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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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 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 of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Sweetness in the Belly

 

Caleb Cotter checks out Sweetness in the Belly, a Canadian-Irish co-production of an adaptation of Camilla Gibb’s bestseller, directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari.

Before seeing Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s second feature as director, I decided to spend a few minutes online researching it. Immediately, I found that it was under scrutiny for having Dakota Fanning play a “White Ethiopian Muslim”, a controversy the internet had created based off short clips of the film released online. Soon after, I closed my laptop and moved on to something productive, ready to let the film speak for itself. After watching, I couldn’t help but see the irony of the controversy, as the film seemed to argue similar points to what people had argued against it online.

Based on Camilla Gibb’s book of the same name, Sweetness in the Belly starts with Lilly (Dakota Fanning), a white Muslim woman, travelling to Britain as a refugee after the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution. She is immediately given priority over the other Muslim women, much to their dismay, but immediately sets about trying to help her fellow refugees and settle into British society. This journey is intercut with flashbacks to Lilly past, where we discover she was abandoned by her British parents at a young age at a Sufi shrine in Ethiopia and was raised by the Sufi master, and falls in love with Dr Aziz Nasser (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) during the final years of Haile Selassie’s reign, who she is trying to find in the present.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this film, and the film is able to carry out the story in an emotional and sincere way. Also, like his previous film Difret, Mehari delves fully into exploring his home country of Ethiopia; from its culture, social and religious beliefs, its complex political history and the ways refugees from the region were treated and how they set up life upon reaching a new country.

However, while the exploration of such subjects is possibly the most interesting part of the film, it also proves to be its biggest shortcoming. It feels like the film doesn’t quite know where to focus its attention, splitting it between the myriad of complex themes and political histories, as well as Lilly’s story and journey. Due of this lack of focus, and despite Fanning’s best efforts, Lilly never feels like a rounded, believable person but more so a blank slate we can see the world from, which takes much of the wind out of her love story that the film spends so much time on. And since the film spends so much time on this love story, it only gets to dip its toes into each of the complicated subjects and thus never explores them as fully as it means to.

However, while Lilly is never given the time to develop beyond that of her role as the protagonist, the supporting cast carry the film and bring most of the emotional depth to it.  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Aziz and Kunal Nayyar as an Indian doctor Lilly meets in a hospital in Britain shine as well-rounded individuals who attempt to charm Lilly throughout the film and bring great levity in the film’s darker moments.

But it is Wunmi Mosaku as Amina, a fellow Ethiopian refugee and mother of two who Lilly takes in, who is the stand-out performance, as her story and presence becomes the bedrock of the film and the centre of the film’s most emotional moments. These moments are supplemented with a beautiful array of colour that breaks up the usual grey look of dramas with moments that feel like technicolour was used. However, the film does get a little too stylish during its emotional climax, taking some of the punch out of the moment.

Despite its flaws, Sweetness in the Belly stands as a solid, emotionally driven drama that covers a variety of complicated topics, although its attempt to split its focus on both these aspects causes both to not be explored fully, leading to the film not leaving as much of an impact as it could have.

 

Sweetness in the Belly screened on Sun 10th Nov @ 17:45 & Mon 11th Nov as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

  • Director: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari
  • Producer(s): Jennifer Kawaja
  • Screenwriter(s): Laura Phillips
  • Main Cast: Dakota Fanning, Wunmi Mosaku
  • Country: Ireland, Canada
  • Language(s): Subtitled
  • Year: 2019
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Irish Film Review: A Dog Called Money

 

DIR/WRI: Seamus Murphy

The opening scenes of A Dog Called Money brings into focus a scruffy, impish boy with button nose pressed against the window of a car as it stalls along a chaotic, noise-filled street. Viewers are locked inside that same car, witnessing the playful mischievousness of the child as his gaze fixes on the watchers. A sequence of emotions plays out across the boy’s face ranging from curiosity to marvel to a wider concept of inquisitiveness. So begins the stunning ode to director Seamus Murphy’s métier and PJ Harvey’s collaborative genius. 

Seamus Murphy is an award-winning photographer and director with an acute sense of observation – one that is intensely and sensitively connected to the wonders of the human condition. It is no accident that Murphy’s alliance with PJ Harvey became such a serendipitous perfect storm.  PJ Harvey in turn, is an artist who is not afraid of pushing change in order to effect creative growth. This made for an ideal partnership between the two.  

The model was conceived in order to lend PJ Harvey an apt conduit with which to record her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. A room within a room was constructed inside Somerset House (styled on its website as ‘an experimental workspace for artists, makers and thinkers’). The interior room was soundproofed and had windows facing into the space, through which invited members of the public could look through but Harvey and her band could neither see nor hear the people watching them. It allowed the creative process to unfold at its own pace and on a level where Harvey overlooked the fact that she was being scrutinised. One of the conditions for those observing the installation, was that they relinquished recording equipment, phones and cameras and simply subsumed the experience. 

In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as the Observer Effect whereby changes in the behaviour of subjects comes about when they become aware they are being watched. Performers amend their actions when in front of an audience. At the onset, this could be said of the ‘viewed’ recording – however, as time passes, Harvey and her band lose sight of being observed – their behaviour becomes steadily more creative and achieves greater heights as they truly enter into maximum flow. 

Seamus Murphy and PJ Harvey travelled to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C., where Harvey interacted with the people she met and Murphy filmed the process. What ensues is a mesh of originality and imagination – from the exuberant rappers in Washington D.C., narrating their story with wit and humour, to the people of Kosovo and musicians from Afghanistan – seeing and communicating as they weave their tales through music and words. Beginning with opening scenes during which viewers are witnessed and perceived, the journey of A Dog Called Money is that of a dazzling tangible manifestation – a type of chimeric blending as differences and processes fuse together in a genesis of beauty. 

