DIR: Johnny Gogan • WRI: Johnny Gogan, Nick Snow • DOP: Eoin McLoughlin • DOP: Johnny Gogan, Fionn Rodgers • ED: Patrick O’Rourke • PRO: Johnny Gogan • MUS: Steve Wickham • CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine
The human and environmental cost of technological progress is a spectre which haunts history, from medical trials without informed consent to conflict minerals in smartphones. It’s a difficult subject to grapple with, especially when a now mainstream technology or an historical feat of technological achievement has a murky past.
In Johnny Gogan’s Prisoners of the Moon, we hear the words of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp survivor, Jean Michel: ‘It was at Dora I realised how the pyramids were built’. It was in the underground tunnels of Dora that the German army’s V-1 and V-2 rockets were manufactured using slave labour. The book that Michel would go on to write about his time at Dora would eventually lead by chance to one of the V-1 and V-2’s chief engineers, Arthur Rudolph, being forced to leave the United States despite being given citizenship while working on the American space program.
After World War II, several engineers and rocket scientists who were based at Dora, including Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, were hired by the US government as part of Operation Paperclip. This docudrama examines this era, when US authorities decided to look the other way when considering the moral implications of recruiting former Nazi party members to work on their project to send a man to the moon.
It takes as its focus Rudolph, whose work on the V-1 and V-2 rockets contributed to the success of Saturn V and the Apollo 11 launch. Using a mix of archive footage, interviews, and dramatic re-enactment, the film follows Rudolph’s early career in Germany, his time in Dora, his immigration to the US and work on the space program, his return to Germany by ‘mutual agreement’ after questions were raised in the ’80s, to his detention when attempting to enter Canada in the ’90s and the subsequent immigration hearing there. The film explores Rudolph’s culpability, what he may have seen or not seen at Dora, and speculates on the man and his conscience.
The re-enactment segments are where the film wavers. While well cast, there are some scenes that may have been better served by a documentary style rather than a dramatic one. The wealth of detail in the film, from archive footage to written and verbal accounts and expert analysis, suggests there would’ve been ample material to tell this story in documentary mode alone. Those elements of this deftly researched docudrama are its strongest and most engaging, raising challenging questions about the role of Nazi scientists in the achievement of the first human space flight.
75′ 29″ 12A (see IFCO for details) Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019
DIR/WRI John Butler • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DES: Susannah Honey • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez
John Butler, director of Handsome Devil (2016) and The Stag (2013), has proven his ability to explore the poignancy, volatility, and ultimate realness of human connections in his films. Papi Chulo, starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño, is certainly no exception. The film follows Sean (Bomer), a TV weatherman who finds himself struggling with loneliness and isolation in the sweltering urban landscape of Los Angeles. In an effort to combat this loneliness, Sean hires migrant worker Ernesto (Patiño), under the guise of requiring his labor, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Sean is not looking for an employee so much as he is looking for a friend.
The two certainly make an unlikely pair. Sean is young, white, gay, and apparently wealthy. Ernesto is middle-aged, Mexican, married with a wife and children, and doing everything he can to make ends meet. Through these characters, human differences and their ultimate limitations becomes one of the film’s main points of exploration. Sean and Ernesto clearly have very little in common, and their relationship is even more strained by the distinct language barrier between them. However, the two men manage to find ways around it, and the film reveals through its progression that what is truly important is the act of communication itself, the connection that forms between two people simply from being heard and acknowledged.
Barriers between people undoubtedly exist; barriers of race, class, age, and language. Butler skillfully demonstrates these barriers not only through the characters’ dialogue, but also through a clever motif of glass doors and windows. An early scene in the film, for instance, has Sean taking refuge behind the window of his car door in an effort to avoid a conversation with his coworker Susan (D’Arcy Carden). This motif also serves to initially separate Sean and Ernesto, as Sean is frequently shown viewing the older man through his car window or the glass door of his deck. These separations create tensions between characters, which in turn create opportunities for the film’s wry sense of humor. Butler perfectly captures the universal human experience of awkwardness, whether it comes from stretches of silence between two characters that lasts just a little too long for comfort, or from a character trying, and failing, to keep his composure under the scrutiny of his peers.
Papi Chulo is ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships. It is brilliantly acted, with wonderfully astute and down-to-earth performances by Bomer and Patiño, backed by Wendi McLendon-Covey, D’Arcy Carden, and Elena Campbell-Martinez. The urban setting of Los Angeles is particularly well-suited to the narrative, as Sean and Ernesto form an unlikely friendship in a city where genuine human connections can prove shallow more often than not, and where time can seem to stand still under an always-shining sun.
98 minutes 15A (see IFCO for details) Papi Chulo is released 7th June 2019
DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Julian Ulrichs • PRO: David Collins, Martina Niland • CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins
Frances is a girl with aspirations larger than her family, and a temper hotter than the fires that they warm themselves around in the evenings, entertaining each other by singing haunting renditions of traditional Irish songs. Her universe is small, contained, and safe, until one fateful afternoon when local law enforcement delivers a sharp uppercut to her childhood, shaking Frances’ life to the core.
Written and directed by Carmel Winters (Snap, 2011), Float Like a Butterfly packs a punch with an emotional sting more potent than a killer bee. Set in 1960’s Ireland, Frances is just about the most unlikely protagonist imaginable, being at a societal disadvantage as a woman, let alone a young traveller woman. Gender roles are entirely inflexible, and the worst insult given to young men is “Don’t be acting like a girl”, forcing them to fight their way through life, as well as to recognise women as the inferior sex, therefore breeding toxic masculinity into the fibers of their community.
Struggling to establish her domain in this world that already has pre-established domesticated plans for her, Frances finds a kindred spirit in the stories of Mohammed Ali, as her father Michael would wax lyrical about him before his incarceration. Emulating Ali, she knows that she’s the greatest, even before she actually is. Unfortunately, her father returns home from prison a changed man. He no longer shows her how to box, and teaches her little brother that it’s not tolerable for women to hit, but instead acceptable for them to be on the receiving end of a punch. But Frances has an indomitable spirit in comparison to the layabouts that live in the village and the drunks in her family, one that only a beating from a husband will tame. And with this reason in mind, Michael takes her and her younger brother, Patrick, on the road, but as their travels progress and she leaves the relative safety of her extended family behind, her world becomes desaturated, a shadow of its former vibrancy.
Hazel Doupe shines in her performance as Frances. Her steely blue gaze, laden with emotional narrative is accompanied by Dara Devaney’s portrayal of Michael Joyce. With a brash charm that wears thinner with the correlation of whiskey sunk down the hatch; he’s conflicted between admiration for Frances, and the inverse positions of authority established in his absence between his children, one which he often chooses to resolve with a quick hand and a sharp word. The music and score are evocative, joyful, and empowering; female dominated in both presence and lyrics, and the haunting lilt of the tin instruments is synonymous with both Ireland and its travelling community.
Float Like a Butterfly has a rare fervour, whereby it emotes both gut-wrenching sadness and a fighting spirit in one fell swoop. She’s about to choose the path not taken, but “there’s no wrong way when you’re on the right road.” Even if Frances wins this round, the fight is still far from over. Her boxing ring is one of sand, and pride is the prize.
DIR: Andy Tohill, Ryan Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan • DOP: Angus Mitchell • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Brian J. Falconer • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • MUS: James Everett • CAST: Francis Magee, Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe
Northern Irish directors, Ryan and Andy Tohill, invite us to delve deep into the mire that is The Dig, as a small community is ravaged by an unresolved murder, a family is torn apart, and the truth is attempting to climb out of its water logged grave.
Ronan Callaghan (Moe Dunford), a stain on the local community has come home, and judging from the dilapidated house that he returns to, coupled with James Everett’s effectively somber score, his homecoming is not a joyous one. We learn early on that he has recently been released from jail for the murder of a local girl, Niamh, a night that he was too black out drunk to remember. Despite having served his time, Ronan’s sentence is far from over, as Niamh’s father, Séan (Lorcan Cranitch), and sister, Roberta (Emily Taaffe), are mining for the truth on the bog that his family owns. Persecuted from every angle, he attempts to solve the mystery of the holes in his memory, as well as the guilt that filters through him like silt, and so he picks up the spade to help Séan and begins to dig deeper.
With more shades of grey than an E.L. James novel, but with actual depth, The Dig avoids straightforward character development like a pothole in the road. The narrative is gradually excavated as the film progresses, moving from almost pure visual storytelling, into unveiling strategies such as solely using the protagonist’s surname in an attempt to dehumanise him, evolving into the ponderous enigma that is the night in question. Stuart Drennan’s writing elegantly weaves Irish mythology into this murder mystery, as well as ties in a reference to the Old Croghan Man, a remarkably well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Offaly in 2003. The use of earth tones and natural light mirror the land in which it is set, contrasting with the abnormalityof the murderous act itself, as Angus Mitchell’s cinematography employs sparse, wide shots of the landscape, allowing us to bear witness to the magnitude of the job that Séan and Ronan have ahead of them.
Metaphor is integral to the plot, insisting that the viewer recognise clues and personality traits through the use of analogies and colour. Ronan is clearly the house to which he returns to, abandoned, decimated by locals, and previously coming apart at the seams with alcohol. The bog in which they search for Niamh’s body is peppered with holes, marked with red and blue flags, which cleverly hint to the conclusion. Except for the first one that Ronan encounters; a single white flag, a surrender, and an acceptance to whatever fate awaits him as he shovels his own war trench.
Although The Dig may not fulfil the plot-heavy murder mystery category that some people may hope for, the premiseis both novel and consuming, as a murderer helps a grieving father search for that which he took from him. There is substance to be found in the pursuit as the Tohill’s have purposely devised a bleak visceral experience. Yet perhaps they should have stayed more in the realms of Seamus Heaney than Agatha Christie, as when they veer moretowards the latter the plot becomes increasingly conventional and more shallow than their earlier narrative. Nevertheless, what they have created is a striated and near tangible experience rather than an affected whodunit.
DIR: Neil Jordan • WRI: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan • PRO: Lawrence Bender, James Flynn, Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Nick Emerson • PRO: Anna Rackard • CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea
Boston native Frances (Moretz) is newly moved to New York and working as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant. Still grieving the death of her mother, she is warned by her housemate Erica (Monroe) that her good-natured ways could be taken advantage of in the Big Apple and that she needs to become more streetwise. Frances doesn’t heed Erica’s advice when she finds a designer bag left on the subway and tracks down its owner, Greta (Huppert), a lonely, widowed pianist. Frances and Greta immediately strike up a bond, Greta becoming the mother-figure Frances yearns for. However, it soon becomes apparent that there may be more malevolent elements to Greta’s character than first appeared.
Neil Jordan returns to our screens with this entertaining, daft thriller which calls to mind 90’s stalker films such as Single White Female. Unquestionably the highlight of the film is the peerless Isabelle Huppert, who you can sense is having an enormous amount of fun in such a scenery-chewing role. Huppert has evidenced time and again her capacity to author a film through her performance. While her role here does not allow for the same level of complexity as she had in the recent Elle, the material and role are unquestionably elevated by her imagination and charisma. Of the other actors, Moretz gives solid support as the naive Frances. Monroe works hard in a somewhat thankless role that could have done with further development. Stephen Rea’s appearance in a cameo role confirms that we are indeed watching a Neil Jordan film.
There’s a breeziness to Jordan’s direction here which suits the material well. He’s well aware of the film’s silliness and milks it for as much fun as he can. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is lush and seductive in a very classical sense, while Dublin does a good job of standing in for New York. There are some fairly gaping plot-holes and the film’s script is often quite predictable, particularly one final twist, which feels utterly signposted. Flaws such as these, however, don’t seem out of place in the heightened, winking world of the film.
Beyond another masterclass from Huppert, this not a film that will likely linger long in the memory, but it remains a polished, self-aware and highly diverting piece.
99 minutes 15A (see IFCO for details) Greta is released 19th April 2019
DIR/WRI: Alan Mulligan • PRO: Taine King, Alan Mulligan, Anthony Mulligan, Tim Palmer • DOP: Daniel Sorin Balteanu • ED: Alan Mulligan, Tim Palmer, Daniel Sorin Balteanu • DES: Lilla Nurie • CAST: Laurence O’Fuarain, Joanne Brennan, Des Carney
In Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, we are introduced to our lead character James, a distant, meticulous figure, as he runs through Dublin at night, headphones in, ignoring all around him. Immediately, the film’s visuals work hard and effectively to situate James within the wider context of 21st century, modernizing Dublin as we see him run along the Samuel Beckett Bridge and by other recognizable modern landmarks and architecture. And soon, as we cut to the next day when James’ day job is revealed to us, we can see why. James is a banker and the film is, to a certain extent, a kind of state of the nation (or at least state of the city) piece.
