Irish Film Review: The Last Right

DIR/WRI: Aoife Crehan • DOP: Shane F. Kelly • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Pippa Cross, Paul Donovan, Casey Herbert • MUS: Gary Lightbody • DES: Neill Treacy • CAST: Brian Cox, Michiel Huisman, Colm Meaney

The Last Right involves two disparate passengers sat beside each other on a flight to Ireland who subsequently become connected by a shared surname and grief. Daniel Murphy is flying home for his mother’s funeral and Padraig Murphy is returning for his brother’s funeral. The latter is his brother’s only next of kin, and when Padraig passes away on the flight, it’s assumed Daniel is of the same Murphy family and the responsibilities for Padraig and his brother’s funerals fall upon Daniel. With his younger autistic brother Louis and his friend Mary in tow, Daniel embarks upon a reluctant road trip to bury Padraig and his brother together, despite a misunderstanding embroiling them in a police chase.

Aoife Crehan’s directorial debut is an impressive study on grief and isolation. Daniel (Michiel Huisman) and Padraig (Jim Norton) cross paths due to their respective losses within their families and their isolation stems from choice and circumstance. Daniel lives abroad whilst Padraig lost contact with his brother. Daniel has a fractured relationship with Louis (Samuel Bottomley) and wants to uproot Louis from Clonakilty to an autistic-focused boarding school in New York. The tension within their new family dynamic is eased with Mary’s (Niamh Algar) presence and in her encouragement of a road trip in bringing Padraig’s budgie-adorned cardboard coffin to the very north of Ireland to his intended resting place.

Niamh Algar is experiencing a stellar 2019 with remarkable performances in Shane Meadows’s The Virtues and Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual; displaying multifaceted characterisations in both. In The Last Right, Algar’s Mary is crucial in deflecting tension between Daniel and Louis and in burying Padraig alongside his brother. According to Mary, the relationship between Daniel and Louis “is more Eastenders than Rain Man”, and she offers levity despite her own vulnerabilities masked by her cheery exterior. Huisman is also adept in performing a character maintaining face despite numerous personal challenges. Bottomley impressively manages to portray both the subtleties of Louis’s autism and his emotionally-charged difficulties. 

Colm Meaney also appears as Detective Crowley who attempts to prevent Daniel from burying Padraig due to a mix-up as a result of Louis refusing to inform Daniel he was relieved from his duties as Padraig’s surrogate next of kin. Meaney is essentially reprising his character from Intermission in an alternate universe and he offers lighter tonal elements to the narrative. He’s then involved in an enjoyable sequence with the road trippers via a phone-in to The Joe Duffy Show in an attempt to negotiate with the runaway coffin ‘thieves’.

The lighter tonal moments are necessary but at times the film doesn’t know what film it’s striving to become with them and some sequences are also almost too stage play-esque. It could be an Intermission-type film with its lighter moments but Crehan does, however, manage to create a cohesive tonal blend much like 2014’s Calvary. The cinematography is effective at capturing a rugged coastline/island aesthetic that works in tandem with the theme of isolation and grief. The isolation applies to Louis and his autism but Crehan succeeds in conveying that he is not unique in being an alienated character and he experiences similar emotions to those around him. For Mary, she appears strong and confident, but she’s in a professional and personal rut, much like Daniel, who struggles to involve Louis in his own life.

Overall, The Last Right is a thoughtful approach to grief and isolation with sadness and humour that will ultimately offer hope for its characters. It’s an unexpected road trip full of heartbreak, humour and human kindness. Aoife Crehan has helmed a film that will make you eager to see what she creates next.

Liam Hanlon

@Liam_Hanlon

106′ 39″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Last Right is released 6th December 2019

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Review: Ordinary Love

DIR: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn • WRI: Owen McCafferty • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Nick Emerson • DES: Nigel Pollock • PRO: David Holmes, Piers Tempest • MUS: David Holmes, Brian Irvine • CAST: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot 

Married for over 30 years, Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are enjoying their life together – going on walks by the sea to stay fit and bickering at the shops. But when Joan finds a lump in her breast, the couple have to decide how to manage her diagnosis and move forward. The film examines the quiet perseverance and strength of normal people in extraordinary circumstances. 

