Melbourne international film festival 2019: 10 things to see and do

Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson in Independence Day, Margot Robbie as Sharon Tate in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Björk as Margit in The Juniper Tree

 At the 2019 Melbourne international film festival: Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day, Margot Robbie in Once Upon a Time in Hollywood and Björk in The Juniper Tree. Composite: Moviestore/REX/Shutterstock/AP/Arbelos Films

Next month’s Melbourne international film festival boasts the largest program in the event’s 68-year history, with 259 feature films, 123 shorts and 16 virtual reality (VR) experiences.

It is also a notable year in terms of venues, with screening locations expanded to include the newly refurbished and very schmicko Capitol theatre. The (re)launch of a strikingly beautiful cinema smack-bang in the heart of the city is not exactly a regular occurrence, so you might want to consider factoring that into your film picking decisions.

Here are 10 highlights from this year’s program.

1. Jeff Goldblum movie marathon

Last year I attended the festival’s overnight Cage-a-Thon event, which screened back-to-back Nicolas Cage movies for 13 consecutive godforsaken hours. I emerged from it a dried out husk of a man: vexed of spirit, loathsome of visage, crushed of soul, flattened of butt.

In other words: good times. This year’s MIFF marathon will screen nothing but Jeff Goldblum films – including The Fly, Independence Day, Thor: Ragnarok and The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.

2. La Flor

Continuing the theme of outrageous excessive cinema experiences, there’s also La Flor – a 14-hour (!) Argentinian film told in six parts, which will screen in three sessions with intervals. Director Mariano Llinás’s highly ambitious film spans multiple genres including musical melodrama, satirical documentary and espionage thriller.

3. The Beach Bum

There’s no other auteur quite like the decorum-slaying, trash-humping, whacked-out indie maverick Harmony Korine, the kind of provocateur who will never outlive the label “enfant terrible”. His first feature film since 2012’s Spring Breakers sees him team up with Matthew McConaughey, who plays a washed-up stoner poet.

4. The Juniper Tree

Good news for Björk fans! The little-seen 1990 feature film that showcases the singer-songwriter’s cinema debut, The Juniper Tree, has been spit-polished with a new 4K restoration. Its writer, director and editor, Nietzchka Keene, was inspired by a lesser-known Brothers Grimm fairytale. Richard Brody from the New Yorker described the film as a “stark and lyrical drama” with “stunningly spare yet phantasmagorical images.

5. Dark Place

Recent years have seen the emergence of a “golden age of black horror movies”, with director Jordan Peele’s films (Get Out and Us) leading the charge. Perhaps we are seeing evidence of this movement catching on in Australia with the anthology horror experience Dark Place, comprising five short films from emerging Indigenous film-makers. They explore topics such as post-colonial history, female oppression and public housing.

6. Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood

Every one of Quentin Tarantino’s films is an event movie. But even by his standards Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood is an epic water-cooler release, turning heads at this year’s Cannes film festival and drawing no small amount of praise – including a five-star review from the Guardian’s own Peter Bradshaw.

Set in Los Angeles in 1969, with Leonardo DiCaprio playing a former TV star whose neighbour is Sharon Tate, the film has a strong Australian connection, with Margot Robbie playing Tate and Damon Herriman as Charles Manson. It will screen at the Astor Theatre in 35mm.

7. Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Another title straight from Cannes – and another film to receive five big ones from Bradshaw – is Girlhood director Céline Sciamma’s period piece about two women who fall in love in 18th century France. Portrait of a Lady on Fire, which sounds like Henry James remade by an arsonist, is currently sitting on a perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes score.

8. One Child Nation

Co-directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang reportedly uncover shocking findings about the consequences of China’s famous one-child policy (which lasted from 1979 to 2015) in their documentary One Child Nation, including forced sterilisation and abandoned babies. The Hollywood Reporter described the film as “a valuable record and a sober but frightening illustration of the dark side of this government-controlled experiment”.

9. Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project

Occasionally you read a description of a film in a program guide and a single word springs instantly to mind: “SOLD!” That’s how I responded to the synopsis for the documentary Recorder: The Marion Stokes Project, which reads: “For more than 30 years, Marion Stokes recorded every minute of every TV channel in America, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But who was she and why did she dedicate her life to something so obsessive?”

10. The Waiting Room

Director Molly Reynolds explored David Gulpilil’s home community of Ramingining, Northern Territory in her excellent 2015 filmed essay Another Country. Her latest project (again working with collaborator Rolf de Deer) is a VR experience that asks the question of whether humans are an invading alien force.

Other VR productions playing at the festival include a trippy visualisation of the future dreams of four young Aboriginal Australians (Future Dreaming) and a film from the disability activist Rosario Perazolo Masjoan about exploring sexuality while using a wheelchair (4 Feet: Blind Date).