James witnesses first-hand the cruelty of his employers to a stranger and then to a loved one. He sits through meetings whose participants could have been side characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, except that their seediness and vile intentions would have overshadowed that film’s main cast.
Indeed, characterization in this film can be somewhat lacking. The bankers in this film, with two exceptions, are just evil. Aside from James himself, characters are generally one-note and their motivations simplistic. In the case of the bankers though, their uncomplicated evil does make it clear the stance this film is taking on the state of 21st century Ireland: banks exert an inordinate amount of control on the lives of Irish people, especially on the sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable, and the manner in which control is exerted is entirely avaricious. It is not a nuanced take on the state of modern Ireland, but an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions, though it is perhaps a bit undercut by the cartoony, villainous dialogue of characters who run those institutions.
Dialogue and the relationships among the film’s small cast of characters in general are often an issue in this film, which does not aid in the believability of these characters or their plight. In particular, a sexual subplot involving James which features awkward dialogue with a co-worker and lingering shots of him staring at her groin feels stilted at best and a bit exploitative at worst. That’s not to say that these actors don’t give strong performances. Special praise must go to Sonya O’Donoghue who gives a wonderful performance in the brief time she is in the film. The issue is just that the relationships between characters are not compelling or heartfelt enough to carry the film.
To uncover the real strength of the film we must turn back to its visuals. There’s a coldness to them. We do not often see the Georgian centre of Dublin, but instead see rectangular architecture and cold fluorescent lights. Inside James’ work place, there’s a bleak impersonality to everything around him. Characters are framed against quasi-symmetrical backdrops, often with vertical lines and barriers like thin doorways or bland posters hanging between them, implying a forced distance between people as demanded by institutions that value impersonal control. Interestingly though, these barriers are almost never centred just right. Mulligan seems to subtly emphasize the “quasi” in “quasi-symmetrical” when it comes to his compositions. In these slightly off-kilter visuals, the movie at first appears to be displaying a clear narrative about control, and then appears, upon closer inspection, to subtly resist it. Even as we see overhead shots outside the office building, where we follow the Liffey past rows of impersonal, rectangular buildings, the staid sameness of these buildings actually serves to emphasize the subtle curvature of the river, which resists that sameness. It’s almost as if there is something inherently chaotic here that upsets this narrative of impersonality and control.
These visuals work well to elucidate the film’s themes. As the events of the film progress and James begins to viscerally encounter and resist the injustice of his employer, such visuals remain the most powerful weapon in Mulligan’s arsenal to make his examination of the limits of cold calculation and, eventually, the seeming impossibility of clear narratives of control and justice strike home. I’ll be thrilled to see when Mulligan’s keen visual eye gets married to a script and characters that complement this skill.
92 minutes 15A (see IFCO for details) The Limit of is released 5th April 2019
DIR/WRI: Danny Hiller • PRO: Paul Cummins • DOP: Seamus Deasy • ED: Geraint Huw Reynolds • DES: Ray Ball • MUS: Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Gary Lightbody • CAST: Fiona Shaw, Alun Armstrong, Judith Roddy, Nick Dunning. Fiona Shaw
Sometimes a film will require suspension of disbelief because the fiction is too fantastical, but in this case the truth is undoubtedly more bizarre. Out of Innocence focuses on preconceptions, prejudices, and misogyny, as one woman is about to become infamous throughout the nation when both Church and State combine forces to pillory a family in crisis, forcing an elastic band around your diaphragm as you struggle to draw a breath due to the heavy tension.
Written and directed by Danny Hiller, Out of Innocence is the dramatised story of The Kerry Babies Case in 1984, and therefore understandably emotive viewing. The opening images are of a beach so picturesque that it could only be the West of Ireland, as the waves loll in, laden with tranquility. But everything is about to change, as the body of a newborn baby washes up in a fertilizer bag. Such an unnatural event, powerfully juxtaposed against the beauty of the scenery. This kind of incidentsimplydoesn’t happen in these parts of Ireland, and the local Gardaí are flummoxed by the arrival of the Murder Squad from Dublin. Meanwhile, 80 kilometers away, Sarah, our protagonist, is having an affair with a married man, Paudi, a vacillating excuse for a boyfriend or husband. They already have one child as a result of their affair, and unknown to anyone but him, another is on the way. Blood will simmer as the plot evolves into a case of vilification, when Detective Callaghan (Alun Armstrong) goes above and beyond rational measures in order to prove Sarah Flynn guilty, but instead, all he demonstrates is his unfettered misogyny to the audience. Unshakeable in his resolve and distaste for what he deems to be iniquitous women, his face turns acetous at even the suggestion of women and premarital sex. He not only casts a blind eye to blood evidence, but hemanufactures the most unlikely versions of a possible truth, as he’s as fond of fabricating theories as Tom Walsh is of tagging furniture.
In contrast to Callaghan’s bullish-ness, we have the meekness of Catherine Flynn, Sarah’s mother. Fiona Shaw was perfectly cast in the role and provides a measured and terse performance. As a god-fearing countrywoman, she lives for religion and family in the wake of her husband’s death, and all that she believes in is crumbling around her shoulders as she struggles to keep a stiff upper lip. Her desire to return to normality is effectively shown as she persists in routinely tucking hot water bottles into absent beds, despite having just confessed to being a conspirator to murder.But the standout performance is Fionnuala Flaherty (Sarah Flynn), who in her tribulation represents all the women of Ireland in an emotional and reflective manner. Hillen captures a moment of genuine poignancy as the camera focuses deliberately on the Harp that presides over the courtroom. Being synonymous with Ireland, due in part to The Society of United Irishmen, the irony here is that the society’s seal depicts a harp with the mottos “It is now strung and shall be heard”, as well as “Equality”, both of which were completely flouted in Sarah Flynn’s case. Recognition must also be given to Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s score, which pensively and effectively encapsulates the beauty and sorrow of this country, as its history is so inextricably entrenched within the duality of these descriptives.
In this age of documentaries about confessions made under police duress, Out of Innocence puts its own harrowing spin on false truths. Women are persecuted from all aspects; from when Sarah was termed to have an “empty womb” (a negative perspective on simply not being pregnant), to the witch hunt for a woman with a child out of wedlock, and god forbid, one that was involved in an affair with a recreant married man, and eventually to evolve into a murder trial without parameters. Yet there are moments of hope, as the trial gathers an indomitable crowd of both female and male supporters, infuriating the prosecuting side, but also unfortunately the judge. As Detective Armstrong combs the strand in the hopes of finding another dead baby at the hands of our protagonist, we realise that although progression has been made, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completely through the other side. There is a long road ahead of us yet, one for which the foundations have been laid, but we must also continue to persevere with forging the path. Otherwise there but for the grace of Church and State go we.
Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.
Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.
Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.
Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.
At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.
Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.
Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.
While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.
Fifteen-year-old Allegra is constantly embarrassed by her mother’s immaturity, her dead-end job at the bakery and her lifestyle, encouraged by fast-talking best friend Aisling. But Pamela’s fed up too, having put her life on hold to raise her disapproving daughter.
When Pamela becomes unexpectedly pregnant, the relationship between mother and daughter is tested as the two navigate the upheavals of pregnancy and teenage hormones, driving Pamela and Allegra to a new understanding and appreciation of each other along the way.
CAST: Bronagh Gallagher, Lola Petticrew, Mary Moulds, Dan Gordan, Andy Doherty, Gerard Jordan, Paddy C. Courtney
Never Grow Old
DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh
Premiere @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019
In cinemas 23rd August 2019
A western in which an Irish undertaker profits when outlaws take over a peaceful American frontier town, but his family come under threat as the death toll rises.
CAST: John Cusack, Emile Hirsch, Antonia Campbell-Hughes
Bringing us to a unique place beyond the reach of television news reports Gaza reveals a world rich with eloquent and resilient characters, offering us a cinematic and enriching portrait of a people attempting to lead meaningful lives against the rubble of perennial conflict.
“With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it”
Laura and Tyler are soulmates. Thirty-something best friends and revellers residing in Dublin, they are ingrained in the fabric of each other’s lives; dating, partying, drinking and living their life without limitations.
Fifty years after the Apollo 11 mission, Johnny Gogan and Nick Snow’s documentary tells the hidden horror story behind the NASA space programme and of the only former Nazi to be stripped of his American citizenship and deported.
Weaving archive material and expert interviews with recreated courtroom drama using the transcripts of scientist Arthur Rudolph’s trial we learn about the Germans who led the moon shot, their wartime records, the cover-up that brought them to America, why it took forty years to investigate them, and why none of them were brought to trial….
CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine
Cast adrift in Los Angeles, Sean — a lonely TV weatherman — drives past a middle-aged Latino migrant worker standing outside Home Depot looking for work. He decides to hire this kind-looking man — to be his friend. Sean is young, gay and white; Ernesto, portly, straight and married. Despite having nothing in common, they build a sort of friendship based on sign language, until Sean becomes consumed by a deep and obsessional attraction.
CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño
“ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships”
Irish Traveller Francis has to fight for the right to pursue her passion…boxing. She is determined to make her idol Muhammad Ali proud, as well as her father who has recently been released from prison. But when she wants to show him just how tough she is, she soon comes to realise he’s got other plans for her.
CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins
“captures humanity at its best and worst, offering a message of hope throughout.”
A sweet, naïve young woman making a go of it in the Big Apple, Frances doesn’t think twice about returning the handbag she finds on the subway to its rightful owner. That owner is Greta, a peculiar pianist with a predilection for Romantic music and a desperate need for company. Frances recently lost her mother and feels alienated by her father; Greta has lost her husband, and her daughter lives far away. The two become fast friends — but that friendship rapidly assumes ever more sinister hues as Greta’s attentions escalate.
Ben Slater and his wife Hazel, in the wake of the tragic death of their daughter, Molly, retreat to the west coast of Ireland to build themselves a new life in a quaint hotel by the sea. However, there is no escape for Ben who is plagued by a recurring dream of a perfect day all three of them spent on the beach last summer. Ben becomes convinced that he can change the past through this dream and bring his little girl back. As his determination to bring Molly home grows, his grasp on reality slips and his sanity is questioned by those around him. Somewhere between dreams and reality lies the truth.
CAST: Stephen Dorff, Melissa George, Simon Delaney, Aoibhinn McGinnity, Charlotte Bradley, Luke Griffin
Out of Innocence
DIR/WRI: Danny Hiller
In Cinemas 12th April 2019
After a police investigation, a young mother, confused and scared, confesses to a crime she did not commit and is charged with murder. Based on real events in 1980’s Ireland.
CAST: Fiona Shaw, Alun Armstrong, Ruth McCabe
“puts its own harrowing spin on false truths. Women are persecuted from all aspects…”
James Allen is a successful, controlling, thirty-something banker living alone and working in Dublin city at the tail end of the recession. When a family tragedy occurs due to the ruthlessness of his employer, he takes decisive action to try to make things right.
Meanwhile, his enigmatic co-worker Alison has her own agenda, which puts her on a collision course with James, triggering and a dark spiral of deceit, revenge, and murder.
CAST: Alan Mulligan, Taine King, Tim Palmer, Anthony Mulligan
“an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions”
Bobby Coote left school at 13 and spends most of his time in his back shed fixing clocks and making violins, but he has never lost sight of a lifelong dream to fly. He has cut a runway in a neighbour’s field and even built a hangar. And now he’s using his life savings to buy a plane! He gets no encouragement from his brother Ernie – another octogenarian in the Coote household, who thinks the whole thing is mad. But Bobby is determined to get airborne, even if it’s the last thing he does.
