
The Nightingale
Amazing Grace
Dragged Across Concrete

This week sees another unmissable film (two unmissables, two weeks in a row!) Music lovers prepare to be wowed, and fans of hard-core crime with corrupt cops can get their fix.  

The Nightingale
Director: Jennifer Kent
Length: 136 min
© Transmission - a searingly brutal, truthful
and beautiful film. 
Clare (Aisling Franciosi) is a young Irish convict woman in Van Diemen's Land in 1825. She is servant to Lt Hawkins (Sam Claflin), an arrogant violent man in charge of a rag-tag bunch of British military. Among the soldiers is the equally brutish Ruse (Damon Herriman). Clare keeps asking for her freedom, having served her time. Instead of getting freedom, a most heinous crime is perpetrated upon her and her family. Hell-bent upon revenge, she teams up with Aboriginal tracker Billy (Baykali  Ganambarr) and together they trek through the Tasmanian wilderness on the trail of those who have brutalised both of them, gradually turning hatred of each other into a shared quest and something even deeper. This remarkable film may be set in days long gone, but it is as raw and relevant today as ever. It is about violence - towards women and Indigenous people, and the entitled attitudes of power-hungry men. This is one of the most difficult films to watch; director Kent decided consciously not to steer away from the brutal realities of the time, and it is done in a way that makes it most distressing yet impossible to look away from. Franciosi is a revelation - as the initially subservient convict with the voice of a nightingale, (she does her own singing) yet the determination of a hawk, she dominates the screen. Ganambarr is equally mesmerising as Billy, whose real name is Mangana, meaning a black bird, and the symbolism and mystical associations with this are beautiful. Claflin and Herriman could make you hate men forever, and in fact many of the males in this film are vile. Much consultation was done in the film's making with local Indigenous people, who approved all that is depicted, and the scenes of the confrontations between colonisers and the first peoples are absolutely chilling. Among all the disturbing moments, there are some scenes that move one to tears with their compassion, but overall the tears I shed were of fury for a world, still thriving today, where the strong feel it is their right to oppress the weak. This is probably the best (and most distressing) film I've seen so far this year; it is brilliant. (It comes with a warning for those unable to tolerate screen violence.)
5 - unmissable!

Amazing Grace
Director: Alan Elliott & Sydney Pollack
Length: 88 min
© Studio Canal - Aretha Franklin provides
an unforgettable transcendent musical experience
By the late 1960s, Aretha Franklin had a string of hits in the pop charts and was known as "The Queen of Soul". In 1972 she decided she wanted to return to her roots (she was the daughter of a Baptist preacher) and record an album of gospel songs. This was done live, with a small audience (Mick Jagger among them), over two nights in an LA Baptist church. Warner Bros decided to film the sessions with Sydney Pollack at the helm. But the film was never released due to problems post-synching the sound. Only now has technology allowed the film to reach fruition, letting viewers enjoy one of the most transcendent performances you may ever see. Although technically the film has moments of blurry camera work, who cares? The close-ups of the face of this woman giving her heart and soul to song, every rivulet of sweat, and the rapturous support of the backing choir is something you can't experience listening to a record. It is beyond moving and uplifting. The choir's conductor had me riveted on his every movement as his whole body moved with the rhythm; in fact the stunning musicianship of everyone is a revelation. The congregation's involvement is such a bonus. This film should not be missed, not only by Aretha fans, but all who love the transformative power of music, performed by those who feel it to their core.
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Dragged Across Concrete
Director: S Craig Zahler
Length: 158 min
© Icon - that overused word "gritty" is a perfect
adjective for this hard-hitting cop thriller
Cops Brett Ridgeman (Mel Gibson) and Anthony Lurasetti (Vince Vaughan) are suspended without pay when their stand-over tactics with a suspect are caught on video. Citing financial hardship as an incentive (his wife has MS), Ridgeman suggests they rob a known drug dealer. Through convoluted tip-offs from criminal associates, they prepare to execute their plan, only to find their quarry themselves about to commit a bank robbery. The two corrupt cops could prevent the crime but choose not to, and what transpires from there is in many ways the moral (or immoral) heart of the film. This is a particularly difficult film for me to assess. It is extremely stylish and gripping, in its own grubby way, and Vaughan and Gibson are perfect in their roles. The criminal gang are a fearsome bunch, specialists in sadistic treatment of victims, and the young black getaway driver, just released ex-con Henry (Tory Kittles), is an interesting, ethically ambiguous character. Basically, the film is extremely well crafted, with slow-burn character development and terrific dialogue. Perhaps Zahler wants us to feel repulsion at the racism, violence, misogyny and lack of integrity. But 2.5 hours of the criminal side of life, and wondering if it really enhances my life, makes me totally ambiguous in my assessment - that tricky, constant juggle between a movie's content versus its value as a piece of movie-making. So I fence sit . . .
3 - recommended! (strong, but again, not for squeamish viewers)


