Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Favourite

 

Charline Fernandez takes a break from duck racing and pineapple eating to send us this review of Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Favourite from the Cork Film Festival.

 

Royal satire The Favourite is a brilliant dark comedy, shattering notions of aristocratic decency with glee. Screening as part of Cork Film Festival, Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest had its audience at the Everyman Theatre on Saturday in howls of laughter.

Set in the early 18th century, England and France are at war. However, the real battle is taking place in the Royal Palace. Two cousins are fighting for the attention of the childish and ill Queen Anne (Olivia Colman – The Iron Lady, The Lobster). Her closest friend is Lady Sarah (Rachel Weisz – Youth, Disobedience), a strong, determined woman with a sharp tongue. Sarah’s distant cousin Abigail (Emma Stone – La La Land) is a former noble fallen on hard times attempting to social climb.

Although one could expect a formal atmosphere stressing a rigid and romanticized type of life, The Favourite subverts all expectations of typical historical drama, feeling like a breath of fresh air. Oscillating between tense and grotesque moments, the narrative keeps surprising the viewer. A recurrent element playing on these contrasts is the presence of tamed ducks – who race for the court’s pleasure – punctuating the conversations with their quacks.

Breaking the stereotype of the old princess movies, one scene shows new servant Abigail in a wood picking up plant medicine. Suddenly, a charismatic young man appears on his horse looking at the beautiful seemingly innocent person. However, the tables are soon turned when the lady bites the lip of the noble in her bedroom and literally kicks his ass during a twisted sort of role play in the same forest.

The subversion even extends into the editing as The Favourite is happy playing with the codes of filmmaking. Scenes fade in on one another resulting in a corny superimposition of images, which creates a dissonance between old-school historical drama and Lanthimos’ use of more provocative elements of modern filmmaking. Divided into several acts, the titles are often taken from a character’s venomous line.

Some of the humour even dares to cross the line of historical inaccuracies. Sofia Coppola had already challenged the conventional ballroom scene in Marie-Antoinette, having its central royal figures dancing to punk-rock band Siouxsie and The Banshees. Here, Lanthimos takes it further with a dance between Lady Sarah and a noble that starts old-school but quickly switches hilariously into more contemporary choreography with break dance and hip-hop movements.

The script is just one verbal swordplay after another, particularly the scenes involving Nicholas Hoult’s Robert Harley, a master manipulator campaigning for lower taxes. While its three central women shine throughout, the X-Men actor has his fair share of the screenplay’s provocative lines. When Abigail asks him for a favour, he dryly replies: “Favour is a breeze that shifts direction all the time. Then in an instant you’re back to sleeping with a bunch of scabrous whores.”

The cinematography from Robbie Ryan adds to the non-conformity of the film. Fish-eye lenses are strategically placed in the corner of the enormous rooms while low-angle shots breeze through endless corridors. These two combined elements create a sense of distorted reality. The same goes for the soundtrack announcing the tone from the beginning. Although it is a classical score in the opening scene, the long silences in the melody create some dissonance. As the film continues, electronic notes become more discordant.

While The Favourite is hysterically funny, Lanthimos’ does not skirt over the darkness of the story he is telling, leaving it to linger heavily in the last act. The decadence of the members of the court leads to a tragic ending where all protagonists are prisoners – for better or worse – of their own condition despite all their efforts to escape.

In Lanthimos’ satire, power corrupts. Yet, to his credit he never forgets the people caught in the power plays.

 

The Favourite screened on Saturday, 10th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Good Favour

 

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.

Dakota Heveron

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
 Good Favour is released 9th November 2018

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Irish Film Review: Katie

DIR: Ross Whitaker • PRO: Aideen O’Sullivan

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.

Gemma Creagh

89 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Katie is released 26th October 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: Rosie

DIR: Paddy Breathnach • WRI: Roddy Doyle • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Úna Ní Dhonghaíle • DES: Mark Kelly • PRO: Juliette Bonass, Rory Gilmartin, Emma Norton • MUS: Stephen Rennicks • CAST: Sarah Greene, Moe Dunford, Ellie O’Halloran

Paddy Breathnach’s Rosie, directed from a script by Roddy Doyle, is difficult to try and pigeonhole. It’s at once an authentic family drama, a heart-wrenchingly intimate character study and a warped sort of road film, with a tight focus on displacement, space and identity which is reminiscent of the French cinematic tradition. Crucially, though, with Irish people currently suffering in the midst of an ever-worsening housing crisis, Rosie is timely, well executed and – more than anything else – important.

