A sleep-deprived Scott Townsend spends 11 days and nights at JDIFF 2010 and opens up his diary to Film Ireland.
Thursday 18th February
With Jim Sheridan off in Hollywood making films with 50 Cent, Jake Gyllenhall and Daniel Craig, it’s a relief to see Ireland’s other pre-eminent filmmaker return to our shores for his latest film Ondine, especially since he’s brought our biggest star back with him. In what might be a career-best performance, Colin Farrell plays a down on his luck, former alcoholic fisherman named Syracuse (dubbed ‘Circus’ by the locals) who catches a mysterious woman (the beautiful Alicja Bachleda) in his nets one day. Claiming no memory of who she is or where she came from, the woman, named Ondine (a name that comes from a mythological water spirit) has a profound effect on all around her. Syracuse’s daughter Annie decides that Ondine is a Selkie, a creature from Celtic mythology that has transformed from a seal to a woman. But the truth is not far behind…
Written in a few weeks after a more high profile project fell through due to the writers’ strike and shot in Cork, Ondine is a pleasantly low-key film that marks a return to Jordan’s skill at modernising mythological archetypes. Farrell, given greasy long hair and a parade of unseemly jumpers, seems to relish the job of not being the pretty-boy lead, and his accent is spot on. His supporting cast are solid too, particularly Dervla Kirwan as his estranged wife. The real star here is Hong Kong cinematographer Christopher Doyle, whose dreamlike compositions allow the film to rise above its more familiar elements.
Friday 19th February
It seems appropriate to begin the first day of the festival proper with a film that preaches about the authenticity of the image and the toxic effect of developed society on traditional life, especially such an unusual one, filled with extraordinary imagery and big ideas. Altiplano opens with a traditional religious ceremony in a small Peruvian village deep in the Andes, the first of many glimpses into life in the town. These are intercut with scenes that focus on Grace, a photographer who is mourning the loss of her partner in Iraq. Initially, the contrast between these stories is somewhat confusing, but soon the various story strands tie together as it emerges that Grace’s husband is working in a clinic near the town that is responsible for a catastrophic mercury spill. At once a dreamlike fable laden with religious symbolism (a blind craftsman repairs the town’s broken statue of the Madonna) and an angry, politicised indictment of globalization, Altiplano is a visually stunning and challenging piece of work. Peter Brosens and Jessica Hope Woodworth’s style of filmmaking is not entirely to my taste, but it is certainly striking and, crucially, the kind of film that one would never get a chance to see outside of a film festival.
Ken Wardrop’s His and Hers has gathered a lot of buzz since last year when it premiered in Galway. On paper, the film doesn’t boast the most glamorous concept – a documentary compilation of dozens of interviews with women aged from the very young to the elderly, all of whom discuss their relationships with their sons, boyfriends and husbands. Yet in reality it is one of the most moving, funny, watchable and heartfelt cinematic experiences imaginable. Wardrop has a remarkable skill at teasing out telling little details about his subjects – catching one youth texting about that night’s disco, or leaving the camera running as one woman prepares the bed – as well as extracting incredibly personal truths from them in interviews. He and his editors have done an incredible job of constructing a fluid narrative from these interviews whilst maintaining a sense of realism and honesty. It’s also beautifully photographed; these encounters are framed like meticulously prepared portraits – carefully composed but entirely truthful. His and Hers is due a theatrical release soon. Do yourself and Irish cinema a favour and see it on the big screen.
If His and Hers is like having a nice cup of tea by the fire at your grandmother’s house, Enter the Void is like throwing Red Bull, speed and amphetamines into a lava lamp and drinking the results just to see what happens. Thanks to his infamous Irreversible, I had expected something unique going into Gaspar Noe’s latest piece of provocation, but as it turns out, my imagination is far more limited than Monsieur Noe’s. Beginning with an attention-seeking, hyperactive credits sequence, the film starts by presenting a very literal first person narrative of Oscar, an American living in Tokyo. The camera shows us a real time, unblinking look at the world through his eyes, as he lazes around his apartment overlooking the neon lights of Tokyo, before taking a hit of a powerful hallucinogenic drug and heading to a nightclub to meet his friend. Upon arriving there, it is revealed that Oscar has been set up, and is busted by the police for carrying drugs. Rushing to the toilet to dispose of the evidence, he ends up being shot dead. Noe’s camera, rather than simply switching perspectives, rises up above his body and continues watching. What follows is a very literal take on the Tibetan Book of the Dead, as we follow Oscar’s ‘soul’ across the city watching the reactions of friends and loved ones to his death, their eventual fates in the aftermath, and delve back into his memories to see how he ended up here.