Ordinary Love shows every stage of diagnosis, from finding a lump, to receiving a hospital appointment, mammogram, biopsy and upper body scan. I think this will be of a huge comfort to people in years to come. Whether it’s someone close to you or a friend of a friend, breast cancer affects a staggering number of people (1 in 9 according to Breast Cancer Ireland) and having this film as a starting point will serve people well. Choosing to show every part of the diagnosis is authentic and important. It’s worth noting that McCafferty drew inspiration from a personal place, as his wife survived breast cancer treatment.

While undergoing treatment, Joan begins to come out of her shell and talk to other patients. Bringing in minor characters this way is a masterful move by scriptwriter Owen McCafferty, as these moments change Joan’s perspective and present different experiences of chemo and cancer.

It’s great to see a story purely focused on a middle-aged couple on the big screen for a change. Lesley Manville, of Phantom Thread fame, is phenomenal and carries the role with charm and ease. Neeson is fantastic as the supportive husband, his normal accent adding a level of authenticity to the role. 

Cinematographer Piers McGrail constructs careful shots that catch your eye and bring beauty to everyday moments. His shot composition draws attention to difficult moments for the characters. You see the characters deal with these huge concepts of life and death while still managing to get on with the weekly shop. 

You’ll come out of the cinema with a new sense of how to live. You’ll remember to enjoy the little things: the cup of coffee with a friend, petty arguments, the walk beside the sea. Life is made up of so many of these moments you can enjoy if you decide to. Ordinary Love serves as a reminder to keep living, laughing and enjoying human connection. Co-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn have created a film that’ll last a lifetime, and any film that encourages people to check for lumps is good in my book.

Aoife O’Ceallachain

92′ 8″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Ordinary Love is released 6th December 2019

Ordinary Love – Official Website

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Ruth Barton, Author of ‘Irish Cinema in the Twenty-First Century’

In this podcast, Natasha Waugh talks to Ruth Barton about her latest book Irish Cinema in the Twenty-First Century, a comprehensive overview of contemporary Irish cinema.

In this in-depth discussion, amongst other things, Natasha and Ruth discuss

  • what makes an Irish film
  • preoccupations within Irish cinema
  • a multiplicity of filmmakers making a multiplicity of films
  • TV
  • the success of the animation industry
  • gender representation
  • short film
  • Northern Irish cinema
  • the lack of diversity in the industry
  • what’s next for Irish cinema

 

 

Ruth Barton is Associate Professor in Film Studies at Trinity College Dublin. She has published widely on Irish cinema and her works include Irish National Cinema (2004) and Acting Irish in Hollywood (2006). She is a regular film critic on RTÉ radio’s Arena.

 Irish Cinema in the Twenty-First Century is available to buy now.

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Yellow Bittern

Julie Crowley was at the Cork Film Festival to see Alan Gilsenan’s documentary biopic of Liam Clancy, which celebrates its  tenth anniversary this year.

The Yellow Bittern is a 2009 music documentary about Liam Clancy, of the influential folk music group The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Directed by Alan Gilsenan, the current Film Artist in Residence at UCC, it tells the fascinating story of Clancy’s life and musical career. I was lucky enough to attend the screening at Cork Film Festival in the Gate Cinema, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with director Alan Gilsenan and Carrie Crowley. 

The documentary chronicles Liam Clancy’s life, from his childhood in Carrick-on-Suir to his successful career in America. It combines studio interviews with Clancy, archival concert footage, newsreels, home videos, and personal photographs from the Clancy family. It’s an intimate biopic that gives insights into one of Ireland’s best-loved balladeers.

The group, comprising Paddy, Liam and Tom Clancy, and their friend Tommy Makem, went on to achieve international success that paved the way for other folk artists and played a vital part in the revival of folk music in New York City. The group performed at Greenwich Village and earned a favourable reputation.

Their trademark Aran sweaters were originally a gift from the Clancy siblings’ mother for the cold American winters. Liam Clancy became friendly with Diane Guggenheim, an heiress who developed feelings for him. The documentary team and Clancy returned to the Guggenheim House where he recalled his time there.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961, which brought them to an audience of millions and performing sold out concerts in Carnegie Hall and playing for John F. Kennedy at the White House. They collaborated with famous musicians such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Josh White. Bob Dylan was influenced by the group, describing Liam Clancy as the best ballad singer he had ever heard. In a then-controversial move, they supported the American Civil Rights Movement by performing concerts to raise money for the cause. Clancy also spoke out against the Vietnam War, having witnessed the tragic return of soldiers’ body bags in New York during the war. 

