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Review: Melbourne International Film Festival 2014

WITH the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, we take a look at some of the films of the festival you should see or give a miss. Daniel Driscoll has the reviews!

The Infinite Man

The Infinite Man is a time travel comedy-romance about a man whose attempts to construct the ultimate romantic weekend backfire when he traps his lover in an infinite loop. Written and directed by first time feature director Hugh Sullivan, The Infinite Man is a mind bending, comical look at one man’s inability to move forward with his life. He’s literally living in the past.

Dean (Josh McConville) has brought Laura (Hannah Marshall) back to the same hotel they visited the previous year for their anniversary. His plan is to do everything they did last year and to schedule. Laura is somewhat bemused by this idea and eventually gets fed up with his lack of spontaneity. The situation is made more complicated when her former lover Terry (Alex Dimitriades) shows up and wants her back.

After getting knocked out by a cow prod, Dean awakes to Laura leaving with Terry. Dean doesn’t plan to take this lying down and spends the next year in a room building a time machine. Things get a lot more complicated, and a lot funnier, when he puts on the helmet and heads back in time to that fateful day.

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The film consists of only three cast members and McConville does an excellent job playing multiple versions of himself, leading the film with him in almost every scene. Marshall is good as the confused and bemused Laura. Dimitriades is the stand out here as the former Olympian and proud Greek man Terry. The confrontations between Terry and Dean are at times hilarious –  the quirky script has you laughing when you least expect it.

The film breaks time travelling ideas such as physically touching another version of your self. This and other questions such as where would he find enough food and water to survive in a closed up hotel in the middle of nowhere for a year are best left alone in order to enjoy this mind-bending film. It’s a hell of a ride and you’ll find yourself mentally exhausted in the final moments.

This is satisfyingly one of those rare films where you really have no idea where it’s going to go next or how it will actually end. The film requires your full attention in order to keep up with what’s going on and which version of Dean is which but The Infinite Man is one to see at this year’s MIFF.

Babylon

This film, directed by Danny Boyle (127 Hours, Slumdog Millionaire) and Jon S. Baird (Filth, The State We’re In) is a feature length pilot to a planned television show of the same name. It is mostly self-contained and serves as an entertaining look at the UK’s met police force and the clash between the old school way of doing things and the fast paced world of social media and the 24 hour news cycle.

American Liz Garvey (Brit Marling) starts her first day as the new head of PR for the London police force as a sniper starts killing people throughout the city. Cameraman Matt Coward (Daniel Kaluuya) is following Territorial Support Group officers Davina (Jill Halfpenny), Robbie (Adam Deacon) and Clarkey (Cavan Clerkin) around for the day to film an episode for a new police television show. Chaos slowly ensues as the police force, headed by Metropolitan Chief Constable Richard Miller (James Nesbitt), attempts to figure out who the sniper is, all the while negotiating how much information about the scenario should be released to the public. While this is happening, off-the-record leads are being fed to the media by Finn (Bertie Carvel) who is angry at being passed over for Garvey’s position, does his best effort to make her look bad at any opportunity.

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The film/pilot examines what appears to be an ongoing battle between the old and new schools of thought with regards to how the force functions from within its own ranks and out in the wider public. At one point Robbie, the confrontation hungry member of the group being followed by the camera, repeatedly tells a protester to desist with attaching a poster to a lamp post. When the protester initially refuses to listen, Robbie whips out his baton and looks to give the guy a beating until he realises he’s on camera and decides to change tact, instead deciding to use his words rather than violence.

The use of security cameras, hand held cameras, phone cameras and traditional cameras act to enhance the idea that the police force works in a world where you’re always on camera, whether you like it or not.

Brit Marling is cast well as the self aware ‘new American’ to the team while James Nesbitt is somewhat stiff as the commissioner who is seemingly left out of the communication loop on a regular basis.

The film is self-aware and tries to examine issues of the force while being kind to those who serve on the front line. Despite the solid understanding of how social media works in this new world, Babylon is also a cynical observation on the effect technology is having on the world by someone who seems disgruntled by this fast moving world of social media and technology.

Babylon is an enjoyable drama/comedy with good pacing and some enjoyably funny scenes but is not one of director Danny Boyle’s best.

The Galapagos Affair: Satan Came to Eden

Told through diary entries of those who were there, their descendants and locals who have lived on nearby islands, The Galapagos Affair tells the true story of three groups of people who moved to live on the deserted island of Floreana – one of numerous islands that make up The Galapagos Islands off the coast of South America. It is the true story of an unsolved mystery that has remained so to this day as the only people privy to what really happened all dead. The documentary is inspired by separate published accounts written by Dore Strauch and Margret Wittner.

The story examines the disagreeable situation between three groups of people who each decided to inhabit the island of Floreana: Friederich Ritter and his girlfriend Dore Strauch, the ‘Duchess’ and her male companions and the Wittner family.

Ritter and Strauch having moved to their idea of paradise are eventually interrupted by new occupants, the Wittners who decided to set up residence near by. This disturbance is not appreciated by Ritter but tolerated. A year or two later, the Duchess appears and announces she has decided to live on the island and wants to build a hotel. None of the initial occupants of the island took kindly to this but eventually tolerated this new invader as well.

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The first part of the film details the reasons the Ritters came to the island and is the slowest part of the film, proving somewhat uninteresting.

The story picks up with the arrival of the other two groups of characters and becomes a ‘whodunnit’ of sorts when the Baroness and one of her companions disappears the day after screams are heard from her residence. Different accounts are given from those that were there and speculation is made by descendants and long time occupants of the nearby island of Santa Maria.

The subject matter is initially interesting but the film sidetracks itself with details of some of the islanders’ lives that have nothing to do with the main story; using this as filler to hold off what turns out to be a less than satisfying ending.

Stray Dogs (Jiaoyou)

A father and his two children wander the margins of modern day Taipei, from the woods and rivers of the outskirts to the rain streaked streets of the city. By day the father scrapes a meager income as a human billboard for luxury apartments, while his young son and daughter roam the supermarkets and malls surviving off free food samples. Each night the family takes shelter in an abandoned building.

Supposedly the last film by director Tsai Ming-liang, it will be best received by his hardcore fans. It is a film that challenges your notions of narrative with little action or dialogue throughout.

The film is beautifully shot with unusual angles and composition used and comprised mostly of long single shots with occasional mild pivoting of the camera to follow the action. At times wide shots are used with the actor’s actions taking place far off in the background. This proves to be frustrating when trying to interpret what is happening in the scene as the action is at times too far from the camera.

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The pace moves slowly allowing the viewer to observe the every day mundane activities of someone on the fringes of society. Interactions between characters or a single character and their surroundings are shown as meaningful. Whether the father (Lee Kang-Sheng) is eating with his children (Lee Yi-cheng & Lee Yi-chieh) or helping them get ready for bed, each action is observed almost in full. This gives the viewer a chance to study in detail what is happening on screen giving each minute action our full attention.

This was one film I personally did not enjoy. The extremely slow pace including an 11 minute single shot of the father devouring an entire cabbage becomes incredibly frustrating to watch. The film ventures too far into experimental territory with minimal plot and drawn out character observations. This is only for those who enjoy films that spend their time quietly observing characters and fully studying the way a shot is framed.

The Melbourne International Film Festival runs until 17 August 2014. For tickets and more information, head on over to their official website.

What are some of your favourite films from the Melbourne International Film Festival? Sound off in the comments box below!

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