One of the most extraordinary films you will ever, EVER see, when Enter the Void begins it is truly enthralling. The camera does the impossible, gliding through walls, diving inside peoples’ heads, and revealing colours and shapes you never knew existed. There’s lots of explicit sex, incredible set design, and some truly shocking moments of violence. The flashbacks to Oscar’s childhood reveal an unpleasant Freudian edge to his relationship with his sister, and it is soon revealed that our lead is actually not much of a nice guy at all. The overall effect is intoxicating, like being on a death-themed, neon rollercoaster. That effect, however, lasts for about 90 minutes, by which time the film is just over half-finished. What is left is a tiresome mixture of nausea, boredom and an overriding sense that you want all of these pathetic, whiny characters to shut up and go away. The final movement of the film consists of a neon-lit orgy that takes place in a model hotel one of Oscar’s friends has built (don’t ask, because I honestly have no idea) and seemingly goes on forever, before climaxing in one last money shot that has to be seen to be believed, wrapping up with a reincarnation theme. By that time, the film that was once thrilling and vital has descended into the cinematic equivalent of listening to a stoned friend spend nearly three hours telling you how much he fancies his sister. Enter the Void is truly unforgettable, but not something I’d sit through again in a hurry.
Saturday 20th February
There’s nothing like starting a Saturday morning with a hearty 11am cinematic breakfast, particularly a two-hour examination of how the capitalist system in which we are all trapped is fundamentally flawed and doomed to destroy us all. On the plus side, Capitalism: A Love Story is a Michael Moore film, so we are at least eased into things with footage of a cat flushing a toilet. Moore’s style of documentary filmmaking – angry, funny, but quite often selective with the facts – is no longer surprising, so it was somewhat comforting viewing in comparison with some of the other festival fare. Or at least it is comforting up until the point where Moore reveals that certain companies have actually profited from employees’ deaths, as a part of something distressingly called ‘dead peasants insurance’. Capitalism… explores how America has found itself beholden to the corporations and banks that were supposed to exist to make life better for its people, but instead are responsible for the economic and social mess they now find themselves in. Revealing how healthy competition has evolved into a poisonous system where profit is the dictating force, Moore has toned down his prankster persona for his latest, which might have something to do with just how angry he is about the situation. Capitalism, suggests Moore, has proved itself to be inherently flawed. The alternative? Well, given that Moore was once branded a ‘fat socialist weasel’ by Team America: World Police, and the film ends with an upbeat, Sinatra style take on ‘The Internationale’, it seems inevitable that this is a film for Moore’s explicitly left-leaning fan base. Beyond preaching to the converted, Moore’s film, while entertaining and provocative, simply has too much ground to cover in two hours. Finally, timely though the film’s attack on the psyche of big business is, didn’t The Corporation cover similar ground in 2003?
From one indictment of the status quo to another – Bobby Paunescu’s Francesca is a powerful critique on how immigration has affected Romania. The title character, beautifully portrayed by Monica Barladeanu, dreams of escaping her home to set up a kindergarten in Italy. Her boyfriend, however, owes the mob money, and she herself is lacking the finances and means to get started. The film follows them both on the eve of Francesca’s emigration, looking at the processes she has to undergo for her planned escape. Bitterly truthful and strictly realist in its approach, Paunescu’s film never pulls its punches, and as a result makes for powerful art. It is also, however, lacking any sort of joy or humour, and while it is doubtful that any was intended, it makes any empathy the viewer has with the characters intellectual rather than emotional. In the Q&A that followed the film, the director helped illuminate the film’s context a little; it was inspired by a real life case of a Romanian emigrant committing a horrific act of violence in Italy, resulting in a developing prejudice against Romanians in the country.
