Ten Exceptional Films You Can Stream This Week Now That MIFF 2021 Has Completely Moved Online
Due to Melbourne's lockdown, this year's MIFF is only screening digitally — and a Mads Mikkelsen-starring revenge comedy, an insightful documentary about Istanbul's stray dogs and a mockumentary featuring St Vincent all await.
At any given moment, finding a movie to watch isn't difficult. But there's a difference between pressing play on any old film that your streaming service of choice is throwing your way — new releases and classics alike — and feeling like you're discovering something that's truly special. Online film festivals have been playing in the latter space during the pandemic, and letting cinephiles enjoy that electric feeling that comes with giving yourself over to a gem of a feature. And, for two years in a row now, Melbourne's annual film fest has been as well.
The Melbourne International Film Festival didn't intend to run solely online two years in a row. In 2020, it made the jump to digital by necessity. This year, it worked towards a triumphant return to cinemas — yes, to physical screenings — while also continuing to embrace the greater accessibility that virtual sessions provide. But this year's fest always had to have contingency plans in case outbreaks and lockdowns bubbled up again, which is exactly what's happened. So, MIFF is unleashing its magic solely online once more. Making movie buffs feel like they're getting swept up in the latest and greatest in international cinema is still on the agenda, though.
You might be sitting on your couch instead of in your favourite seat right at the back of the Forum or Hoyts Central — and you might be elsewhere in the country, too, instead of making the trip to Melbourne for some wintry cinema fun — but MIFF hasn't stopped giving film lovers what they adore. Already, we've watched, reviewed and recommended ten must-sees on the festival's MIFF Play streaming platform; however, this 18-day fest has plenty more where they came from before it wraps up on Sunday, August 22. So, we've done the same with another ten films. Streaming a couple won't just help you feel like you're getting a MIFF experience, either, but it'll also support the fest during an obviously challenging time.
RIDERS OF JUSTICE
Few things will ever be better than seeing Mads Mikkelsen get day drunk and dance around while swigging champagne in an Oscar-winning movie. Yes, that's one fantastic film experience that 2021 has already delivered. But the always-watchable Danish star is equally magnetic in Riders of Justice, a revenge-driven comedy that's all about tackling your problems in a different and far less boozy way. After a train explosion taints his life with tragedy, dedicated solider Markus (Mikkelsen, Chaos Walking) heads home to be with his traumatised daughter Mathilde (Andrea Heick Gadeberg, Pagten). Talking is her way of coping, but clamming up has always been his PTSD-afflicted modus operandi. Then statistician Otto (Nikolaj Lie Kaas, The Keeper of Lost Causes), his colleague Lennart (Lars Brygmann, The Professor and the Madman) and the computer-savvy Emmenthaler (Nicolas Bro, The Kingdom) arrive at the grieving family's door with a theory: that the accident was anything but because mathematically it's just so unlikely to have occurred otherwise. As written and directed by Anders Thomas Jensen (Men & Chicken) — and co-penned with Nikolaj Arcel (A Royal Affair) — Riders of Justice takes a darkly comedic approach to its storyline, which is where its anarchic plot developments and witty dialogue come in. But this is also a film with a thoughtful and tender core, especially when it comes to men facing their troubles. It's set at the end of the year as well, so it counts as a screwball Christmas movie.
ROSE: A LOVE STORY
Less is more in survival thriller Rose: A Love Story — which is also a brooding horror movie, and yet doesn't feel the need to overplay its hand. This intimate British gem takes a familiar setup, bides its time building out its chosen world and revels in getting to know its two main characters, because their precarious relationship sits at the heart of the smartly written film. Living off the grid in a tree-lined patch of wilderness, the eponymous Rose (Sophie Rundle, Peaky Blinders) and her husband Sam (Matt Stokoe, Cursed) have clearly settled into their routine some time ago. They largely live off the land and pay one trusted acquaintance to bring them petrol for their generator, all so Rose can stay inside writing while Sam tends to chores outdoors. But she also needs his care, and needs the blood he collects via leeches — and when an injured teenager (Olive Gray, Save Me) literally stumbles upon their quiet abode, that part of their existence starts sparking questions. With its stripped-back way of unfurling its narrative, Rose: A Love Story leans heavily on Rundle and Stokoe's textured and compelling performances, which explore the stakes and sacrifices that come with love in every glance and gesture. Stokoe also wrote the script, but first-time feature filmmaker Jennifer Sheridan brings a canny eye to both warm and brutal moments alike, and to teasing out the complicated and fragile bond between this particular pair, as well as any duo in love.
