Melbourne International Film Festival 2017
Bringing Germany to Australia
When the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) takes over the city’s cinemas in August, movie magic isn’t the only thing it’ll be offering. Celebrating its 66th year, MIFF’s annual program serves up a feast of features, shorts and documentaries thanks to its 358-title selection, and an endurance test courtesy of its 18-day duration. For cinephiles eager for an international experience without leaving the comfort of their chairs, however, it also provides a window into the world around them.
From West Berlin's underground music scene to the Afghanistan film industry, and journeying along the Bulgarian border and through Greece, MIFF’s 2017 lineup ventures far and wide — and, for fans of German cinema, through the breadth and depth of the country’s films of late. Indeed, all four of the aforementioned places pop up in German-made or German co-produced movies, amongst a range of 27 features, three shorts and one virtual reality experience.
Of course, Revolution of Sound: Tangerine Dream isn’t just must-see viewing for lovers of German fare, but of movies in general, particularly the filmic treats from the 1980s. A portrait of the German synth-rockers still considered synonymous with cinema from the decade, the documentary explores their sound and their impact, including their Sorcerer, Thief, Risky Business, Firestarter and Legend soundtracks. Plus, it pairs nicely with another film-focused festival standout, French-German effort Nothingwood. Just don’t expect to have heard of the man at its centre, writer/actor/director Salim Shaheen; instead, prepare to discover his 111-film Afghani empire.
As its title intimates, Western also has movies on its in mind, endeavouring to evoke the famous gun-slinging genre with non-professional actors amidst the political tensions of contemporary Europe. It also boasts a link to recent movie triumphs via co-producer and Toni Erdmann director Maren Ade, who ranks among the Berlin School of filmmaking’s second generation. Veteran Angela Schanelec stems from its first, with her latest offering similarly gracing MIFF’s screens. The Dreamed Path mightn’t overtly dive into the world of cinema, but it is destined to be considered a memorable addition to the form, flitting between a 1980s Greek hiking trip and modern-day Berlin to contemplate conflict-filled relationships in chaotic times.
Other German and German co-produced highlights enjoying their Australian premieres at MIFF include Berlinale hit Self-Criticism of a Bourgeois Dog, which follows a recent film school graduate not quite making a movie about a Marxist utopia; and Loveless, winner of the top prize at the recent Munich Film Festival as well as the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, from Russian auteur Andrey Zvyagintsev. Machines takes viewers on a fly-on-the-wall tour of an Indian factory, while Terrence Malick’s 40-years-in-the-making Voyage of Time ponders the origins of life and the universe, in IMAX, with narration by Brad Pitt. Until the Birds Return tells three tales from modern-day Algeria, Alipato — The Very Brief Life of an Ember envisions the year 2025 as a slum-filled, neon-lit dystopia, and The Road to Love charts love and survival on the streets of Bangkok.
Lineup champions Germany’s global ties
It may seem that much of MIFF’s German-centric lineup champions the country’s global ties, and that observation proves accurate, especially where Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa is involved. A Gentle Creature continues his recent stint of German co-productions, with his concentration camp-set observational documentary Austerlitz also heading to Melbourne after screening at the Sydney Film Festival. Unsurprisingly, a sizeable array of SFF’s German selection will make its way to MIFF: Michael Haneke’s Happy End, Fatih Akin’s In the Fade, Helene Hegemann’s Axolotl Overkill and Julian Rosefeldt’s Manifesto lead the charge, alongside documentaries Beuys: Art as a Weapon and Dries, and Cannes titles The Square, Tehran Taboo and Jupiter’s Moon.
The list goes on, encompassing Berlinale’s A Fantastic Woman and Felicite, and experimental effort Rey; however one film without any German production linkages also stands out. In Australian documentary The Song Keepers, ancient Aboriginal languages and German baroque hymns combine, as they have for the 140 years since missionaries taught the tunes to indigenous communities. With the tradition kept alive by the Central Australian Aboriginal Women’s Choir, filmmaker Naina Sen chronicles the group’s tour of Germany, bringing the hymns back to their homeland. Their journey takes a slice of Australia to Germany, just as MIFF’s German cinema contingent happily reverses that process.
The Melbourne International Film Festival runs from August 3 to 20, 2017.