Meanwhile, in the Q&A for One Hundred Mornings, Grainne Humphreys mentioned the parallels with The Road. It’s just as well this was acknowledged; as John Hillcoat’s recent film looms large over Conor Horgan’s feature debut. Like The Road, it’s a post-apocalyptic film in which the central disaster is never explained or shown. Like The Road, it’s a smart and austere take on a genre most commonly associated with pulp sci-fi or Mad Max camp. Unlike The Road, it’s Irish, often blackly humorous, and was made for an amount of money that Viggo Mortenson probably spends on razors, i.e. not very much at all.
Following four characters who have holed up in a small cabin in the Wicklow mountains after an unspecified disaster, the film deals with their relationships with each other and how they cope with the pressure that the end of the world can bring, and their survival methods (in a typically Irish twist, vodka and baked beans are essential). The group also have to deal with threats from the outside world – the local Gardaí from a nearby village trying to maintain a traditional sense of law and order at any cost, desperate people trying to steal supplies and a hippie next door neighbour who is understandably possessive of his shotgun. As a concept, it is, as Horgan himself pointed out, potentially quite theatrical, but on screen it looks terrific, so much so that the film’s DOP, Suzie Lavelle, recently won an IFTA for her work. Ciarán McMenamin is great as the deadpan lead Jonathan, whose sarcastic approach counteracts with his friend Mark’s more positive outlook and survival instinct (his response when asked why he lets his friend do all the hunter gathering stuff: ‘I’m better at the multimedia end of things’). While the screenplay has a few flaws, and some unanswered questions persist – how did the heroes get all of their supplies in the first place? Are they shaving every other day or something? – the film neatly balances optimism and pessimism, and offers slight comfort in the fact that no matter if the world does actually end, some people will never get on with their neighbours.
As bleak as One Hundred Mornings is, it’s nowhere near as serious as Pavel Lungin’s The Island (Ostrov), a Russian film from 2006. The story of a soviet soldier named Anatoly who becomes a monk after he is haunted by the memory of killing his commanding officer in World War II, it’s a very Russian, very art-house meditation on guilt, sin and forgiveness, acted with conviction by folk with terrific beards. Anatoly is rejected by some of the monks as a mad old man and a prankster – he throws a smouldering log at one monk’s feet shortly before a nearby cabin bursts into flames, so we’re not exactly talking Jackass here – who may or may not have divine powers of healing and foresight. Despite a handful of comic moments, and crisp, steely cinematography that gives a good feel for the landscape, it’s ultimately something of a slog, one that has nowhere near enough incident or thematic depth to sustain its two-hour running time, particularly after sitting through a day of films dealing with failed global economies, desperate attempts to escape poverty and the end of the world. Such are the hazards of festival viewing schedules.
Sunday 21st February
A defining point in contemporary culture was reached a few years ago when the Korean film The Chaser was released with the tagline ‘soon to be remade by the team that brought you The Departed’. In other words, the film was selling itself based on the fact that if you saw the original now, you could boast about it when the film was remade in a slicker, more expensive package two years later. That film has yet to appear, but the foreign remake train continues at an incredible pace, most recently with the announcement that Chan-wook Park’s Oldboy is to be ‘reimagined’ as a Will Smith vehicle.
Hollywood could do worse than Accident as their next purchase. A tight, economical thriller with a cracking premise. It’s already slick and expensive looking, but also unusual and gripping. The central characters are a team of expert assassins whose skill is in staging murders that appear as elaborate accidents. When one of their numbers is victim to a bizarre accident himself, the group begin to suspect that they are being targeted for their own ‘accidents’. With a less than 90-minute running time, brevity is both Accident’s strength and its weakness. The strength is that you’re never bored; the elaborate, Final Destination-esque death scenes are fascinating in their intricacy, the plot moves along at a solid pace and a series of sharp twists keep things interesting. Yet it also robs us of any emotional involvement; characters are defined by their codenames and body types, and the lead is entirely charisma-free. The film invokes a few filmmakers who excel at this sort of thing – Coppola’s The Conversation is referenced, while the colour palette comes straight from Michael Mann – but never shares their compassion for the characters, leaving them as pawns in a highly entertaining but ultimately heartless chess game.
