Ten Standout Movies to Watch at the 2022 Brisbane International Film Festival
BIFF is back for another year of must-watch flicks from around the world — including a savage satire of the ultra rich, two stunning documentaries from New Zealand and a South Korean charmer.
October 28, 2022
Many a Brisbane cinephile has had their love of movies cemented — their devotion to film forged, stoked and expanded as well — via a date at the city's major annual ode to cinema. Getting comfortable in a picture palace is always a slice of magic, whichever theatre you're heading to and whatever flick you're seeing, of course. But there's a heightened sense of discovery, plus the heftiest dose of filmic worship there is, that emanates from an event like the Brisbane International Film Festival.
With 120 movies on the 2022 bill, it's easy to see why from this year's BIFF lineup alone. Within that mass of movies, all livening up Brisbane's silver screens between Thursday, October 27–Sunday, October 6, anything and everything can happen. A savage satire of wealth and luxury can heave its brutal insights and piercing wonders, as Triangle of Sadness does this year, for instance. A documentary that starts with ridiculous car-parking rules can twist and weave and flat-out astonish, as Mister Organ also does in the 2022 program, too. And the whole festival can begin with Seriously Red's tribute to the one and only Dolly Parton, in a movie that enlists Rose Byrne to play Elvis Presley (yes, in the second Australian-made flick to feature the King of Rock 'n' Roll this year), as BIFF's latest iteration does as well.
Any festival where all of this occurs, and more, is a festival worth attending — and BIFF 2022 also has an exquisitely touching Moroccan-set love triangle, an award-winning Afrofuturist musical, and a playful, soju-soaked South Korean musing on creativity among its selection. Oh, and Timotheé Chalamet turning cannibal, in a late addition to the program.
Clearly, there's plenty to watch. Covering some of the above highlights and others, here's ten standout flicks from BIFF's 2022 program that we've seen, reviewed and heartily recommend.
TRIANGLE OF SADNESS
Ruben Östlund isn't interested in keeping his viewers comfortable, no matter how cushy their cinema chair. To watch the Swedish filmmaker's features is to feel yourself reacting — emotionally, always, and sometimes physically as well. It was true of 2014's phenomenal Force Majeure, aka as clever and cringe-inducing a portrait of marriage and masculinity as the 21st century has provided. With dropped jaws over a divisive piece of art within a divisive piece of art, it was true of 2018's The Square, the writer/director's first Cannes Film Festival Palme d'Or-winner, too. And, earning him that same prestigious prize again in 2022, it's also wholly accurate of Triangle of Sadness. Make a movie with a shape in its title, score one of the biggest filmmaking awards there is: that's been a nifty formula for Östlund of late. But even if he directs a flick called something like Hexagonal Dreaming next, or anything else with a geometrical bent, and it too nabs that Cannes gong, beating Triangle of Sadness' vomit sequence is highly unlikely.
To remind audiences that responding to films and life alike is an involuntary reflex, Östlund shows plenty of his characters doing just that — to existence, and to a choppy luxury cruise. It makes for simply unforgettable cinema, but it's also just one part of Triangle of Sadness and its sublimely shot unpacking of wealth, privilege and social hierarchies. Appearing to be coasting through perfection is an ongoing quest for Carl (Harris Dickinson, See How They Run) and Yaya (Charlbi Dean, Black Lightning), well-known models-slash-influencers, and the movie's focal point. When they take to the sea among the uber rich, they're still working the requisite angles (and snapping everything for Instagram from every angle). But then, under the captain's (Woody Harrelson, Venom: Let There Be Carnage) watch, being stranded on an island becomes their fate — and the way that Östlund satirically carves into the resulting chaos is equally hilarious and and astute, even when his film is both obvious and hardly subtle.
THE BLUE CAFTAN
In The Blue Caftan, a tailor's hands say everything that needs conveying about how he holds himself in the world. That garment-maker is Halim (Saleh Bakri, My Zoe), and he plies he trade in the Moroccan city of Salé, in a humble store overseen by his no-nonsense wife Mina (Lubna Azabal, Rebel). Refusing to use machines, Halim is meticulous in his work. He's patient, careful and thorough, as one needs to be in the painstakingly detailed job of hand-embroidering women's traditional tunics. As a result of his precision and artistry, he isn't short on customers — and that rigour and commitment seeps from him like breath whether he's letting Mina run the show; training Youssef (first-timer Ayoub Missioui), the apprentice brought on to help meet the demand for his exquisite wares; or finding ways to deal with his feelings, including the pull he feels towards his new protege.