Wednesday, 21 August 2019

August 22nd
Blinded by the Light
Australian Dream
Dogman

It's another strong week for film: a delightful music-themed movie (Springsteen is the soundtrack), a must-see and timely doco for all Australians, and a gritty Italian drama. 

Blinded by the Light
Director: Gurinda Chadha
Length: 120 min
© Universal - I'm a sucker for music stories.
Springsteen inspires a young boy to greater heights.
Javed (Viveik Kalra) is the 16-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants, and an aspiring writer. Frustrated by the traditional expectations of his family, he becomes inspired to follow his dream when his Sikh friend introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen. Something in the Boss's celebration of the working class hero lights a fire in Javed, and, encouraged by his English teacher (Hayley Atwell), he starts to see a possible future for himself. Based upon the true memoirs of English journalist Sarfraz Manzour, this film is definitely not one for the cynics amongst you. Jaded critics sometimes label this type of film formulaic and schmaltzy . . . but that is to discount its overwhelming charm and entertainment value. Something in Chadha's style captures the sweet optimism and innocence of youth, and Kalra is such a gorgeous screen presence, he carries the film to extra heights. There's also a winning cross-cultural love story, with Nell Williams as girlfriend Eliza, and a disturbing sub-plot of the racist neo-Nazi movement of Thatcher's Britain. Fortunately there is no attempt to wring jaded humour out of Javed's struggling parents; both are played with empathy and subtlety. A cameo by Rob Brydon is an unexpected delight. The film is an unashamed celebration of Bruce; his lyrics are displayed on screen when Javed listens, and the entire soundtrack pays homage to the best of Bruce. The film is an absolute crowd-pleaser and a joy to watch. (Try not to sing out loud in the cinema!)
4 - highly recommended!

The Australian Dream
Director: Stan Grant
Length: 106  min
© Madman- everyone should see this film.
 It should shame Aussies, and hopefully
inspire change at the same time. 
In the winter of 2015 something unthinkable happened on the hallowed turf of Australia's footy fields. Crowds booed, jeered and racially vilified Brownlow medallist and revered Indigenous footballer Adam Goodes until he could take it no more, and left the game. This doco traces what happened, but it is also much more than that - it is the shameful story of racism in Australia as seen through the prism of  Goodes' experience.  The film is stunningly crafted, with journalist Stan Grant, also an Indigenous man, cutting to the nitty gritty of how this country has never really acknowledged the truth of its grim, murderous history, especially the wicked idea that the land was "terra nullius", essentially obliterating any rights of our First Nations people. People who don't like footy may say they are not interested in this film, but it should be essential viewing for all Aussies, as a revelation of how this country needs to come to grips with its past. It is also as a magnificent tribute to a fine and proud man, who is a wonderful screen presence and a brilliant spokesperson for his people, and against racism. Archival footage of  the sad and sorry years of mistreatment of Aborigines, as well as explanations from the heart of how the recent incident made Goodes feel, all make the film rivetting, intensely personal, and cause for Australia to reflect long and hard about how these injustices can be redressed  and reconciliation effected.
5 - unmissable!