An Engineer Imagines
DIR: Marcus Robinson
In Cinemas 1st March 2109
Many of the world’s modern architectural treasures including the Sydney Opera House, the Lloyd’s Building in London, the Inverted Pyramid at the Louvre and the Pompidou Centre in Paris were made possible through the innovation of Irish engineer Peter Rice. A genius who stood in the shadow of architectural icons. Until now
The Hole in the Ground
DIR: Lee Cronin • WRI: Lee Cronin, Stephen Shields
Trying to escape her broken past, Sarah O’Neill is building a new life on the fringes of a backwood rural town with her young son Chris. A terrifying encounter with a mysterious neighbour shatters her fragile security, throwing Sarah into a spiralling nightmare of paranoia and mistrust, as she tries to uncover if the disturbing changes in her little boy are connected to an ominous sinkhole buried deep in the forest that borders their home.
CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey
“superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin”
A political thriller about an enthusiastic junior officer from The Hague War Tribunal in pursuit of justice. The arrest of General Miro Pantic ends a decade-long manhunt that had frustrated his Western pursuers and left festering one of the bloodiest chapters in Europe’s recent history. He had been indicted by a War Crimes Tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity, but when an envoy from The Hague comes looking for an internal witness – Nikola Radin, alas The General – the problems begin. Getting out of the wilderness is not easy as no one wants The General to testify against Pantic, whom they perceive as their national hero. The bloody men-hunt will give a life-changing lesson to the young envoy who will understand that there are many more shades to what he thought was a black and white picture.
CAST: Pádraic Delaney, Natasha Petrovic, Bruno Ganz
DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara
Early 18th century. England is at war with the French. Nevertheless, duck racing and pineapple eating are thriving. A frail Queen Anne occupies the throne and her close friend Lady Sarah governs the country in her stead while tending to Anne’s ill health and mercurial temper. When a new servant Abigail arrives, her charm endears her to Sarah. Sarah takes Abigail under her wing and Abigail sees a chance at a return to her aristocratic roots. As the politics of war become quite time consuming for Sarah, Abigail steps into the breach to fill in as the Queen’s companion. Their burgeoning friendship gives her a chance to fulfil her ambitions and she will not let woman, man, politics or rabbit stand in her way.
CAST: Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz, Emma Stone
“a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality”
Documentary centres on the men who unwittingly became war photographers on the streets of their own Northern Irish towns. Expecting a career of wedding photography and celebrity photocalls, the images they produced would come to define that conflict.
After being widowed, Frank Fogle reluctantly embarks on a journey to honor his wife’s last wish of spreading her ashes in a remote lake in her native Ireland and a promise of taking his estranged son, Sean, along for the trip. As Sean steps out of prison the last thing on his mind is a foreign road trip with his alienated father.
CAST: John Hawkes, Logan Lerman, Sarah Bolger
DIR: Lina Lužytė
Set in Dublin, Monika has a dream to play a one in a lifetime concert. Her mother is sceptical and reluctant to support her daughter’s dreams, and so she sells their keyboard and forbids Monika from attending the concert. However, Monika stops at nothing to pursue her dream.
In sharp contrast to the all pervasive romanticised and glamorised media image of the Sicilian Mafia, Shooting the Mafia, unflinchingly explores the stark reality of life, and death, under the oppressive yoke of the Corleonesi Mafia.
“explores the possibilities of art as a tool for challenging violence”
A driving instructor must use her other-wordly gifts to save a lonely man’s daughter from a rock star looking to use her for Satanic purposes.
CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward
The Last Right (Aoife Crehan)
Wildfire (Cathy Brady)
The story of two sisters who grew up on the fractious Irish border. When one of them, who has gone missing, finally returns home, the intense bond with her sister is re-ignited. Together they unearth their mother’s past, but as they uncover the secrets and resentments that have been buried deep down, it all threatens to overwhelm them.
CAST: Nika McGuigan, Nora-Jane Noone
DIR: Lorcan Finnegan • WRI: Garret Shanley
Premiere @ Cannes 2019
A couple looking for the perfect home, find themselves trapped in a mysterious labyrinth-like neighborhood of identical houses.
CAST: Imogen Poots, Jesse Eisenberg, Jonathan Aris, Jack Hudson
A Dog Called Money
DIR: Seamus Murphy
Premiere @ Berlinale 2019
Chronicles the recording of PJ Harvey’s The Hope Six Demolition Project in London, as well as Harvey and photographer and filmmaker Seamus Murphy’s travels in Afghanistan, Kosovo and Washington D.C.
Calm With Horses
DIR: Nick Rowland • WRI: Joe Murtagh
In darkest rural Ireland, ex-boxer Arm has become the feared enforcer for the drug dealing Devers family, whilst also trying to be a good father to his autistic five year-old son, Jack. Torn between these two families, Arm is asked to kill for the first time, and his attempt to do the right thing endangers everyone he holds dear.
CAST: Barry Keoghan, Niamh Algar, Ned Dennehy, Cosmo Jarvis, Hazel Doupe
Rose Plays Julie
DIR/WRI: Joe Lawlor, Christine Molloy
Rose is at university studying veterinary science. An only child, she has enjoyed a loving relationship with her adoptive parents. However, for as long as Rose can remember she has wanted to know who her biological parents are and the facts of her true identity. After years trying to trace her birth mother, Rose now has a name and a number. All she has to do is pick up the phone and call. When she does it quickly becomes clear that her birth mother has no wish to have any contact. Rose is shattered. A renewed and deepened sense of rejection compels her to keep going. Rose travels from Dublin to London in an effort to confront her birth mother, Ellen and learns a secret that has been kept hidden for over 20 years.
CAST: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen, Annabell Rickerby
DIR/WRI: Tom O’Sullivan
Set during the famine, a man loses everything and is accused of a murder. On the run for three years and with the help of a mysterious girl he attempts to rebuild his life. However, his past however comes back to haunt him.
Micí Phincí Ó Foghlú is a young musician with a tragic past who is crippled in a car accident and given a chance at redemption when he is recruited by a violent, avant-garde circus.
Ooops! Back In The Deep End
Toby Genkel, Sean McCormack
When best friends Finny the Nestrian and Leah the Grymp are finally reunited with their parents on board the ark, they quickly realise that there is no sign of the high waters retreating just yet. Life at sea is not easy, food is bland and stocks are running low. An uneasy, fragile peace between carnivores and herbivores, could break down at any second. Leah convinces a reluctant Finny to agree to a midnight raid of the food stores, which inadvertently leads to them being washed overboard -again!- along with the last of the food supplies. What is to become of Finny, Leah and the rest of the animal kingdom?
DIR: Peter Mackie Burns • WRI: Mark O’Halloran
In the wake of his father’s death, Colm must come to terms with his actions and find the resolve to halt the crumbing facade of his home, his family, and everything he has built.
CAST: Tom Vaughan-Lawlor, Tom Glynn-Carney, Monica Dolan
If you have a film set for release in cinemas this year and would like us to feature it, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Dir: Lee Cronin • Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet • Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen • DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison • Ed: Colin Campbell • CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby
Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.
Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.
Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.
Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.
A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.
DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie • CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz
The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.
The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.
So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work. Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.
The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.
The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.
The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.
2018 promises to be another great year for Irish film, includingThe Breadwinner, which recently beat Pixar’s Coco to win Best Animated Feature at the Los Angeles Film Critics Assn. Awards and is in the running for an Oscar nomination.
Below, we take a look at some of the Irish films making their way to cinemas this year.
Keepers of the Flame (Nuala O’Connor)
14th December 2018
Tells the universal story of generations dealing with the consequences of war and civil war; of what is remembered and what is forgotten. Keepers of the Flame delves into the archives of the Irish Military Service Pensions and what emerges is a truly personal retelling of a brutal and divisive period in the birth of a nation and the devastating legacy it left in its wake, for the individuals who took part and their families who suffered long after the fighting ended. More than 85,000 applied for the Irish Military Service Pension. Just over 18,000 received any payment.
The Belly of the Whale (Morgan Bushe)
Irish premiere at Galway Film Fleadh 10th July 2018
7th December 2018
Set over a long bank holiday weekend, misfit teenager, Joey Moody, returns to his home town in a foolhardy bid to reopen his family’s crumbling caravan park and salvage his friendship with his best friend and drinking partner, Lanks.
CAST: Pat Shortt, Lewis MacDougall, Art Parkinson, Michael Smiley, Peter Coonan, Lauren Kinsella
Disobedience (Sebastián Lelio)
30th November 2018
New York photographer Ronit Krushka flies to London after learning about the death of her estranged father. Ronit is returning to the same Orthodox Jewish community that shunned her decades earlier for her childhood attraction to Esti, a female friend. Their fortuitous and happy reunion soon reignites their burning passion as the two women explore boundaries of faith and sexuality.
A crew including a writer, two musicians, an artist and a stonemason embark on the Camino by sea, in a traditional boat that they built themselves, on an inspiring and dangerous 2,500km modern day Celtic odyssey all the way from Ireland to Northern Spain.
On a glaring, hot day Tom, 17, walks out of an immense forest into the lives of a strictly devout Christian community carving out a remote existence in central Europe. He seems to have come from nowhere. The only physical sign of his life before is the wound on his torso that refuses to heal.
CAST: Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann, Clara Rugaard
“a film that is both visually striking and unsettling in tone”
Kildare farmer Thomas Reid lives a solitary life on the fringes of mainstream society, but beyond the walls of his 18th century farm sits an American factory – vital to the national economy but long an unsettling presence in Thomas’ life. Suspicious of intrusion, Thomas didn’t welcome the State agents who come to inquire about his house and lands. He vowed to resist.
We Ourselves (Paul Mercier)
18th October 2018
Idealists and careerists take separate paths in life.
CAST: Declan Conlon, Gavin Drea, Caitriona Ennis
Rosie (Paddy Breathnach)
12th October 2018
The story of a mother trying to protect her family after their landlord sells their rented home and they become homeless. Over 36 hours, Rosie and her partner John Paul strive to find somewhere to stay while shielding their young family from the reality of the situation around them.
CAST: Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford
“a beautiful film which is bound to make audiences angry”
During an emotional and highly charged encounter, a young rape victim seeks answers to questions which have haunted her since her attack. The woman is determined the experience will not deny her the right to personal freedoms as she endeavours to find some form of closure. The film is based upon a real-life encounter between a rape victim and her attacker upon his prison release.
John Paul II in Ireland: A Plea for Peace (Marc Boudignon, David Naglieri)
21st September 2018
In the fall of 1979, John Paul II was one year into a transformative papacy filled with hope and dynamism. Northern Ireland was a decade into the Troubles, a bloody conflict that shrouded all of Ireland in gloom.
The Little Stranger (Lenny Abrahamson)
21st September 2018
Dr. Faraday, the son of a housemaid, has built a life of quiet respectability as a country doctor. During the long hot summer of 1947, he is called to a patient at Hundreds Hall, where his mother once worked. The Hall has been home to the Ayres family for more than two centuries and is now in decline. But Mrs Ayres, and her two grown children, Caroline and Roddy, are haunted by something more ominous than a dying way of life. When he takes on his new patient, Faraday has no idea how closely, and how terrifyingly, the family’s story is about to become entwined with his own.
CAST: Charlotte Rampling, Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter
” lures viewers in with one thing, but delivers something different”
In a small town in Ireland childhood friends Fionn, Scott and Paul come across an envelope full of money. They do what any group of “Lads” would do and spend all of the money on pints, smokes, chips and drugs. After spending all of the money in 2 weeks the lads find out that the money belongs to dangerous gangsters who want their money back. The lads must fight for survival and do whatever it takes to get the money back or it will be the last time any of them have a few pints together.
A Mother Brings Her Son To Be Shot (Sinéad O’Shea)
14th September 2018
A documentary exploring a broken community in Northern Ireland, scratches the surface of a staunchly republican populace and exposes how they take the law into their own hands.
Set in Ireland during the Great Famine, the drama follows an Irish Ranger who has been fighting for the British Army abroad, as he abandons his post to reunite with his family. Despite experiencing the horrors of war, he is shocked by the famine’s destruction of his homeland and the brutalization of his people and his family.
CAST: Barry Keoghan, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent
“a rollicking western with fantastic action and excellent performances”
One woman’s story of life and death in the IRA, for whom the Good Friday Agreement brought no peace of mind. A member of a crack, secret IRA unit run by Gerry Adams, Dolours Price led the first team to bomb the centre of London in 1973. Before this, she was a central figure in one of the most notorious and controversial IRA operations of The Troubles: the murder and dumping into unmarked graves of people whose violent deaths the IRA wished to keep secret – the so-called ‘disappeared’.
“A fascinating portrait of a compelling and complex figure in Irish history served well by a skilfully crafted piece of Irish filmmaking”
Tells the unknown story of the death of eleven innocent people at the hands of the British Army in a Catholic estate in Belfast in 1971.