For her sophomore feature after the also-tender and moving Adam, writer/director Maryam Touzani again makes a delicately layered and intricately woven film — a movie that digs deep into a subject considered taboo in Morocco, too, via an exceptionally well-observed triple character study. If her pictures say everything they need to about the filmmaker herself, then Touzani clearly values intimate and weighty connections, examining the needless pressures enforced by antiquated attitudes, the bonds that spring in such complex circumstances, and heartbreakingly poignant pictures about that list. She both appreciates and elicits sensitive performances, too, with Adam alum Azabal again superb under the helmer's gaze, and Bakri just as wonderful. It's no wonder that The Blue Caftan, with its resonant tale, rich cinematography and willingness to surprise while remaining emotionally raw as well, has been chosen Morocco's 2023 Best International Feature Oscar contender.
What's more difficult a feat: to ponder everything that the universe might hold, as James Gray did in 2019's sublime Ad Astra, or to peer back at your own childhood, as the writer/director now does with Armageddon Time? In both cases, the bonds and echoes between parents and children earn the filmmaker's attention. In both cases, thoughtful, complex and affecting movies result. And, as shared with everything he's made over the past three decades — The Yards, The Immigrant and The Lost City of Z among them — fantastic performances glide across the screen, too. Here, in a portrait of a pre-teen's growing awareness of his privilege, the world's prejudices, the devastating history of his ancestors, and how tentative a place people can hold due to race, religion, money, politics and more, young stars Banks Repeta (The Black Phone) and Jaylin Webb (The Wonder Years) manage something remarkable, in fact, more than holding their own against a reliably excellent Anthony Hopkins (The Father), Anne Hathaway (Locked Down) and Jeremy Strong (Succession).
Repeta plays sixth-grader Paul Graff, Gray's on-screen surrogate, and Armageddon Time's curious and confident protagonist. At his new public school circa 1980, he's happy standing out alongside his new friend Johnny (Webb), dreaming of being an artist despite his dad's (Strong) stern disapproval and disrupting class whenever he can to his mum's (Hathaway) dismay — and outside of it, he's happiest spending time with his doting grandfather (Hopkins). But Paul will start to understand the luck he has in the world, hailing from a middle-class Jewish family, compared to his black, bused-in friend, even if that comfort is tenuous, too. And, he'll keep seeing the way the world has Johnny at a disadvantage in every way possible, from their instantly scornful teacher to Paul's own parents' quick judgement. As lensed with the look and feel of a memory, Armageddon Time is clear about the small moments that leave an imprint, and the small deeds left undone that cause craters. It's a powerful work from a filmmaker surveying happy and sorrowful slices of the past, and doing so with unflinching eyes.
A single tweet has sparked many things for many people; however, the chaos started by a social-media missive from New Zealand journalist and filmmaker David Farrier has few parallels. In 2013, he commented on Twitter about a friend parking their car at Auckland's now-closed Bashford Antiques, then weathering an unpleasant experience: the threat of towing, instant abuse, and an immediate demand for $250 in order to be allowed to leave. Farrier next began writing articles about it all, and what seemed like a clamping racket, in 2016. In his first piece, he covered being asked by his employer three years prior to delete his tweet, too. But his own ordeal was only just beginning, because his ordeal involves Michael Organ. "You pay a soul tax for every minute you spend with him," Farrier notes in the documentary he's made about all of the above, complete with far more twists than anyone can imagine going in — and watching Mister Organ, the feeling behind that observation is starkly apparent.
As well as helping impose onerous conditions on folks parking outside an antiques store, and becoming the owner's constant companion in the process, claiming to be royalty is also part of this tale. Organ has defended himself in serious court cases, and assisted with bringing legal proceedings against others, including Farrier. His web of interpersonal dealings, as fleshed out through discussions with ex-housemates and acquaintances, brings bewildered and infuriated interviewees into the doco. Finding someone to say a kind word about him is almost impossible, other than the endlessly talkative Organ himself. For newcomers to this situation, it's best to get the ins and outs by watching, stolen boats and all, because no description does them justice — but Farrier's time with Organ, as he tries to get to the bottom of his story, never fails to surprise. Viewers of filmmaker's Tickled and Dark Tourist will easily glean why he was drawn to tell this tale, though; for starters, it's another disturbing, perplexing, so-messy-it-can-only-be-true slice of life.
THE NOVELIST'S FILM
Bong Joon-ho won all of the Oscars for Parasite. Park Chan-wook has enjoyed a cult following since Oldboy, as he should, and just directed one of the films of the year with Decision to Leave. Saying that Squid Game was an enormous hit for Netflix is like saying that everyone wishes they lucked into a windfall of cash — aka oh-so-obvious. Clearly, South Korea's film and TV scene is having a moment on the global stage right now, although it's been responsible for fantastic work for far longer than the past few years. In this current wave of affection, though, Hong Sang-soo deserves some love as well. Indeed, he deserves plenty. There's always an opportunity to appreciate his talents, given how prolific the Hill of Freedom, Right Now, Wrong Then, Yourself and Yours, The Woman Who Ran and On the Beach at Night Alone filmmaker is; he's nearing 30 features since 1996 now. And yes, The Novelist's Film deserves that attention and appreciation wholeheartedly.
