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Ten Movies You Need to Stream Via MIFF Play 2022, Melbourne International Film Festival's Online Fest

It’s the MIFF you can hit up when you’re not at MIFF — and when the festival’s in-person program wraps up for the year.
By Sarah Ward
August 19, 2022
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By Sarah Ward
August 19, 2022
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First, the glorious news: since Thursday, August 5, all has been right in Melbourne's cinema scene again. For the first time 2019, the Melbourne International Film Festival has been taking over the city's picture palaces, filling them with the best movies it can find and letting film lovers live their most joyous lives. Yes, it's as wonderful as it sounds.

Now, the sad news for Melburnians: come Sunday, August 21, this year's in-person MIFF comes to an end. Thankfully, MIFF Play, the festival's online platform, is sticking around for another week. That's a wonderful development for cinephiles located well beyond Melbourne, too, with the digital program showing nationally.

Finding something to stream is never difficult these days, but until Sunday, August 28, your usual queue can wait. It'll still be there when you're doing MIFFing on your couch — after popping your own popcorn, pouring a glass of wine, and politely asking your partner or housemate to turn their phone off, to complete the cinema-at-home experience. But when that date rolls by, MIFF Play's impressive lineup won't still be there at the touch of a button. It's the MIFF you can hit up when you can't be at MIFF, and these are our ten must-see picks. Happy watching.

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HIT THE ROAD

How fitting it is that a film about family — about the ties that bind, and when those links are threatened not by choice but via unwanted circumstances — hails from an impressive lineage itself. How apt it is that Hit the Road explores the extent that ordinary Iranians find themselves going to escape the nation's oppressive authorities, too, given that the filmmaker behind it is Panah Panahi, son of acclaimed auteur Jafar Panahi. The latter's run-ins with the country's regime have been well-documented. The elder Panahi, director of Closed Curtain, Tehran Taxi and more, has been both imprisoned and banned from making movies over the past two decades, and was detained again in July 2022 for enquiring about the legal situation surrounding There Is No Evil helmer Mohammad Rasoulof. None of that directly comes through in Hit the Road's story, not for a moment, but the younger Panahi's directorial debut is firmly made with a clear shadow lingering over it.

As penned by the fledgling filmmaker as well, Hit the Road's narrative is simple and also devastatingly layered; in its frames, two starkly different views of life in Iran are apparent. What frames they are, as lensed by Ballad of a White Cow cinematographer Amin Jafari — with every sequence a stunner, but three in particular, late in the piece and involving fraught exchanges, nighttime stories and heartbreaking goodbyes, among the most mesmerising images committed to celluloid in recent years. Those pictures tell of a mother (Pantea Panahiha, Rhino), a father (Mohammad Hassan Madjooni, Pig), their adult son (first-timer Amin Simiar) and their six-year-old boy (scene-stealer Rayan Sarlak, Gol be khodi), all unnamed, who say they're en route to take their eldest to get married. But the journey is a tense one, even as the youngest among them chatters, sings, does ordinary childhood things and finds magic in his cross-country road trip, all with zero knowledge of what eats at the rest of his family.

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WE WERE ONCE KIDS

A wide array of movies first hit silver screens in 1995, as they have every year since the advent of the medium. It was the year of Clueless, Before Sunrise, Billy Madison, Empire Records and Casper — and of Casino, Apollo 13, Babe, Showgirls and Seven, too. But only one is the subject of excellent documentary We Were Once Kids, which sees Australian filmmaker Eddie Martin (All This Mayhem, Have You Seen the Listers?) peer back at perhaps the most controversial movie of the 90s. That's the era's judgement, as archival news clips make plain from the outset. When Larry Clark's Kids reached cinemas, the mainstream press was scandalised at its portrait of New York City, the teens who live in it, and the drugs, sex, parties and violence that's shown to be an everyday part of their lives. Even if any of that was actually shocking, it'd have nothing on the tale around the tale — one about a tight-knit group of friends growing up in poverty, meeting Clark and a then 19-year-old Harmony Korine, finding their existence turned into a movie, and getting little more than some screentime and $1000 to show for it.