The narrative follows Rosie (Sarah Greene) and her partner John Paul (Moe Dunford) as they suddenly find themselves homeless and in a desperate struggle to secure somewhere safe for themselves and their four children to stay.  We’re introduced to the characters as they try to go about their daily lives while living out of their car. John Paul is under immense pressure at work and it falls to Rosie to juggle looking after the kids during the day with simultaneously trying to locate beds for the night.

Greene is magnetic in the titular role, carrying a huge amount of the film’s emotional weight on her shoulders. The intensity of Rosie’s living situation, crammed into close quarters with her family, means that she’s barely able to find a private moment for herself. She’s constantly wearing a brave face, trying to remain steadfast and optimistic in front of the children, while a wave of quiet desperation rides right beneath the surface. Greene’s performance is subtle but greatly affecting – a slow sigh or gentle curl of a lip can speak volumes about Rosie’s condition and her character. She shares a crackling chemistry with the steadfast John Paul, who Dunford deftly imbues with a tenderness and fragility which belie his unflinching exterior.

The film challenges the stereotypical images surrounding homelessness and explores the extent to which the havoc wreaked by this housing crisis is crossing social class borders. Open houses are thronged with prospective buyers while spare hotel vacancies are quickly filled with displaced families seeking shelter. It is painfully evident that these hotels, generous as they are, can’t be homes, with children shushed and confined to their rooms for fear of disturbing regular guests. It is quietly moving to see the family’s belongings – regular household items from teddy bears to fairy liquid bottles – crammed into black refuse sacks in the back of their car. Doyle’s screenplay squares up to the stigma that comes hand in hand with the label ‘rough sleeper’. “We’re not rough anything” insists the eponym at the mere mention of the term.

Rosie and John Paul are both desperate to hide the harsh realities of their situation from the people around them, terrified of what they’ll think, and their need to remain unseen comes into conflict with their desire to do what’s best for their family.

Doyle began to write the film after hearing an interview with a woman in a similar situation. He recalls being particularly struck by her admission that her partner worked a 9-5 job during the day and was still forced to sleep rough at night. This dichotomy is one that he purposely keeps in focus throughout the story.

The script neatly side-steps convention and embraces a healthy amount of ambiguity, which really works in the film’s favour. The witty, minimalistic dialogue is recognisably Doyle’s and helps to inject great warmth into Rosie’s otherwise cold world. Particular praise must be reserved for his handling of the film’s minor characters, whom he smartly steers away from cliché territory.

Breathnach’s direction is confident and assured. He has a masterful handle on the story and capably guides the audience through the use of careful framing. Scenes inside the car feel suitably cramped and help to convey the growing unrest of its inhabitants. In contrast, exterior shots are often wide and empty, crafting a tangible sense of hopelessness. Rosie is the film’s focus and the camera intimately hones in on her face in a way that may have been invasive in the hands of a less accomplished filmmaker. Visually Breathnach has a firm command of imagery and symbolism, using repetition to stirring effect.

He has also coaxed strong performances from his younger cast members, most of whom are first-time actors. Darragh McKenzie shines as Rosie’s son Alfie, with one particularly turbulent scene in the final third leaving a lasting impression.

The film is steeped in realism and the world on-screen feels absolutely authentic. Shot on the streets of Dublin, its no-frills approach helps to make the drama feel like a documentary at times. We open with the sound of news broadcasters describing the severity of the housing crisis, blurring the lines between fact and fiction right off the bat. The score is minimalistic but used to great effect.

Rosie is a beautiful film which is bound to make audiences angry. Hiding just behind its lovable characters is a palatable undercurrent of rage, a pent-up anger at the very real plight that good people – men, women and children – are being put through on a daily basis in this country. This is a poignant story that feels intensely personal. Sadly, it’s also urgently political.

David Deignan

82 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
Rosie is released 12th October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Under The Clock

 

DIR: Colm Nicell • WRI: Garry Walsh • DOP: Colm Nicell • PRO: Eilish Kent, Garry Walsh 

 

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’.

 

June Butler

76 mins
Under the Clock is released 5th October 2018
12A (see IFCO for details)

 

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Irish Film Review: The Silver Branch

 

DIR: Katrina Costello

 

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.

Sean O’Rourke

75 Minutes
The Silver Branch is released 5th October 2018

 

 

 

 

 

Katrina Costello, Director of ‘The Silver Branch’

 

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Irish Film Review: The Meeting

 

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.