Dogman
Director: Matteo Garrone
Length: 103  min
© Palace - gritty Italian drama with many 
moral ambiguities
In a small run-down Italian town, Marcello (Marcello Fonte) runs his modest business as a dog-groomer, with an occasional side-business of dealing cocaine to make ends meet. He is much liked, is kindness personified (to the dogs), and is a loving, generous dad to his little daughter Alida. But the local town bully and borderline psychopath Simone (Edoardo Pesce) starts asking things of Marcello that the timid man doesn't want to do, but seems unable to go against. The ramifications for Marcello's life are massive. Like many movies, it doesn't serve viewers well for me to say too much here. The film is one of those that feels low-key, yet one's reactions build long after it is over, partly because it tells of injustice, intimidation and of people who are deluded that they are doing something worthy which is in fact very wrong. Garrone made the wonderful Gomorrah, about organised crime in Naples. He has a good handle upon the rough side of Italian life, but he also shows great insight into the heart of a sad and (initially) weak man. Fonte's performance is so strong, in a slow burn way, and the film has won many heavy-duty awards, including Palme Dog for best canine cast!
4 - highly recommended!


Friday, 16 August 2019

August 16th
Once Upon a Time in Hollywood

I only have one review for you this week, but boy is it a winner. Tarantino's latest is total entertaining, and features outstanding performances from Leonardo Di Caprio and Brad Pitt.  

Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Director: Quentin Tarantino
Length: 160 min
© Sony -  Pitt and di Caprio are superb together
Revisionist history and a love song to the end of Hollywood's golden era seems to be the focus of this splendidly entertaining sprawling tale, a mix of fact and fiction, set in Hollywood in 1969. Rick Dalton (Leonardo di Caprio) is a bit of a has-been, once a famous TV star but never huge in movies. His long-time stunt double Cliff (Brad Pitt) seems to be the only friend left in his life. But Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie) and husband Roman Polanski have moved in next door, firing Rick's hopes of reigniting his career. To go into the intricacies and details of every character would possibly spoil this film. It's a movie experience to be savoured, as it rambles its way around the many interwoven lives, including those of the Manson family of hippies hanging out on a run-down ranch, once a movie set. There are some incredibly memorable scenes; a precocious 8-year-old child-actor propping up Rick's crumbling self-esteem, Al Pacino as a crazed spaghetti western producer, Cliff's extraordinary (and significant, plot-wise!) dog salivating over an impending meal, the atmosphere of cool people and fast cars in the winding roads of the Hollywood hills, and best of all the denouement - something that never happened - which rewrites history, and is a violent, typically Tarantino-esque finale that will repel some people, and delight others. The 60s sound track is absolutely stunning, and the overall evocation of the era, with its signage, cars,  hippie vibe and Hollywood glam, is inspired and flawless. Much has been written about this film, mostly positive, while the usual nay-sayers have criticisms of some of the representations of real-life characters like Bruce Lee, even Sharon Tate. All I can say is I loved it!
4.5 - wholeheartedly recommended!

Thursday, 8 August 2019

August 8th
Palm Beach
Late Night
Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan
Who You Think I Am
Indian Film Festival
More Miff

It's a massive week with plenty of new releases (two of them Aussie), MIFF in full flight, and the Melbourne Indian Film Festival opening tonight. 

Palm Beach
Director: Rachel Ward
Length: 100 min
© Universal -  three old pals (and band members)
relive a moment of lost youth

Frank (Bryan Brown) has sold his business for a small fortune and lives with wife Charlotte (Greta Scacchi) in a stunning house on Sydney's northern beaches. To celebrate a "significant" birthday he invites lifelong pals, with whom he was once in a one-hit-wonder band, for the weekend. Leo (Sam Neill) and wife Bridget (Jacqueline McKenzie), Billy (Richard E Grant) and wife Eva (Heather Mitchell) arrive. Along with Frank's two adult kids Dan (Charlie Vickers) and Ella (Matilda Brown), Leo's stepdaughter Caitlin (Frances Berry) and Franks's niece Holly (Claire van der Boom) with new beau Doug (Aaron Jeffery) the scene is set. Phew!!! What a cast list of Aussie acting royalty, and what a terrific set-up for what will become an explosive weekend in which old resentments and long-held secrets will surface. While there are predictable elements in this comedy/drama, it targets many aspects of growing older, and should totally hit the nail on the head for the baby boomers, and for audiences of their kids' ages. Written by smart playwright Joanna Murray-Smith, it has all the trademarks of her incisive dialogue that feels very credible, and the cast all give honest, truthful performances. With a plot so many can relate to, along with gorgeous scenery and architecture, an A-list cast, and a spot-on soundtrack of nostalgic hits, what's not to enjoy?
3.5 - well recommended!

