The immense Sydney Film Festival program was launched last week and, if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely spent the better part of a week agonising over which films you’re going to see this year. Or maybe you actually have a life.
Either way, you can probably use some help with sifting through the hundreds of films on the program, and seeing as though I have spent the last week reading the program cover to cover I figured I could be the one to help you out.
Before I go on however let me be clear that this list won’t be featuring the big name films you’ve likely already heard of, like Spike Lee’s Blackkklansman (2018) or opening night film The Breaker Uppers (2018), or anything else that is likely to get a mainstream release, despite how excited I may be to see them. The following list dives a little deeper into the festival program to highlight my 10 must see films of the 2018 Sydney Film Festival.
Using existing film as fuel, Terror Nullius (2018) is Australian two person art collective Soda_Jerk’s exploration of the nation’s fractured identity. Taking scenes from Australian films and adding in video and audio of public figures such as Pauline Hanson and John Howard, the film has been described as equal parts political satire, eco-horror and road movie, structured as a political revenge tale in three acts that promises to be one of if not the most important Australian work screened at the festival.
A love story set in the Arctic following an isolated couple coping with a changing way of life while yearning for their estranged daughter, director Milko Lazaroz’s second film looks to be one of the most visually stunning of the festival. Screening in competition, be sure to grab tickets for this before they sell out.
Touch Me Not
An unflinching look at sexuality, attraction and intimacy, Adina Pintilie directs and stars in the film, which won the Golden Bear at Berlin. Beginning as Pintilie works on a video essay with Laura (Laura Benson), a middle-aged Englishwoman who’s unable to allow herself physical pleasure, the film then embarks on a tale of experimentation and self discovery that is inspiring, unnerving and remarkable.
The Seen & Unseen
Exquisitely shot and featuring minimal dialogue, The Seen & Unseen (2017) is Indonesian director Kamila Andini’s follow up to her acclaimed debut The Mirror Never Lies (2011). Focusing on twins Tantri and Tantra as the latter suffers from a brain tumour and can no longer communicate, the film explores a supernatural bond between the siblings as linked in spirit they perform shadow puppet plays and songs about Balinese goddesses and demons. Also in official competition, Andini’s film promises to be one of the most enchanting on the program.
A young photographer falls in love with a sex worker, set in the 1980s against the backdrop of a US military camp in South Korea. Especially poignant given recent developments in the region, director Jeon Soo-il’s sobering snapshot of youth, love and South Korean life during the dark days of of the south’s own and now often forgotten dictatorship is one of the most interesting films screening out of competition.
Brazilian co-directors Felipe Matzembacher and Marcio Reolon zero in on the intersection of sexuality and isolation in the social media age with their second feature. Following tormented and repressed cam boy Pedro – who only feels alive when inhabiting his online neon paint smeared persona ‘Neon Boy’ – the directors explore desire and identity when Pedro unwittingly finds connection through the online world.
The first Kenyan film selected for the Canes Film Festival and banned in its home country, Rafiki is a lesbian love story told against the vibrant backdrop of Nairobi. As much about the social expectations and traditions of Kenyan society as it is about the blossoming attraction between leads Kena and Ziki, director Wanuri Kahiu showcases both the electric atmosphere of Nairobi and its changing citizenry with distinctive flair.
3 Days In Quiberon
One for fans of mid century cinema, this German/Austrian production directed by Emily Atef is a portrait of European cinema superstar of her age Romy Schneider, played by Marie Baumer. Shot in elegant black and white and recreating the star’s seminal final interview, the film takes place over three days in a spa in the village of Quiberon in 1981 as Schneider seeks to escape the pressures of her life, with a German magazine journalist and photographer there to capture it.
I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story
Part of the Sounds On Screen program at the festival, Jessica Leski’s documentary shows the coming of age of four women united by their fanatical love of boy bands; Backstreet Boys, One Direction, Take That and The Beatles. Encompassing three generations of boyband fangirl-ism, reflected in the various bands each subject idolises, the film looks at how their fandom shaped their relationships and their attitudes to faith, sexuality and more.
Saving the best ’til last on this wildly varied list, 24 Frames (2017) is the final film from the great Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. Promising to be one of the most challenging films on the program for audiences expecting traditional narrative films, the work is a dialogue between photography and cinema that asks where the boundary between the artforms lies, with every image a stunning work of art in themselves.
Now this festival was always going to be too big for this article so here below in list form are some more films well worth a look. Be sure to check out the festival’s documentary and short film programs along with the retrospective on famed Finnish director Aki Karuasmaki and the festival’s selection of restored classics, especially, A Brighter Summer Day (1991), God’s Gift (1982) and The Marriage of Maria Braun (1979).
Daughter Of Mine (in competition)
A young girl is torn between the woman who raised her and the woman who may have given birth to her in this Sardinia-set meditation on family and motherhood.
Wajib (in competition)
A comic drama about Palestinians living in Israel
Four people’s lives are interconnected as they seek to leave their Chinese hometown.
A coming of age tale of a young boy moving to Paris for film school.
The makers of Kenny (2006) return with a comedy about two brothers planning the perfect murder.
Absurdist Turkish comedy about three estranged siblings brought together by their dying father.
1980s set stylish Yakuza thriller about a hard boiled cop a by the numbers rookie and a brutal turf war.
A young Iranian man living in Denmark seduces women in the hopes of securing his residence.
A characteristically colourful documentary on Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama.
Fact and fiction are blurred in this investigation into the assassination of two Indian folk singers.
Love, lust and youth take centre stage in Abdellatif Kechiche’s follow up to his Palme d’Or winning Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Dark comedy about a blacklisted Iranian filmmaker who is outraged at being excluded when a serial killer starts killing famous directors.
A stylish and at times satirical film noir about an actress who forms a partnership with scuzzy hitman Guy to get rid of her impotent and abusive French husband.
An all singing all dancing rock opera about the darkest days of the Marcos dictatorship in The Philippines. Based on true events.
Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack, SFF 2015) returns to the festival with this portrait of a squad of cooler-than-you New York skater girls.
The latest effort from Sebastian Silva (The Maid, SFF 2009; Nasty Baby, SFF 2015) follows Tyler (Jason Mitchell, Straight Outta Compton) as the only African American on a wild weekend with white boys that has been described by Variety as Get Out without the horror.
Masculinity and sexuality are explored in this coming of age tale of three brothers growing up in rural New York that has drawn comparisons to Moonlight (2016) for its authentic performances and impressionist flair.