 

Cian Geoghegan

 

95 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

The Meeting is released 21st September 2018

 

 

 

Alan Gilsenan, Writer / Director of ‘Unless’ & ‘The Meeting’

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Irish Film Review: The Little Stranger

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. 

Stephen Porzio

111 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Little Stranger is released 21st September 2018
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Irish Film Review: A Mother Brings Her Son to Be Shot

 

DIR/WRI:Sinéad O’Shea 

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.

 

Siomha McQuinn

86 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
A Mother Brings her Son to Be Shot is released 14th September 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: I, Dolours

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.
Gemma Creagh
82 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

I, Dolours is released 5th September 2018
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Irish Film Review: Black 47

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 [2008]. 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.
Emma Donnelly
99 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)

 

Black 47 is released 5th September 2018
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Irish Film Review: The Image You Missed

DIR/PRO/ED: Donal Foreman • CAST: Arthur MacCaig

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 TellThe 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?

Síomha McQuinn

12A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes
The Image You Missed is released 10th August 2018

 

 

This review was originally published as part of Film Ireland’s Review of Irish Film

 

 

Audio Interview: Donal Foreman, writer/director of ‘Out of Here’

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Irish Film Review: Lost & Found

 

DIR/WRI: Liam O Mochain • PRO: Bernie Grummell, Eamonn Norris, Liam O Mochain • DOP: Fionn Comerford • ED: Ciara Brophy • MUS: Richie Buckley • DES: David Wilson • CAST: Liam Ó Mochain, Aoibhin Garrihy, Lynette Callaghan Norma Sheahan, Brendan Conroy

First up, let’s give credit where there’s a hefty dollop of credit due. It takes insane amounts of determination and effort to shoot a feature. It’s an expensive, exhausting and an emotionally-draining process – even with a few bob in the coffers from a funding body. Six years, a heap of Irish talent, and seven neatly-woven stories later, Liam O Mochain has delivered a jaunty gem in Lost and Found. Completely on his own dime, he spliced together simple vignettes and produced something that holds its own against any Irish film released this year.

The format is not dissimilar to the Kevin Smith cult classic, Clerks. These seven stories, also punctuated by title cards, are loosely centred around Daniel, played by Ó Mochain himself. The mayhem begins when this ne’er-do-well starts working at the Lost & Found in a rural train station. The short, self-contained chapters, featuring Daniel and the people he encounters, swing from amusing to maudlin, then back again. Delivering decent foreshadowing, simple dialogue and a neat plot structure, this feature makes for an easy watch once it ramps up.

When penning the script, O Mochain was inspired by true stories that either happened to him, people he knows or things he was told about. With plotlines focusing on Bridezillas; a desperate bar-owner and his cultural appropriation; World War II treasure-hunting; a tragic older gentleman with dementia; and the worst proposal ever, you have to wonder about the company Liam keeps.

There’s a host of familiar faces dappled through the cast, which adds to the energy of the piece as a whole. What’s even more impressive than their solid performances, however, is how something shot over five years manages to keep such consistency.

Although Clerks is the obvious comparison for a piece like this, tonally these films occupy very different realms. Rather than oozing that grungy ‘90s despondency, Lost & Found steers itself towards the earnest and warm. This is quite refreshing in an era where everything is glib and self aware. Whether it’s the classic character archetypes, jaunty music or the rural setting, there’s almost a touch of the ’70s in there. All in all, Lost & Found delivers a rewarding, quirky slice of Irish cinema.

Now, it’s certainly time to see what O Mochain can do with a budget.

 

Gemma Creagh

12A (See IFCO for details)

91 minutes
Lost & Found is released 13th July 2018

 

 

 

 

Liam O Mochain: Writer/Director of ‘Lost & Found’

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Irish Film Review: Dublin OldSchool

DIR: Dave Tynan • WRI: Emmet Kirwan, Dave Tynan • PRO: Michael Donnelly, Dave Leahy • DOP: Jj Rolfe • ED: John O’Connor • MUS: Gareth Averill • DES: Mark Kelly • CAST: Emmet Kirwan, Ian Lloyd Anderson, Seána Kerslake

Dublin OldSchool is an evocative, poetic film set in modern-day Dublin. As the name suggests, it’s dripping in nostalgia; there’s stylistic nods to ’90s/Naughties classics Trainspotting and Disco Pigs that will have you sucking on your soother necklace.