Hamilton Chango Harris is one such Kids alum, aka a skater who temporarily became a movie star. He and his pals enjoyed Clark and screenwriter Korine's attention, and the break from their routines — with skating and partying already a break from their troubles, including parents struggling with addiction, at home. Harris is We Were Once Kids' key subject, but Martin understandably focuses on Justin Pierce and Harold Hunter, who had the biggest hopes for post-Kids fame but tragically aren't here now to tell their own stories. This is a gripping and damning doco about filmmakers who catapulted to success on the back of exploiting the working class, and about the complete lack of care they had for the lives they co-opted and the fallout. One story, from Harris, Pierce and Hunter's friend Highlyann Krasnow, says oh-so-much. She opted out of featuring in Kids when she saw how Clark and Spring Breakers' Korine had sexualised their group. That didn't change the film at all; instead, Chloë Sevigny (Russian Doll) and Rosario Dawson (DMZ) were cast, and are now household names.

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YUNI

Again and again in Yuni, a heartbreaking clash echoes. Its sounds stem from schoolyard gossip, superstitious tut-tutting, ultra-conservative demands and reminders that its titular character shouldn't steal anything purple that she sees. In the third feature from Indonesian filmmaker Kamila Andini (The Seen and Unseen), Yuni (Arawinda Kirana, Angkringan) is a 16-year-old in a Muslim society where agreeing to an arranged marriage is the only thing truly expected of her. When the movie begins, a proposal from construction worker Iman (Muhammad Khan, Memories of My Body) already lingers. After she declines, her classmates chatter. Then another offer comes from the much-older Mang Dodi (first-timer Toto ST Radik), who is looking for a second wife. Yuni knows the accepted myth that any woman who refuses more than two proposals will never wed, but she's also keen to make her own choices. She has a crush on teacher Mr Damar (Dimas Aditya, Satan's Slaves), and spends time with the younger and infatuated Yoga (Kevin Ardilova, Vengeance Is Mine, All Others Pay Cash). She's also the smartest student at her school, with dreams of attending university.

Andini's film is full of specifics, diving into the minutiae of Yuni's life — surveying Indonesian society and its customs, the roles thrust upon women from their teenage years, and enormous gap between the path that she's supposed to follow and the yearnings of her heart. This is a movie where scenes of its protagonist hanging out with her friends, whether kicking back on the grass talking about boys or dressing up with her beautician pal Suci (Asmara Abigail, Satan's Slaves 2: Communion), could be scenes from almost any teenage girl's life. Of course, then the reality sinks in, whether in discussions about husbands, babies and virginity tests, or in the teary worries about horrific power imbalances. The ability of poetry to capture everything that can't be easily uttered otherwise also floats through Andini's deeply moving picture, so it should come as no surprise that Yuni is both naturalistic and lyrical. It's precise and universal, follows an easily foreseeable path and yet proves full of surprises, and is astutely directed as well — and Kirana is a star.

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MASS

Two couples, one church, six years of baggage and two absent children. That's one of the equations at the heart of Mass. Here's another: four phenomenal performances, one smart and affecting script that tackles a difficult subject in a candid and thoughtful way, and one powerful directorial debut by actor-turned-filmmaker Fran Kranz. Best known for on-screen roles in Dollhouse, The Cabin in the Woods, Homecoming and Julia, the latter guides gripping portrayals out of Reed Birney (Home Before Dark), Ann Dowd (The Handmaid's Tale), Jason Isaacs (Operation Mincemeat) and Martha Plimpton (Generation) — and crafts a harrowing yet cathartic drama out of the aftermath of a far-too-familiar tragedy, too. The reason that Richard (Birney), Linda (Dowd), Jay (Isaacs) and Gail (Plimpton) are in the back room at a place of worship, discussing their kids with heartbreak etched across their faces? Richard and Linda's son Hayden was a school shooter, killing Jay and Gail's son Evan in his spree, then turning the gun on himself.

What can anyone say in that situation? Kranz, who both writes and directs, keeps his screenplay simple — but as loaded with emotion as the scenario obviously requires. He keeps his filmmaking flourishes just as restrained as well; that's a craft in itself, but the cast rather than the technique is the focus here. At first, they utter loaded lines with weighty awkwardness, aka the kind that fills and silences a room. Then, each in their own way, they unleash the hurt, anger, regret, sorrow, misery and more that's festering inside their characters, and that no amount of talking can ever completely capture. Mass is a musing on that very fact, too: that even the most spirited of dialogues, slinging about both carefully chosen and heatedly spur-of-the-money words, can't fix, explain or do justice to the pain that Richard, Linda, Jay and Gail are going through. The end result would make an exceptional, albeit unshakeably distressing, double with We Need to Talk About Kevin, The Fallout or Vox Lux, or even Elephant or Polytechnique as well.

