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Sunflower (2023)
Stories & Ideas

Wed 02 Aug 2023

What to see at MIFF 2023

ACMI Recommends Film
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Charlie Stamatogiannis

Social Media Intern, ACMI

Can't decide on what to see at the Melbourne International Film Festival this year? Your museum of screen culture has you covered.

Back in its 71st year, MIFF is set to grace screens across Victoria – including right here at ACMI – from August 3. With a program boasting 267 films, including new releases, retrospectives, and a focus on Italian giallo pioneer Dario Argento, here’s what you won’t want to miss.

Noughties Nostalgia

Let’s begin your MIFF experience by turning the clock back, but not too far. The seemingly ever shortening, 20-year trend cycles mean that there’s a serious case of the Y2K bug going round, and those dangerously low-rise jeans sitting in the back of your wardrobe are in. Revel in the nostalgia (as recent as it feels) by checking out a 4K restoration of Millenium Mambo (2001), a neon-soaked tale of a young night-club worker who longs to escape her aimless life and bratty, wannabe-DJ boyfriend.

Or if the COVID-induced toilet paper hoarding of the past 3 years had you reminiscing on the last mass doomsday scare, look to Time Bomb Y2K (2022), a non-fiction explosion of the pop-culture chaos and paranoia that surrounded the turn of the century.

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The Other Side of the Lens

Filmmakers just cannot help turning the camera on themselves, can they? Cinephiles, aspiring auteurs and ordinary fans looking to satisfy their curiosity for what goes on behind the scenes can certainly get their fix this festival year.

Argento’s Do You Like Hitchcock? (2005) follows Giulio, a film student and Alfred Hitchcock fanatic who gets swept up in a real-life Psycho when a murder occurs, and he finds himself drawn to the investigation.

If you’re looking for something a bit more meta, allow yourself to be transported to Central Park, where two actors are forced to exhaustingly perform the same break-up scene over and over at the behest of their director. At the same time, the crew and events are captured by a documentary crew, and thus Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One (1968) is born.

In a similarly experimental vein, check out Memory Film: A Filmmaker’s Diary (2023), a sans-dialogue cine-poem charting the filmmaker’s inner journey over the course of her film career against the backdrop of radical feminism, Aboriginal land rights and widespread social upheaval.

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Second Coming-of-Ages

When familial expectations don’t align with what we envision for our lives, there comes a point where some of us must ‘introduce’ our adult selves to the people who raised us, in a tense and awkward ‘second coming-of-age'.

Take Koffi from Omen (2023), for example, who grew up in Congo but has since spent most of his life in Belgium. Koffi returns to his home country with his pregnant fiancée to try and reconnect with his family, only to find his mother has held on to harmful superstitions and his sister is struggling between her sexuality and traditional spirituality.

Mutt (2023) addresses similar themes, following Feña, a young trans man living in New York, takes his dad visiting from Chile as an opportunity to prove that he’s thriving living abroad, but coupled with the arrival of his sister and an unanticipated hookup with his ex this proves difficult.

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The Power of Female Friendships

Female friendships are often celebrated for their strength, compassion and intensity, all of which these films demonstrate to new heights, in unlikely circumstances and across different countries and generations.

Starting off in the Southern Estonian woods, where a group of women regularly gather inside a smoke sauna to sweat and let it all out, not shying away from discussing socially taboo topics. Smoke Sauna Sisterhood (2022) documents the radical intimacy shared by the women as they remove all barriers and embrace the soul-cleansing power of steam.

Moving now to the tail-end of the Sudanese civil war, Goodbye Julia (2023) is a domestic drama following Mona, who hails from the country’s North, as she seeks redemption for having caused the death of a Southern woman’s husband, with a friendship ensuing between the pair.

And taking a trip through time brings us to the 50s and 60s, on the precipice of New York City’s historic and turbulent Gay Liberation Movement, which would eventually rise to the surface in full-force 1969. Meanwhile, tucked far away from the city, deep in the Catskill Mountains was a refuge for transgender women to live authentically and without fear, as seen in Casa Susanna (2022).

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Homegrown Horror

For the faint of heart, seeing spinechilling tales play out in your own backyard might be out of the question. But if you love local cinema and are looking to get your fair share of scares in this MIFF, check out these new Australian horror picks.

Shot in Daylesford and Hepburn Springs is Godless: The Eastfield Exorcism (2022), in which a devout man seeks the help of a ‘religious fixer’ (an unofficial exorcist, if you will) to stop his wife from having delirious episodes.

And paying homage to 1970s Australian television is Late Night with the Devil (2023), which follows talk-show host Jack Delroy and his bizarre trio of interview guests, as a supernatural force makes it an episode his audience will never forget.

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Get Lost

One of the biggest reasons we go to the cinema in the first place is to escape, whether that be to distant fantasy worlds, outer-suburban Tokyo, the Moroccan desert, or even travelling between different characters and life stages. No airfares needed for these journeys.

With a premise and style that evokes nostalgia for 80s kid’s adventure films like The Goonies and ET, Riddle of Fire (2023) follows the curious, obstacle-filled journey of “The Three Reptiles” (a trio of human children) who want to spend the day gaming but are instead tasked with fetching their mother a blueberry pie.

Remembering Every Night (2023) tracks three separate women all wandering the hauntingly uniform streets of Tama New Town in Toyko’s outskirts, whose individual stories are tied together despite their paths never crossing.

Similarly capturing the journeys of multiple, ordinary people is Terrestrial Verses (2023), composed of a series of vignettes capturing how state control in Iran impacts people at all stages of life, from birth through to teenage hood, and even cycling all the way round to death.

Last stop is Deserts (2023), in which two suit-clad debt collectors make their way across the arid Moroccan desert to extract loan payments from villagers living in poverty, confronted with the absurdity of their own profession.

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Queer Picks

As an end to your MIFF experience, consider sinking your teeth into some of the program’s queer-themed titles, ranging from heartbreaking, to empowering, to totally radical and unflinching in the face of respectability politics.

Blue Jean (2023) tells the story of a lesbian high school teacher in Thatcher’s England, forced to conceal her sexual identity at work. Sunflower (2023) follows a teenager’s sexual awakening in Melbourne’s outer-suburbs and grapples with heteronormative pressures.

Fresh Kill (1994) takes place in a post-apocalyptic New York City in which two mums dive into a larger conspiracy after their daughter eats contaminated fish, begins to glow, and eventually disappears. How bizarre!

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Explore the 2023 MIFF program

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