Melbourne-based film scholar and critic Alexandra Heller-Nicholas was a gracious guest of last year’s festival. Her Italian horror “Giallo” genre expertise was on display in a panel discussion of The Duke of Burgundy (Strickland) and The Strange Colour of Your Body’s Tears (Cattet, Forzani). She also gave passionate introductions to these films.
Alex has kindly shared her Top 5 picks for this year’s festival, with a pair of stylish art-horror films leading her list. For more of her musings on the intersection of film form and the horror genre, check out her new book on Dario Argento’s Giallo masterpiece Suspiria.
When it had a festival run in Australia in 2007, Anna Biller’s sexploitation feature Viva felt like a movie that couldn’t get wilder, glossier, or more vivacious. Enter The Love Witch nine years later, however, and Biller’s craft—not only as director, but as writer, editor, set and costume designer—and it retrospectively feels now that with Viva she was only just beginning. An ecstatic, funny film, The Love Witch is also breathtakingly beautiful (shot, no less, on 35mm to maintain the film’s retro vibe). It also importantly has a sharp critical agenda that is distinctly feminist: rejecting simplistic “Go Team Woman!” sloganeering for a politic that works well beyond essentialist cliché, The Love Witch is an extraordinary film, and Biller an extraordinary director.
It is no understatement to suggest that there has been great anticipation for the follow-up to Lucile Hadžihalilović’s Innocence, her 2004 adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s 1903 novella Mine-Haha, or On the Bodily Education of Young Girls. For myself, I feel that I have only now—over ten years later—satisfactorily recovered enough from the sheer aesthetic and conceptual force of Hadžihalilović’s debut to face another of her films. Focusing again with her unique, unparalleled vision on the liminal space of pre-pubescence, Hadžihalilović maintains her dedication to a fantastic imaginary while this time shifting her attention from young girls to young boys. With Hadžihalilović, however, even such traditional binaries as “gender” are fundamentally up for grabs, making Evolution one of the year’s most gripping, poignant and beautiful movies.
It’s hard to pick one film that is truly representative of the great talent that is French artist and filmmaker Agnès Varda, but her 1962 film Cléo from 5 to 7 would certainly have to be in the running. The plot, at first at least, is simple: as the title indicates, it follows Florence “Cléo” Victoire (Corinne Marchand) across two hours one afternoon as she waits to find out if she has cancer. But the film is uniquely executed with an energy that can only be described as somehow fundamentally ‘Vardaian’: it explodes off the screen with a warmth and thoughtfulness that permeates all of this remarkable director’s output. For film nerds, there’s also the added bonus of cameos by fellow French New Wave darlings Jean-Luc Godard, Anna Karina and Jean-Claude Brialy.
Considering how little known her name is beyond a devout group of Australian cinephiles, there can be little doubt that in film culture terms, Margot Nash is a national treasure. With a number of directorial credits under her belt—short films, documentaries and feature films—these all inform Nash’s documentary The Silences, as the director traces her unapologetically frank, sincere and deeply personal relationship with her family, her mother in particular. Recalling themes and fascinations that run through her earlier work like Vacant Possession (1995), Nash explores the influence of her early life upon who she became as an adult—both as an artist and as a human being—with profoundly moving results.
I first came to Laurie Anderson through what can loosely be described as her music, although her practice has always been informed by what we now might reduce simplistically to the notion of “interdisciplinary”. Anderson has long worked across music, film, art, multimedia and writing with an experimental drive that rightly marks her place as one of the key figures of the American avant-garde. For those who have seen Anderson’s live performances, her love of dogs comes as no surprise, and Heart of a Dog expands her relationship with the late Lolabelle across fictional and documentary borders, touching as it does so on broader issues about mortality and what life means for a New York artist like Anderson after 9/11.