Macao may be renowned for gambling, but the 4th International Film Festival & Awards of Macao (IFFAM) features more than a few sure bets. Oscar-watchers should look out for Taika Waititi’s opening film “Jojo Rabbit”; Rupert Goold’s biopic of Judy Garland, “Judy,” which looks likely to land Renée Zellweger a best actress nomination; and Terrence Malick’s quiet meditation on faith and conscientious objection, “A Hidden Life.”
Meanwhile, likely too rich for Oscar’s blood, Robert Eggers’ uncategorizable “The Lighthouse,” starring Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe, is a wholly original experience — imagine if Herman Melville had scurvy and got drunk with Edgar Allan Poe.
Elsewhere, the guiding curatorial hand of IFFAM Artistic Director Mike Goodridge makes itself especially felt in the selection from China, which includes Gu Xiaogang’s sprawling, inter-generational Edward Yang-indebted “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains”; Johnny Ma’s tribute to the Chinese theatrical tradition “To Live To Sing”; Diao Yinan’s sumptuous noir “The Wild Goose Lake”; and Pema Tseden’s gorgeously evocative modern fable “Balloon.”
There are also two massive hits on offer: Andrew Lau’s “The Captain,” based on a real-life near-disaster in the air; and Derek Tsang’s superb “Better Days,” a stirring exploration of bullying in a Chinese high school, that is, incidentally, produced by the president of the IFFAM 2019 Jury, Peter Chan Ho-Sun. “Better Days” star Zhou Dongyu, no coincidence, is also Macao’s actress in focus.
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Chan and his jury have a cutting-edge lineup of first and second films to watch and discuss, for those excited to roll the dice on lesser-known quantities. The risk-averse, meanwhile, can rely on a guaranteed return from unassailable classics such as François Truffaut’s “The 400 Blows,” Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up” and Yasujiro Ozu’s “Tokyo Story.” And lovers of exquisite pictorial cinematography cannot miss the brand-new restoration of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s “Flowers of Shanghai” on the big screen. For the next six days, there’s so much to (re)discover in IFFAM’s cinemas, you almost feel sorry for the casinos.