It was a good afternoon for Irish documentaries, with Cineworld hosting both Broken Tail and Meeting Room. The former is an incredibly thorough and observed wildlife film, following a single tiger and his family, while also meditating on the threat of this incredible animal’s extinction. The latter offered a portrait of the Concerned Parents Against Drugs movement that emerged in inner city Dublin in the 1980s, when heroin took hold of communities as the government sat idly by. Featuring Tony Gregory’s last interview, James Davis’ film shows the power of grassroots activism in the face of government indifference (many of the points made in the film could just as easily be levelled at the current administration) while also addressing the more controversial aspects of the movement.
Another Irish film that night made for one of the most pleasant surprises of the festival. Mark O’Connor’s debut Between the Canals has the kind of concept and set up that can potentially make for amateur filmmaking at its most hackneyed – a gang of three Dublin lads try to make their fortunes against the backdrop of St Patrick’s Day in the city; hi-jinks ensue – but actually proved to be confident, entertaining filmmaking. Often, comedic portrayals of inner city life can be patronising and offensive, but in making the smart decision to cast mostly non-actors in the film, O’Connor has succeeded in grounding the film in reality. The film is structured like a comedy version of La Haine set in northside Dublin – of the three characters, one is unpredictable and obsessed with gangster culture, another simply wants an escape from his situation; the film is set over the course of one eventful day; it ends with a sudden burst of violence – but O’Connor’s film has little interest in any sort of social commentary, simply letting the characters speak for themselves. A little rough around the edges – occasional plot developments seem forced, while an episode with a machete-wielding Nigerian is borderline racist – the film is nonetheless a promising start for a young director, and one that could reach a wide audience if marketed properly.
Monday 22nd February
Werner Herzog is as famous for the bizarre stories about his films as he is for the work itself, so it’s interesting to see him tackle a remake of a film by another notoriously insane maverick. Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant had Harvey Keitel as a corrupt, drug-addicted cop who rather enjoys the company of prostitutes. Herzog’s version, Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans takes a different but no less deranged approach to the concept. Nicolas Cage plays the titular policeman who becomes hooked on painkillers after Hurricane Katrina. The depths to which he sinks are extraordinary, yet Cage – in a welcome return to the bug-eyed insanity of his mid-’90s work – keeps the character sympathetic, while Herzog directs with all the crazed energy of a man who once actually ate his own shoe. Monday also saw two Irish films screen: Urszula Antoniak’s Nothing Personal, a soulful drama about immigration set in Connemara, and The Beholder, Conor Horgan’s documentary about three Irish portrait painters. I didn’t see either, but reports were generally positive.
Tuesday 23rd February
Sadly missed from this year’s festival was the late, great Michael Dwyer, who passed away in January of this year. As a long time film critic for The Irish Times, and co-founder of the first Dublin Film Festival in 1985, Mr. Dwyer was one of the leading figures in the Irish film scene. This year’s JDIFF dedicated several screenings in his honour, including the magisterial six-hour Italian epic Best of Youth, and Stephen Frears’ groundbreaking My Beautiful Laundrette, which appeared in the first Dublin Film Festival.
One of this year’s guests of honour was Patricia Clarkson, whose latest film, Ruba Nadda’s Cairo Time, is an Irish-Canadian co-production. Clarkson plays a magazine editor who goes to meet her husband in Egypt, only for him to be held up in Ghana. Luckily, he has arranged for his friend Tareq to meet her, as the streets of Cairo are too dangerous for a woman to walk alone. Soon, however, they develop a mutual attraction….While the plot of Cairo Time is fairly standard stuff, it is elevated by some wonderful photography, and there is great pleasure to be had in seeing the wonderful Clarkson – usually relegated to playing second fiddle in US indie flicks – as a romantic lead. That such a tender, subtle romance is taking place between two middle aged people is even more refreshing.