Jason (Emmet Kirwan), a charismatic, wannabe DJ, has two conflicting goals for his bank holiday weekend: to man the decks and spend each waking moment in a chemical-induced haze. With a hearty band of sessioners in tow, and a rake of cans, the party begins. Jason flits from venue to venue, dodging the pigs, clashing with his ex, crashing gaff parties, raving in Wicklow – but the revelries are hindered when Jason encounters his brother. Daniel, a homeless heroin addict, forces Jason to reevaluate his past.

The theatrical origins of the story are evident in the weighty dialogue/lyrical voiceover, and elevated with a steady beat of trance and striking visuals. While this delivers the distinct style, not all supporting characters can handle the verbosity. The leads’ performances are outstanding, however. Although a little too old for that particular peer group, Emmet brings believability and charisma to Jason. This makes his terrible choices a lot easier to squirm through. While Ian Lloyd Anderson, who plays Daniel, is just perfect.

If you haven’t watched the short film Heartbreak, do so now. Director Dave Tynan brings that same well of emotional depth and empathy to all of his characters. Interestingly enough, Tynan also walks the tentative line of neither glamourising drug use, nor demonising it. The negative repercussions are there, but the parties also look like excellent craic. Meanwhile, cinematographer JJ Rolfe adds to the shifting atmosphere with his aesthetics. Depending on which scenes you’re watching, Dublin can look like Baltimore a la The Wire, or an ad for The Gathering.

Dublin OldSchool has the potential to be one of those classic films people return to. The duality is there across the board. It’s fun and heavy; fast and slow; a comedy and a commentary – but mostly, this is something best experienced on a big screen.

Gemma Creagh

16 (See IFCO for details)

95 minutes
Dublin OldSchool is released 29th June 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: Kissing Candice

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.

Emma Donnelly

18 (See IFCO for details)

103 minutes
Kissing Candice is released 22nd June 2018

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Breadwinner

 

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.
Cian Geoghegan
 
12A (See IFCO for details)
 
93 minutes
The Breadwinner is released 25th May 2018
 
The Breadwinner – Official Website

 

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Irish Film Review: Making the Grade

 

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.

Siomha McQuinn

G (See IFCO for details)

86 minutes
Making the Grade is released 13th April 2018

Making the Grade – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Delinquent Season

Stephen Porzio attends a dinner party.

The Delinquent Season is a surprisingly old-fashioned drama told with skill by debut director and accomplished playwright Mark O’Rowe (screenwriter on Intermission). The film centres on two couples Jim (Cillian Murphy – Dunkirk, Peaky Blinders) and Daniele (Eva Birthistle – Wake Wood); Chris (Andrew Scott – Sherlock, Spectre) and Yvonne (Catherine Walker – A Dark Song). At first, the relationships appear strong. However, as typical with these types of dramas, cracks soon emerge. Jim, a writer working from home, has succumbed to the ennui of being a stay-at-home dad. Meanwhile, Yvonne’s relationship with her husband has grown volatile. After Chris hits her during a heated argument, Yvonne spends the night at Jim and Danielle’s. When Jim and Yvonne are left alone together, they start to have an affair.

From this point on, The Delinquent Season threads a similar line to movies like Closer, Fatal Attraction and Match Point (O’Rowe even inserts a witty line where Jim comments how clichéd it is) but in a more realist manner. Like these films, the viewer is essentially watching unlikeable characters for two hours. That said, what makes the movie engrossing is the authentic south-Dublin setting and O’Rowe’s knack for capturing how people really talk (a scene revolving around putting out the bins is well-observed). These elements make it easier to identify with the characters. One does not necessarily like Jim and Yvonne. However, the drama lends the question; If you were married but met someone with whom you shared a powerful connection, what would you do?

The film, as its title suggests, manages to capture both the thrill of doing something transgressive but also the pressure to hide it from others. The scenes of intimacy are raw and sensual but forever tinged with the knowledge that things will not end well. Even when Jim and Yvonne’s actions come to light, the drama continues to explore the messy fallout. O’Rowe highlights how promises made in the throws of passions can feel perfect and ideal but can never truly be fulfilled, moving towards a denouement which is moving but also reinforces the idea of life as unpredictable.

