How many movies can you see in 12 days? Or, to put it another way, how many titles from this year's Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival can you fit in between November 23 and December 4? Film fests always offer several challenges: an endurance test for those keen to watch as much as possible, a chance to see just how long you really can sit in a cinema chair, a game of schedule Tetris as you try to come up with the perfect viewing agenda, and an exercise in realising that you just can't see them all (or be in several places at once...well, without a Time-Turner). And that's before you even consider the specific features in this year's BAPFF lineup.
Now in its third year, the event that replaced the Brisbane International Film Festival has curated a selection of 82 movies vying for your eyeballs — and they've taken a few cues from their predecessors too. That means you won't just be feasting on the best cinema the Asia-Pacific region has to offer (or an ace retrospective focusing on Japanese actresses) but a few great picks from Europe and the US as well.
With 31 Australian and 33 Queensland premieres screening at Palace Barracks and Palace Centro — including 31 of the 39 films competing at this year's Asia Pacific Screen Awards — it's enough to give even the most dedicated cinephile a programming headache. Here's our ten must-sees to help make the job easier.
Ever found yourself arguing over who is the better Affleck sibling? Next time you're sticking up for team Casey — or need convincing not to side with Batman/Bruce Wayne/Ben — Manchester by the Sea might help. The younger Affleck has been receiving significant awards buzz since his latest film premiered at this year's Sundance Film Festival, thanks to his performance as a man forced to return to his hometown after a family tragedy (and forced to confront some of his past troubles in the process). Plus, he's not the only reason the feature should top your must-see list. The rest of the cast includes Kyle Chandler and Michelle Williams, and the movie happens to be the latest offering from You Can Count On Me and Margaret director Kenneth Lonergan.
In China, one of the worst things a woman can be called is Madame Bovary. That doesn't stem from a hatred of Gustave Flaubert's 1856 French novel, or from a dislike for any of the recent film adaptations of the book (including 2015 releases Gemma Bovery and Madame Bovary), but from the adulterous ways of the classic text's protagonist. So, Li Xuelian (Fan Bingbing) isn't too happy when the label comes her way — particularly given her complicated relationship with her husband. In a clever comic farce that rips apart misogynistic apprehensions about and the limited scope afforded determined women, I Am Not Madame Bovary charts this spurned wife's attempts to get justice, complete with a fake divorce, real estate schemes, his infidelity and her real quest to re-marry for revenge.
Films that thoughtfully explore the reality of getting older are as common as movies that show the personal toll of sex work — that is, not at all, really — making South Korea's The Bacchus Lady a rare effort indeed. Anchored by a nuanced and resonant performance by veteran leading lady Youn Yuh-jung, E J-yong's feature charts an elderly worker trying to both care for her similarly ageing clients and look after a young boy in need. Neither storyline plays out as you might expect, and nor does the resulting emotional impact.
If there's one thing you need to know about Zoology, it's this: it tells the tale of a zoo administrator who starts to grow, well, a tail. That means there's more than a little absurdity in this Russian-language film, however more than a few on-point insights are bound to follow. Featuring a standout performance from actress Natalia Pavlenkova, Zoology has been likened to both Kafka and Cronenberg, which should excite fans of the bizarre and body horror, as well as those keen for a combination of both in a humorous but perceptive way.
In Hounds of Love, Stephen Curry is worlds away from his famous performance in The Castle — but if any of his films deserve to go straight to the pool room, it's this one. Here, he plays a different kind of suburban dweller in a movie set in Perth in 1987, and loosely based on true crime cases. Believe us, there's a reason that this moody thriller was compared to Snowtown when it premiered at the Venice International Film Festival a few months back — and that debut writer-director Ben Young was hailed as the next Aussie director to watch.
So, you're a-okay with spending a few hours in a cinema. And, you're even happy to keep sitting in your seat for longer than it takes hobbits to trample across New Zealand. Still, Lav Diaz's movie marathons aren't for everyone — which is why you'll probably be happy to hear that his latest clocks in at just under four hours. The Woman Who Left is actually the Filipino filmmaker's second title in this year's BAPFF program after the eight-hour epic A Lullaby for the Sorrowful Mystery, which already screened in the lead-up to the main event. Winning the Golden Lion at this year's Venice Film Festival, it toys with Tolstoy to tell the tale of Horacia, a woman who gains her freedom after spending 30 years in prison for a crime she didn't commit.
He's the second Filipino filmmaker causing a stir on the international circuit, as well as the second that BAPFF clearly has a soft spot for. That'd be Brillante Mendoza, and while his movies are much, much shorter than Lav Diaz's, he's still prolific. With Ma'Rosa, he dives into the plight of a family battling corruption in Manila, including the memorable matriarch that gives the feature its name. In fact, actress Jaclyn Jose caused such a splash at this year's Cannes Film Festival that she took out the best actress award. Mendoza himself is no stranger to statuettes on the Croisette, after winning the fest's best director prize back in 2009 for the thematically similar Kinatay.
Think you know all there is to know about boy bands, girl groups, and the fame and fandom that goes with them? If you haven't stepped into the world of Japan's massive female-focused acts, then you still have plenty to learn. Based in Osaka, NMB48's name partly stems from Namba, the area of the city they hail from, and partly from the fact that the group has quite a few members (46 at the time of writing, plus 12 trainees, from a total of 117 since they were formed in 2011). They're one of the sister acts to Tokyo's AKB48, and like their Akihabara-dwelling colleagues, they even have their own theatre. Raise Your Arms and Twist peeks behind the scenes of the idol phenomenon that's really unlike anything else, as directed by Atsushi Funahashi, a documentarian better known for exploring the impact of Fukushima (not your usual pop aficionado).
The ever-trusty Hong Sang-soo returns with yet another exploration of life, love and alcohol, but be warned: this time, his characters drink beer rather than soju. It's a minor switch, however it is enough to initially throw viewers off balance — and while it's not quite the same as seeing your girlfriend all over town, only for the woman in question to remain adamant that she doesn't know you, it helps get you into that headspace. Yes, even with the change of booze, Yourself and Yours sees the South Korean favourite in his usual offbeat yet observational territory. Once again playing with and finding humour in the intricacies and intimacies of everyday relationships, he follows the brew-loving Minjung (Lee You-young), her insistence that she's not who every guy she meets thinks she is, and the amusement that eventuates.
Full disclosure: watching a personal effort made by one of Abbas Kiarostami's collaborators as an attempt to cope with his grief over the legendary Iranian filmmaker's death is only one of the drawcards of this session. The 76-minute and 15-second documentary filled with footage of the director at work and play screens alongside his last completed film, a short, which really couldn't be more perfect. Take Me Home features little more than a barely-glimpsed boy, an energetically bouncing ball, and all of the gorgeously shot Italian stairs and alleyways you could ever want to see. And, in the process, it turns something oh-so-simple into as illuminating and moving a piece of cinema as Kiarostami has ever crafted.
If you still need a few more, check out our thoughts on Personal Shopper from the Sydney Film Festival and Toni Erdmann from the Melbourne International Film Festival earlier in the year.
The 2016 Brisbane Asia Pacific Film Festival runs from November 23 to December 4 at Palace Barracks and Palace Centro. To view the program and buy tickets, visit the BAPFF website.