Rebecca Graham takes a look at Irish Shorts 1: The Cycle of Life – a selection of Irish short films that screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.
The first selection of Irish short films screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival was a wonderfully eclectic mix of styles and techniques, showcasing some of the immense talent at work in Ireland’s film industry. The shorts on show dealt with the themes of love, ageing and death, as the title The Cycle of Life suggests. In the first short, City of Roses, a voiceover introduces a young boy as he bravely, or foolishly, rescues an old suitcase from a towering bonfire. Inside the suitcase, the boy discovers old letters which describe the tragic love story of Paddy, who emigrated to America, and the woman he fell in love with, Rose. Interposed with the live action scenes of the young boy and his mom reading the letters is a beautiful animation of Paddy and Rose’s life in America. Directed by Andrew Kavanagh, this moving film, based on true events, manages to capture the hopefulness and possibility of youth while revealing the finality and seeming injustice of death. The unique style of the animation leaves a lasting impression ensuring the story of Paddy and Rose lingers in the mind long after the final scene.
The unfairness of death is once again forcibly felt in the skilfully-crafted and moving documentary, A Beautiful Death, directed by Patrick McDermott. A Beautiful Death follows a care worker, James, as he carries out his daily rounds of caring for and supporting elderly people in his community. The scenes of the young, charismatic James at work are poignantly cut with home-video footage of James as a young boy with his mother. James’ heart-breaking revelation of his motivations for doing this difficult, demanding work imparts a positive sense of the power and wonder of life in spite of the pain and suffering that accompanies death.
The struggle to find meaning and positivity when faced with life’s challenges underlines Paul Heary’s Neolithic Patchwork Quilt, a film that centres on Herman, an ordinary Irish man, who is being treated for cancer. His illness gives Herman a negative outlook, reinforced by the film’s dark, grey colour palette. His wife wants him to practice mindfulness but Herman’s mind cannot stay in the present. His thoughts wander across times and Galaxies, and the viewers are taken through his wanderings, continually returning to images of Neolithic cave people. Herman’s wandering thoughts create a sense of the interconnectedness of all human life in a vast, unimaginable universe. The acting is excellent throughout, and the dramatic twist at the end is intelligently engineered to shock viewers.
Following the shocks of Neolithic Patchwork Quilt, Jonathan Shaw’s subtler short, Pebbles, deals with the fallout of betrayal in love. Pebbles focuses on Ruby’s return to a hotel she stayed in fifty years previously. She sees flashbacks of her younger self in the throes of love. The quiet slow pace of the film reflects the slow inevitable passing away of youth and romance. Marie Mullen’s performance as the lost and lonely Ruby is powerfully understated. The décor of the hotel is unchanged from Ruby’s honeymoon visit. There is a sense that Ruby is stuck and has come to the hotel looking for closure in order to move on with her life. Within the confines of the hotel, Ruby and her husband are sheltered from the elements that have buffeted and beset their former lives together. The conversations are elliptical. There is a weight of things not said, feelings not expressed, wrongs that will never be made right. The small grey pebble Ruby returns to the beach is the symbolic weight of heartbreak and loss she has carried with her. She lays it down, ending this intelligent, engrossing film with a moment of a hope.
Following this quiet pebble creating gentle ripples on love and loss and moving on, comes the boulder of a short film, Robert McKeon’s Wifey Redux. This is a loud, hilarious and angry portrait of middle-age, based on the highly-acclaimed Irish writer Kevin Barry’s short story of the same name. Starring Aidan McArdle as Jonathan Prendergast, Wifey Redux is a darkly comic insight into the difficulties of sustaining a happy marriage. Angeline Ball plays Jonathan’s beautiful wife who, in every scene, is clutching a wine-glass in the pristine surroundings of their large, luxurious Dublin property. Jonathan’s run-ins with his teenage daughter’s boyfriend and later, with the exclamation mark of a shop sign, are perfectly acted, timed and shot. Though revealing the bitter regrets and losses that can accompany middle-age, this is a highly entertaining film with many laugh-out-loud moments that audiences can relate to.
In a change of tone, Brian Crotty’s Crash Bang Wallop is an experimental exploration of love and relationships, which originally formed part of an art exhibition. A number of different scenarios are played out including the first meeting of a couple at a fancy dress party: He is the Titanic, she is an ice-cube (which is close enough to an ice-berg for him). His rhythmic Cork accent and bright red face (one of the ship’s funnels) create an endearing sense of his innocence and naivety. As they chat and he makes jokes, viewers cannot but want this couple to fall in love. The film flips between different, increasingly strange scenarios, highlighting the raw emotions associated with love such as lust, anxiety, and anger. There are many funny moments, the acting is convincing, and it is all accompanied by an energetic soundtrack.
The final short film, Proceeds of Crime, provides a unique viewing experience, using animation and the alphabet to draw attention to Dublin’s gangland crime. At just three minutes long, David Quinn’s very short short brings humour, satire, and wit to the political reality of the dangers of organised crime and the Irish government’s inadequate responses. It ends the selection of shorts on a political note. Viewed together this intriguing selection of shorts creates a narrative of love and hope in the face of overwhelming pain and grief, underscored by the potent power of humour to provide relief in the most agonising of circumstances.
Irish Shorts 1: The Cycle of Life screened on 15 November 2016.
The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November