Yet another fine Irish film, Carter Gunn and Ross McDonnell’s excellent documentary Colony dealt with the recent bizarre phenomenon in which bees have been simply disappearing across the US. Bees form a vital role in our ecosystem, and their extinction could be catastrophic for the entire planet. While this issue forms the grander concern of the film, it also offers a wonderful look at the lives of beekeepers, focusing on one family in particular and their relationship to this rather unusual profession. Colony offers a fine example of how to balance the intimacy that documentary filmmaking can bring with the power of cold hard fact.
Wednesday 24th February
‘What are you, like, alternative now?’, says an archetypical cheerleader character to Ellen Page in Drew Barrymore’s Whip It!. ‘Alternative to what?’ is her naïve response, in a scene that neatly sums up the unwritten battle lines between the mainstream and counter-cultural movements. Whip It! is one of a handful of studio pictures that is getting a preview at the JDIFF, something which is a bone of contention for some people. After all, Alice in Wonderland, Shutter Island and I Love You Philip Morris will all be on our screens within a month of the festival, no doubt accompanied by great big marketing fanfare, so why allow them to fill slots at a cultural event like the JDIFF? Easy – it makes the festival accessible to those who might not usually be inclined to attend. If someone goes to see the latest Scorsese at the JDIFF, there’s always a chance they’ll pick up a programme and, encouraged by the increasingly rare experience of attending a screening that is full of real film fans, seek out one of the smaller titles in the programme. Film festivals should never be about snobbery; instead they should be celebrations of the art in all its forms, and occasionally, the mainstream Hollywood machine can churn out a film that is every bit as great as independent and European models – so why not celebrate that as well?
Besides, as it turns out, Whip It! is actually a rather deserving little film. Barrymore’s directorial debut, it focuses on the teenage angst of Bliss (portrayed by Juno’s Ellen Page, rapidly becoming a Molly Ringwald figure for the Twitter generation), whose mother wants her to follow in her footsteps by partaking in traditional beauty pageants. When Bliss accidentally discovers the joys of all-girl roller derby, she begins to follow her own path. It’s a film defiantly aimed at young girls, but not in a cynical, commercial Hannah Montana sort of way. Instead, it’s about having the courage to do your own thing, not fitting in and not letting others tell you what to do. Despite some indie pretensions – killer soundtrack, hostility to American suburbia and a host of character actors like Marcia Gay Harden and Juliette Lewis – Barrymore’s sensibility is unmistakeably broad; Whip It! has food fights, big moral speeches and plotlines as old as the hills. But it’s also sincere and good-hearted, with well-staged action scenes and a refreshingly strong romantic subplot that offers a nice alternative to Twilight’s moping angst.
Across the city, those with more ‘alternative’ tastes could have indulged in Satoko Yokohama’s baffling but funny Bare Essence of Life, a bizarre comedy about village idiot Yojin, who forms a relationship with school teacher Machiko in their small rural town. This climaxes in one of the more baffling endings of the festival, involving a group of school children, a bear and a human brain. In other words, it’s about as ‘alternative’ as cinema gets.
Thursday 25th February
What sort of film junkie doesn’t get excited about the new Martin Scorsese film? Shutter Island, the director’s first foray into a full-on horror flick, is an entertaining, stylish genre pastiche, soaked in classic B-movie elements. Leonardo DiCaprio (naturally) plays Teddy Daniels, a US Marshall sent to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an inmate in Shutter Island, a high security mental hospital for the criminally insane. His investigations lead him to make some startling discoveries. Every inch of the screen is carefully constructed from classic film noir, from the honking horns and Bernard Herrmann-esque strings of the score, to the deliberately artificial-looking back projection, right down to Ben Kingsley’s eccentric bow tie. It’s also packed full of familiar genre faces like Max von Sydow, Ted Levine and Jackie Earle Hayley – when Father Merrin from The Exorcist is on the board of directors of your mental institution and Buffalo Bill from The Silence of the Lambs is a security guard, you know that the lunatics truly have taken over the asylum. Breathlessly enjoyable for most of its running time, it’s let down by a painfully obvious twist – admittedly true to Dennis Lehane’s source material, but still annoyingly familiar.