Lost & Found (Liam O Mochain)
13th July 2018
7 interconnecting stories set in and around a lost & found office of an Irish train station. All segments are inspired by true stories, share a theme of something lost or found and characters that come in and out of each other’s lives.
CAST: Norma Sheahan, Liam Carney, Aoibhin Garrihy, Anthony Morris, Seamus Hughes, Liam O Mochain, Brendan Conroy, Barbara Adair, Sean Flanagan, Mary McEvoy, Diarmuid Noyes, Lynette Callaghan, Olga Wehrly, Daniel Costelloe, Donncha Crowley
Mary Wollstonecraft’s family disapproves when she and poet Percy Shelley announce their love for each other. The family is horrified when it finds that the couple has eloped, accompanied by Mary’s half-sister, Claire. While staying in the home of Lord Byron at Lake Geneva, the guests are challenged to write a ghost story, which leads Mary to conceive her novel Frankenstein.
CAST: Maisie Williams, Elle Fanning, Bel Powley
Dublin Old School (Dave Tynan)
29th June 2018
Over a drug-fuelled lost weekend in Dublin, Jason, a wannabe DJ reconnects with his estranged homeless brother Daniel, a recovering addict.
A 17-year-old who longs to escape the boredom of her seaside town, only finding solace in her vivid imagination. When a boy she dreams about turns up in real life, she becomes increasingly entangled with a dangerous local gang.
Based on the best-selling children’s novel by Deborah Ellis, The Breadwinner tells the story of 11 year old Parvana who gives up her identity to provide for her family and try to save her father’s life. Parvana’s father Nurullah had told stories about history and imagination to Parvana as she helped him in the marketplace of Taliban controlled Kabul in the year 2001. When he is arrested Parvana finds the courage to look for him when everyone else had given up hope. She becomes a storyteller, remembering a brother she has once known. Every day is a challenge as Parvana tries to bring home enough food and water to support her mother, sister and little brother. She meets a fellow girl in disguise called Shauzia and together, they form a bond that will give them the strength to endure the war that comes to their doorstep in the Fall of 2001.
A mix of documentary and drama that delivers a vivid and compelling portrait of Hugh Lane, one of the most fascinating and yet enigmatic figures in modern Irish history. A man of multiple contradictions, by turns infuriatingly parsimonious or extraordinarily generous, a professed nationalist and a knight of the realm; a monumental snob and a fearless campaigner for access to the arts.
A Cambodian Spring (Chris Kelly)
In cinemas 4th May 2018
An intimate and unique portrait of three people caught up in the chaotic and often violent development that is shaping modern-day Cambodia. Shot over six years, the film charts the growing wave of land-rights protests that led to the “Cambodian spring” and the tragic events that followed. This film is about the complexities – both political and personal, of fighting for what you believe in.
In 1941 marksmen from the Royal Ulster Constabulary, following a Directive from The Ministry of Public Security, shot dead 23 animals at Belfast Zoo. They destroyed one hyena, six wolves, one puma, one tiger, one black bear, one Barbary lion, two polar bears, one lynx and giant rat named Hugo. During these turbulent times, a woman secretly walked a young elephant from the zoo each evening to the backyard of her terraced home. There, she cared for and comforted it as the Luftwaffe bombs rained down over Belfast. This is a true story… and our setting for Zoo.
Seen through the eyes of 10 year old Tom, aided and abetted by his misfit friends, this moving adventure unfolds as Tom takes on the fight to save Buster the elephant.
Cast: Toby Jones, Ian McElhinney, Penelope Wilton
The Delinquent Season (Mark O’Rowe)
Irish premiere at ADIFF 3rd March 2018
In cinemas 27th April 2018
A tense drama which revolves around two couples in suburban Dublin – Jim and Danielle and Yvonne and Chris. On paper, they both appear to live in marital bliss, until an altercation between one couple occurs and cracks begin to appear in both of these seemingly steady marriages.
CAST: Cillian Murphy, Andrew Scott, Eva Birthistle
“a detailed and realistic examination into the outcomes of tampering with monogamy and married life”
Senan has been through hell. When the plague swept across Ireland he was among the thousands afflicted and rendered into rabid ghouls. Senan did horrible things he cannot forget — and neither can the public, nor the authorities charged with policing those released from captivity. Senan’s sister-in-law Abbie, however, is willing to give him a second chance. She lets him live with her and her young son, believing that Senan’s actions while infected were beyond his control. But as an angry anti-cured movement burgeons in tandem with an increasingly radicalized pro-cured movement, Abbie is forced to question just how far her trust should be pushed.
CAST: Ellen Page, Sam Keeley, Tom Vaughan-Lawlor
“a unique and engaging reworking of an enduring genre”
This documentary invites us into the world of the piano lesson. Every year teachers and students throughout Ireland prepare for graded musical exams. These exams can be pleasing for some but daunting for others. Each student has their own particular goal but reaching Grade Eight is considered a pinnacle Making The Grade explores the bond between piano teachers and their pupils as they struggle through these grades.
Reta Winters has many reasons to be happy. Suddenly, all the quiet satisfactions of her well-lived life disappear in a moment when her eldest daughter Norah inexplicably drops out of college and is found on a Toronto street corner, pan-handling and refusing to speak, holding a cardboard sign reading GOODNESS.
Cast: Catherine Keener, Hannah Gross, Hanna Schygulla, Brendan Coyle
“works best as a commentary on the modern view of women’s writing “
Damo and Ivor embark on the mother of all adventures to find the last piece of their family puzzle and track down their long lost brother, John Joe. The adventure takes the brothers across Ireland where they discover that sometimes you can’t judge a book by its cover.
Cast: Andrew Quirke
The Lodgers (Brian O’Malley)
Irish premiere at Cork Film Festival 12th November 2017
In cinemas 9th March 2018
Set 1920’s, rural Ireland, Anglo Irish twins Rachel and Edward share a strange existence in their crumbling family estate. Each night, the property becomes the domain of a sinister presence which enforces three rules upon the twins: they must be in bed by midnight; they may not permit an outsider past the threshold; if one attempts to escape, the life of the other is placed in jeopardy. When troubled war veteran Sean returns to the nearby village, he is immediately drawn to the mysterious Rachel, who in turn begins to break the rules set out by The Lodgers. The consequences pull Rachel into a deadly confrontation with her brother – and with the curse that haunts them.
CAST: Charlotte Vega, David Bradley, Moe Dunford
“stunning visual style, gothic-drenched atmosphere and strong acting by the two leads”
DIR: Rebecca Daly • WRI: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery • DOP: Tibor Dingelstad • ED: Tony Cranstoun • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland • MUS: Rutger Reinders • CAST: Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann, Clara Rugaard
From its stark opening shot of a looming column of trees, foreboding and seemingly impenetrable, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour establishes itself as a film that is both visually striking and unsettling in tone.
It is from these woods that a young man (Vincent Romeo), emerges like a spectre, gaunt and malnourished. He staggers his way into a small, rural settlement which appears to be abandoned but, as he soon discovers, is home to a deeply-Christian farming community who take him in as a requirement of their faith. We learn that the young man’s name is Tom, but his past is unknown. Whether he simply doesn’t remember or doesn’t wish to speak about it, is unclear, and this only adds to the mysterious, enigmatic aura that surrounds him. He is met with both distrust and fascination by the members of the community, chief among whom are religious leader Mikkel (Lars Brygmann), his brother Hans (Alexandre Willaume), Hans’s wife Maria (Victoria Mayer), and their eldest daughter, Shosanna (Clara Rugaard).
Mikkel is quick to welcome Tom into the community, and Maria seems content to follow his example. Hans, however, is outwardly suspicious of the stranger in their midst and treats him with reservation. It is thus unsurprising that the thread of ‘otherness’ runs strongly throughout the film, with Tom as its origin. His sudden presence in this close-knit, secluded community, along with his often intense gaze and subdued way of speaking, mark him as peculiar.
Despite skepticism, Tom is able to make steps to integrate himself into the community. The children in particular are enthralled with this newcomer, and we see in their acceptance of him a comment on the ability of the young to look beyond damaging prejudices. Tom also forms a friendship with Shosanna, and their developing relationship eventually shows itself to have its own startling consequences. The first third or so of the film deals with Tom’s struggle to adjust from his isolation to this codependent, intimate way of life, and his presence inevitably disturbs the rhythm of the community. Quite literally, at one point, when the sounds of his hammering to split a tree trunk disrupt and distract the choir practicing in the nearby schoolroom.
This disturbance is underlain by the suggestion that the community may have its own share of secrets. We are given mention of a young boy named Isaac who disappeared in the woods, and Mikkel’s own mother is gravely ill, but he refuses to take her to the hospital despite the wishes of his father. Using this sense of ambivalence, Daly paints the community in such murky colors that its true nature remains unclear. Is it a simple farming settlement content to keep itself to itself? Or are its people more prisoners than inhabitants?
Adding to this uncertainty are startling images of violence and death that are used to great effect. The body of a stillborn calf being tossed into a container of rotting meat, the corpse of a stag that has been struck by a vehicle, even the invasion of bees into Mikkel’s mother’s sickroom, all highlight a grim clash between nature and settlement, and one begins to wonder at the constant misfortune that the community is struck by.
Noteworthy also is how utterly quiet the film is. There is little to no soundtrack, and the backdrop of silence gives the impression of the film holding its breath, which is well-suited to its tones of suspense and unease. The rare occurrences of background music usually accompany a moment of closeness or intimacy between Tom and one of the principal characters, illustrating the significance of his arrival into their lives. But even Tom’s ultimate role is unclear. Did he simply stumble upon the town or was he brought to it? Will the community have saved him, or will he find a way to save them?
Similar to Daly’s film The Other Side of Sleep, Good Favour is not necessarily concerned with providing answers, content to let the audience speculate, assume, and be startled. The film’s undeniably slow pace is not to its detriment; rather it allows the audience an intimate look into the secluded lives of its characters and their tribulations, interspersed with stunning shots of the landscape that surrounds them. A lone tree in a field at sunset or a cliff-top view of untamable woods become as integral to the narrative as the characters themselves.
Aided by strong performances from the main cast (in particular the strikingly expressive Vincent Romeo), Good Favour is a powerful and gripping film that explores the deep complexities of faith and its consequences, particularly in the face of crisis.
Ross Whitaker lands another knockout with this comprehensive character study. Katie is a beautiful, complex piece of cinema, as nuanced and fascinating as the superstar herself.
In a world fueled of vapid hubris, where 19 year-olds release autobiographies, reality stars flog lipgloss liners and careers have been launched via snapchat, Katie Taylor is an unboundedly refreshing figure. You won’t find her spewing casual racism or throwing railings through bus windows, Katie’s motivation is, and always has been, fuelled by her love of boxing. At an age when most people’s career highlights would be a pay rise or successfully sneaking naggins into their college nights out, Katie was changing the entire world of women’s boxing. In fact, she was instrumental in getting this sport in to the Olympics, and through diligence, faith and a quiet self belief she continues to make her mark today.
A fantastic piece of cinema, Katie is the classic comeback story. The narrative kicks off in the aftermath of Katie’s disastrous and heartbreaking defeat at the 2016 Olympics in Rio. That devastating loss, teamed with the estrangement of her father, coach and mentor, Pete, has Katie on the proverbial ropes. This feature tracks her career, as Katie takes on the monumentally difficult challenge of turning her hand to professional boxing.
Director Ross Whittaker torments the audience with tension. National sports victories are few and far between; you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on this island who isn’t following Katie’s career as if they’d been boxing aficionados all their lives. Nevertheless, this feature has you reliving her wins and losses as if they were happening in real time. While this documentary hits all the satisfying emotional highs and lows you’d expect from any decent sports film, what really sets it apart is the heart behind it; Katie Taylor is an introverted, spiritual, unstoppable force and during these 89 minutes we, as an audience have absolutely no choice but to fall in love with her. Whitaker does a fantastic job articulating her journey – sometimes on her behalf – as she grows from a fierce, young upstart into an articulate, inspirational woman.
Clerys was a one-time focal point of O’Connell Street in Dublin – a mainstay of department stores that wove memories and forged connections. It was a little worn around the edges but this served only to highlight its magnificence. Clerys had charm and lots of it.