O’Rowe comfortably adapts to the cinematic medium with some nice tracking shots – following Jim as he runs errands with his children on a dull, grey South Dublin morning (reinforcing that feeling of ennui) – and a creepy dream sequence. That said, his theatre roots remain in his dialogue, particularly one or two monologues delivered by Andrew Scott’s character. This theatricality is not a major problem when one has actors of such a high calibre. Murphy brings both charisma and naturalism to his character, who is perhaps the most ordinary, normal man he has ever played. Scott evokes a surprising amount of empathy despite his character’s early heinous actions. He tears into monologues, shedding tears and spittle, in a way which makes one wish they saw his Hamlet on stage.

Birthistle, although slightly underused, is excellent. Playing the only properly decent character of the foursome, she brings a coolness and strength to Daniele – as evident by a scene where she berates Chris directly to his face and without hesitation for hitting her friend. However, the show-stopper is Walker who manages to be vulnerable, sensual and three-dimensional in a turn which will no doubt put her on many people’s radar.

 

The Delinquent Season screened on Saturday 3rd March as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Science of Ghosts

June Butler is haunted by Niall McCann’s observational drama which centres on well-known Irish musician Adrian Crowley.

I was not sure what to expect when attending the IFI for a screening of this film. The director, Niall McCann, stood to say a few words and my expectations mutated into full confusion mode.  McCann thanked Adrian Crowley, the subject of his film ‘for not going mad’. Cue titters from the audience. Quite why Adrian might have gone ‘mad’ was intriguing but worrisome. He went on to express his gratitude to other persons working on the project for also not going ‘mad’. More polite tittering.

It was clear at this point, McCann had a theme going on. He then mentioned a crew member who had decided not to row in with the flat-line levels of remaining calm, instead ratcheting crazy to a new level by actually going ‘mad’, thus throwing the audience into immediate disarray. No more cuddly safety for them – the audience stopped tittering and looked askance at each other. At this juncture, I was out of my seat and scrabbling for the emergency exits when McCann said something that stopped me in my tracks – ‘this is an experimental film’ he averred. I sighed in relief and returned to my seat. From here on, anything that came my way was a delightful excursion into the unknown.

Adrian Crowley, on whom the film is based, is both the perfect topic and an ideal subject for such a film. His soulful countenance, at times expressive and others implacable, is a most suitable canvas for McCann’s vision. There are moments of farce that bring unexpected lightness into the frame – some are timely and others a distraction but each scene brings with it the knowledge that post-mortem impressions are the result of individual wisdom. Each to their own, as the fella says. Crowley and McCann work well together with McCann’s vision coming to the fore and Crowley being game for a laugh. There is humour in parts and in others the wide-eyed innocence of a child, evidenced from Crowley’s playful narrative about his son.

Lyrics to Unhappy Seamstress written by Crowley when he moved, hermit-like, into a bedsit in Rathmines, make for somewhat distressing listening – the tools of a songwriter unfold as by-lines to human despair. But his songs also hold a light to the human condition in its perfect misery. The cinematography holds moments of sobriety against capricious whimsy – changing from moment to moment – becoming manifest as an oft-distant stage-whisperer only to later metamorphose into a second but equally significant subject, one that is figuratively as vital as Crowley himself.

McCann cleverly juxtaposes the sublime with the even more sublime and always manages to carry it off with panache. As experimental films go, I would suggest this has tones of Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deran, 1943, USA), with its unpredictable reminiscences – McCann’s wonderful offering allows and encourages viewers to think for themselves – it is what makes his film well worth seeing.

 

The Science of Ghosts screened on Saturday 26th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: Kissing Candice

Stephen Porzio puckers up at the 2018 Audi Dublin International Film Festival for Aoife McArdle’s Kissing Candice. 

I recently criticised The Lodgers for being an Irish genre movie that failed to capitalise on the country’s rich history. For a gothic horror set in the 1920s, it felt uninterested in engaging with Ireland’s Battle for Independence or Civil War, events which had they been a greater part of the story would have made it richer. Thankfully, Kissing Candice – a graphic novel-esque tale of cops and robbers and young lovers caught in the crossfire set in Northern Ireland – does a better job at this. The debut from writer-director Aoife McArdle (U2’s Every Breaking Wave music video) takes the time to acknowledge The Troubles and the impact the era had on the generation that followed.

An incredibly expressive Ann Skelly (Red Rock, Rebellion) stars as Candice, a 17-year-old living in a one-horse-town with her troubled policeman father, Donal (The Fall’s John Lynch), and disconnected mother, Debbie (Lydia McGuinness, who had a great role in another ADIFF premiere, The Delinquent Season). Both dealing with her blossoming sexuality and severe seizures, Candice retreats into dreams. While dreaming, she has visions of man who she does not know but feels inexplicably drawn to.