The band released many successful folk songs and ballads over their long, illustrious career, including The Parting Glass, Will Ye Go Lassie Go, Finnegan’s Wake and The Irish Rover. They broke up due to interpersonal conflicts, later reforming successfully in the ’80s. Liam Clancy pursued a solo career and later re-joined Tommy Makem for a series of successful albums and won a Canadian Emmy for his television show.

Clancy speaks about his struggles with alcoholism and panic attacks at the height of their touring success. He became reliant on alcohol to quell nerves, eventually giving it up for his family’s sake. 

The documentary is poignant at times. Many of the people involved in Liam Clancy’s life story have since died. Clancy was the last surviving member of the group at the time the documentary was made. He feels the loss of his comrades and family members, and is conscious of his own mortality. Clancy passed away in 2009 in a Cork hospital, leaving a rich legacy of musical tradition. 

After the Film Festival screening, Gilsenan spoke about his friendship with the late Liam Clancy. They got to know each other well while making the film. He became forthcoming about his life while being interviewed. Gilsenan described the ‘wellspring of two folk traditions’ North and South of the Border, from the mothers of the Clancy Brothers and of Tommy Makem. He spoke about the rediscovery of important footage for the documentary, which they were fortunate to find. Clancy possessed rusty cans of old 16mm film which had never been developed. The film was brought to the Irish Film Institute and developed to reveal never-before-seen footage, including the video of Liam and Kim’s wedding ceremony and the after-party. 

Gilsenan also answered questions about his other features, including his current Ulysses project inspired by Molly Bloom, and his early documentary The Road to God Knows Where. A new edition of The Yellow Bittern is soon to be released. It contains extra footage, including Greenwich Village, interviews with Tommy Makem and a concert with Odetta. I was glad to get the opportunity to see this fantastic film again in a new context. Liam Clancy was a talented singer and musician who is sorely missed. The Yellow Bittern is an important Irish film that chronicles an icon of folk music. 

 

The Yellow Bittern screened on 14th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Last Right

Kimberly Reyes checks in on new Irish comedy-drama The Last Right, Aoife Crehan’s feature debut, which premiered at the Cork Film Festival.

 

There are many reasons why one should not strike up a conversation with a nosey stranger on a long-haul flight. One of them would be ending up with an unwanted corpse to unload. This is the premise of newcomer Aoife Crehan’s comedy drama The Last Right. The film, written and directed by Crehan, plays on the tragedies of each of its character to create a humorous and absurd journey. 

Dutch actor Michiel Huisman has a fresh and alluring onscreen presence as Daniel Murphy, the film’s protagonist, an American who must come back ‘home,’ to Ireland, to deal with some unfinished business. Samuel Bottomley’s performance as the autistic teen Lois (Daniel’s main business) is even more affecting. 

But if you’ve seen Weekend at Bernie’sRain Man and The Legend of Billie Jean, you’ve kind of seen this film already, sans Irish accents and countryside. At points The Last Right is derivative enough to be parody: there’s a scene in which Daniel chases Lois in the rain as Lois runs out of the moving vehicle because he doesn’t feel safe. I sure hope Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman signed off on the tribute. But this scripting of autism doesn’t feel as tight and nuanced as it did in 1988 when Rainman was released, even if Hoffman’s character only represented a small percentage of autistics, as Lois oddly mentions in this film. 

And then there is the tired rom-com trope of a bad boy who keeps messing up after he reveals his dirty secret, which would lead many women to flee, but not his loyal, good-girl, manic pixie dream girl Mary (played by Niamh Algar). This setup is as old as the aforementioned movies the film “borrows” from, and it’s difficult to watch a woman earn a spot in a complicated man’s heart through enduring his meanness in this political climate. Having said that, the onscreen chemistry between Huisman and Algar is palpable. 

The movie shines when it centres on its characters’ lives in Ireland that could only take place in Ireland: a hilarious scene in a chipper, and relatable stories of Irish angst and youth (told as plot-tying reflection that could have been better served as flashback), and of course the stunning scenery of their journey from Clonakilty to Rathlin Island. And the journey’s pacing is entertaining most of the way through but making comedy out of tragedy is an Irish specialty that shouldn’t need to borrow any Americanness.