The business dated from 1853. However, the building that now stands on this spot, was constructed in 1922. The 1916 Easter Rising saw a number of structures on O’Connell Street damaged to the point where they had to be razed to the ground and re-built.
In 2015, Clerys closed its doors for the last time. The cash registers stopped binging. The coins ceased to jingle. Whirs and clicks of clothes rails on castors faded away and dust settled on the countertops. Twelve stalwarts, staff of Clerys, staged a sit-in. Protesting rigorously at its inglorious ending, they held on precariously until enticed into giving up. That, it seemed, was the end of a sentimental chapter in Dublin’s history – a time past and soon forgotten.
Colm Nicell, director of Under the Clock, has taken a second (and third) glance at this statuesque landmark by deciding to tell the story of thousands of people meeting under Clerys clock – the two-sided clock that hung over the main entrance of Clerys. For some, it spelled the beginning of romance, the first giddy steps towards love and possibly marriage. For others, it was a gateway to heartache and sadness. One account cannot be narrated without hearing its counterpart.
Charlie and Beatrice Stewart met under Clerys clock. He was a self-styled ‘man of the world’ and she a shy 15-year-old schoolgirl. Beatrice brought her friend with her on their first date, much to Charlie’s irritation. Beatrice and her friend sat on one side of the cinema and Charlie on the other. This part of the plan not accounted for still rankles with Charlie in his narration of the event. Beatrice, however, gives a different description – according to her, Charlie asked Beatrice’s friend to come too. No doubt in Charlie’s mind, Beatrice would not have come at all given her tender years and he wanted to ensure he would meet with the stunning Beatrice again. Back and forward this story goes – Charlie indignant at the first date ‘interloper’. Beatrice’s insistence that the invite came from Charlie. They interact, rib each other, and sometimes sit in silence. The leather biker trousers Charlie wore for their initial encounter has long been replaced by more casual trousers and comfortable shoes but the fire is still there. Separate in their togetherness – individual yet one, Charlie and Beatrice are joined by their defining first meeting. Beatrice’s parting shot is to say that Charlie is good in bed. Charlie beams with pleasure and Beatrice hastily adds that he told her to say that. No matter – it’s clear that Beatrice is her own woman and would not have issued the accolade unless it was true. The scene fades with Charlie still grinning.
The memories from those heady days still shines bright through the narrative of Peter and Kathleen Cullen. They met under Clerys clock when both were in their teenage years. Throwback images of Peter, tall and handsome, show him with a protective arm wrapped about the elfin Kathleen. Their relationship encountered some resistance from both families who clearly thought Kathleen and Peter were too young to be in such an intense relationship. Kathleen narrates the moments leading up to her planned running away with Peter. How she hid backpack and clothes before descending the stairs in the wee hours only to hear her mother demand where she thought she was going and issue an imperious dictum to return upstairs immediately. Kathleen tells of the hours spent peering out of her bedroom window watching a clearly distressed Peter pacing up and down as she was forced to stay indoors. Peter eventually realised force majeure had interceded and there would be no caution throwing to any winds that particular evening. So the plan to elope was shelved temporarily and replaced with a secret engagement. Kathleen’s mother became aware of the engagement and wisely came to the conclusion that this was a force too great to be thwarted. She grudgingly accepted her daughter’s impending nuptials but asked Kathleen to keep it from her wider family until Kathleen was married. Still starry eyed and very much in love, Kathleen becomes emotional when talking about their first kiss. She says with certainty, that it was the point at which she fell in love with Peter. Peter shyly smiles and holds Kathleen closer.
Each story is told well and without intervention from the director – with the deftest of touches, Nicell entices the best from every interviewee. Albert Connor claims women are equal but different and goes on bravely to assert that men are the problem. Relationships and human interaction comes under the spotlight. Christina Nicell who seems to have not always seen eye to eye with her husband, states that in those days there was no assistance for women (or men) who found themselves in an unhappy marriage. Meeting under the clock it appears, did not assure life-long harmony and it was up to the individual to stay or go – many chose to stay. Most people endured sadness within a relationship as their lot and simply tolerated rather than striking out and discovering joy with a partner. For Philippa Ryder, not meeting someone under the clock meant that she made the first steps towards being at peace with her gender. Philippa was born a man but in her heart, felt that she was essentially female. Philippa followed her heart.
One common theme among the interviewees is their nostalgia for bygone times – many of them claim the next generation do not understand relationships or how to go about forging one. Tinder and Facebook have made connections between humans transient and fleeting. All of the people who appeared in this film, would not swap the immediacy of life in the present day, with the dance of tender courtship and truly getting to know your life partner before you make a commitment.
Colm Nicell has surpassed himself with this wonderful documentary. There are thousands of others who would have met Under the Clock – not all of them could possibly feature in the film – but every last person has in truth, been represented. For anyone, young or old, married or single, this is a ‘must see’.
Katrina Costello’s The Silver Branch is plainly gorgeous. As she examines farmer and poet Patrick McCormack’s life on his farm in the Burren, she shows her eye for framing natural beauty. She sits her viewers by the side of a dying cow, forcing us straight into empathy with it and its caretakers. She places us in torrential rain which obscures the surrounding landscape and highlights McCormack’s hay-collecting efforts in a baroque-like manner. The camera examines in slow motion predatory hawks as well as rural funeral marches and in fast-forward we see flowers bloom before our eyes. These visuals alone merit an attentive watch.
What elevates this film, however, is its extraordinary ability to pair its visuals with Patrick McCormack’s narration. As the film displays his daily work on the farm, his legal struggles to protect the Burren, his despair as many of his children leave for America, and the environment he calls home, Patrick unveils the wisdom he has gained from his deep connection with the land. We are placed in this world with Costello to guide us visually, McCormack to guide us verbally, and James Dornan to blend the two together through his beautiful score.
It is when Costello’s imagery imbues McCormack’s words with greater meaning and vice-versa that the film is able to find a truly unique means of expression. The film often imbues a single image with multiple, contradictory-yet-compatible meanings by virtue of the cinematography and McCormack’s reflections. A predatory hawk becomes associated with both a threatening, encroaching form of modernity and with a sense of comfort for the poet who fights this encroachment. A rainstorm can be a symbol of renewal as well as fragility for him. These universal themes, drawn out by McCormack’s rootedness with the land he tends, are the film’s great achievement.
Though some visuals work better than others (images of boxers in a ring layered over court proceedings are a bit on the nose), the movie is consistently able to blend together McCormack’s narration and poetry with a visual examination of The Burren in a way that places this particular human experience within what McCormack calls the “web of nature,” revealing our own fragile, yet important place in the natural world, a world that we are not separate from, but one that we are inextricably a part of. The film gets at these insights by digging into the reciprocal process between human and non-human elements of this web. The film’s poetry, visuals, and score combine to show us how sitting at the side of a dying cow can help us to discern some part of our uncertain place in this massive “web” and how that discernment informs how we interact with our landscape. In the mists that so frequently border sweeping shots of the farm, Costello and McCormack let us see our own ephemerality as well as the responsibility placed on us by our own temporary nature.
That this film illustrates this reciprocity so well does it credit and, due to this achievement, the Irish film community should anticipate whatever Costello produces next.
DIR: Alan Gilsenan • ED: Emer Reynolds • CAST: Ailbhe Griffith, Terry O’Neill, Kevin McCormack, Dr Marie Keenan, Brenda McSweeney, Allan Keating
Alan Gilsenan’s new film The Meeting opens with a sweeping title card, declaring that events depicted in the film are “Entirely” true – a daring choice of words, and an absolute to which the film is fully committed.
Ailbhe Griffith is the survivor of a horrific sexual assault. Nine years after the incident, she organises a meeting with her assailant. Authenticity is the central aim in depicting these events. Moment-to-moment accuracy is valued over dramatic tension. The result may come across as quiet and cautious, but the emotional pulse of the film beats loudly, drowning out any trepidation.
Across the first ten minutes, we are presented with Griffith’s assault in fractal passages. Extracts from her statement boldly stretch across the screen. The evening in question is presented in haunting echoes. No re-enactment of the assault is necessary, as brief glimpses of the evidence silently tell all. The barren bus stop. Discarded keys. A body lashed with bite marks.
When we are transported from the hallways of memory to the meeting room of the present, there is a tonal and stylistic shift. Abstract recollections of horror become solid and close. The wordless, silent opening is drowned out by a steady stream of dialog.
This is not good movie dialogue. Sentences are plump with polite niceties and repetitions. Focus is rested on the mundane, the undramatic. Yet there is something undeniable about it – a truth.
Griffith gives a resounding performance as herself, recounting traumatic events with the noblest of grace. She does not stand out among the actors (and non-actors) around her. Her honesty and bravery is the beating heart of the film. Empty of typical story structure, it is her experience that bolsters the film and gives it shape.
The central question at play here is one of depicting reality. Comparisons could be drawn to how Kiarostami blends documentary and fiction through the use of non-actors in his film Close-Up. Director Gilsenan infuses his film with more cinematic style and daring compositions, while the content is sometimes stagnant in its adherence to the facts. The audience is forced to soak in the dead air between moments. When Griffith leaves the room for a break at the midpoint, we stay with the assailant, Martin Swan. Watching from a birds-eye view, every shift of weight is amplified, every jerk of the hand is loud and cacophonous. Things that really have little effect on the narrative are put under the spotlight. Text is left bare, and we have only subtextual gestures to draw from.
Is it a pleasant experience? No, but a necessary one. The audience is put through an ordeal similarly therapeutic as Griffith’s. She finds closure in her attacker’s humanity, by dethroning him from a beastly symbol to a sad, defeated man. There may be a wide range in audience response. Some may find the same closure as Griffith, and see restorative justice at work. Others may be aghast at facing such misogyny head-on. They may be shaken from their preconceptions about the state of sexual assault in Ireland, and plumb new depths of empathy for the horror carried by its survivors. Whether you align with Griffith or the latter group, both lessons are an absolute necessity to learn.
Famed film critic Roger Ebert described the movies as “A machine that generates empathy.” Here, we see that tenet put forth as social activism. Gilsenan cleverly frames his film towards this end, in means which go beyond Griffith’s testimony. Just as Griffith seeks the meeting in an effort to make human what she called “the personification of misogyny”, Gilsenan takes a similarly empathetic approach towards the character of the abuser. When Griffith leaves the room, we stay with him. When she speaks to him, she stares down the lens. If the film takes any one perspective, it is of the abuser, in an attempt to interrogate – and hopefully restore – his humanity. In this, it wrestles with the concept of forgiveness, and whether those who do the unforgivable can ever truly be loved.
The film’s goals are certainly admirable, yet the presentation is not spotless. Riddling the film are a series of extreme close-ups of table-top paraphernalia. With very little action to follow, scenes buffer with shots of tea settling and light dancing through blinds. While the shots are well-composed, certain ones fall flat. The sight of biscuits left untouched and sweat crawling down Swan’s skin feel borne out of restlessness. This is unfortunate, as the close-ups of characters feel full, confident and able to stand on their own without the insistent cutaways.
The film’s final tip of the hand also feels a bit too orchestrated. With consistent adherence to a strict realism, the film’s final moments, without spoiling them, seem overly staged and out of place. The ending surely sounded good on paper, but it doesn’t quiet stick the landing.
That said, these superficial flaws are dwarfed by the aching humanity on display. The moments of release that are built up across the runtime are euphoric. When the film comes closest to finding an answer to its big, difficult questions, the result is close to pure visceral cinema. Gilsenan and Griffith have crafted a haunting parable of forgiveness and justice in their shifting forms.
DIR: Lenny Abrahamson • WRI: Lucinda Coxon • DOP: Ole Bratt Birkeland • ED: Nathan Nugent • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • DES: Simon Elliott • PRO: Andrea Calderwood, Gail Egan, Ed Guiney • CAST: Domhnall Gleeson, Ruth Wilson, Will Poulter, Charlotte Rampling
It’s always fascinating when filmmakers who made their name in drama try their hand at a genre movie. This is for two reasons. The output tends to skew from the standards of that genre and in those differences one can see clearly the motifs and themes the director is interested in exploring. Such is the case with Lenny Abrahamson’s new horror The Little Stranger.
Set in 1948 England, Domhnall Gleeson stars as Faraday, a doctor from humble beginnings who returns to the luxurious estate where his mother once worked as a maid. Adoring the building as a boy, he is shocked to see it falling into disrepair – damaged by the fall of the British Gentry post-WWII due to heavy taxation.
