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Heaven Knows What (2014) – Joshua and Benny Safdie
A still from Heaven Knows What (2014)Courtesy of Viennale

What's next in indie film?

From Ferrara's take on Pasolini to Godard's hyper-coloured 3D experiment, here are our Viennale picks

More cinemagoers were watching indie maverick director Abel Ferrara than the screen as he sat in the audience shouting along to a John Ford western at this year’s Vienna International Film Festival, where he’d ducked into the theatre for a retrospective screening while in town to present his new film. Classic moments aside, the Viennale is known for its young audience and uncompromising flair, and has much of the best in new cinema on tap. Here are our picks from the fortnight-long fest.

BIRDMAN (2014)

Alejandro González Iñárritu’s frenetic and masterfully shot satire of the American showbiz industry follows a bunch of self-involved actors, including the washed-up former star of a superhero franchise (Michael Keaton), trying to get their shit together in time for a the opening night of a Broadway play amid neuroses and flights of fantasy. Emma Stone, Ed Norton, Naomi Watts and Zach Galifianakis also star in the multi-layered madness.


Berberian Sound Studio (2012) director Peter Strickland channels the hyper-stylised, surreal look of 70s Italian horrors such as Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) in this innovative and irreverently witty take on the difficulty of keeping love's flame alive. Drudgery is setting into the S&M relationship of butterfly professor Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) and her live-in lover Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna), as the demands of role-play wear thin.


The last hours in the life of Pier Paolo Pasolini are captured in impressions and a heady dose of artistic license in kindred troublemaker Abel Ferrara’s portrait of the wild-living Italian arthouse director and writer, who insisted that “to scandalise is a right”, and who’d just finished shooting his hugely controversial Salo, or 120 Days of Sodom (1975) when he was murdered on a beach.


Tapping into a tradition of raw, indie New York street films from Ferrara’s The Driller Killer (1979) to Jerry Schatzberg’s The Panic in Needle Park (1971) is the latest from brothers Joshua and Benny Safdie. A gritty tale of love between two struggling young junkies living a moment-to-moment existence, it’s based on the experience of star and former addict Arielle Holmes, and also stars Caleb Landry Jones.


Visually sublime and melancholy, this hallucinatory fever poem on the anguish of history and its collective traumas (AKA the freaky shit you see in Lisbon elevators when your mind checks out and infirmity reigns) is pure Pedro Costa, the Portuguese rock star of auteur cinema.


Miles Teller plays a jazz drumming hopeful at a New York music school who’s under the tuition of a bullying whack-job with a violent aversion to the merely “good” in director Damien Chazelle’s all-out, knuckle-bleeding, over-the-top portrayal of how far some musicians will go to realise their ambitions – if they don’t crack under the pressure.


The devil is in the details of human behaviour in Swedish director Ruben Östlund’s wickedly hilarious and brilliantly original Cannes-awarded latest. To outward appearances, Tomas is a successful, model family man – until his instinctual reaction to a freak incident on a skiing holiday calls into question what kind of man he really is.


Idlewild Island, “where the men are idle and the women are wild”, is the setting for the short Getting His Goat, a bizarre and comical 20s American porn film in which three women gain the upper hand (and some cash) through inventive, bawdy trickery. It was one of a number of oddities, from Hillbillies Frolics (the 30s Trash Humpers?) to a Betty Page number, all shot on 16mm and gathered into a set of erotic filmmaking shorts through the decades.


Jean-Luc Godard is, at age 83, still going strong – and showing he’s still ahead of the craft with the most inventive exploration of 3D technology yet brought to the screen. The French maestro’s playful, hyper-coloured experiment is a vibrant and funny mesh of fragments and impressions that features lovers and a dog but, as its title suggests, defies easy explanation.

PHOENIX (2014)

A smoky noir world of disguise, betrayal, and Vertigo-style wardrobes is the setting for German director Christian Petzold’s stylishly crafted latest. Set in a ravaged 40s Berlin of cabaret bars and rubble, it stars Nina Hoss as a former singer and camp survivor plunged into a plot of identity deception involving her former husband. The last scene will kill you.