NIGHT OF THE KINGS
Every movie aims to make its viewers feel as if they've stepped straight into its glistening frames. Rare is the film that genuinely manages that feat, though. Rarer still is a feature as vivid, immersive and engaging at every moment, and via every piece of sound and vision it thrusts at its audience, as Night of the Kings proves across its 93-minute running time. The second directorial effort from Ivorian filmmaker Philippe Lacôte (Run), this prison-set blend of drama, thrills and fantasy heads inside a Côte d'Ivoire jail surrounded by rainforest outside Abidjan. When a new inmate (debutant Bakary Koné) arrives, he's plunged straight into its chaotic depths; however, he also becomes a key player in its internal politics. Here, the inmates enforce their own order, including requiring their leader (Steve Tientcheu, Les Miserables) to take his own life if he can no longer fulfil his role. This incarcerated society also places great emphasis on one particular storyteller, a job that's soon bestowed upon its newest member. So, the fresh face dubbed the prison's 'Roman' spins a tale that jumps through the past, from 19th-century Africa to more recent bloodshed, with his words leaving his fellow detainees hanging — but if he can't make his yarn last all night, he too will meet his end. Night of the Kings sits right on the precipice of myth and grit, and of history and fantasy, and it's as inventive as it is gripping. And, even if the great Denis Lavant (Holy Motors) didn't pop up, it'd still be an imaginative and beguiling piece of cinema.
COME BACK ANYTIME
Craving the rich, noodle-laden flavour that only ramen can bring is an instant side effect of watching Come Back Anytime. Yearning to wander into a tiny Tokyo ramen bar, take a stool at the bar and watch a ramen master at work — while you leisurely slurp through his brothy bowls, pair them with pan-fried gyoza, enjoy a sake or several, and chat to his regular customers — is just as natural a consequence. Directed by John Daschbach (Brief Reunion), this year-in-the-life portrait of Chiyoda City's Bizentei and its owner and chef Masamoto Ueda is culinary documentary filmmaking at its finest, examining a beloved type of dish, one talented man who has made it his life's work, and the many other lives — and tastebuds — touched along the way. When the film hangs out in the ramen bar, watching Masamoto cook, his wife Kazuko assist, and Bizentei's devotees savour every sip, it captures a place and a mood with the same affection as Las Vegas bar doco Bloody Nose, Empty Pockets. When it explores Masamoto's technique and impact, it's the Jiro Dreams of Sushi of ramen movies. And when it cycles through the seasons, showing what different times of the year mean at the ramen joint in question, how its central figure's existence adapts and evolves, and also using its structure to prompt jumps back into both Bizentei's and Masamoto's history, it's never anything less than a deep, charming, soul-warming and all-round full cinematic meal.
PREPARATIONS TO BE TOGETHER FOR AN UNKNOWN PERIOD OF TIME
Preparations to Be Together for an Unknown Period of Time first introduces Hungarian neurosurgeon Márta (Natasa Stork, Jupiter's Moon) as she's unloading her romantic woes upon her therapist. What could've been a standard rom-com or romantic drama setup soon twists into something far more alluring and intriguing, however, with writer/director Lili Horvát (The Wednesday Child) pondering just how we can ever know how someone else really feels about us, and how long any romantic emotions can last — and if we can ever trust those intense memories of love that implant themselves inside our brains and refuse to leave. After working in the US, Márta has returned home to Budapest suddenly because of fellow doctor János (Viktor Bodó, Overnight). They met at a conference in New Jersey, and pledged to cross paths again a month later on a Budapest bridge, but he doesn't show up. Worse: when she tracks him down at work, he says he doesn't know her. Márta can't bring herself to return stateside, though, and can't get János out of her mind in general. This is a haunting and beautifully acted psychological drama that lays bare just how all-encompassing, obsessive, intoxicating and mind-melting love can feel, all as it toys with memory and its ability to shape our perspectives. The tone is loaded but uncanny — sweet but uncertain, too — and Horvát has fun getting both emotional and cerebral while having her characters cut open brains. In other words, there aren't many movies quite like this one.
THE NOWHERE INN
"From now on, I need more say in how people are going to act," says Annie Clark. "It's a documentary," replies Carrie Brownstein. Winking and nodding (and gleefully eager to show it again and again), The Nowhere Inn tasks the famous pair with playing versions of themselves — under the guise of the Sleater-Kinney muso and Portlandia actor shooting a doco about St Vincent as she goes on tour for her album Masseduction. This psychological thriller-meets-mockumentary finds plenty to parody within its premise, especially after Brownstein suggests to Clark that she might want to let her onstage persona bleed out into the behind-the-scenes footage, because talking about radishes isn't really setting the right vibe. Cue a satirical interrogation of authenticity and performance, creativity and fame, and the riding the rollercoaster that is putting yourself out there in the world. Clark goes from mildly playing Scrabble and chatting about vegetables to becoming an OTT rock diva 24/7 and staging an affair with Dakota Johnson, with the Suspiria star even aping the musician's hairstyle. Meanwhile, Brownstein segues from trying to convey the different facets and blurred boundaries within her subject to sometimes recoiling from and sometimes embracing the exaggeration and artifice that comes with Clark being St Vincent non-stop. The two central figures wrote the script themselves, mining fame's existential struggles for both insights and laughs, and their commitment to the concept shows. Behind the lens, first-time feature filmmaker Bill Benz also brings a sketch comedy feel from his time on Kroll Show and, like Brownstein, Portlandia.