Late Night
Director: Nisha Ganatra
Length: 102 min
© Roadshow - Emma Thompson shines in a role
custom-made for her
Katherine Newbury (Emma Thompson) has been anchor of a late night talk show for decades. As ratings drop, she is threatened with replacement. She and her team, along with newly hired writer Molly Patel (Mindy Kaling) fly into action to prevent this happening. This film is an absolute delight on so many levels. The obvious one is Thompson, who attacks this role with such alacrity as if it's made for her. Newbury is a supercilious type who doesn't relate well to her staff; her only real connection in life is her ailing husband Walter (John Lithgow). Her writing team has been all blokes, and production manager Brad (Denis O'Hare) urges that a gal be hired, so enter feisty Indian born Molly, who is a rallying cry for anti-sexism and also for anti racism. The film is funny, touching, has wonderfully well written lines for all the characters, and, as said, Thompson simply leaps off the screen, looking magnificent to boot in her many elegant and sexy outfits.
4 - highly recommended!

Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan
Director: Kriv Stenders
Length: 118 min
© Transmission - a horrendous battle 
brought up close and personal 
Conscription - compulsory enlistment for military service. In 1966, young Australian men with no military background had already been drafted into the army and sent to fight in the Vietnam War. This is based upon the true story of an infamous battle in which 108 Aussie soldiers, (mostly conscripts) led by Major Harry Smith (Travis Fimmell), found themselves surrounded by 2000 Vietnamese troops in a rubber plantation. The 3-hour battle and its outcome went down in the annals of Aussie military history. There's perhaps two ways of judging this film - some are calling it  a generic war piece with little individual character development and an overload of furious fighting, bombardment, blood and gore. I however found myself utterly gripped, as the film captures the ghastliness of war, and the futility of lives (on both sides) cut down in an instant. There are subplots of divisiveness between officers Brigadier Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) and Lt Townsend (Anthony Hayes), danger for visiting troop entertainers Col Joye and Little Pattie, and the dogged bravery of Smith who initially thinks he's too good for these conscripts, but ultimately changes tack. My physical reactions to having this horror in my face on the big screen spoke for themselves as I gripped the armrest; director Stenders achieved his aim and despite any superficiality of character development, as a historic record, and an anti-war message (maybe unintended?) it works.  
3.5 - well recommended!


Who You Think I Am
Director: Saffy Nebbou
Length: 101 min
© Palace - a cautionary psychological love thriller
set in the age of Facebook
Divorced mother of two, fifty-year-old Claire (Juliette Binoche) is dumped by her younger lover Ludo. To keep tabs on him she invents a new identity on Facebook - that of Clara, a 24-year-old beauty. She deliberately connects with Ludo's housemate Alex (Francois Civil), and what is meant as a way of tracking Ludo turns into a passionate but virtual, affair. Alex is desperate to meet Clara but she is determined to keep her non-identity under wraps. This chilling and thrilling film is framed by Claire's recounting to her therapist Dr Bormans (Nicole Garcia) of what happened. It works on many intriguing levels - a cautionary tale about the dangers of being lured into the virtual world, as well as a very sad examination of how hard it is for some women to accept growing older with the accompanying feelings of invisibility. Deeper philosophical questions of who you are at heart (your looks, your voice, your age, your basic personality?) infuse the story. Binoche is at her absolute best, plumbing, as always, the depths of so many varied emotions. With some terrific twists and turns it's tense and yet feels quite truthful in the age of deception.
4 - highly recommended!

Indian Film Festival of Melbourne
Fri 9 - Saturday 17th August
At Hoyts Docklands, Chadstone, Highpoint, Melbourne Central, Fed Square and Palais
For venues, ticketing and schedule of films visit: http://www.iffm.com.au/

This festival is always a treat for those who love Indian films, especially films that go "Beyond Bollywood", as the Festival's  major stream is called. (That's not to say there aren't a few good all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood spectacles in the festival!) Films showcasing different Indian sub-cultures, a variety of languages and fascinating and beautiful parts of the land are here, as well as deeply human stories universal to all our lives. 