Hong's usual obsessions are all present: alcohol, conversation, musings on creativity, a focus on small moments and acknowledging twists of chance. Plenty of his familiar stars feature also, such as Lee Hye-young (In Front of Your Face), Kwon Hae-hyo (Hotel by the River) and Kim Min-hee (Introduction). And, the black-and-white film is shot in his usual observational, mostly fixed way, sports a playful sense of humour, and ebbs and flows with naturalistic dialogue. That said, the director never makes the same movie twice — his ability to wrangle so many recurrent elements into something new and freshly revealing each time is one of his biggest strengths. In The Novelist's Film, that involves following the titular writer (Lee) when she crosses paths with a filmmaker (Kwon) she was supposed to work with in the past, and a famous actor (the always exceptional Kim) who has stopped appearing on-screen — and deciding, amid loaded and insightful chats, including about artistic freedom, to make an experimental short film herself.
ROBE OF GEMS
In the very first moments of her very first feature as a director — after working as an editor on films such as 2012's Post Tenebras Lux and 2014's Jauja — Natalia López demands her audience's attention. She earns it and ensures it as well, and looking away while Robe of Gems unfurls its story is impossible afterwards. To kick things off, a patient and painterly glimpse at the rural Mexican landscape comes into sight, fading up and bringing more and more dusty grey details with it with each second. Then, without the frame moving, a frenetic man is seen bashing and slashing through the plants. Next, it becomes apparent that there's a reflection as part of the image. And, it's also quickly evident that viewers are seeing someone else's vantage as they look on at the landscape. In fact, a couple peers out, in the middle of getting intimate (and immediately before flinging wooden furniture around, strewn pieces flying everywhere). With the 'start as you mean to go on' maxim in mind, it's a helluva opening.
López does indeed begin as she goes on, in a film that scored her this year's Berlinale's Silver Bear Jury Prize. The pivotal villa belongs to Isabel's (Nailea Norvind, Julia vs Julia) family, and offers somewhat of a respite from a marriage that's splintering like that thrown-about furniture, with the clearly well-to-do woman settling in with her children Benja (first-timer Balam Toledo) and Vale (fellow debutant Sherlyn Zavala Diaz). But tension inescapably lingers, given that the onsite caretaker María (newcomer Antonia Olivares) is unsettled by the disappearance of her sister, a plot point that makes a purposeful statement. The police are investigating, the cartel has a local presence, corruption is an ever-present force, and the gap between the wealthy and not-so is glaring. Progressing carefully from that powerhouse opening, Robe of Gems quickly seeps under your skin — and as its first visuals make abundantly clearly, every second is a marvel to look at.
Films can break boundaries, chalk up firsts and give audiences something they've truly never seen before every single day, and in plenty of ways — but there really hasn't ever been anything like Neptune Frost until now. Helmed by poet and musician Saul Williams with playwright Anisia Uzeyman (Dreamstates), who co-direct together, the Rwanda-set sci-fi musical won the inaugural Bright Horizons Award at this year's Melbourne International Film Festival for being so bold and inventive. It's been attracting well-earned acclaim as it makes its way around the international film festival circuit, too, for its visionary — and vastly experimental — approach to filmmaking as an artform. This is a movie that thrums with a beat and a pulse that's firmly steeped in its Afrofuturist vibe, style and thinking, and that approaches time, space and gender with the utmost fluidity. It's also a feature that never makes the obvious move, or the straightforward one, or the visually and acoustically standard one — and doesn't hold back with its on-screen trip or wide range of targets alike.
Narrative-wise, Neptune Frost meets its hacker namesake (first played by Elvis Ngabo, then Cheryl Isheja) in world rife with division — and where authority is enforced with a heavy hand, and exploiting both resources and people is the status quo. This is a story of an awakening and a resistance, with voiceover stressing how the intersex Neptune's whole existence truly kicks in at the age of 23; however, it's also a tale about technology and its costs, connection, information, life's twists and turns, and seizing power against oppressive forces such as capitalism and colonialism. Nothing is wasted, including being subtle about the film's points. Every second ripples with potency, with artistry, and with the determination to celebrate Black, African, queer, avant-garde and boundary-pushing perspectives at every turn. The end result: simply mesmerising, although there's nothing simple about Neptune Frost.