Faraday is called to the estate by the owner Angela Ayres (Charlotte Rampling) because a young maid (Liv Hill) is frightened of being left alone in the large, empty house. While there, he begins to treat Angela’s son Roddy (Will Poulter), a PTSD stricken war veteran whose wounds have healed poorly. In doing so, Faraday forms a close bond with Roddy’s sister Caroline (Ruth Wilson). However, spooky goings-on in the house begin to terrorise those living there.
Adapted from an acclaimed novel by Sarah Waters – whose Fingersmith became last year’s The Handmaiden – it sounds in plot like the stage is set for a classic gothic ghost story. However, while the trailers may be selling the movie as such, Abrahamson has other things on his mind.
The Little Stranger is a trojan horse of a film. It lures viewers in with one thing, but delivers something different, if substantially more interesting. While there are brief and well-executed moments of ghostly threat, this is foremost a psychological thriller about class and obsession.
It’s nearly forty minutes before anything supernatural happens. Instead, Abrahamson – working from Lucinda Coxon’s script – takes the time to establish Faraday’s childhood infatuation with the house. We see these gorgeously shot vivid flashbacks to his youth at the estate, juxtaposed with darker, gloomier shots of the withering estate.
In this period of the film, we see the working-class Faraday trying to secure what he has always secretly wanted – these nobles’ approval. However, even when he does become a friend of the family – being invited to dinner parties and soirees – there is this palpable sense of an invisible divide between him and the Ayres. Their acquaintances constantly reference his position as family doctor or treat him as a butler. Abrahamson builds remarkable tension during these scenes, often emphasising the uncomfortableness of the situations through close-ups on Faraday as he struggles to maintain respectability out of anger.
The film could be divisive as any supernatural activity which does occur feels almost like background. The titular little stranger is more of a personification of all the external pressures the Ayres face in terms of keeping the house. What’s truly disturbing, however, is Faraday’s slowly growing obsession with the estate, at some points even going as far as to put the family in danger so that he can live there. Whether these two plot-lines align satisfyingly will be up to each individual’s own interpretation. However, Abrahamson does muster a moody menace throughout the entire film, jumping further into the darkness that often pervades his central characters in movies such as Frank, Garage or Room.
Gleeson’s performance is incredible. Although playing a very stiff-upper lip character throughout, he imbues Faraday with a charm in the first part of the film – partly deriving from his wide eyes and slight smile when recounting his time in the house as a boy. As the movie continues, however, these qualities fall away. Viewers are left questioning themselves for their previous affection for Faraday as he becomes increasingly driven to protect the estate above all else.
In many ways, The Little Stranger serves as a companion piece to Phantom Thread – another psychological character study which wasn’t quite what was sold to audiences, has horror elements, is set nearly in the same time and place and has similar themes. One hopes The Little Stranger finds the audience that film did.
A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot: a title at once provocative and perverse. If audience members remain in any way confused about what they are about to see, the violence and incongruity suggested in the title is quickly confirmed by the film’s opening sequence. A baby-faced preteen, Kevin Barry O’Donnell, explains to the documentary crew how various weapons can be utilised to maim and murder, plunging viewers headfirst into post-peace-process Derry, home of a community in which paramilitary forces take the law into their own hands and, in which giving young people a ‘fright’, is considered a reasonable way to encourage appropriate behaviour.
The film addresses its title head on with the aid of interviewee, Majella O’Donnell. It is with sadness and resignation that she recalls her son Philly O’Donnell being shot in the legs as a punishment for his involvement with drugs. The physical wounds have healed but the psychological effects of living in their community have had debilitating effects on Philly. Majella believes her decision to bring her son to be shot was a way of protecting her son from further harm but as his mental state deteriorates and his situation worsens she is confronted by the implications of her actions.
Writer-director Sinéad O’Shea began her investigation into punishment shootings, and their long-term effects, as part of a short-term project which became a 5-year-long documentary shoot. In the film, O’Shea develops a tumultuous relationship with the O’Donnell family: at certain times she has intimate access to the family, while at others she is denied all contact with them. Upon re-entering the O’Donnell home after a particularly long period of silence, Majella remarks that the film crew is back to ‘torture’ the family again, which seems significant considering the substantial physical and psychological grievances that the family have suffered at the hands of their community.
O’Shea contextualises the plight of the O’Donnell family within the broader framework of the peace process and the Troubles. She highlights the strong connection between suicide and young people left behind after the violence and mayhem of the Troubles. Towards the end of the film, Kevin Barry, an older version of the young weapon expert who opens it, claims to regret that the Troubles are over. The situation is multi-layered and complicated but at the film’s centre is a portrait of a family with limited options and a community that is in crisis.
A Mother Brings her Son to Be Shot is compelling, challenging and at times chilling. It dives deep into the often disturbing realities that are commonplace in Derry in the aftermath of the peace process. The Troubles may be over but this film asks its audience to re-examine what this means for those who live in its wake.
DIR: Maurice Sweeney • DOP: Kate McCullough • ED: Mick Mahon • MUS: Giles Packham • PRO: Nuala Cunningham, Ed Moloney • CAST: Lauren Beale, Gail Brady, Lauren Carr |
For anyone looking to apply for an Irish visa, there are certain cultural memes you should consume before they hand over that final approval document. No matter what your background, artistic endeavours such as Father Ted, Oscar Wilde’s cutting commentary, Under The Hawthorn Tree, The Snapper, Rory Gallagher’s melliferous tunes or Heaney’s poetry, are all accessible ways to gain insight into the nuances of our nation’s heritage – and I, Dolours is a perfect addition to this ‘bible’ of sorts. This feature is not a staunchly republican piece of propaganda that will have you singing rebel songs over a bodhrán on a rainy afternoon. In fact, it’s a clear, balanced assessment of the complex history that surrounds the North, emphasising the good, the bad and the ruthless on both sides of the religious divide.
What’s most engaging about I, Dolours is how it remains as complex and intricate as the woman it portrays. The film begins by tracking the evolution of the tensions in Northern Ireland. This is juxtaposed with the dark retelling of Dolours Price’s family history, including her father’s involvement with the IRA and her aunt’s horrific disfigurement. All theses elements are dappled with dramatic reenactments, and narrated by the late, real-life Dolours herself in the notorious interviews she recorded in 2010 with journalist Ed Moloney.
It was only after a peaceful civil rights protest ended in bloodshed at the hands of the British government, that Dolours joined the Provisional IRA. There, she and her sister were recruited for a special ops unit which, as she stated in her interview, was headed by Sinn Féin leader, Gerry Adams. Dolours, along with her her sister, were eventually convicted on charges related to a London bombing. Yet it was prior to this when the depths of her wartime cruelties were inflicted. Dolores was a central figure in a team which murdered and ‘disappeared’ a number of targets during the Troubles. In her interview, Dolores, in her own words, describes how she led suspected informants, among them the widowed mother-of-ten, Jean McConville, to her death.
Director Maurice Sweeney makes brave choices with some drastically varying shifts of pace; the film starts off with newsreels in a classically structured documentary format, then the narrator, Dolours’ footage is introduced, followed by the reenactments. There are moments, especially when Dolours is in prison, where there’s a sudden, jarring shift to a slow-paced, stylistic drama. Actors break the fourth wall, and chunks of the narrative are revealed in a non-linear structure.
This portrait of Dolours is made with the performance. Newcomer Lorna Larkin is exceptional. She embodies the ambiguity, charm and tenacity of this antihero and her character choices are strong, deepened by the chemistry she has with Gail Brady, who plays her sister. Needless to say, Dolours is not a likable figure. However, while Lorna warms her cold rational, Maurice poses the question as to what depths can someone go to when they are pushed that far.
A fascinating portrait of a compelling and complex figure in Irish history served well by a skilfully crafted piece of Irish filmmaking.
DIR: Lance Daly • WRI: Lance Daly, P.J. Dillon, Eugene O’Brien, Pierce Ryan • DOP: Declan Quinn • ED: Julian Ulrichs, John Walters • MUS: Brian Byrne • DES: David Wilson • PRO: Arcadiy Golubovich, Macdara Kelleher, Jonathan Loughran, Tim O’Hair • CAST: Hugo Weaving, James Frecheville, Stephen Rea
Black 47 is Ireland’s answer to John Wick… set during the famine. Let that one sit with you for a while. Although this murderous revenge romp is considerably less self aware than its Hollywood counterpart, nevertheless, there’s enough death and bloodshed to have your granny flinching.
We first meet the stoic Martin Feeney (James Frecheville), a deserting British soldier, when he returns home to Ireland from the war during the famine. Not to give away too much, but considering the era, it’s safe to assume things don’t work out too well for himself and, well, every Irish person at the time. Feeney, a one-man massacre artist, is pushed to the edge. He takes it upon himself to express his displeasure with the powers that be for a number of injustices – some more deserving than others, mind you. His method? Waiting in darkened rooms for the offenders to arrive, then delivering hefty servings of violence within seconds to anyone who gets in the way.
Meanwhile, in order to track Feeney down, the Brits recruit his old army buddy, Hannah. Don’t be fooled by the name, however, this character is actually played by Hugo Weaving. There are very few women in this film. One. There is one woman in this film. Anyway, on his mission, Hannah is reluctantly paired with an entitled officer (and possibly Draco Malfoy’s great, great grandfather?) played by the abercrombie-esque Freddie Fox. The always fantastic Stephen Rea and James Broadbent are added to the cast midway, as a cheeky local and brilliantly evil lord, and we sort of forget about Feeney for a while and follow them as they hang out – before things eventually come to a head.
Lance Daly is incredibly ambitious in his steering of this Western/revenge thriller film, but it didn’t carry the same truth or warmth as his other features, such as Kisses . P.J. Dillon, Pierce Ryan, Eugene O’Brien and Lance are all credited as writers, but it would be interesting to see how this dynamic manifested itself, as the first and second half of this films inhabit different universes. Part one, is the exact slow maudlin suffering and woes at the hand of the British that you’d expect from a famine feature. While the second section is that gruesome rampage dappled with incredible international names.
Not to solely focus on the A-listers, there’s some fantastic supporting actors in their too. Moe Dunford defends his British Lord as Fitzgibbon, and in doing so delivers an absolute blinder of a performance. If you haven’t seen him yet in Michael Inside, that’s one for the list. Moe consistently manages to deliver these small roles with unexpected depths and unusual character choices that brings humanity to what could have been something flat.
While the production design is flawless, the cinematography leaves something to be desired. The camera lingered for too long on what didn’t feel like completed composite shots. It is the famine, and, of course, it thematically makes sense to have a washed-out colour pallet, but I couldn’t help but think if PJ Dillon had put down the pen and picked up the camera, that perhaps it would have had more pizzazz.
At the end of the day, Black 47 tackles subject matter and a genre almost completely alien to Irish film. The scope of what it was aiming for was massive. Did it hit the target? Not quite, but there’s a wealth of things to enjoy nonetheless.
The Image You Missed, Donal Foreman’s latest offering following the success of his debut feature Out of Here, is a deeply personal exploration of documentarist Arthur MacCaig, Foreman’s deceased father. Reminiscent of Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell, The Image You Missed is the poetic and poignant product of Foreman’s effort to reconstruct a version of his father, a man he only met on a handful of occasions. While enriching his understanding of the man, Foreman searches for a reflection of himself among the footage and photographs found in MacCaig’s apartment. What emerges is more complicated.
Foreman finds numerous potential connections between himself and his father. They shared time, space and a passion for filmmaking. However, these connections do not fully align. In 1997, as Foreman made his first film, MacCaig made his last. MacCaig emigrated from the United States to Ireland whereas Foreman made the reverse journey. While MacCaig discredits the prioritisation of form over content in film, Foreman demonstrates a respect for form, evident from the temporal indicators throughout The Image You Missed and the division of the film into clear sections by way of the words of Seamus Heaney. Foreman even puts his own directorial stamp on his father’s footage through the stylistic use of sound and editing. All of these differences are visualised in the shot of a train, taken by Foreman, which performs the reverse shot of one of MacCaig’s own shots. They are two filmmakers who look at the world from different directions.
The personal intermingles with the political as The Image You Missed forefronts MacCaig’s intimate observation of balaclava-sporting IRA members during the Troubles. Foreman juxtaposes images of violence with footage of home movies he made as a child. His childhood filmmaking exudes escapism as opposed to the expository style of MacCaig’s filmmaking. In addition to being about his relationship with his father, Foreman’s film acts as a window into the conflict in the North during the Troubles.