If only one word could be used to describe New Order, that word would be relentless. If just two words could be deployed to sum up the purposefully provocative latest film by Michel Franco (April's Daughter), savage would get thrown in as well. Sharing zero in common with the band of the same name, this 2020 Venice Film Festival Grand Jury Prize-winner dreams up a dystopian future that's barely even one step removed from current reality — and in dissecting class clashes, and examining the growing discontent at the lavish lives indulged by the wealthy while so much of the world struggles, the mood and narrative are nothing less than brutal. The place: Mexico City. The setup: a wedding that goes wrong. As the ceremony gets underway at a compound-esque mansion jam-packed with the ultra-rich and ultra-corrupt, the chasm between the guests and the staff is glaring. Case in point: bride-to-be Marianne (Naian González Norvind, South Mountain) couldn't be more stressed when she's asked for money to help ex-employee Rolando's (Eligio Meléndez, La Civil) ailing wife, and plenty of her family members are flat-out rude about their former servant's plight. Then activists start making their presence known outside, and further afield in the city's streets. The military respond, sparing no one in their efforts to implement the movie's moniker. Franco doesn't want any second of New Order to be easy to watch, or for the parallels he's critiquing to go unnoticed — and while this definitely isn't a subtle film, it's a stylistically brash and bold, emotionally dynamic whirlwind that festers with palpable anger.
In glorious 2016 documentary Kedi, Istanbul's stray cats received their moment in the cinematic spotlight, and also expressed much about the Turkish city and its human inhabitants in the process. The result was perfect — purrfect, even — regardless of whether you're normally a feline fan. With Stray, it's now their canine counterparts' time to shine. Istanbul has a 'no kill, no capture' law when it comes to the dogs roaming its streets, which is why there's more than 100,000 of them scampering around. And while documentarian Elizabeth Lo only spends time with a few of those tail-wagging woofers, including street veterans Zeytin and Nazar, as well as puppy Kartal, she stitches together a perceptive and textured portrait of their daily lives, of the city around them, and of the people who help and are helped by them. Making her first full-length film after a background in doco shorts, director/cinematographer/editor Lo lets her four-legged subjects be the stars, and lets her audience observe them. More than that, she frequently places the camera at canine height so that viewers feel as if they're seeing the world through a dog's eyes. Forget saccharine Hollywood flicks that use that idea as a gimmick (see: A Dog's Purpose and A Dog's Journey — or, better yet, don't see them because they're terrible). Here, immersion and insight are the key aims, and they're feats that the soulful and thoughtful Stray repeatedly, patiently and ruminatively delivers.
THE GIRL AND THE SPIDER
When spectacular choreography graces the screen, it's often via balletic feats of action or striking displays of movement and cinematography. The John Wick franchise and The Raid films demonstrate the first category, while movies with a hypnotic sense of physicality such as Climax and Ema sit in the second camp. The Girl and the Spider has little in common with any of these features, and yet it's still a stunningly choreographed film. Directors Ramon and Silvan Zürcher turn their attention to people going about their ordinary lives, as they did in their excellent 2013 debut The Strange Little Cat. Where that last delight almost solely remained inside one apartment, this movie flits between a few, as Lisa (Liliane Amuat, Those Who Are Fine) moves out of the flat she shares with fellow students Mara (Henriette Confurius, Golden Twenties) and Markus (Ivan Georgiev, Leipzig Homicide). As family members, neighbours, handymen and removalists all potter around, Mara only feigns to help. Really, she just hovers around as everyone else works, packs and moves, haunting the space and sometimes wilfully causing messes and scenes. The Zürcher brothers adore gazing at everyday domesticity and letting their characters' actions do plenty of talking. This is a chatty film, but the physical symphony of ordinary comings and goings says just as much. As it contemplates connections and absences, new starts and festering loneliness, and camaraderie and alienation — and isn't afraid to show its characters being awkward, petty and petulant — The Girl and the Spider also uses its enveloping sense of movement to embrace life's ambiguities.
THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BOY IN THE WORLD
In 1970, at the age of 15, Swedish teen Björn Andrésen's life changed forever. He walked into a hotel room to audition for Italian filmmaker Luchino Visconti, and only did so at his grandmother's urging — but, after the director was struck by his look and presence, the boy was quickly cast in the big-screen adaptation of Death in Venice. Soon, Andrésen would receive quite the compliment, too. When Visconti declared him "the most beautiful boy in the world" at the movie's premiere, the entire planet took notice. That statement had an impact and, while the experience would leave an imprint upon any shy adolescent who'd much rather be playing music than making movies but nonetheless finds himself becoming an international idol, it drastically altered Andrésen's entire future. That's the poignant story that The Most Beautiful Boy in the World tells with a perceptive eye; however, crucially, this isn't just a case of documentarians Kristina Lindström (Palme) and Kristian Petri (The Hotel) looking back, compiling archival footage — including Andrésen's initial audition video — and relaying all of the details from an outsiders' viewpoint. Their central figure is as much a part of the film now as he is in snippets from the past, and he's just as willing to interrogate how Death in Venice caused a major shift in everything he knew. His tale spans much further, too, covering several personal tragedies that he reflects upon with candour, next-level adoration in Japan and a pivotal role in Midsommar.
Looking for a few more MIFF movies to watch? Check out our first ten recommendations from this year's digital-only program.
Published on August 18, 2021 by Sarah Ward