Review of Irish Film at Cork Film Festival: ‘Moscow Never Sleeps’

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Emmet O’Brien stayed up late to watch Johnny O’Reilly’s film Moscow Never Sleeps, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

An ambitious, if ultimately lightweight exercise in multi-narrative storytelling, this Russian/ Irish co-production charts stories from various social milieus across one day in Moscow. A tribute to his adopted city by Irish filmmaker Johnny O’Reilly who studied Russian in Trinityf the piece is well made, a fluid and sophisticated piece of technical filmmaking but alas, a number of the stories fail to take hold.

The mileage varies across the board from modestly compelling to bland and formulaic. The latter is exemplified in a by-the-numbers relationship between a stubborn businessman and his trophy paramour, a dissatisfied singer still being pursued by an insistent ex. It’s hard to care about the struggles faced here, the businessman refusing to budge on a half-sketched company merger subplot and his dreary relationship seeming just as mired in contractual woes.

There’s little to hook us here outside the archetypes and while this has the flashiest surface of the film’s myriad strands it’s elsewhere that the film proves more engaging.

Yuriy Stoyanov’s aging unhealthy actor that gets kidnapped by some thuggish fanboys is far more interesting as it plays with celebrity worship and the everyday problems faced in such a clued in, tech savvy audience. As his “benign” party forces him to visit some relatives we get a sense of claustrophobia and escalating dread but couched in a very mundane setting. There was an uncertainty that I found gripping making this easily one of the strongest pieces. Alongside this, a girls night out takes an unsettling and potentially violent turn for two young women and this also proved a strong piece. There was an inherent tension existing between not only the girl’s frosty relationship but also the actual perilous situation they found themselves in. It had a brash energy and slyly analysed peer pressure and family dysfunction.

Other stories take in a family dealing with dementia, marital breakdowns and the general ennui of the modern world where everyone is connected but still essentially detached and distant.

Unfortunately when it goes for bigger and broader statements the film can’t muster the audience investment for its loftier notions. Moscow Never Sleeps works better in the vignettes that have more straight ahead mild thriller-esque aspects. Being made with a real love of the city helps to illuminate its interesting backdrop but the film never quite soars the way you’d want it to, with its intention of digging into its vibrant and cosmopolitan setting. Moscow may never sleep but we can all perchance to dream about its side street secrets

Moscow Never Sleeps screened 14th November as part of the 60th Cork Film Festival (6 – 15 November 2015)

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