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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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THE HUMANS

If you're the kind of cinephile who likes to theme their viewing around the relevant time of year — holiday-related, primarily — then you're clearly always spoiled for choice. Christmas movies, horror flicks at Halloween, Easter-relevant films: you can build a binge session out of all of them (several in fact, depending on the occasion). The same applies to Thanksgiving, all courtesy of the US, and The Humans is the latest addition to the November-appropriate list. But while it ticks a few easy boxes, including bringing a family together to celebrate the date, steeping their get-together in awkwardness, and having big revelations spill out over the course of the gathering, this A24-distributed release is far creepier and more haunting than your usual movie about America's turkey-eating time of year. Based on Stephen Karam's Tony-winning play, and adapted and directed for the screen by Karam himself, it's downright unsettling, in fact, and for a few reasons.

There's the tension zipping back and forth between everyone in attendance, of course; the bleak, claustrophobic, rundown setting, in a New York apartment close to ground zero; and the strange sounds emanating from other units. As a result, seasonal cheer is few and far between in this corner of Manhattan, where the Blake family congregates in Brigid (Beanie Feldstein, Booksmart) and her boyfriend Richard's (Steven Yeun, Nope) new abode. Also making an appearance: parents Deirdre (Jayne Houdyshell, Only Murders in the Building) and Erik (Richard Jenkins, Nightmare Alley), Brigid's older sister Aimee (Amy Schumer, Life & Beth), and their grandmother Momo (June Squibb, Palmer), who has dementia. No one is happy, and everyone seems to have something that needs airing — but there's always the feeling that, in any other location, this might've truly been a joyful affair. Discussions about dreams and nightmares prove revealing, but The Humans points out the thin line between both, whether we're slumbering or waking, several times over in its talky frames.

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MILLIE LIES LOW

A scene-stealer in 2018's The Breaker Upperers, Ana Scotney now leads the show in Millie Lies Low. She's just as magnetic. The New Zealand actor plays the film's eponymous Wellington university student, who has a panic attack aboard a plane bound for New York — where a prestigious architecture internship awaits — and has to disembark before her flight leaves. A new ticket costs $2000, which she doesn't have. And, trying to rustle up cash from her best friend and classmate (Jillian Nguyen, Hungry Ghosts), mother (Rachel House, Cousins) and even a quick-loan business (run by Cohen Holloway, The Power of the Dog) still leaves her empty-handed. Millie's solution: faking it till she makes it, searching for ways to stump up the funds while hiding out in her hometown, telling everyone she's actually already in the Big Apple and posting faux Instagram snaps MacGyvered out of whatever she can find (big sacks of flour standing in for snow, for instance) to sell the ruse.

There's a caper vibe to Millie's efforts skulking around Wellington while endeavouring to finance her ticket to her dreams — and to the picture of her supposedly perfect existence that she's trying to push upon herself as much as her loved ones. Making her feature debut, director and co-writer Michelle Savill has imposter syndrome and the shame spiral it sparks firmly in her sights, and finds much to mine in both an insightful and darkly comedic manner. As she follows her protagonist between episodic efforts to print the legend — or post it one Insta picture at a time — her keenly observed film also treads in Frances Ha's footsteps. Both movies examine the self-destructive life choices of a twentysomething with a clear idea of what she wants everyone to think of her, but far less of a grasp on who she really is and what she genuinely needs. While some framing and music choices make that connection obvious, the astute delight that is Millie Lies Low is never a Wellington-set copy.

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WE ARE STILL HERE

It begins with stunning animation, shimmering with the rich blue hues of the sea. From there, everything from lush greenery to dusty outback appears in its frames. The past returns to the screen, and a vision of the present finds a place as well — and crossing the ditch between Australia and New Zealand, and venturing further into the South Pacific, is baked into the movie's very concept. That film is We Are Still Here, which makes an enormous statement with its title, responding to 250 years of colonialism. Of course, filmmakers in the region have been surveying this history since the birth of the medium, because the topic is inescapable. Combining eight different takes from ten Indigenous filmmakers instantly makes We Are Still Here stand out, however — and this Pacific First Nations collaboration, which opened Sydney Film Festival before coming to MIFF, isn't short on talent, or impact.

