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The Ten Best Films to See at the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival

A Farsi-language neo-noir feminist vampire western, a six-hour nightmarish portrait of martial law and what might be the world’s first hip hop opera.

By Sarah Ward
November 24, 2014
By Sarah Ward
November 24, 2014

The film festival Brisbane knew and loved is now dead and gone; however the city's cinephiles have hours of must-see cinema to consume between November 29 and December 14. That's when BAPFF — the Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival — makes its maiden outing, celebrating movies made in and about the region.

BAPFF may be saddled with a nigh-on unpronounceable acronym, as well as a narrower focus than attendees of Brisbane’s major film festival are used to, but it's the selection of films that really matters. With a program that boasts more than 80 films in 33 languages from over 30 countries, BAPFF is tailor-made for discerning film tastes, while also encouraging cinematic discovery.

Indeed, making up your mind about exactly what to see over the festival's 16 days is a tricky task. To help make scheduling easier, we've listed the ten films we can't wait to see, whether for the first time or again — in short, the ten films you really shouldn't miss.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night

We couldn't contain our excitement for this film when the full festival program was announced, and to be honest, we still can't. A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night is a Farsi-language neo-noir feminist vampire western — what about that description isn't 100 percent fascinating? Ana Lily Amirpour’s debut has been garnering rave reviews since the Sundance Film Festival premiere, and the film's also been compared to the work of David Lynch. But if ever a film didn't need hype to sell it, it's this one. Tackling Iranian tradition and American suburbia in one stylised swoop, it's set to add a delicious new twist to all things blood-sucking.

A Hard Day

One of the unexpected hits of the Cannes and Melbourne film festivals, no description can really do A Hard Day justice. It starts out like quite a few other movies have of late, with a man, a car, an accident and a moral dilemma, but A Hard Day isn't like other movies. What seems to be a serious Korean drama soon becomes one of the most absurd black comedies of recent times — and one of the most enjoyable. As a crooked cop tries to cope with an increasingly incredible series of events, suspense boils over as does surprise in an effort that proves anything but formulaic.

Cruel Story of Youth

You know about the French New Wave or Nouvelle Vague, but what about the Nuberu bagu — the Japanese equivalent? The late Nagisa Oshima was at the movement's forefront, and while the iconic auteur is best known for later work In the Realm of the Senses and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, his second feature helped shape a burgeoning film movement. In 1960, Oshima was only 28 when he made an adventurous account of the lives and loves of two partners in crime. Fresh from showings in Cannes Classics, the glorious Cruel Story of Youth screens in all its restored and remastered splendour at BAPFF.

The Dead Lands

Expect to hear a whole lot more about New Zealand box office sensation The Dead Lands as it continues to scale to the heights of film history. Expect the fighting to continue off as well as onscreen too, with BAPFF's first two sessions of this film selling out — and an additional session yet to be announced. There's a reason this is shaping up as one of the most memorable movies from across the ditch, and not just because of its selection as the country's submission for the Academy Awards' best foreign language film category. Starring Boy's James Rolleston all grown up, The Dead Lands is the Maori fantasy-adventure-action epic to end all Maori fantasy-adventure-action epics.

From What Is Before

We accept that spending six hours in a cinema isn't everyone’s cup of tea, and that anyone attempting such a feat might actually want to bring their own cups of tea to stay alert. It's a big ask, but having the opportunity to become immersed in a meditative Filipino effort that takes up a quarter of your day is what the true festival experience is all about. After last year's Norte, the End of History, long-form master Lav Diaz returns with a nightmarish portrait of martial law. The film won the Golden Leopard at Locarno, and promises to be as emotionally angry as it is visually potent.

Hill of Freedom

There's something about the features of Korea's Hong Sang-soo, who, with prolific pace, seems to release something new at least once a year. From simple, slight and sweet scenarios, he wrestles astute insights into relationships, rendered with both warmth and witty comedy. His last film, Our Sunhi, furnished a romantic web with talk of filmmaking, beer and chicken in a joyous delight — and all signs point to his latest, Hill of Freedom, offering a repeat. Love letters drive the narrative, but where the work of this filmmaker is involved, rest assured that nothing will be clichéd or traditional.

The Iron Ministry

Harvard's Sensory Ethnography Lab has done it again. After Sweetgrass' ode to the American west, Leviathan's fishing fury and frenzy, and Manakamana's reflective ride on a Nepalese cable car, the University's cinematic documentation and experimentation now extends to China's sprawling railroads. Shot over three years, The Iron Ministry adheres to the same observational principles as its predecessors: to chronicle all facets of a fundamental aspect of Chinese society. In the space of several train journeys, public transport people watching just got much more interesting — and, given the travelogue sheen of the accompanying panoramic imagery, much more picturesque as well.

The Owners

From Kazakhstan comes a deadpan slice-of-life drama-comedy hybrid about outsiders trying to fit in. No, this isn't Borat; but it is an offbeat effort unafraid to journey into the unexpected. After the death of their mother, elder sibling John moves his teenage brother, ill little sister and all their meagre belongings to an inherited house in a remote village, complete with a hostile welcome by local squatters and law enforcement. In exploring their fight for acceptance and survival, The Owners offers a strong sense of honour and more than a few strange moments, as well as social commentary, bloody revenge and cathartic dancing.

Tokyo Tribe

If you love music videos and mobster movies, then you'll want to see Tokyo Tribe. Sion Sono’s follow-up to the gleefully genre-bending Why Don’t You Play In Hell? is a love letter to and playful parody of both, set on the neon-lit streets and to a pulsating rhythm, and creating what might be the world's first hip-hop opera. The story might be slight and silly, not to mention literally punctuated by record scratches to emphasise the point, but the spectacle more than makes up for it. As a Yakuza boss tussles with a few trifling matters, Tokyo's 23 warring tribes sing, dance, shoot and wield weapons in a lurid hip-hop mash-up.

Zero Motivation

Observational workplace comedies about paper pushing and pranks aren't new, nor are insights into the horrors and hardships of battle. What is new is looking at the day-to-day lives of the women who work in administration at a remote Israeli combat base, with both a comic and contemplative gaze. Zero Motivation goes beyond the bounds of Office Space, The Office and Workaholics and every war movie ever made to peer behind a system of compulsory military service and ponder its influence and issues. The monotony of office routines and the malaise of army inner workings have rarely been as frank, funny or female-oriented, in a lively debut from writer/director Talya Lavie.

The Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival is on from November 29 - December 14. For the full program, see the festival website.

Published on November 24, 2014 by Sarah Ward
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