I had really high hopes for this year’s festival but in the end, the festival delivered but I didn’t. A couple of days into the festival I got the flu (not COVID) and could barely leave the house. I managed to get out to the cinema a few times before being bedridden but lucky for me, MIFF provides a wonderful alternative to the cinema with MIFF Play, a streaming service hosting many of the top movies from the fest. That meant I didn’t have to miss the whole thing and can now present five of the best movies I caught at MIFF 2022.
Saloum (Jean Luc Herbulot)
Saloum is really two movies stitched perfectly together. Like From Dusk Till Dawn it starts as a straightforward movie about one thing then becomes a supernatural horror. The trick with doing such a switch is maintaining the feeling that you’re watching the same film and not that the projector has accidentally loaded up a reel from a different movie altogether.
Saloum manages to thread that particular needle by giving us something that begins as a movie about mercenaries on the run before becoming a horror movie about malevolent spirits hunting the characters down one by one. And though the genres are vastly different the tone stays the same giving us a measured build up to a sharp and frenetic second half.
The performances at the center of the movie are excellent as Yann Gael, Roger Sallah, and Mentor Ba play their three mercenaries as incredibly cool but also human and emotional. These are three tough-as-nails hired guns who aren’t afraid to touch foreheads and declare they’re together to the end. It’s nice to see masculinity where emotions are not weakness but strength. These aren’t the usual wise-cracking, muscle-flexing Hollywood action heroes, which is a wonderfully refreshing change.
Jean Luc Herbulot was a mystery to me before seeing this movie, but now he’s a director I’ll be sure to keep an eye out for as this genre-defying thriller shows a deft touch at action, horror, comedy, and character work. My only complaint would be that Saloum feels too short and ends abruptly but it’s still a wild ride.
Dual (Riley Stearns)
Riley Stearns‘ criminally underrated The Art of Self-Defense was a highlight of MIFF 2019 and his follow-up Dual is a similarly deadpan, unpredictable study of loneliness and depression filled with strange characters and the promise of intense violence. It is also very, very funny among moments of utterly pitch black darkness.
Karen Gillan plays Sarah, a depressed alcoholic in a boring relationship, who finds out she’s going to die. In order to make it easier for her family, she has herself cloned. Sarah’s double’s role is to replace her after she dies but she takes to the task too easily and replaces her quickly. When Sarah goes into remission it is decided that her and her clone will meet a year hence and duel to the death. It’s a wonderful concept filtered through Sterns’ strange script filled with overly blunt characters who give too much information at a rapid clip.
The cast are all excellent and have a lot of fun with Stearns’ deliberately stilted, pragmatic dialogue. Gillan is predictably brilliant as both Sarah and her duplicitous double. Much like The Art of Self Defense, the movie is rigorously paced with no rushing to the unpredictable finale that subverts everything the movie has promised up to that point yet still remains somehow incredibly satisfying. With only a handful of features under his belt, Stearns has carved himself out a wonderful niche of strange movies, equal parts laugh out loud and painfully bleak.
The Pez Outlaw (Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel)
A standout from this year’s festival and sure to become a cult favourite, The Pez Outlaw is a true crime documentary in which no one dies or gets raped or gets kidnapped. The stakes are pretty low but the tension is palpable. Steve Glew, an eccentric with OCD, is the movie hero cinema has been waiting for. His adventures as the nemesis of the Pez corporation are gripping, hilarious, touching, and admirable. I love a story of an underdog sticking it to the corporate stooge and Glew is very much that underdog.
The movie follows Glew as he realizes the money making and fun possibilities that come from traveling to Europe’s Pez factories in order to grab dispensers not made in America that he can sell for a huge mark up to collectors. It maybe doesn’t sound like riveting stuff but directors Amy Bandlien Storkel and Bryan Storkel build a wonderful movie with reenactments (Glew plays a young version of himself), interviews, and fantasy sequences
It’s lovely to watch a true crime documentary with no victim except for maybe the profits of the Pez cooperation for the years Glew was active. As a staunch socialist, this made me particularly very happy. Sticking it to the corporate man is always a winning genre. But outside of the Pez stuff, this is also a wonderful movie about a man learning what’s important in the world. He begins with one idea of what being a husband and a father is, then as the years go on he begins to see that providing for your family isn’t just about bringing home money. It’s about being there when you’re needed.
This was a real stand-out of the festival for me and a movie I had no real idea about going in. It’s funny, sad, and endearing, and it will make you, like me, start googling Pez dispensers and where to buy them as the credits roll.
Shadow (Bruce Gladwin)
Created by Geelong-based/world-renowned theater company Back to Back, Shadow is a short, sharp movie about the dangers of technology to the disability community. Written by and starring a troupe of actors with intellectual disabilities, the movie follows three activists trying to hold a town hall meeting about the perils to their community of a world relying increasingly on artificial intelligence.
At once funny, sad, and confronting, Shadow is anchored by three incredible performances from Sarah Mainwaring, Scott Price, and Simon Laherty. Each presents their arguments for and against the technology and how it dehumanizes them and threatens to dehumanize everyone else as well.
It is very easy to only think of new technology in terms of its benefits to yourself and not to the wider world. The movie seeks to remind us that what might seem like a convenience to the neurotypical is a hindrance and insult to the neurodivergent. Shadow throws this in our face by presenting Mainwaring’s dialogue with subtitles throughout even as she rages that she doesn’t require them as she is speaking English and it is insulting to present her speech as something unintelligible.
Moments of Shadow are uncomfortable and moments are hilarious. The characters are not presented as figures of fun or pity, and the movie never asks that of us, only to listen and understand. An incredibly entertaining movie which is unflinching and eye-opening, while never feeling preachy or condescending.
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers (Robert Macholan)
The Integrity of Joseph Chambers is like a short story told with assured pacing and a fascinating central character who is both oddly relatable and also kept at arm’s length. Joe Chambers is a city boy in the country who wants to go out hunting solo to prove his worth and survival skills in the dangerously unpredictable modern world.
We never really know why Joe decides to do this save for his constant declarations that he needs to provide for his family. Really, he is, like Steve Glew, confused about what being a man is. He’s watched too many John Wayne movies and maybe been called a city boy too many times so decides that to be a husband and father means being able to kill an animal all by himself, even though everyone around him disagrees and thinks he needs to learn more about hunting first.
Clayne Crawford’s central performance as Joe dominates the movie as he appears in every scene, and a lot of those are silent shots of Joe moving through the forest gradually getting more and more bored by his adventure until disaster strikes and he is faced with a moral quandary that tests his titular integrity. It is a broad performance that varies between intense, vocal freak outs and long silent close-ups of a face that’s struggling to make big decisions.
Not much happens in the movie if I’m being perfectly honest, but it is engrossing nonetheless as it presents us with a simple dilemma and two possible outcomes. It is a fascinating movie about a man who wants to do the right thing in an abstract fantastical way then gets asked to do the right thing in a concrete inescapable way, and we’re along with him every step of the journey.
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