ALEXANDER BISLEY on several NZIFF highlights the Melbourne International Film Festival will be inheriting.

THE excellent Melbourne International Film Festival, hot on the heels of New Zealand International Film Festival’s, kicks off Friday. Heading across the Tasman from New Zealand screens: 35 Shots of Rum, a very appealing, sensuous Claire Denis film (Beau Travail, The Intruder) about widowed Parisian train driver Lionel (Alex Descas) and his daugher Josephine (Mati Diop). It’s Denis homage’s to Ozu, her mother, and her Brazilian grandfather. 35 Shots poignantly tracks Lionel’s emotions as Josephine’s romance with Noe (Gregoire Colin) blossoms. Lionel’s admiration for his daughter is varied with nervousness as he reflects on her moving away from him. As he tells his struggling friend Rene: “She keeps my dark thoughts at bay.” When I interviewed Denis she talked tenderly about Descas, Diop, Paris’ Afro-Caribbean community and her mother being the first to see 35 Shots. “Of course she recognised parts of her own experience. I think she was very moved. But my mother is not a woman who shows too much emotion.” Claire Denis will appear in conversation with The Age’s Philippa Hawker. Ninety minutes up close.

Tyson haunted my night’s sleep, it’s that intense and primal a documentary. Iron Mike cut an imposing figure in the ring. In Tyson the ferocious boxer, resplendent with a forceful Maori moko, remains a commanding, unsettling figure. James Toback (Fingers) has hyper-masculine films in his DNA. In Tyson (better called Tyson on Tyson) “The Baddest Man on the Planet” rawly opens up. Iron Mike chokes up and cries talking about Cus D’Amato, the Italian-American trainer who helped him harness his rage and become the champ. The case against Tyson, such as his conviction for raping Desiree Washington, has often been made. Tyson maintains his innocence on the Washington charge, but admits abusing women and apologises for it. He talks about how scary jail is. He points out men on life sentences without the possibility of parole can’t get further punishment so utter depravity results. Tyson was a New York streetkid. From age twelve he robbed drug dealers with guns, Omar style. His childhood friends are either dead, in jail, or strung- out to the point a normal life is far from possible.

Tyson shares palpable affection for his six kids and Cus D’Amato. Others receive pungent insults. Don King: “He’s supposed to be my black brother,” Tyson mockingly fist-pumps. “He’s just a wretched, slimy, reptilian motherfucker. He’d kill his own mother for a dollar.” Tyson is handsomely produced and features arresting footage of the first heavyweight to at-once own all three major belts (WBA, WBC and IBF) knock out legends Trevor Berbick, Larry Holmes, Michael Spinks and Henry Tillman. Then there’s his losses to Buster Douglas, Evander Hollyfield, Lennox Lewis and Kevin McBride. Other sport documentaries at Melbourne: Thrilla in Manilla tells Joe Frazier’s story; Maradona by Kusturica, the Argentine soccer player’s story.

Does the French New Wave have a sexier icon than Anna Karina? Nine of her films will screen including Godard classics Alphaville, A Woman is a Woman and Pierrot Le Fou. Also features Karina’s 2008 Victoria, a French Canadian musical road trip. Anna Karina will talk over her brilliant career with David Stratton. In World Premiere Blessed, seven kids wander Australia’s streets, adapted from the play Who’s Afraid of the Working Class? Blessed stars Look Both Ways’ terrific, avuncular William McInnes.

Further highlights: from Korea, Mother, Thirst and The Chaser (NZIFF 2009). Also promising: Breathless, Like You Know It All and Land of Scarecrows. On the Northern Front: Kimjonglia and A Schoogirl’s Diary.

Fish Tank, Andrea Arnold’s Red Road follow-up was one of the most arresting catches at Cannes this year, winning the Grand Jury Prize (Silver Medal).

Baltasar Kormákur, director of the palpable, slashingly atmospheric Jar City, is back with White Night Wedding. Inspired by Almodovar, Allen and Chekhov, through Baltasar’s distinctive Icelandic lens.

The Hurt Locker: “The best nondocumentary American feature made yet about the war in Iraq.”—The New York Times

Wild Cards: Eros + Massacre retrospective (maverick Japanese cinema from the 60s); Love Exposure (contemporary Japanese provocation, an Auckland exclusive at this year’s NZIFF).

Other films to go West from the New Zealand International Film Festival which The Lumière Reader has reviewed to date: The Beaches of Agnes, Bluebeard, The Cove, Dogtooth, Eccentricities of a Blond Hair Girl, Examined Life, A Lake, The September Issue, Theater of War, Thirst, Treeless Mountain, Van Diemen’s Land, Waiting for Sancho, We Live in Public.