MIFF picks from Michelle Carey and Al Cossar

And here we are, MIFFmass once more, with the 67thfestival something of a team effort between outgoing festival director Michelle Carey and programmer and incoming head Al Cossar, who stepped in while Carey was on maternity leave. It’s the end of an era, but my what a grand selection of world cinema to go out on.

I had a sprawling chat with the pair ahead of the program drop, with Carey in a buoyant but wistful mood, taking stock of eight years in the top job and two as a programmer before, the route Cossar has now followed.

“In many ways it has just gone so quickly,” Carey mused. “I really haven’t had a chance to stop and think much, but it does feel very poignant. It’s bitter sweet, but I’m just so thrilled at what good hands the festival is in, as is evident in this year’s program, which Al has largely assembled.”

Cossar said it’s been an honour. “I’ve learnt so much from working with Michelle and from MIFF itself, from the festival environment. It’s been an extraordinary partnership.”

Here are five of their must sees, with ticket links to all.

Michelle’s picks

Happy as Lazzaro

A century spanning-yarn steeped in religious imagery, Cannes Gran Prix-winner Italian filmmaker Alice Rohrchwacher’s third dramatic feature is a mind-bender, Carey said.

“It’s a very unique film that begins like a magical realist, rural fable and then ends up in a completely different place. I don’t want to give too much away but Alice is a really interesting talent that the world should be paying a lot more attention to.”

Strange Colours

Alena Lodkina expands on her MIFF short doco Lighting Ridge, returning to the opal mines of remote NSW for her Venice Film Festival Biennale College-supported feature debut starring Kate Cheel a young woman looking to reconnect with her father, played by Hail’s Daniel P Jones.

“It’s a uniquely Australian but very otherworldly film and the performances are quite incredible,” Carey said. “Whether she shot documentary-style, or actually directed them, either way it’s quite extraordinary that Alena is able to elicit performances that are completely natural and unfiltered from the non-professional cast.”

Celeste

Invited into the Cannes Film Festival’s Atelier incubator program, Ben Hackworth follows up his MIFF feature debut Corroboreewith this stirring drama starring Radha Mitchell as an opera singer returning to the stage and to her family a decade after retreating to the jungles of far north Queensland.

“Very influenced by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, this is the sort of women-led melodrama that I absolutely love,” Carey said. “Radha is incredible in it, her best performance to date, and I was bawling at this one. And where it’s shot is just so stunning I had to look it up.”

Zama

 Argentinian filmmaker Lucretia Martel breaks her almost ten-year feature drought with this trippy adaptation of Antonio di Benedetto’s 1956 novel about a Spanish missionary lost and losing the plot.

“It’s stunning,” Carey said. “The sound design is really incredible. It’s almost surreal, not that there are lots of camera tricks going on, but there’s just something abut the way she directs. Much like Alena’s film, it’s very much rooted in the natural world but there’s something otherworldly going on that you can’t quite pin down.”

Climax

After bombarding the world with 3D orgasms filmed from the inside, Carey insists that Gaspar Noé’s comeback feature – packing sex, drugs and 90s clubbing – is less in-your-face.

“I wasn’t a great fan of Love, but this was one of my favourite films at this year’s Cannes,” she said. “I just loved how the camera interacts with this kinetic, pretty crazy story, which has great performances, cinematography and music. It’s told in one room and I love the economy of it, and the choreography.”

Al’s picks

Island of the Hungry Ghosts

With the two major parties more or less in lockstep over the fate of refugees, Gabrielle Brady’s documentary feature debut, expanded from her short, follows the fates of both Christmas Island’s migratory crab and asylum seeker populations. Debuting at Venice, it scored her a Best Documentary award at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“It’s one of the films I’m most passionate about in this year’s festival,” Cossar said. “I’m going to use the term otherworldly again, because it’s perfect for this very striking and strange crab migration happening in the foreground of this political situation.”

The Tale

Blurring the lines of the #metoo discussion in startling fashion, Laura Dern steps into the shoes of writer/director Jennifer Fox in this Sundance highlight as she re-examines a childhood memory that now seems a lot less sure in its happiness. Also look out for Australian star Elizabeth Debicki.

“It’s extraordinary,” Cossar said. “Jenifer’s known as a documentarian, but this is a narrative film that is also a memoir piece. It’s a story she wrote as a 13-year-old girl that references a couple of adults whom she looked up to as role models, but as she confronts her memories, it becomes a pretty harrowing story of abuse.”

Diamantino

Apparently the less you know about this trippy Cannes Critics’ Week Grad Prix-winner starring Ronaldo lookalike Carloto Cotta going in, the better. We’re sold on the comparisons – John Waters, Gregg Araki and early Almodóvar – and the descriptor, “it skewers celebrity culture by way of queer sci-fi thriller, political comedy.”

“I love this and you absolutely should see it,” Cossar said. “It’s a really crazy film that goes from ridiculous to even more ridiculous. Visually it’s quite incredible and it’s a lot of fun.”

A Kid Like Jake

Based on Daniel Pearle’s play, the debut feature from Transparentand Posedirector and trans cinema champion Silas Howard assembles an all-star cast, with Clare Danes and Jake Parsons playing parents handling the vagaries of getting into a good school in New York while processing their four-year-old’s emerging gender identity.

“They’re living in this middle class bubble and debating whether or not it’s their right ot put a stamp on this gender-fluid identity or not,” Cossar said. “

It’s a very accessible, but very thoughtful, conversation starter.”

Dogman

Winning Best Actor at Cannes, Marcello Fonte plays a good-natured dog groomer who is dragged into the criminal underbelly troubling his remote Southern Italian town by bad boy Simone (Edoardo Presce). Gomorrahdirector Matteo Garrone examines the polluting consequences of toxic masculinity in this taut drama.

“Simone behaves like a wild dog himself, with his unbridled criminality reaching the point where the community around him are trying to figure out a way to kill him for a the greater good,” Cossar said. “It sustains the tension ad turns into a revenge piece that’s actually based on a true story.”