Exploring the story of the religious community that shares its name, New Zealand documentary Gloriavale makes for stunning, gut-wrenching and infuriating viewing. It's a year for NZ films that earn that description — see also: Mister Organ above — but this true tale was always going to stand out and leave an imprint. Given that it involves chatting to survivors of the cult-like organisation, particularly excommunicated members relaying their heartbreaking experiences, being aghast at their ordeals is a natural reaction. Feeling angry that this can happen is, too, including as the film charts legal proceedings to bring Gloriavale's horrors to light. What has gone on behind closed doors, in a closed community, in the West Coast-based sect heartily requires this type of exposé — and with brother and sister John and Virginia as their key interviewees, filmmakers Fergus Grady and Noel Smyth (reteaming after 2019's Camino Skies) are up to the task.
The specifics date back to the late 1960s, when the organisation was founded and started drawing in members, who were soon living under the sect's strict beliefs. Here, for instance, women are expected to work all through their waking hours to keep Gloriavale running — not even sitting down for meals — and cramming the group's many families all under one big roof is the norm. Also, when sexual abuse claims arise, including with children as victims, blame is directed everywhere but the accused perpetrators. As Gloriavale steps through details like these again and again, it's unsurprisingly harrowing from the outset. Archival footage from within the community only adds to the distressing mood, and charting the legal cases ups the drama, but the accounts of what's gone on at the titular place would be damning and gripping as is even if Grady and Smyth only had talking-head interviews at their disposal.
THE PASSENGERS OF THE NIGHT
The Passengers of the Night gleans its title from words uttered by talkback host Vanda Dorval (Emmanuelle Béart, Margaux Hartmann) — words used to greet her listeners and callers in the evening's deepest hours. Heard in fits and spurts, the Radio France program is the film's glue; however, it's not its focus. Without it, Elisabeth Davies (Charlotte Gainsbourg, Sundown) wouldn't have a job when her marriage breaks down. She also wouldn't meet teenager Talulah (Noée Abita, Slalom), who becomes a guest first on the airwaves, then in the Davies family's home, including befriending Elisabeth's daughter Judith (Megan Northam, Robust) and son Mathias (Quito Rayon Richter, Dark Heart of the Forest). But writer/director Mikhaël Hers (Amanda) is interested in the titular phrase as an emotional concept far more than its mentions within the movie's narrative. Aren't we all travellers in the darkness, riding our journeys until light breaks again? That's the path Elisabeth takes, too, from election night 1981 when the feature begins, through to the end of the decade.
Amid cinematography and a soundtrack evocatively steeped in all things 80s, Gainsbourg is luminous as a woman initially adrift when the life she thought she'd always live crumbles, then navigating her first-ever jobs, then committing to forging a new existence. Indeed, there's a spark in all three of The Passengers of the Night's key performances, spanning Abita's resilient but vulnerable turn as the drug-addicted Talulah and Richter's earnest work as the high schooler who's quickly smitten as well. Hers has built a layered feature, and one that keeps reaching towards the light wherever it can — surveying and understanding the joys of a night out dancing, of sneaking into a cinema, of new love, of moving past old regrets and the like. The Passengers of the Night beams brightest as a character study of Elisabeth, though, and her efforts to reclaim her sense of self post-divorce.
LEONOR WILL NEVER DIE
To create is to become immortal. Write something that's hopefully committed to print or pixels forever, or direct a film that'll ideally keep reaching eyeballs in some format year after year, and a part of you — the part you've invested in time, sweat, tears and creativity — lives on eternally. That notion haunts playful and perceptive Filipino genre-bender Leonor Will Never Die, which understands the power that making a movie has both for the talents involved and the audiences watching. The eponymous Leonor Reyes (Sheila Francisco, Gulong) is an action-film director, albeit one whose heyday is behind her. She stopped stepping behind the camera after a tragedy, and her family has suffered in the aftermath. With her husband Valentin (Alan Bautista) gone and her favourite son Ronwaldo (Rocky Salumbides and Anthony Falcon) dead, only her other offspring, the concerned, discontent and constantly critical Rudie (Bong Cabrera), remains at her side. But Leonor still types away her ideas, and fantasises about how they'd turn out — including when she's knocked unconscious in an accident, only to wake up inside one of her scripts.
To create something, such as a film, its screenplay or both, is also to become a deity in a way. That concept also lingers over Leonor Will Never Die, too, because we're all gods over our own existences. When first-timer feature writer/director Martika Ramirez Escobar has her protagonist thrust into a space that should only dwell in the character's head and pages, this constantly twisting feature ponders agency, control and the power of our choices — and, often, the lack thereof. It explores escapism and wish fulfilment as well, all while proving an inventive and pulpy action flick itself, a thoughtful family melodrama, a rumination on life and regrets, a musing about grief and, frequently, an absurd comedy. Case in point re the latter: Leonor, the cinema-obsessed filmmaker, is knocked into her coma by a falling TV. Once you've seen the film, you'll realise that that sounds like something she'd dream up herself.
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