From opening night's Australian double of Terror Nullius and Strange Colours, to a showcase dedicated to distinctive French filmmakers Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, to festival circuit hits from the last year, women lead the charge at QFF 2018 — which runs from July 19 to 29 at New Farm Cinemas, Elizabeth Picture Theatre, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Institute of Modern Art. It's an astutely programmed lineup, and from the full selection of 59 features and shorts we've picked eight titles to add to your must-see list.
LET THE CORPSES TAN
If you've ever seen a feature by Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, you'd know it. With an unflinchingly confident sense of their own style, the French duo make movies that not only tantalise the senses, but that value the art of filmmaking like few films do. That's evident in every gorgeously composed shot and energetically timed edit, as well as in each astonishingly precise sound and music cue. After the giallo-influenced Amer and The Strange Colour of Your Body's Tears (the latter of which also boasts a superb title, clearly), the writer/directors return with a lurid nod to spaghetti westerns, telling a tale of gold-stealing thieves crossing paths with bohemian artists. Double-crosses and shootouts may litter the narrative — to a heightened extreme, in the first case — but, as always with Cattet and Forzani's work, there's no doubting the sheer artistic and filmmaking spectacle on display.
YOU WERE NEVER REALLY HERE
After screening at Cannes in 2017 — and deservedly winning Joaquin Phoenix the festival's best actor award for his gut-wrenching performance — it has taken some time for You Were Never Really Here to make it to our shores. Don't worry, this exceptional film is completely worth the wait. It's also one of the best movies of this or any other year. The highly anticipated latest feature from We Need to Talk About Kevin's Lynne Ramsay, the dark effort follows Phoenix's Joe, an ex-soldier and FBI agent turned hitman who rescues children from sex trafficking rings. Unsurprisingly, it's a tense, bleak dive through the mindset of a man coping with several layers of trauma; however neither Ramsay or Phoenix put a foot wrong in a feature that dials up its intense revenge thrills to astounding levels.
All Brady Blackburn wants to do is hop back onto a horse. As a rodeo cowboy and gifted trainer, it's what he's compelled to do. Watching him struggle with life without his only passion makes for one of the year's most empathetic, soulful and heart-wrenching efforts, as Brady wades through the aftermath of an in-ring incident that almost killed him. Shot with lyrical images that find tenderness in Brady's story, suffering and situation, The Rider is also a case of art imitating life, with actor Brady Jandreau going through the same scenario himself after meeting writer-director Chloé Zhao back in 2015. Also starring members of Jandreau's family, the result is a contemporary western with a heart as big as America's sweeping plains — told with devastating intimacy, and making certain stars out of both the quietly-spoken, captivating Jandreau and second-time feature filmmaker Zhao.
True crime documentaries might be having a moment, but there are few crimes like Issei Sagawa's — and few documentaries like Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's Caniba. In 1981, Sagawa killed and ate one of his classmates at the Sorbonne in Paris, only to be declared insane and unfit for trial, then allowed to return to Japan. Filmed in the Tokyo home he shares with his brother and carer Jun, Castaing-Taylor and Paravel get so close to their notorious subject that often only parts of his scarred face fill the purposefully blurry and murky frame. That said, this isn't a film that repeatedly dissects the gory details of Sagawa's ghastly act, but one that's more concerned with his desires and what they indicate about human nature. Still, as the gruesome topic should made plain, this confronting and visceral Venice Film Festival award-winner isn't particularly easy viewing and definitely isn't for everyone, though it's endlessly fascinating.
Nine years since making her last feature, Argentinian filmmaker Lucrecia Martel returns with an effort that matches her reputation: mythic. The acclaimed auteur takes on Antonio di Benedetto's 1956 Argentinean novel Zama to explore the story of an 18th-century Spanish magistrate — the Don Diego de Zama (Daniel Giménez Cacho) of the movie's title — who is stuck in a small South American town, desperately hoping for a transfer and quickly losing his grip on everything. The narrative has plenty to say about colonialism and class, using drama, comedy and tragedy to do so, though it's how Martel conveys its tale and themes that sears this inimitable movie into viewers' brains. As Zama's ideas of his own grandeur are chipped away moment by moment, Zama, the film, charts the opposite trajectory with its exquisite imagery, hypnotic rhythm and distinctive logic.
Australian cinema is filled with stellar classic titles — films that engage, enthral, say something about our country and showcase the depth of our filmmaking talent. Sadly, the almost-forgotten Celia is rarely cited among such company, although it deserves to be celebrated as one of the best features we've ever had to offer. Set in 1957, its tale is dark, ominous and oh-so-telling as it blends small-town prejudices with fearful childhood imaginings. Written and directed by Ann Turner, the film focuses on an unhappy, grieving nine-year-old school girl (Rebecca Smart) surrounded by a community that's paranoid about communists and unwelcoming to pet rabbits. The kind of coming-of-age horror effort Australia rarely makes, it also looksglorious thanks to the new restoration by the National Film and Sound Archive.
AN ELEPHANT SITTING STILL
In his nearly four-hour debut feature, Chinese writer/director Hu Bo achieves what every filmmaker dreams of: a movie that assembles its parts in such an assured and astute way that changing even one element seems unthinkable. And it's not just the length of his first and only film that makes that such an impressive feat, but the command of tone, the naturalistic yet patient style, and the subject matter. Working with a story from one of his own novels, Hu weaves together intertwined slices of unhappy lives, following four figures miserable in their modern-day Chinese industrial town. Each is going through a particularly bleak day, and all are drawn to a story about an elephant that sits still and ignores the world around it. As a heartbreaking postscript that casts a shadow over every moment of his movie, the author-turned-filmmaker took his own life in October last year.
The timing is certainly right for Diamantino, a Portuguese comedy that won the top prize in this year's Cannes Critics' Week with its over-the-top tale about a fictional soccer star. Alas, when the titular player (Carloto Cotta) loses the World Cup in the final's dying moments, his life becomes anarchic to say the least. He's soon adopting a refugee orphan who actually turns out to be an undercover agent trying to track down laundered money, and also being secretly cloned by the government so that Portugal can create an unbeatable soccer team. It's all as ridiculous as it sounds — but mostly entertainingly so — as first-time filmmakers Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt wholeheartedly commit to their premise, as well as to the accompanying farcical tone.
Queensland Film Festival runs from July 19 to 29 at New Farm Cinemas, Elizabeth Picture Theatre, the Gallery of Modern Art and the Institute of Modern Art. To view the full program or buy tickets, head to the festival website.