15 MIFF must-haves

With artistic director Michelle Carey’s final program at the helm of the Melbourne International Film Festivalunleashed, here’s a handy guide to 15 outstanding options for your consideration I’ve had the chance to catch already.

Cold War

Pawel Pawlikowski rightly took home the best director prize at Cannes for this emotionally discombobulating depiction of an impossible relationship played out against the fraught fractures of post-WWII Europe. The Innocents’ Joanna Kulig is incendiary opposite a dashing Tomasz Kot in a truly stunning film composed almost entirely of perfect shots and strung on a rich musical history.

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The Rider

Prepare to ugly cry for the majority of Chloé Zhao’s heart-rending sophomore feature and CannesDirectors’ Fortnightdarling. Centred on a revelatory Brady Jandreau as a rodeo cowboy struggling with life after a brain injury, it draws heavily on his real-life experience and smartly casts with his real friends and family as co-stars. Burning with raw beauty, it’s one for the ages.

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The Seen and Unseen

Glowing in the half-light between life and death, this haunting monument to love and loss is steeped in Balinese mythology. Indonesian writer/director Kamila Andini’s sophomore feature sees Ni Kadek Thaly Titi Kasih as a ten-year-old watching her twin brother (Ida Bagus Putu Radithya Mahijasena) waste away while holding on valiantly to their play. Incredible choreography and cinematography lend it an otherworldly grace.

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Wajib

Sometimes it’s the films with the simplest of concepts that pack the mightiest emotional wallop. Palestinian filmmaker Annemarie Jacir’s third feature is one such movie, starring real-life father and son duo Mohammad and Saleh Bakri as Palestinians living in Nazareth who set out to hand-deliver wedding invites for their daughter/sister. The specific politics of this divided land hover over this tender exploration of family tension that’s also incredibly funny.

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Shoplifters

Japanese writer/director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme d’Or-winningShopliftersis a gentle love letter to the subversive strength derived from found family, right up until the moment it isn’t, and even then it will have you pondering the muddy boundaries of morality. A sublime ensemble piece that lingers long after the closing credits have faded to black, this is another cinematic triumph.

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American Animals

An utterly barmy fusion of dramatic feature and documentary,Bart Layton casts The Killing of a Sacred Deer’s Barry Keoghan as one of four idiotic teenagers who, out of sheer boredom, attempted a brazen daylight robbery of their uni’ library’s multi-million dollar rare book collection. A high-octane heist movie, it’s also a jaw-dropping commentary on the collateral damage involved as the real-life perpetrators interact with the lads playing their young selves.

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You Were Never Really Here

Disappearing into limbo following its Cannes debut last year, Scottish writer/director Lynne Ramsay’s long-awaited follow-up to We Need to Talk About Kevinis an audio-visual sucker-punch of a movie that’s nowhere near as violent as you’ve been led to believe, instead relying on the power of dread suggestion. Joaquin Phoenix ismesmeric as a hitman trying to make things right in a very wrong world in this adaptation of a Jonathan Ames novella.

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Hard Paint

Taking home the queer Teddy Prize at this year’s Berlinale, Brazilian writer/director duo Filipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon’s erotically melancholic sophomore feature echoes the distant longing of Eliza Hittman’s Beach Rats,amped up with a pulsing soundtrack. Shico Menegat and Bruno Fernandes are unforgettable as duelling sex-cam boys who, in baring all, can’t quite drop their guard enough to let each other in.

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McQueen

Celebrating the troubled man behind the dark side of fashion, breaking new ground using the runway to present ethereally confronting art, Ian Bonhôte and Peter Ettedgui’s unflinching tribute to Lee Alexander McQueen, as told by the people who loved and occasionally sorta loathed him, is one of the year’s most powerful documentaries to date, and a sore reminder of great talent lost.

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Three Identical Strangers

Tim Wardle’s Sundance Special Jury Prize-winning doco keeps the WTF moments a-coming as he teases out the unbelievable truth behind the unwitting separation and viral sensation reunification of three identical brothers at the height of New York’s wild party days in the 80s.

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Burning

Scooping the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes, South Korean writer/director Lee Chang-dong spins a slow-burning (if a touch too meandering) meet-cute-turned-thriller out of a Haruki Murakami short in this strikingly shot essay on class, sexual politics and toxic masculinity. It’s hung on an unforgettably subtle performance by Yoo Ah-in and the troubling vision of a metaphor writ large.

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Leave No Trace

Winter’s Bonewriter/directorDebra Granik returns at long last to deftly deliver yet another searing literary adaptation, this time of Peter Rock’s My Abandonment. Rising Kiwi star Thomasin McKenzie’s is outstanding as a young woman supporting her ex-military, PTSD-experiencing father (Ben Foster, Hell or High Water) by living a low-impact life in the Oregon woods. But when they’re forced to relocate, she’s confronted with new scope, reassessing her future.

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Scary Mother

A deeply unsettling and utterly fascinating take on gender politics, creative pressures, ageism and the expectations of motherhood, Georgian writer/director Ana Urushadze’s jaw-dropping debut maximises its stark Soviet relic setting and summons the shadow of nightmarish beasts, gnawing at the edges of reality. Nato Murvanidze’s startling central turn one of the year’s finest so far.

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Tower. A Bright Day

It is the mark of Polish writer/director Jagoda Szelc’s disturbing genius that her debut feature, fusing psychological drama with the creeping horror of nature inexplicably disturbed, caused me to turn every light in the house on after watching it. I won’t give away too much, but let’s just say Anna Krotoska and Malgorzata Szczerbowskaare riveting as estranged sisters and their family reunion does not go well. Not. One. Bit.

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Good Manners

A Brothers’ Grimm-like social commentary, this feminist queering of whispered werewolf stories splices fable with a a dash of class drama. Looking like a dystopian picture book brought to life by Brazilian writer/directors Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra., this tale told in two halves unleashes the monstrous feminine.

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