MIFF 2023: ten must-see films

Whether they're the best of the fest or outstanding in their own right, these films will make your Melbourne International Film Festival shine.

With 267 films showing, any ‘must-see’ list is going to be subjective – but these ten films are definitely ones to consider at the forthcoming Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), running from 3–20 August 2023.


Shayda. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Drama.

Language: English, Farsi with English subtitles.

About: Shayda, a brave Iranian mother, finds refuge in an Australian women’s shelter with her six-year-old daughter. Over Persian New Year, they take solace in Nowruz rituals and new beginnings, but when her estranged husband re-enters their lives, Shayda’s path to freedom is jeopardised.

Origin: Australia (2023)

Director: Noora Niasari.

Stars: Jillian Nguyen.

Showing: Opening Night Gala, 3 August. Also 5, 12, 15, 18, 19 August. In the running for the 2023 Bright Horizons Award. Tickets.


Monolith. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Thriller.

Language: English.

About: Cast out and eager to salvage her reputation, an unnamed journalist retreats to her parents’ house to work on a podcast about the paranormal and the unexplained. While researching, she learns about a retiree’s encounter with a puzzling black brick, which appeared seemingly out of nowhere. A raft of similar anecdotes involving other black bricks then leads her down shadowy paths and to a desperate fixation on the truth behind the mysterious objects – until, one day, a sinister brick of her own appears.

Origin: Australia (2022).

Director: Matt Vesely.

Stars: Lily Sullivan.

Showing: 12 & 15 August. Tickets.

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman

Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Animation.

Language: English.

About: Rattled by the 2011 earthquake that shook eastern Japan, dazed insomniac Kyoko leaves her husband, joyless bank employee Komura, to confront a mysterious event from her past. This prompts Komura to drift across the country, visiting relatives and stopping by a love hotel, while his older colleague Katagiri is enlisted by a boastful anthropomorphic frog into a quest to vanquish an underground worm that threatens to unleash another catastrophe.

Origin: Canada, France, Luxembourg, Netherlands (2022).

Director: Pierre Földes.

Stars: Arthur Holden.

Showing: 7 & 12 August and streaming on MIFF Play 18-27 August. Tickets.

Late Night with the Devil

Late Night With The Devil. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Horror/ Thriller.

Language: English.

About: Jack Delroy is a syndicated late-night talk show host craving to be the next Johnny Carson. On the one-year anniversary of his wife’s death (on Halloween night, of course), he returns to the airwaves with guests including a clairvoyant, a parapsychologist and the lone survivor of a satanic cult. Unbeknown to Jack, the trio is joined by a supernatural force seeking to haunt him until a climax so diabolical it would no doubt top the primetime charts.

Origin: Australia (2023).

Directors: Australian brothers Cameron and Colin Cairnes.

Stars: David Dastmalchian.

Showing: 4 & 11 August. Colin and Cameron Cairnes will be in attendance for both screenings Tickets.

Read: Run Rabbit Run and Late Night With the Devil: meet the directors

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Drama.

Language: Vietnamese with English subtitles

About: Thien, a detached and morose Saigon thirtysomething, has little idea that his life is about to be pushed towards a vast spiritual reckoning. After learning of his sister-in-law’s death in a motorcycle accident, he is given temporary custody of her five-year-old son; together, uncle and nephew begin the arduous mission of returning the body to her home village for burial while searching for the boy’s father – Thien’s long-lost brother.

Origin: France, Singapore, Spain, Vietnam (2023).

Director: Pham Thien An.

Stars: Le Phong Vu.

Showing: 13, 16, 18 August and streaming 18-27 August on MIFF Play. In the running for the 2023 Bright Horizons Award. Tickets.

Read: MIFF 2023: Bright Horizons competition films

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood

Smoke Sauna Sisterhood. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Documentary.

Language: Estonian with English subtitles.