The Last Right screened on Thursday, 14th November as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

The Last Right is released in Irish cinemas on 6th December 2019.

 

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Review: Portrait of a Lady on Fire @ Cork Film Festival

Sean O’Rourke takes a look at Céline Sciamma’s Portrait of a Lady on Fire.

In a scene midway through Portrait of a Lady on Fire (or Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) the two lead characters, Marianna, and Héloïse, one an artist, the other a lady awaiting her encroaching marriage, point out each other’s habitual gestures and their meanings – a bitten lip that signifies anger, a slightly raised eyebrow that signifies a loss of control. And for the rest of the film, those gestures become highlighted and significant. A raised eyebrow might suddenly seem crucial to our understanding of a scene. We might wonder if a bitten lip means the same thing now as it did when it was first identified, giving us insight into the evolution of these characters. It even begins to seem as though each one starts exhibiting some of the habitual gestures of the other.

We see their points of connection in these increasingly shared gestures and the already accomplished performances of Noémie Merlant and Adèle Haenel become even more meaningful, more revealing. It’s just one example of the excellent plotting done by director Céline Sciamma, who continually begins threads like this that weave their way throughout the film such that each ensuing scene becomes further layered with meaning and emotional resonance. Her skill behind the camera, both as director and screenwriter, is astounding and, on this simple plot, a love story between two women, she paints an astounding portrait of dynamic human connection within societal structures and the possibilities of what those connections might look like when the most harmful of those structures are stripped away. 

The film examines this theme by following Marianna, an artist in the 19th century, who has been sent to an island where she is to paint a wedding portrait of Héloïse, a young aristocrat. This portrait is to be sent away to Héloïse’s future, unknown Milanese husband. The painting of it, therefore, signals a sort of death of liberty for Héloïse. For this reason, inconveniently enough for Marianna, Héloïse refuses to sit for her portrait. Therefore, Marianna begins to befriend Héloïse, all the while covertly and closely observing her, painting her in secret. However, once all remnants of patriarchal control (which hold Héloïse to her coming marriage, hold back Marianna’s career, and police the types of relationships women are able to have with one another) leave the Island temporarily, Marianna and Héloïse are able to connect more and more closely with one another. They form a loving, ever-evolving bond that has a built-in time limit as Marianna’s painting of Héloïse, and indeed Héloïse herself, must soon be shipped away from this temporary utopia to Milan.

Since the film so adeptly and continually builds and displays the complexities of this relationship as I have said, we get the chance to see and deeply feel the building intimacy between these characters. We see this building relationship in an environment that is usually intensely realistic, with close attention to, for example, the realistic details of the act of painting, of clothing oneself, of cooking and eating. Sciamma uses these realistic details to give us tangible insight into how these characters are growing to perceive each other through how they perform these actions – especially through the act of painting where Marianna must constantly adjust how she depicts Héloïse in accordance with her evolving perception of Héloïse. Therefore, it is startling when this realism is occasionally and suddenly intruded on by myth and the uncanny in moments of artistic inspiration, longing, and anxiety, represented in a non-realistic manner. These moments are made all the more notable for being entirely unexpected in the context of the aesthetic of the rest of the film. And yet, these strange, eerie moments feel perfectly at home in the story, bringing us further into these characters’ perspectives, perhaps implying a shifting perception of the world brought on by their shifting perceptions of each other and vice-versa.

Sciamma handles these altering tones so well and uses them to further her insights on gender, class, human connection, and queerness, fully immersing us in this dynamic relationship and its implications. This unique, beautiful, queer, love story seemed to profoundly affect the audience I saw it with at the Cork Film Festival. I can assure you that it has affected me like no other film this year and I sincerely recommend you seek it out as it becomes more widely available in the coming months.