The Image You Missed is engaging and evocative in both form and content. MacCaig’s footage is given new life and perspective under Foreman’s creative influence and his own footage provides a powerful contrast, as a personal archive of youthful experimentation and also as the profound reflections of a seasoned filmmaker. It is a film full of vulnerability and bravery that showcases questions of identity. Foreman investigates his father through the very medium with which MacCaig justified his absence. Despite their differences in approach, filmmaking is the clear unifier between them. One might ask themselves, is film thicker than blood?
WRI/DIR: Aoife McArdle • PRO: Sally Campbell, Andrew Freedman • DOP: Steve Annis • ED: Dan Sherwen • MUS: Jon Clarke • DES: Andy Kelly • CAST: Ann Skelly, Caitriona Ennis, Ryan Lincoln, Conall Keating, John Lynch
Kissing Candice is a stunning and energetic film, as manically confused as its titular character. This is definitely not the romantic comedy it sounds like – nor is it a film for the masses. However, there is a great deal in this hour and forty minutes to please the complex pallet of your average arthouse aficionado.
Based in a border town, the plot is loosely centred around a bored teen called Candice (Skelly). I say loosely because the narrative weaves in and out of the many side-characters’ unfinished arcs, before ultimately tying itself into a knot. But no spoilers.
Candice falls for the devilishly handsome rogue Jacob (Lincoln) after he, along with his gang of disaffected youths, attempt to put her in the boot of their car. Young love. It isn’t long until this budding romance brings conflict between both Candice and her detective dad, Donal (Lynch), and Jacob and his unhinged crew. Candice’s mental health begins to deteriorate, as the tension between these sparring factions ramps up.
There’s a distinctive style to this production that leans towards the artistry; a mesh of the moody Hannibal TV series with nods to David Lynch. The performances of the protagonists are all excellent; the two young leads, Lincoln and Skelly have both depth and chemistry, John Lynch brings the same internal tortured angst as he does in The Fall, and a very special shout-out for Martha portrayed by Caitriona Ennis. Candice’s bessie definitely stole the few scenes she was in. The antagonists were not so subtle, all but one were theatrical and cartoon-like, but I have my suspicions that could have been the writing.
Although the elements of Kissing Candice never really gel together in a cohesive manner and some narrative threads are left untied, the filmmaking ambition and talent on offer is there for all to see. The end result is a visual thrill and marks Aoife McArdle as one to keep any eye on.
DIR: Nora Twomey • WRI: Anita Doron, Deborah Ellis • PRO: Anthony Leo, Tomm Moore, Andrew Rosen, Paul Young • ED: Darragh Byrne • MUS: Jeff Danna, Mychael Danna • CAST: Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Noorin Gulamgaus
The Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon have cemented themselves as an animation powerhouse. Such a claim may be lofty for any other young animation studio, but not for one with three feature films and just as many Academy Award nominations.
The first two films, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, breathe new life into Irish folklore. They allow myths and legends of custodial seanchaí to find a new home on the cinema screen. Tales survived in largely Gaeltacht areas have been transposed onto a world stage, with international critics comparing Saloon’s work to that of Pixar or Japan’s venerated Studio Ghibli. Their Irish cultural heritage has played a major role in establishing the identity for which the studio has become so acclaimed. If it’s not broke; don’t fix it, right?
For this reason, it may be of surprise to some that Nora Twomey’s follow-up to The Secret of Kells takes place 6,000 kilometres from Trinity Library. The Breadwinner tells the story of Parvana, a young girl living in Afghanistan under Taliban control. Her story is a harrowing one of severe hardship and perseverance in the most dire of circumstances.
Perhaps too intense for young children, the film wastes no time with throwing its characters into misery. Parvana’s father, a former teacher insistent on the value of banned books, is arrested and imprisoned by the Taliban in the first ten minutes. What continues is a spiral of disrepair, tinged with stretches of hope and sorrow. There are very difficult moments – violence towards the child protagonist is not presented as comic peril, but rather a horrifying reality. So much misery would wear down a viewer, but the film endures with an aching humanity that is optimistic but not naïve.
The optimism inherent to The Breadwinner rises from its deep love of storytelling. Truly, this is a story on the necessity of stories. Not only does Parvana’s father preach storytelling as a tenet, Parvana herself tells a story of her own throughout the film – a Campbellian myth of a boy fighting a mountainous elephant – all of which expertly echoes the dramatic beats of her own life. This film-within-a-film is made distinct through a whole new animation style. The clean pencil lines and simple shapes of the main film are traded in for computer-simulated construction paper. The stylistic shift is refreshing, although the segments bow down to slapstick a bit too frequently. Tonally, it’s jarring; conceptually, it’s quite clever. Cartoon Saloon cannot seem to escape its obsession with stories and myths.
In today’s world of cultural appropriation (and the larger blowback against cultural appropriation), one may question the move of an Irish animation studio to make a film so distinctly Afghan. Luckily, the culture is depicted with care and strong attention to detail – there is nary a Celtic trace to be found. The beautiful animation feels graceful and lived-in, never depicting an “other”. The absence of any American characters speaks to commitment in showing the Afghan perspective – we see the start of the American War in Afghanistan, but Western characters cannot be found beyond a few anonymous planes. The geo-political background to the War is unknown to our characters. Hell, the war itself remains unknown until it reaches their doorstep.
Despite the content being quite intense as previously described, The Breadwinner imparts valuable lessons that braver children will surely take on, have they the perseverance to hear them. The necessity of stories. The necessity of action in troublesome times. The necessity of compassion in the face of pain. All told through the eyes of a child. The film’s commitment and endearment to the power of storytelling is self-evidently proved by the rousing emotions it provokes.
DIR/WRI: Ken Wardrop • PRO: Andrew Freedman • ED: John O’ Connor
Making the Grade is a stylistically-striking and impeccably-shot documentary from Ken Wardrop. It hones in on the relationships that develop between teachers and their students when sharing the necessary skills to play the piano. The students depicted, who are of all ages, are at various stages of their musical journey. Many of them mark their progress by participating in exams. This system of progression structures not only their learning, but the unfolding of the film itself which is divided up into sections, concentrating on different students who are preparing for each grade respectively. Spectators are invited to peek into the sacred space of trust and endurance which defines a piano lesson.
The piano may hold a different signification for every student but they each have something, or perhaps more accurately someone, to help them with this often challenging endeavour. Viewers realise quickly that Making the Grade is not just about learning how to play an instrument but about the bonds that are formed in so doing. Along with skills, teachers have the power to pass on a passion and attitude towards playing the piano. For some teachers their demeanour presents teaching as an artistic vocation while others come across as more traditional in their approach. The purest delights that this film has to offer are found in the dynamics that emerge between the various piano enthusiasts. Heart-warming and frequently humorous moments are the product of these interactions.
Domestic spaces and classroom interiors dominate the visuals of Making the Grade. This firmly establishes a consistent aesthetic in a film which is shot in different locations all around Ireland. Each shot is perfectly framed and static, contrasting with the flow of the music and the occasional dud note.
Although it maintains a cheerful atmosphere throughout, the film does not sugar-coat the difficulties inherent in learning an instrument. Along with warmth and praise from the teachers, the audience witness every missed note which encourages their solidarity with the students. The footage of the lessons is both complemented and contradicted by individual interviews with the teachers and their students providing further insight into how it feels to be a participant in the lesson instead of simply watching it on screen.
The film undoubtedly goes above and beyond to express that music is for everyone. The scenarios captured, and the sentiments evoked, are welcomingly familiar to anyone who has taken up music lessons at some point in their life. It may be difficult to refrain from tickling the ivories yourself upon leaving the screen.
Stephen Porzio wanders into Rebecca Daly’s haunting parable.
Rebecca Daly is an interesting filmmaker. In 2016 she made Mammal, a critically acclaimed Irish drama that got some recognition abroad and helped launch Barry Keoghan’s career pre-Dunkirk. With that under their belt, most writer-directors would attempt to get a big-name star in their next movie or go stateside and make something more commercial. Daly bucks this trend with Good Favour, an atmospheric religious parable set in a German Catholic community isolated by forest from the outside world.
The film begins with young man, Tom (Vincent Romeo), stumbling into the mysterious village injured. After initial hesitance from the locals, the newcomer becomes apart of the community. However, there is something eerie about the parish. A child goes missing and the leaders of the ‘compound’ hide it from the police; a sick elderly woman is refused to leave the village to get urgent hospital care; children are warned about an invisible boundary in the surrounding woods they can never cross. Meanwhile, something about Tom is strange too. His wounds do not appear to be healing and kids begin to follow him around as if he is the Pied Piper.
Good Favour is a mood piece that manages to sustain itself for most of its running time by provoking in the viewer a sense of unknown dread. Although it never reaches the same level of terror as a movie like Martha Marcy May Marlene, there is some of that film’s DNA within the drama. Daly and co-writer Glenn Montgomery find menace in the malaise. With long scenes of foreboding church sermons: “Those that don’t trust completely in God, don’t just not get his protection. They get his judgement”, and religious rituals (a prolonged scene where a young woman’s head is dunked repeatedly underwater as part of her baptism), the two appear to be highlighting how unsettling it must be to live life completely devoted to an all-powerful being.
That said, despite the film’s impressively pervasive mood, it is a little disappointing that Good Favour never sets a match to its slow petrol-leak style narrative. The whole movie feels like its building to a shocking denouement that never comes, meandering instead to the finish line. Meanwhile, one gets a sense that Daly and Montgomery wanted viewers to form their own interpretation of the events which transpire. Yet, they withhold so much information that the viewer never connects with the movie beyond its abstract sense of menace. Every character is an enigma and it’s unclear as to what the film is trying to say. For those that hated the two twists that rounded out M. Night Shyamalan’s similar in tone and setting The Village, Good Favour may quench that thirst for an open-ended art-house chiller. However, while Daly’s latest further cements her as a master of mood, a more focused and engaging story would do her well next time around.
DIR: Pat Collins • WRI: Pat Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride • PRO: Jessie Fisk, Alan Maher • DOP: Richard Kendrick • ED: Tadhg O’Sullivan • DES: David Blanchard, David Blanchard, Padraig O’Neill • CAST: Michael O’Chonfhlaola, Macdara O Fátharta, Leni Parker
Bobbing lights of humble fishing boats shine against the dark monochromatic backdrop of open water. A new Mother’s brow is patted dry as she breathes through the pain of childbirth. This is the beginning of Song of Granite and the beginning of Joe Heaney’s life story. The biography of the legendary sean-nós singer, Heaney, is told in three parts by director Pat Collins through breathtaking visual poetry and traditional song.
Song of Granite, directed, co-written and co-produced by Collins was selected by the Irish Film & Television Academy to represent Ireland as a submission to the 88th Academy awards. The film has been shortlisted for nomination in the category of Best Foreign Language Film, along with eight other entries from around the world.
It is a uniquely executed film that is difficult to define by genre. Song of Granite is mostly a dramatised account of Heaney’s life from birth to old age with a sampling of archive footage and voiceovers woven in. It is shot exclusively in black and white, blending the dramatic with the archive footage. This gives the entire film the look and feel of a documentary glimpse into the life of a pre-war rural Ireland. Scenes of a young Heaney scavenging for periwinkles and cutting turf with his father could easily be mistaken for remastered outtakes of the 1934 documentary Man of Aran.
The photography in Song of Granite is nothing short of enchanting. The composition of each shot is a picture perfect tableau. Scenes of Carna villagers gathered to share stories or to listen Heaney’s father could be on a vintage postcard or the subject of a Paul Henry painting.
The script, co-written by Collins, Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhride and Sharon Whooley, does not play out as a traditional plot. Instead, we are presented with a realistic look into the authentic life of an ordinary Irish man with an extraordinary talent. It is a refreshing take on a biopic, true to Collin’s documentarian roots. It is free from the obvious fact twisting and hyperbole that so often corrupts true stories to fit into classic cinematic narratives.
Most of the dialogue is delivered in Irish with subtitles. However, not much speaking goes on at all. This will be a relief to any viewers who, like myself, have regrettably lost every word of Irish since leaving school. The film is slow paced and peaceful. Only music seems to pierce the silent, calm nature of this film. In a tiny pub heaving with revellers, Heaney takes part in a trad session filled with so much raucous and immersive energy that the viewer feels incomplete without a pint in hand. The story is about Joe Heaney but it is the music that stars.
