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6 films that ruled the first weekend of MIFF, and how you can get to see them

Call Me By Your Name
Photograph: Supplied Call Me By Your Name

1 Call Me By Your Name

Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name so successfully transported shivering MIFF audiences to a hot, lazy summer in northern Italy they practically got sunburn. Based on André Aciman’s 2007 novel, this coming-of-age gay romance follows 17-year-old American-Italian Elio (Timothée Chalamet) who, while holidaying with his family at their vacation home in Italy in the 1980s, meets Oliver (played wonderfully by Armie Hammer), a 24-year-old doctoral student hired by Elio’s father to help with academic paperwork. The mutual attraction between Elio and Oliver is awkward and painfully real to anyone who’s ever fallen head first into summer love. This is without a doubt Chalamet’s film. He holds his own beside Hammer’s Adonis frame, flitting between three languages with ease. Guadagnino, who is a guest of this year’s MIFF, has made a funny, heartbreaking and triumphant film, already being lauded as the film of the festival. Sit tight: Sony Pictures are releasing it on Boxing Day. Rebecca Russo

2 On Body and Soul

It came armed with a host of international awards, including the $60,000 Sydney Film Prize, and it did not disappoint. Hungarian drama On Body and Soul portrays a romance between two lonely employees of a Budapest slaughterhouse who discover that they are sharing simultaneous dreams in which they are a stag and a doe inhabiting a snowy forest. Endre is the abattoir’s ageing financial director and Maria is the clever new quality inspector who is somewhere on the autism spectrum. Compassionately framed but nonetheless graphic images of the killing of cows contrast with the tender awakening of Endre and Maria to an attraction that has a spiritual dimension. Writer-director Ildiko Enyedi takes this magic realist scenario in directions that are blackly comedic, wedding the mysteries of the heart with the inescapable mess of human corporeality. Rescreens Sun Aug 13Nick Dent 

 3 Invention for Destruction

MIFF 2017’s focus on science fiction classics got off to an extraordinary start with this black-and-white 1958 fantasy from Czechoslovakia. Karel Zeman’s film is based on Jules Verne’s writing and has a unique visual aesthetic designed to resemble the steel engravings that illustrate Verne’s books. Set in a retro-futuristic Victorian age with submarines, airships, and electricity, it tells the story of a scientist and his assistant kidnapped by a villainous Baron and taken to his hideout inside an island volcano to work on a weapon of mass destruction. Zeman uses stop-motion puppets, in-camera tricks and paper-cutout sets seamlessly combined with live action to create theatrical illusions in the style of George Meliès. Hailed as the first steampunk film, Invention to Destruction is also clearly influential on Terry Gilliam – both his Monty Python animations and his feature films such as Time Bandits, Brazil and Baron Munchausen. Just check out the trailer below. ND 

4 Wonderstruck

Todd Haynes was always going to have a challenge matching his masterful Carol, and if Wonderstruck is a little disappointing it’s mainly because its story of connections spanning across time and the search for a lost father doesn’t have the same emotional oomph. What it does have is visual splendour, recreating New York during both the roaring ’20s and the grimy, disco-fuelled ’70s – the former shot like a black-and-white silent movie, so there’s no confusion when Haynes cuts between the two stories every couple of minutes. In 1927 a deaf girl (Millicent Simmonds, deaf in real life) cuts loose from her father’s mansion and heads to the big city to get a glimpse of the silent movie star (Julianne Moore) she’s obsessed with. In 1977, an orphaned boy (Oakes Fegley from Pete’s Dragon), recovering from an accident, flees his hospital bed to follow clues about his parentage. Both kids end up at the American Museum of Natural History, with its dinosaurs, meteorites and famous dioramas of animals in the wild.

In joining the dots between these two kids Haynes demonstrates mastery over technique, especially late in the film when the story is taken over by beautifully made sets and figures made from paper cut outs. Like Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, the film is based on an illustrated novel by Brian Selznick, and infused with an obsessive love of puzzles, dusty shelves and old letters hidden in the pages of books. It may be a little twee for some, but worth catching in its repeat screening on August 13. ND

5 Golden Exits

“People never make films about ordinary people who don’t really do anything,” Emily Browning’s character, Naomi, muses ironically at one point in Golden Exits. Alex Ross Perry’s film is a slow-burning drama set in Brooklyn that revolves around the lives of dissatisfied characters played by an ensemble cast featuring Browning, Chloe Sevigny, Mary-Louise Parker, Jason Schwartzman and Adam Horovitz from the Beastie Boys. None of the characters are likeable, and are blissfully oblivious to their privilege and unhappy about their lives, although none of them ever does anything about it.

Nick (Horovitz) is a middle-aged archivist whose wife Alyssa (Sevigny) no longer trusts him following a long-ago affair. He hires the ravishing Australian Naomi as an assistant, and seems to spend half the film gazing longingly at the back of her neck. The film, shot in grainy 16mm, makes Brooklyn in spring look like a languorous dream. Savour the many lingering close-ups into the actors’ faces, as well as the melancholy piano-led soundtrack by Keegan DeWitt. If you fancy getting lost in a beautifully photographed world, catch it at the repeat screening on August 16. Delima Shanti

6 City of Ghosts

Documentarian Matthew Heineman turns the camera onto those fighting ISIS with citizen journalism in City of Ghosts. Activists operating under the name ‘Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently’ (RBSS), are risking everything to distribute footage of ISIS’s barbaric stronghold to the world. RBSS teams, armed with phones and laptops, work from safe houses in Germany and Turkey, receiving daily updates of bombings and killings, often having to view the executions of their own loved ones as warnings from ISIS who are continually narrowing in on their location and identities.

Whilst witnessing the merciless slaughter of opponents to ISIS’s self-declared caliphate and the lengths these improvised journalists are going through to release the truth, you need to constantly remind yourself that this is occurring in the same world we currently live in. Many audience members were left stunned after the curtains were drawn. This film is an incredibly powerful testament to a courageous group of people and a call to action for Western powers. Brave viewers will will have to steel themselves for the film’s repeat screening on August 20. Jenny Vu

MIFF continues until August 20.

Read our coverage of opening night at MIFF 2017.

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