Harvey and Murphy are the fasteners that suture and sew this beautiful construct. One with words, the other with images – carving an alliance that benefits and unifies, ultimately bringing forth its own potent and unique creation.  

This is a documentary well worth viewing. 

 

June Butler

93′ 46″
15A (see IFCO for details)

A Dog Called Money is released 22nd November 2019

A Dog Called Money– Official Website

 


  

 

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Iffy Film Festival Roundtable Podcast

Duncan McKenna,  Aoife Nic Ardghail, Jack Thornton

In this Film Ireland podcast Gemma Creagh talks to iffy film festival director Duncan McKenna and filmmakers Aoife Nic Ardghail and Jack Thornton, whose films Casual and Love Lane United are screening at the festival, which takes place on Saturday, 23rd November at The Pearse Centre Theatre, Dublin 2.

Tickets

Casual (Aoife Nic Ardghail, Kate Dolan)

Maura, an aspiring poet, has been dumped in a voice mail. It was only a casual thing, but she’s still stuck with those grim feelings that come with rejection: self loathing, anger, resentment and an insatiable hunger for chocolate mousse.
And bacon.
And wine.

 

Love Lane United (Jack Thornton)

A group of underachievers who decide to start a Sunday League football team leading to hilariously disastrous results.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 1: Legacies

Caleb Cotter battles the rainy streets of Cork to find solace in shorts.

 

Before seeing Legacies, my second screening and the first set of Irish shorts to be shown at the Cork Film Festival, I had spent three hours in a café trying to drown out my disappointment of a different film in hot chocolate. As I ran through the rainy streets towards the cinema and took my seat at the edge of a row in a packed room one thought kept repeating in my mind: please let one of these films be great. Just one film to blow me away, to captivate me, that’s all I want. By the short film reel’s end, I was astonished; somehow they were all great.

Every one of the six films played throughout Irish Shorts 1: Legacies was either charming, heart-wrenching or some strange mixture of the two. As the title might suggest, all of the primarily female-led movies told tales dealing with love, loss, grief, life and death, carrying the themes across in a simple and nuanced manner and a heavy dose of humour. The showcase was a thrilling experience back to back, as every film had its own take on the themes and style that made each of them stand out amongst the rest while also somehow feeling intrinsically Irish.

Right off the bat, we were presented with Amy Corrigan’s Bound, depicting Rosie, gathering all her strength in order to save her son’s soul in 1940s Ireland. The pale and dark colours of the film perfectly present the sorrow and loss the young mother is going through in a dream-like manner, while the beautiful cinematography isolates her throughout the entirety film. This is particularly evident in the scenes when Rosie talks to her husband and a priest;  her loneliness in these scenes making it all the harder to do what needs to be done. However, it is Amy Molloy’s powerful performance as Rosie that carries the film, perfectly conveying both the heartache and determination of the young mother and her speech to her son as she completes the task in the dead of night is heartbreaking, leading to a melancholic and beautiful ending.

The next two films would build on the emotions and themes built by Bound and set the tone for the rest of the showcase. Sinéad O’Loughlin’s Stray, about a struggling elderly woman dealing with a violent break-in that left her without her husband, and Stuart Douglas’ Cúl an Tí, in which a dying guilt-ridden mother is brought reconciliation with her estranged daughter, were equally as powerful and riveting as each other, both taking things slow and allowing us to get to know the characters, allowing for their heartbreak to become ours. However, this is where the shorts began introducing humour into the mix, Stray with a dry wit and an almost surreal quality I still can’t exactly place and Cúl an Tí with the shocking yet undisputedly sad comments by the hard-as-nails, dying woman.

With this humour introduced, the way was paved for the film that garnered the biggest laughs from the audience, Michael Creagh’s Ruby. When the eccentric, bumbling Len gives an unusual and off-putting gift to his somewhat stuck-up wife, Ruby, on their ruby anniversary, we were met with a wonderful, memorable and charming experience. Dan Gordon (Len) and Kate O’Toole (Ruby) give excellent performances as the bickering couple of opposites and bounce off each other perfectly with the clever, witty dialogue and its many twists and turns. However, the film does not miss the chance to be endearing when it comes to the emotional moments of the film, slowing down just enough for us to feel the weight of the couple’s long-standing relationship, as well as the strength keeping them together. Yet what was most surprising about the film was its style, with a beautiful use of cinematography, editing and colour to traverse from the couple’s conversations to their memories of the past. Overall, the film is extremely poignant and charming and it is sure to stick in the memory. 

This leaves us with the final two films of Legacies, Pat, directed by Emma Wall, and Peggy and the Grim by Luke Morgan. Set in 1978, Pat follows the titular music-loving old woman whose only connection with her son in New York is the one phone box in her village. The film bounces from fun and energetic to slow and emotional with astounding ease and the soundtrack of groovy classic rock and roll ballads, along with Pat’s dancing, give the film a real charm. The film is impressively carried by the performances of Rosaline Linehan as Pat and Moe Dunford as her son Conn, who are able to portray the closeness of the mother and son’s relationship despite only speaking to each other through a phone. Meanwhile, Peggy and the Grim ended the reel with a delightfully charming tale of Peggy getting a visit from the Grim Reaper. With a surprising level of wit and light-heartedness, the film leaves one delighted with its fantastic editing, music and cinematography, all done with a delightful simplicity and its final shot gave a perfect and endearing end to Legacies

Overall, Legacies proved to be a fantastic experience that had a wonderful blend of charm, wit, heartbreak and simplicity to carry across very powerful and universal themes, all the while with a distinctly Irish feel. 

 

The Irish Shorts 1:  Legacies programme screened on Sat, 9th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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