Australian filmmakers Beck Cole (Here I Am), Danielle MacLean (Carry the Flag), Tracey Rigney (A Chance Affair) and Dena Curtis (Back to Nature) add their parts, as do New Zealand directors Tim Worrall (Head High), Richard Curtis (Nanakia), Renae Maihi (Waru), Miki Magasiva (The Panthers), Chantelle Burgoyn (short Tatau) and Mario Gaoa (Teine Sa). Some of their chapters explore heated discussions about whether to fight back, others find understanding in unlikely places, and another heads into the First World War. The same passion — the same determined survey of what it means to live in countries forever changed by James Cook's landing — beats within each, whether peering at the animated stars, trying to survive in the trenches or pondering what might come is earning attention. Understandably, it makes for not just potent but sincere, weighty and moving viewing.

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PIGGY

Hell is other people in Spanish horror film Piggy, an observation that's been made countless times on-screen. Hell is also today's always-online world, another familiar statement. Still, a movie doesn't need to trade in completely new observations to stand out — which this bullying-revenge film definitely does in a plethora of ways. Sadly, its title stems from the taunt slung in its protagonist's direction much too often. A resident of a small, sleepy Spanish village close to the Portuguese border, Sara (Laura Galán, Unknown Origins) is called other names, too, none of them kind. She's also almost drowned by her tormentors during a trip to the local pool, where they're as cruel as anyone can be about her body. That experience comes with consequences, however, when a kidnapper strikes. Sara is a witness, the three mean girls that've made her life miserable go missing, and the right next step isn't straightforward.

Galán is astonishing in Piggy, reteaming with writer/director Carlota Pereda after also starring in her 2018 Goya Award-winning short of the same. This full-length expansion is a vicious marvel, too — and it isn't afraid to get brutal either thematically or physically, or to plaster gory sights across its imagery. Indeed here, seeing a murdered corpse weighted down at the bottom of a public pool isn't a pretty vision, unsurprisingly. That said, it also pales in comparison to the nastiness continually thrust Sara's way, and to everything the film sinks a knife into about being a woman today in the process. Piggy is also astonishingly stylish, using its Academy-ratio frames to ramp up the sense of claustrophobia to an immersive degree. Pereda has enjoyed stints behind the lens since 2008, spanning television, shorts and features, but this immediate must-see deserves to put her on the path to a great genre career.

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LOVE AND OTHER CATASTROPHES

There's no doubting that MIFF loves Melbourne. In the festival's 70th year, it's celebrating that fact in a huge way, too, courtesy of a Melbourne on Film program strand. That's the part of this year's overall festival lineup that surveys the way that the Victorian capital has been seen on the big screen over the years, complete with 25 examples — spanning everything from The Story of the Kelly Gang, aka the world's first full-length film, through to the original Mad Max. One absolute must-see, in general and as part of this MIFF showcase, hails from the 90s. The tale it tells couldn't be more relatable, even if you weren't a uni student navigating all of life's chaos three decades back. Indeed, if you only watch one movie from MIFF's Melbourne love-in, Love and Other Catastrophes is that pick — as well as a stellar 1996 debut by writer/director Emma-Kate Croghan, who was only 23 when she made this micro-budget gem.

The focus: two film students, Mia (Frances O'Connor, The End) and Alice (Alice Garner, Jindabyne), who've just moved into a new place. They're in need of another housemate, and — as the title makes plain — they do indeed have love and other catastrophes to weather. For starters, while Mia's girlfriend Danni (Radha Mitchell, Girl at the Window) is keen to join them, that'd take their relationship to another level. Then there's Alice's romantic woes, involving both the resident university ladies' man Ari (Matthew Dyktynski, Offspring) and the quiet, besotted Michael (Matt Day, The Unusual Suspects). Yes, as well as being an astute and amusing rom-com, Love and Other Catastrophes is also a who's who of Aussie talent — and the picture that helped put O'Connor and Mitchell on the road to everything from AI: Artificial Intelligence and The Conjuring 2 to Pitch Black and Man on Fire.

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MIFF Play, the 2022 Melbourne International Film Festival's digital fest, runs from Thursday, August 11–Sunday, August 29. For further details, visit the MIFF Play website.

Published on August 19, 2022 by Sarah Ward
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