About: As the seasons change in Estonia, in a woodland world away from men, a group of Võro women regularly gathers inside a smoke sauna to sweat and chat. No topic is off-limits – body image, dating disasters, sex, motherhood, miscarriage, menstruation, abortion, abuse – and as they share their stories, some funny, some tragic, the women forge an unbreakable bond.

Origin: Estonia (2022)

Director: Anna Hints.

Showing: 4, 11, 19, 20 August. Tickets.

The Rooster

The Rooster. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Mystery.

Language: English.

About: Dan works in a remote police outpost in regional Victoria, but when a childhood friend is discovered dead following an incident at the local high school, his judgement and credentials are thrown into question. Consumed with guilt and suspended from the force, Dan decides to camp out in the forest, where he encounters a cranky jazz-listening, shotgun-toting, ping-pong-obsessed misanthrope. At first transactional, this bond soon becomes transformative for the broken men. But, surrounded by trees, far away from any trace of civilisation, is everything really as it seems?

Origin: Australia (2023).

Director: Mark Leonard Winter.

Stars: Hugo Weaving.

Showing: 5, 9, 12, 13 August. In the running for the 2023 Bright Horizons Award.

How to Blow Up a Pipeline

How to Blow Up a Pipeline. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Thriller.

Language: English.

About: Eight young Americans hatch a plan to detonate explosives in the Texan desert to destroy an oil pipeline, with hopes of sending shockwaves through the fossil-fuel industry. Brought together by their compulsion to act, each member has their own catalyst: from sustained health issues sparked by toxic chemicals, to compulsory acquisition of farmland for an oil pipeline, to the loss of a parent from a heatwave. Will the escalating pressure and their competing motivations ultimately mar their mission?

Origin: USA (2022).

Director: Daniel Goldhaber.

Stars: Ariela Barer.

Showing: 8, 12, 13, 19 August. Tickets.

The Eternal Daughter

The Eternal Daughter. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Drama, Mystery.

Language: English.

About: In Joanna Hogg’s semi-autobiographical The Souvenir (2019), Tilda Swinton starred opposite her daughter Honor Swinton Byrne, the real-life mother–daughter duo playing an onscreen mother–daughter duo. Here, Swinton reprises her role as matriarch Rosalind and steps in to play a now-middle-aged Julie. The two have travelled to Wales to stay in the family’s wartime country home, which has since become a fog-shrouded hotel haunted by memories. Julie plans to work on her latest film, of which Rosalind is the unwitting subject, but the house’s long-buried secrets have other plans.

Origin: UK, USA (2022).

Director: Joanna Hogg.

Stars: Tilda Swinton.

Showing: 6, 11, 19 August. Tickets.

Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story

Ego: The Michael Gudinski Story. Image: MIFF.

Genre: Documentary.

Language: English.

About: Michael Gudinski was a music man, impresario and natural-born hustler. He repeatedly risked everything for his one obsession: Australian music. At age 19, he launched Mushroom Records and went on to sign and nurture iconic artists including Skyhooks, Split Enz, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, Hunters & Collectors, Kylie Minogue, Archie Roach and Yothu Yindi. But he wasn’t content with just a label – his hunger extended to being on the road promoting legendary international acts such as Foo Fighters, Ed Sheeran, Bruce Springsteen and Sting. There’s barely a living Australian whose life hasn’t been touched by the music he was behind.

Origin: Australia (2023).

Director: Paul Goldman.

Stars: Michael Gudinski.

Showing: 11 & 13 August. Also showing in the Music on Film Gala on 10 August. Tickets.

Read: MIFF 2023: program – Gala, Australian and international highlights

Paul Dalgarno is author of the novels A Country of Eternal Light (2023) and Poly (2020); the memoir And You May Find Yourself (2015); and the creative non-fiction book Prudish Nation (2023). He was formerly Deputy Editor of The Conversation and joined ScreenHub as Managing Editor in 2022. X: @pauldalgarno. Insta: @dalgarnowrites