 

Portrait of a Lady on Fire screened on Saturday, 16th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

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Review: The Nightingale

 

DIR/WRI: Jennifer Kent • DOP: Radek Ladczuk • ED: Simon Njoo • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Bruna Papandrea • MUS: Jed Kurzel • CAST: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr

Watching Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is an oppressively confining experience. Nearly every scene seems to almost press in on the film’s protagonist, Clare, a transported Irish convict. Her life in a small Tasmanian settlement is oppressive, appropriate given the near unspeakable trauma she endures there. But even after she leaves for the ostensibly more open Tasmanian wilderness on a revenge mission, that feeling of confinement remains. Walls are replaced with brush that surrounds each scene, making these scenes feel small, cut-off, stifling. There, she meets a guide named Billy, a Tasmanian aboriginal. These two characters are framed by a 1.375:1 aspect ratio (a fancy way of saying that the frame is nearly as tall as it is wide), making it seem as though even the edges of the screen are  pressing inwards on them. And all the while, every random encounter with a colonizer out in the wilderness carries the threat of murder and rape. We are effectively boxed in with these characters, feeling their vulnerability to the British colonial project that surrounds them and constricts, ready to destroy not only their bodies but their identity and any conception they might have of home and belonging. Kent weaponsizes this feeling of confinement expertly, much as she did in her excellent The Babadook, giving us little comfort as we watch this revenge tale unfold. This alone would mark out Kent’s remarkable direction well enough and would give me good reason to recommend the film.

However, there’s more to this tale. There is comfort here. Though both Clare and Billy share English as a common tongue, they both also speak their respective native tongues. Both lead actors are excellent, especially in the moments where they make clear the intensely personal yet expansive cultural significance behind this native speech. In scenes where we witness this, we see a magical confluence between director and actor that suddenly makes these confined scenes feel liberatingingly expansive, not because the scenes become visually more open, but because we can hear and feel the vastness of the cultural identities carried on their voices, indicating something that colonialist violence hasn’t yet been able to completely stifle.

Here, the film displays its remarkable empathetic powers that, when present as they are for the vast majority of the film, make its insights into such heady topics as colonial, social stratification most compelling and its horrific violence most affecting. The scenes that lack this empathy are, therefore, its least effective. The film’s biggest weakness is one of its villains who becomes so evil, so inhuman, that my interest in his scenes waned. Indeed, the most interesting and affecting monstrosities of the film are the ones that are inexcusable, yet feel as though they are being inflicted by people tinged with a horrifying familiarity – who feel human and are thus all the more repulsive for it. In the rare moments when the film lacks this relatability, it loses some of its otherwise tight grip on the senses.

It must also be admitted that the film is quite long and doesn’t maintain the forward momentum it creates for itself in its first half. And yet, I feel that this is not actually a weakness. The film needs some downtime to convincingly expand its central conflict beyond that of a standard revenge thriller. It is as the complex, touching central relationship between Clare and Billy evolves alongside the film’s very plot structure that we might best see just how strong this script really is. As this happens, we get more and more moments of expansive meaning within this stifling, colonially circumscribed world and these moments of expansiveness are every bit as compelling as the nail-biting confinement we experience through most of the film. This dynamic helped me to feel no small amount of love for the two protagonists and what they represent. It made me realize that the film has done something truly special and is worthy of our rapt, horrified attention.

Sean O’Rourke

136′ 16″
18 (see IFCO for details)

The Nightingale is released 29th November 2019

The Nightingale – Official Website

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‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories’ Documentary Panel

 

WIFT Ireland present Women’s Voices, Women’s Stories’: an all-female panel of documentary makers discuss the future for women documentary authors and women’s stories.

Saturday, 30th November  2019

14:00 – 18:00

Radisson Blu Royal Hotel, Dublin, 8 Golden Ln, D08 VRR7 Dublin 8

This panel discussion event will gather together women documentarians to discuss pertinent and urgent issues relating to women in documentary film. To ask if there is still inequality in the role of director / author, and if so, why is this still the case in 2019?

Guests will include award-winning documentary directors Kim Bartley: The Revolution will not be Televised / I am Traveller, Margo Harkin – Bloody Sunday: A Derry Diary / The Far Side of Revenge, Lelia Doolan – Bernadette: Notes on a Political Journey / Former Chair of IFB / Founder Galway Film Fleadh and special guest from the USA Amy Adrion and a screening of her multi-award-winning film Half the Picture. Watch the trailer here:

HALF THE PICTURE Trailer from amy adrion on Vimeo.

“HALF THE PICTURE plays like a cocktail party where everyone’s had a glass of wine and is ready to get real!” – The Guardian

Can’t make the event? Members, please swing by to say hello and join us for drinks and nibbles at 6.00pm

Entry is free to all up-to-date WFT members / €10 non-members (we just ask that you bring cash on the day)

Tickets

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