The Best of MIFF 2014

Blogged by: MIFF 17 Aug 2014 View comments

The One I Love

It’s tricky to talk about how great this film is without spoiling what makes it so. The premise sounds simple on the surface: a couple, Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) and Ethan (Mark Duplass), are seeing a marriage counsellor to overcome the effect his infidelity has had on their relationship. Their therapist, played by Ted Danson, suggests they spend a weekend at an expansive country retreat. He tells them every couple who has stayed there has come back feeling more in love than they’ve ever been. All of this happens within the first five minutes of the film, and what follows after Ethan and Sophie arrive at their retreat will blow their minds and yours.

‘The One I Love’ played during MIFF’s opening weekend, and there’s a good reason everyone is still talking about it now, long after the credits have rolled and we’re left wondering just who Ethan and Sophie became over that spooky weekend.

Doll & Em

Real-life best friends Dolly Wells and Emily Mortimer star as slightly more competitive and antagonistic versions of themselves in this television series, that screened in full as part of MIFF’s Big Scene – Small Screen program stream. Em is a Hollywood actress working on a film that’s being billed as “the female ‘Godfather’” when she gets a call from her childhood best friend Doll, who’s just left her deadbeat boyfriend in the pair’s native London. Em invites Doll to come to LA and act as her personal assistant while she’s working on the film. But this perfectly timed solution soon raises both women’s insecurities and emotional failings.

It’s a joy to see this pair rubbing shoulders with stars like Susan Sarandon, Chloe Sevigny and John Cusack, their excitement barely covering the simmering dissatisfaction both of them feel. It’s so rare to see women’s friendships on the screen, and rarer still to see depictions of friendships that straddle the line between competitive and dependant, caring and combustible. ‘Doll & Em’ isn’t a glossy BFF bracelet; it shows a friendship with all the lumps and bumps and history that make women’s relationships so strong and valuable.

Happy Christmas

Director Joe Swanberg has made 16 films in his nine-year career, and with each one he matures as a writer, director and person. Swanberg is a big believer in making films to help make sense of the world, and as he’s grown up, got married and raised a child, his films have reflected these new, adult life experiences.

His latest, ‘Happy Christmas’, sees Swanberg play Jeff, a filmmaker dad in Chicago. His wife, Kelly (Melanie Lynskey) is a writer who has had no time to write since the birth of their son Jude (played by Joe’s scene-stealingly adorable kid), reflecting the dynamic between the real-life Swanbergs – Joe’s wife Kris is also a filmmaker, and appears in many of his films. When Jeff’s sister Jenny (Anna Kendrick) shows up on their doorstep following a breakup with her boyfriend, Jess and Kelly let her crash in their basement, but it’s not long before Jenny’s behaviour makes the couple realise that Jude is not the only misbehaving kid in the house.

‘Happy Christmas’ deals with modern issues – stunted adulthood, working mothers, forgetting your laptop charger – in a truly Swanbergian way: by having the actors improvise long, organic and often hilarious conversations about being a human. You won’t find any CGI creatures or big budget explosions in his work – what Swanberg offers are honest, thoughtful and wry observations on life.

Appropriate Behavior

After breaking up with her girlfriend Maxine, Shirin (played by Desiree Akhavan, who also wrote and directed) finds herself floundering as she attempts to navigate her new life as the semi-closeted bisexual daughter of Persian parents. She moves into a ramshackle Brooklyn loft with an irritatingly zen couple, and finds a job teaching animation to young boys who could care less. It’s her brother’s announcement that he’s asked his perfect Persian girlfriend to marry him that drives Shirin to the brink to adult rebellion. Little does she know that what she thinks comes across as “why bother trying?” actually looks more like “trying so hard to appear like I don’t care, when I actually care so deeply”.

The story of Shirin and Maxine’s relationships is told through a series of flashbacks (and one post-breakup confrontation), which intersperse Shirin’s disastrous attempts to reconcile her conflicting identities – as a Persian woman, as a bisexual. In ‘Appropriate Behavior’, Akhavan has created a story about the pressure to be a perfect women and the power in saying you don’t know how to become that.


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