A much more surprising twist occurs halfway through Mia Hansen-Løve’s otherwise fairly gentle family drama The Father of My Children. A heartfelt elegy for the dying art of independent cinema, the film follows film producer Gregoire, who has to deal with rising budgets, diminishing box office returns and temperamental directors as his company spirals further and further into bankruptcy. The devastating results make for a quiet and often moving family drama, despite a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion. Like Truffaut and Godard, Hansen-Løve began her career writing for seminal French film journal Cahiers du Cinema; naturally her film is just as obsessed with cinema as the work of her illustrious predecessors.
In a rather intriguing programming quirk, two similarly themed films with Irish connections were screened opposite each other. Mira Fornayová’s Foxes is an Irish/Czech/Slovakian co-production about the relationship between two Slovakian sisters who are forced to leave their family home. The eldest sister is planning to leave for Ireland with her fiancé and wants to help her younger sister by taking her with her. The younger sister, however, is determined to make her own way. Ivan Kavanagh’s The Fading Light, meanwhile, was the deserving winner of the title of Best Irish Film by the Dublin Film Critic’s Circle. A heartbreaking family drama, The Fading Light sees two daughters returning home for Christmas just as their mother is dying. The problem is that nobody has explained this to their autistic brother Peter, who believes his mother to simply be ill. It gradually emerges that this is a family unit that hasn’t been together in quite a while, one that is forced to pull together to make it through such an emotional experience. Sometimes hard to watch, Kavanagh’s second film is incredibly powerful, flawlessly acted and artfully directed. Reminiscent of great European art house cinema (in a good way), it is immensely satisfying to know that we have filmmakers capable of such rich drama.
Friday 26th February
The Out of the Past selection at this year’s festival provided the thrilling experience of revisiting some underrated classics on the big screen. One of these was a 50th anniversary screening of Georges Franju’s Eyes Without A Face, a gothic horror classic from France. Incredibly controversial in its day, the film is a haunting piece of work about a mad scientist type character who is trying to graft a new face onto his disfigured daughter. Beautifully shot, the film is both overwhelmingly sad and deeply disturbing. US audiences were treated to a mangled dubbed version that played up the horror elements; in its definitive version the film has a truly melancholic poetry to it.
A rather more unusual look at forgotten classics was offered by Serge Bromberg in his remarkable stage show Retour de Flamme. A well-regarded film historian and filmmaker in his own right (he recently directed a documentary about Henri-Georges Clouzot’s lost masterpiece Inferno), Bromberg presented a selection of his recent cinematic discoveries, including incredibly rare silent films over a century old. Equipped with a piano and a series of elaborate props, Bromberg’s performance is a treat for cineastes, a one-of-a-kind experience that was thoroughly enjoyed by those who attended.
Having won the Golden Lion at last year’s Venice Film Festival, Samuel Maoz’s incredible debut Lebanon has already received plenty of attention. Inspired by his own personal experiences of the Israel-Lebanon War, the film is set in 1982 and follows a group of soldiers inside a tank during a crucial campaign. Aside from an unforgettable final shot, the film never leaves the confines of the tank, with the only view of the outside world presented from the point of view of the gunner’s viewfinder. This makes for an intense, claustrophobic experience, as the horrors of war, the pressures of living in close quarters for long stretches of time, and a plummeting sense of group morale all take their toll on the four young men.
Lebanon excels in just about every area. With his potential for widescreen visuals hindered thanks to his setting, Maoz utilises some incredibly detailed and well orchestrated sound design and powerful close ups on his actors (universally superb) to express the sheer terror he felt as a young man trying to survive. As the film’s incredibly taut 90-minute running time plays out, he turns up the tension to a near unbearable degree. While some reviewers (and a few people in the Q&A after the screening) seized upon the political aspects of the film, they are missing the point – this is a raw, tactile experience about the emotional torment of those experiencing war first hand, not a liberal exercise in making academic points. Due a release in May, Lebanon is essential cinema.
