MIFF 2023 snapshots: opening weekend

MIFF at a glance: two sentence reviews to help you choose what film to see next at the festival.

The Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) has kicked off in a roaring start with its opening gala night last Thursday, leading into a slew of warm, frightening, funny and challenging screenings – most of which have been booked out, despite competing with the FIFA Women’s World Cup (has anyone tried to flit between the cinema and Federation Square’s FIFA stream, Mrs. Doubtfire-restaurant-scene style?).

Us folks here at ScreenHub have collected our thoughts on the first films we saw at the fest. Why not use these micro-reviews to help you decide on what to see next?

Shayda (Australia, dir. Noora Niasari)

Niasari is assured enough to let her characters sit in heavy silences, pregnant with portentous fear but also a steadily growing resilience. If the occasionally awkward camaraderie of the women sharing the shelter could have been further teased out, and a dramatic third act occurrence passes by too fast, Shayda nonetheless holds our attention through the sheer strength of Ebrahimi’s gaze. – Stephen A Russell, whose full review for Shayda is here.

The Rooster (Australia, dir. Mark Leonard Winter)

The performances of both Hugo Weaving and Phoenix Raei really carry The Rooster, a story of a drunken hermit and a grieving cop who form an unlikely friendship in the Victorian bush. For Mark Leonard Winter’s debut feature, this film is quite impressive, and its striking imagery will likely haunt you for a long time after. – Silvi Vann-Wall

Past Lives (US/South Korea, dir. Celine Song)

Much buzz is already surrounding Past Lives, Celine Song’s debut – and very personal – feature, and I’m happy to say that it’s 100% warranted. Seeing this film in a packed Comedy Theatre was no less than a transcendent experience, with each of us sighing as we fell in love with estranged friends-and-maybe-something-more Nora and Hae Sung, and then moved to tears as the final sequence played out. – Silvi Vann-Wall.

The Eternal Daughter (US/UK, dir. Joanna Hogg)

The surprise finale to an actual Joanna Hogg triptych, The Eternal Daughter works superbly well thanks to Tilda Swinton’s mercurial gift for lending believability to artifice. Pay attention to how Hogg uses mirrors here, including in the doubling of Swinton, whose physical performance does as much to represent Julie and Rosalind’s likenesses and differences as Grace Snell’s costume work and Alice Jones’ makeup. – Stephen A Russell, whose full review of The Eternal Daughter is here.

  • The Eternal Daughter is showing again on 11 August at 9.15pm and 19 August at 4pm

Time Bomb Y2K (US, dir. Brian Becker, Marley McDonald)

In popular culture, the “Millenium Bug” has become a punchline synonymous with “anti-climax” or “damp squib”, a problem as cringey and old-school as frosted tips and jorts. But as Time Bomb Y2K eloquently captures through curated archive footage, it wasn’t a Doomsday that didn’t happen, but rather a crisis effectively managed. This documentary is a fascinating and well-told example of the benefit of hindsight. – Amy Loughlin.

Monster (Japan, dir. Hirokazu Kore-Eda)

A stunning tale of fear and bias in suburban Japan, centred on a troubled schoolboy and a series of shocking events that take place around him. Told in three acts, each more beautiful and surprising than the last, Monster is typical of Kore-Eda’s fascination with flawed characters and the ripple effects of misunderstandings. – Silvi Vann-Wall.

A Still Small Voice (US, dir. Luke Lorentzen)

It’s 2020, and Mati is a resident chaplain in-training at New York’s Mount Sinai hospital, providing religious services to patients. She holds the hands of those experiencing some of the most poignant and isolated grief of their life and holds space for their pain – but the emotional toll is beginning to mount. A Still Small Voice illustrates the desperate need for all of us, but especially our healthcare workers, to take care of our own mental health as the systems around us crumble. – Amy Loughlin.

Stonewalling (China, dir. Ryuji Otsuka, Huang Ji)

While I understood the great importance of the story being told in Stonewalling, I did not feel that it translated to something compelling enough to warrant its 2.5-hour runtime. Many of the film’s scenes dragged on, imbuing the audience with the same sense of helplessness as the unexpectedly pregnant Lynn – which works effectively, for a time, before it becomes torturous. – Silvi Vann-Wall.

MIFF is on at various cinemas in Melbourne until 20 August 2023.



Format: Movie