Collins has already proved to be a master of soundscape with his 2012 film Silence. Dozens of traditional Irish songs are heard throughout Song of Granite. Sometimes the mood is spirited and exuberant and other times the sound and focus are unbroken creating an incredible intimacy that allows the audience to fully engage with the moment. The poetry of these ballads will resonate with the audience for quite some time after viewing. Even those who are not fans of traditional music will surely feel the poignancy of these songs and will walk away humming some sean-nós to themselves.
In the first act, a young Heaney, portrayed by newcomer Colm Seoighe, spends his days exploring Connemara, doing his chores, playing with friends and spending time with his father. It is from his father that Heaney learned how to master his own gift of song. Throughout the first act we watch him gradually building up his confidence and his talent so that by the time we enter the second act and meet a now middle-aged Heaney played by Mícheal O’Confhaola, he has mastered the art of performance.
O’Confhaola plays Heaney with an apt subtlety without much outward emotion but a distinct touch of melancholy. Each incarnation of Heaney is superbly cast. Despite not bearing much of a physical resemblance to each other or the real Heaney, each actor delivers several electrifying traditional songs that recreate and capture the enormity of Heaney’s talent very well.
The third act of the film shows Heaney living in New York. Now in his 60s, played by Macdara Ó Fátharta, he recounts elements of his life history to an American interviewer. As he grows older and weaker he desires to return to his homeland where he can reconcile himself with his past and younger self
Song of Granite will be a very important film this year and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in Irish culture. However, it may ask too much of its audience. Unless you are a die-hard trad music fan, the long sean-nós performances could be a bit of a workout for the attention span. Also, characters appear without much introduction and actors change with the passage of time, which is a tad confusing but not distractingly so. This is the story of a fragmented, tortured artist told in three fragmented parts. Song of Granite is a film that will sing to the heart and soul of any Irish person home or away.
Steven Murphy (Farrell) is an affluent surgeon, married to Anna (Kidman) and with two children Kim (Cassidy) and Bob (Suljic). Steven also has a strange relationship with a teenage boy Martin (Keoghan). They meet up for meals, Steven gives Martin presents. As events progress it becomes clear that Steven may feel a debt of responsibility towards Martin over a botched operation he performed on his father. When Steven introduces Martin to his family, a surreal, piercing, complex cycle of revenge is set in motion.
Working once again with Element Pictures, Lanthimos retains and expands upon his singular authorial style with this gripping, formally brilliant, cruelly hilarious art-thriller. The film veers closer to genre than Lanthimos’ other work but it retains his signature style and off-kilter humour. The deadpan delivery seen in his other work is retained here but there is a little bit more emotion allowed in the actors’ delivery. The film has a real uncompromising edge in how nasty it can be, something which is particularly heartening to see in an Irish production.
In terms of Lanthimos’ humour, this is a filmmaker, in keeping with others such as Luis Buñuel or Todd Solondz, who has a genuine knack of making one laugh riotously at the saddest and cruellest aspects of life. Elements of his trademark flat dialogue allow for the absurdity of life situations, no matter how horrific, to shine true when vacated of emotion. Lanthimos is also always keen to point out the baseness of people’s motives; a character is forced to perform a sexual favour on a colleague in exchange for information in a situation of immense crisis, Steven responds to Martin’s claims, not with reasoning but with anger and threat of violence.
Also interesting is how Lanthimos paints the relationships within the Murphy family unit and how this plays into the tale as it unfolds. It is clear that both Steven and Anna favour a different one of their children, something which enriches a later dilemma proposed to them. Lanthimos also draws attention to the underlying animalism inherent in the family unit by showing that Steven’s sexual preferences are for Anna to pretend that she is under anaesthetic while he has sex with her. Martin’s unfolding revenge on Steven could be seen as a commentary on class relations and responsibility. The film could also be interpreted as a religious allegory, however like Lanthimos’ other films, the beauty of the film lies in its ambiguity, its attention to details and the questions it raises.
Barry Keoghan is the standout in a uniformly excellent cast, striking a perfect balance between tragic vulnerability and otherworldly menace. An exceptional scene sees him deliver a lightning fast explanation to Steven as to what exactly he plans for his family. Farrell, once again, excels under this filmmaker, imbuing his character with a rich combination of guilt and arrogance. Kidman’s excellent qualities are also fitting for Lanthimos’ style; illustrating a strong character, eliciting some sympathy but also retaining an iciness and an unpredictability. There are also two outstanding young performances in Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic, as Steven’s children, who prove integral to Martin’s strategy of retribution.
Formally this is Lanthimos’ most accomplished film to date. Thimos Bakatakis’ supreme, Kubrickian cinematography is composed in a clinical, ominous way with frequent long takes and brooding tracking shots. Jade Healy’s production design is equally evocative of the strange, disquieting world of the film. Lanthimos’ use of music, too, brilliantly contributes to the sense of unease. This is a film with an invigorating, unshakeable formal ambience.
A nasty, hilarious, distinctive treat. Highly recommended.
DIR: Gavin Fitzgerald • WRI: William Nicholson •PRO: Jamie D’Alton, Graeme McDonnell • DOP: Gavin Fitzgerald, Darragh Mccarthy • ED: Andrew Hearne• MUS: Hugh Drumm • CAST: Conor McGregor, Dee Devlin, Dana White, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jose Aldo
Going into this documentary on Conor McGregor’s phenomenal UFC career, I was on its side. I find Conor McGregor a more interesting and complicated figure than some give him credit for. I have mixed feelings about him, reflecting society’s division between his adoring fans and those who find him insufferably obnoxious. Notorious, following McGregor’s meteoric rise will not change anyone’s opinion of him. If he grates with you, Notorious will rub your face in his success and seemingly abundant happiness. If on the other hand, you’re a fan of his… You might not get anything new from this.
Director Gavin Fitzgerald and producer Jamie D’Alton have footage going back years of Conor’s early fights, leading up to his first fights with the UFC. Much of this formed part of an RTÉ series and seemed to have intimate access to McGregor and his family. The arrangement of footage here is edited so frantically, few moments are given time to sink in. It also doesn’t explore Conor as a divisive pop culture figure, which is surely part of his “Notorious” public image.
Notorious opts instead to take an observational approach, following press junkets, physiotherapy sessions and training. There is lots of great footage of McGregor training. It reveals the determination with which he physically pushes himself, even to the point of taking repeated punches to the abdomen to toughen up. It also shows the infectious positivity with which he influences the entourage around him. These two attributes inform his charismatic personality alternating from playful excitement to driven focus. McGregor is engaging to watch, it just might be ‘engaging’ in the wrong way for some viewer’s sensibilities.
This feels like a missed opportunity to produce something of more depth. The same free-spiritedness behind McGregor’s playfulness makes him insensitive towards others. This leads to backlashes of controversy around him using a homophobic slur in trash-talk or calling a black man ‘boy’ or so on. There is a context to trash-talk in which the narrow objective is the opponent’s emasculation. There is the broader context of the way words bring harm to people. Plenty to explore there in terms of this neurosis that makes Conor a divisive figure. It’s not the only thing a documentary should focus on but it’s notable by its absence here.
The thing is, I’m not sure if this was ever intended to be some deeper look at what it means to be a sports role model or whatever. It doesn’t even get that much into what it means to be a celebrity. McGregor’s journey here is depicted as rags-to-riches with few complications or setbacks. Don’t get me wrong. Notorious shows the sacrifice, ambition and focus McGregor needed to overcome challenges. But it runs through the highlights of a career you already know the progression of if you’re even a little interested in seeing this.
Notorious doesn’t really show much change to Conor’s personality from the impact of becoming a celebrity either. From living with his parents on dole money to being a global star, he acquires more garish tattoos but his gleeful anticipation for great feats yet to come remains about the same. He talks about how he feels so in his element while training, he needs it in his life, exercise being the healthiest addiction of all. There is a psychology to athletes pushing themselves to their limit and in Notorious we don’t get much more than surface-level examination. Likewise for any interrogation of McGregor’s values beyond his defence of materialism. Likewise for any impact his early life would have had on his values. The cursory glance here on his life before MMA doesn’t even get into the living conditions in his neighbourhood nor the fact he went to an Irish-language school.
Again, is that what Notorious was ever meant for? A lofty examination of cultures of masculinity, challenging the media image of a restless psyche with an uninhibited mouth? No. This is more like one of those WWF VHS tapes I got when I was little, where it told The Rock’s story or something. It is UFC material, executive produced by Conor McGregor. It is a celebration of his career and it’s not without its moments. It’s not just the bemusing cameos. The cage-fights themselves are imbued with cinematic life through good sound mixing and use of slow-motion. They somehow got clean audio of coach John Kavanagh’s ringside talks to McGregor. These moments are revealing about their bond. The pause Kavanagh gives before offering reassurance. The admirable dedication McGregor puts towards his goals.
Unfortunately, Notorious comes together flat. It rushes over the cultural moments around trash-talk and it skims over the Alvarez and Mayweather fights. The story of the Mayweather fight alone would have provided ample material for a feature documentary. Notorious begins with McGregor training with champions of sports where there’s no money to be made and no funding from the Sports Council. His fights attract enough buzz for the UFC to identify their eccentric superstar to bring more focus to MMA. The arc followed focuses more closely on the Jose Aldo fight and the two Nate Diaz fights. It’s possible you’ll find more insightful footage typing ‘Conor McGregor’ into YouTube. Though Notorious is fine to watch, it’s just not the fascinating documentary we could get some day.
Return to Montauk stars Stellan Skarsgård as writer Max Zorn who, while on a press tour with his girlfriend, Clara (Suzanne Wolff), in New York, attempts to connect with old flame, Rebecca (Nina Hoss – Phoenix, Homeland). Written by Colm Toibin (author of Brooklyn and The Master), it begins promisingly. It feels novelistic in story while the Manhattan setting adds a cinematic feel. The supporting cast (Jacques Audiard regular Niels Arestrup, Ireland’s own Bronagh Gallagher) feels well-chosen and international. Its depiction of the literary scene is impressive. As Skarsgård zips from book launch to public reading to drinks with other authors, one gets a sense of what it would be like to a writer in that scene. What it would be like to make a living from one’s own personal experiences, to make friendly with contemporaries who appear both jealous and in awe of you, to travel the world despite not earning a lot of money.
Sadly, while all these incidental details and literary references to Henry James, Kafka and Nabokov are intriguing – the main-plot itself is quite pedestrian – eventually devolving into a stereotypical depiction of a selfish writer, hurting those who love him, in a mid-life crisis fuelled quest. Yes, it could be possible to make an unlikeable character interesting if one can empathise somewhat or even understand him (see Showtime’s The Affair). Yet, although Skarsgård and Hoss both give fine individual performances, they have no chemistry. They need to generate enough spark to make one understand why Max would risk damaging his current relationship. However, while they are together, the whole time one is thinking about Clara due to Wolff’s warm, charasmatic turn – one which makes an on-paper dull character far more interesting and from the side-lines overshadows Skarsgård and Hoss’ performances.
While the opening passages are script heavy, co-writer and director Volker Schlondorff (the original Handmaid’s Tale adaptation) edits them with visually grand scenes of Zorn making his way through the concrete jungle of Manhattan. However, once Skarsgård and Hoss make their way to the quiet, secluded Montauk – where there characters once spent some time as lovers – any sense of cinematic sheen dissipates as the film fades into a series of theatrical monologues. The cast just talk endlessly, as if reciting passages from a Tóibín novel – something which has appeal but not in the cinematic medium.
One gets a sense, particularly with its ending, that Tóibín and Schlondorff are trying to subvert the expectations of a love-story, implying that not all meaningful relationships work out. People change and often the past should be left alone (was Max and Rebecca’s relationship really as passionate as the writer had thought?). Yet, they miss the mark – downplaying all the elements of the genre until the film just feels like a surprisingly humdrum, plodding romance.
In Return to Montawk, moments of inventiveness – Arestrup’s art-dealer and mentor figure to Zorn delivers a great passage about letting his beautiful paintings fade in the sunlight: “When I’ll be gone, they will too. I find comfort in that” – are often but fleeting. It’s main story-line is a mess, too intellectual to tug at the heart strings and too wordy to accurately capture emotion.