Saturday 27th February
The penultimate day of a festival that has offered some truly impressive Irish work featured the last two Irish films I would see. A not-entirely comfortable mix of dramatisation and documentary, Child of the Dead End is a retelling of the life of Patrick MacGill, an early 20th century Irish writer who, after great success with his first couple of novels disappeared into obscurity. Stephen Rea plays the writer at a later stage in his life, living as a recluse in Florida and narrating the story of his life so far. It’s certainly an interesting story, and the documentary stuff – stills from the period, early film footage – is fascinating, an alternative approach to biography that recalls Terence Davies’ Of Time and the City. The film shows a very different Ireland to the one we are familiar with, a look at ‘Navee’ life at the turn of the century. But the dramatised sections have a sort of Crimewatch feel to them, with wooden performances and clunky production values.
Brendan Muldowney’s Savage, meanwhile, marks itself out as one of the standouts of recent Irish film. Darren Healy (also great in the recent Eamon) plays a press photographer who lives alone, a dying father in hospital his only family. One night he is involved in a completely unprovoked attack by two young men, who scar his face and castrate him. The film then deals with the consequences of this attack, as he his paranoia develops into a growing thirst for revenge.
What makes Savage stand out amongst other Irish films (see the recent Alarm, a film with similar subject matter, for just how wrong this sort of thing can go) is a complete sense of conviction. Muldowney’s filmmaking boasts a confidence that makes the film utterly gripping, even in its more over-the-top moments. This is chiefly thanks to some excellent production values, especially the ear-piercing sound design, which is complicit in that great tradition of screen violence of making you think you’re seeing more than you actually are. Tom Comerford and Michael O’Donovan’s sharp cinematography is also worthy of a mention. Savage’s extreme violence and dark humour may turn off some audiences, but if nothing else, we can proudly boast of a powerful portrait of urban decay that is perhaps the first film to understand the truly horrific dystopian nature of a donor kebab on a Saturday night in Dublin.
Sunday 28th February
The closing day of the festival began with daytime screenings of the latest works by two of the more high profile directors, both of whom disappointed. Woody Allen has spent the past few years making serious-minded melodramas set in European cities, despite the fact that – as proven by Cassandra’s Dream – he has next to no ear for the language of anywhere other than New York. Whatever Works – his return to his home milieu – should therefore be a reason for rejoicing, as should the inclusion of Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David as the latest incarnation of Allen’s onscreen persona. Instead, it’s a creepy, unfunny piece of work. The plot – and feel free to fill in some autobiographical gaps here – sees David as a middle-aged neurotic Jewish guy who embarks on a relationship with a much younger woman (Evan Rachel Wood). As with every new Allen film, some poor disillusioned soul is bound to claim it to be a return to form, but as usual, they would be wrong.
Like Allen, Tim Burton is a director who has quite happily settled into a creative rut, one that seems reliant on his fans’ affection for past works. His version of Alice in Wonderland is exactly what you expect – the trees are all a bit pointy, the plot (which weirdly seems to have been lifted directly from Spielberg’s notorious flop Hook with a bit of Narnia action mixed in) entirely irrelevant to the trippy storybook visuals, Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in lead roles, etc. With his once counter-cultural, gothic aesthetic now firmly lodged in mainstream culture, Burton seems content to simply repeat himself on an increasingly grand scale, rather than think outside the box as in his best work – the elegant fairytale of Edward Scissorhands or the black and white oddness of Ed Wood.
At least the festival’s closing film revelled in the joy of cinematic creativity. Luca Guadagnino’s sweeping melodrama I Am Love begins as an upper class family drama in the manner of Gosford Park. We are introduced to the aristocratic Italian Recchi family, and their dying patriarch looking to pass on the business to an heir. It is a generally unspoken assumption that this is a family whose success is built upon the exploitation of others; they seem to have benefitted from Italy’s fascist history. The film soon narrows in to focuses on Emma (played by Tilda Swinton), the father’s Russian wife, and her growing attraction to one of her son’s friends, a handsome young chef. Swinton is magnificent in the central role, a woman whose life has been spent as a prisoner of wealth and artifice, finally allowing herself to make her own decisions, despite the earth shattering effect that they will have on her world. The film’s aesthetics are incredibly lavish; all bright colours, extravagant furnishings and sweeping operatic music, and a surprise twist drew gasps from the audience in the screening I saw it in.