Sweet Requiem: Winning many Indian festival awards, this film is about Tibetans, desperate to escape Chinese oppression in their country by crossing the mountainous border pass to India. Dolkar, a young woman living and working in northern India, meets a man who stirs up her past. When she was a child, her father took her on a perilous journey across the high pass into India, with tragedy transpiring along the way. The film toggles between present and past, as hidden layers of Dolkar's traumatic past unfold. It is a beautiful, gentle slow film, with resonance for refugee situations worldwide. 
Widow of Silence: Aasiya lives in poverty in Kashmir, a province between Pakistan and India and with a history of conflict. Many people have gone missing, and Aasiya has not seen her husband for seven years; he is presumed dead. She cannot remarry without a death certificate and a local government official is determined to make her pay for it, one way or another. This is a remarkable film, highlighting a proud woman determined to stand up to hateful and misogynistic practices. Cinematography is quite stunning, and the various characters, especially the optimistic taxi driver, linger in one's mind. The film is ultimately greater than the sum of its parts, sneaking up on you with quiet power.
Namdhev Bhau in Search of Silence: Namdev is a 60-something chauffeur living in Mumbai. Sick to death of the endless prattle of his wife, the constant talk of his boss, and the noise of the city, he packs a bag and heads off to a place he has read about - Silent Valley. On route he meets a young boy who says he is on a quest to find the Red Castle. After Namdev's initial aversion to the boy and his chatter, both have much to learn from the other, and from the endpoint of each of their quests. This mildly amusing film is ultimately quite deep and philosophical. It is quietly engaging, in an almost meditative way. A real treat. 
Amais (The Ravening): PhD student Sumon meets married doctor Nirmali when he needs help for a sick friend. He introduces her, normally vegetarian, to some of the meat delicacies he tries in his "meat club" and gradually the pair bond over meting to sample increasingly bizarre offerings. What starts out as a seemingly twee and typically Indian chaste romance, gradually becomes darker and more twisted. This will not be to everyone's taste (ha ha!!) with the subject matter transgressing some serious taboos, but fans of kinky horror should really enjoy it.
The Gold-laden Sheep and the Sacred Mountain: High in the remote Himalayas a shepherd and his servant hear a loud noise. They speculate that a plane has crashed and head off in search of any bounty that may be at the site of the wreckage. This film is remarkable in its cinematography, capturing a remote way of life. But it also very slow, almost glacial in its pace, and you need to be prepared to experience the film as sort of meditation, as you follow the men step by step, along with the constant grazing of sheep and goats. There may even be allegorical ideas to be extracted, maybe even deeper life lessons, which will require your concentration.    
 More from . . . 
Melbourne International Film Festival

Running until the 18th of August
20 venues around the inner city, Melbourne
For information on timetable, ticketing and venues visit www.miff.com.au


MIFF is in its second week, and the wonderful films just keep on coming. I've caught up with a couple more:
Dark Place: For fans of the horror genre this is a fascinating offering, described as a trip into the "dark heart of terror nullius". Five emerging Indigenous filmmakers explore relevant themes via the horror/terror genre, and for the most part they hit home. Especially powerful is the opening story Scout, highlighting horrific female oppression, and the cathartic power of revenge. Other stories feature zombies, outback horror and supernatural happenings in a housing estate. After the success of television series Cleverman, this is a great follow-up. 
Give me Liberty: Set in America's mid-west, this is a crazed but moving tale of Russian/American Vic, whose job is to get wheelchair bound folks to their destinations. But a group of elderly relatives hijack him to get them to a funeral on time. So begins a most chaotic day. This is zany to the max, and at times laugh-out-loud hilarious. Many of the cast seem to be amateurs and they come across as such authentic characters as they sing, squabble, and harangue their way through the day. There is some haunting singing, a touching scene of mentally disabled folk putting on a concert, and much philosophising, especially from a bed-bound quadriplegic friend of Vic's. It's a story of marginalised people just getting through their day, but in a way that underscores the shared humanity of us all, and the challenges we all must face.  
Buoyancy: Winner of the Ecumenical Jury Prize at the Berlin Film Festival, Buoyancy is the story of Chakra, a 14-year-old Cambodian boy who is sick of working in the rice paddies and leaves home to seek work in Thailand. He is whisked away to work on a fishing trawler, where he and the other workers are slaves to a ruthless and cruel captain. More about this brilliant film when it releases later next month, but see it now to get an important eye-opening insight into the modern slave trade, which, according to the film, affects more than 200,000 boys and men in the south-east Asian fishing industry. Makes one rethink just which prawns and other seafood we should be buying to be ethical in our choice.