Things get complicated, however, when Candice meets literally the man from her dreams, Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), a former member of a ruthless local gang who Donal wants to put behind bars. Having turned on his partners in crime, the criminals want revenge – targeting Candice in the process.

With its neo-noir aesthetic, its sensorial depiction of female sexual desire and its hallucinatory representation of the journey from teen to adult, Kissing Candice is part Streets of Fire, part Raw and part Donnie Darko. However, what keeps the movie feeling fresh and exciting, as opposed to derivative, is Aoife McArdle’s direction. Coming from a music video background, she emphasises mood and visuals over the story. Kissing Candice could be viewed without audio, and audiences would still be transfixed by its imagery; a burning toy house in the middle of a road, a dream in which a man walks stoically as his arm is on fire, a party-goer’s creepy mask at a neon-drenched nightmare rave.

While the glossy music video aesthetic for the most part works to the film’s favour, occasionally Kissing Candice feel more like long-form accompaniment to Jon Clarke’s pulsating score. This is particularly noticeable in the movie’s oblique denouement which would work better in an experimental music promo than a narrative feature.

Still, McArdle deserves credit for doing something revelatory. She manages to convey the stark brutal reality of living in some parts of Ireland but in a way which looks as incredible as a Michael Mann joint. Also, as mentioned in the first paragraph, McArdle seems to be making a commentary on the lasting impact on The Troubles. The murderous gangs that populate Kissing Candice, Donal remarks, are the sons of those who fought in the conflict. Perhaps, the violence is not quite over yet.

 

Kissing Candice screened on Friday, 2nd March 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Cured

 

Cathy Butler fleshes out David Freyne’s horror The Cured.

Genre films often are paralleled with the social anxieties of whatever era produced them. Stoker’s vision of the vampire embodied Victorian fears of societal breakdown and moral decay. The gangster in depression-era America became the everyman beating the system and making his own success. Zombies have lent themselves to a large number of metaphorical interpretations over the years; consumerism, mob mentality, racism, cultural homogenisation. As with all popular genres, the ability to reinvigorate or subvert genre expectations can be the key to standing out in quite a saturated market.

This is something the premise of The Cured achieves from the off. The film is set in an Ireland that is attempting to pick up the pieces after being ravaged by a virus which turns the afflicted into mindless, flesh-eating creatures. A cure was ultimately formulated and administered to the infected, returning them to their original state but leaving them with the memories of the acts they committed. 5,000 infected remain resistant to the cure and are kept in a secure compound while political debate ensues around what to do about them.

Senan (Sam Keeley), one of the recently cured, is taken in by his widowed sister-in-law, Abbie (Ellen Page). A recently cured friend of his, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a former barrister-turned-politician, is rejected by his family and takes to monitoring Senan’s progress in his new life, both from near and afar. As tensions escalate between the uninfected population and the cured, Conor becomes the leader of a violent resistance cell.

Senan is the core of the film, as the dichotomy of his life is also that of the film itself. The two sides are represented by the warmth of his relationship with his nephew, which becomes key to Abbie’s trust in him, and also by the intensity of his relationship with Conor, both pre- and post-infection. Living with Abbie, Senan has the possibility of moving on from the memories that haunt him, but his complex relationship with Conor – and ultimately his connection with his infected past – looms large and threatens that prospect.

Keeley carries this narrative weight with ease. Page’s portrayal of Abbie carefully navigates the idealism her character carries in spite of great loss and how that fares when faced with the true horror of the situation. The highlight, however, is the chemistry between Keeley and Vaughan-Lawlor, Senan and Conor being in many ways the classic doppelganger, two sides of the same coin, drawn together but at war with each other. The intensity of their relationship, in common with that experienced by all infected, allows the film to be a particularly nuanced depiction of the zombie figure. What the infected experience and who they become in that state is complex and problematic.

Parallels with the rehabilitation of criminals are clear. Responsibility and atonement and whether the infected were in control are questions hanging over the narrative. The faltering of liberal ideals in the face of harsh reality are embodied in Page’s character, though that arc seems to swing back towards optimism in the rather ambiguous conclusion.

The film suggests some wider world-building while keeping its focus quite narrow, so some aspects seem a little under-developed. But The Cured is a unique and engaging reworking of an enduring genre.

 

The Cured screened on Sunday, 25th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: Black 47

Sarah Cullen saddles up for Lance Daly’s drama set in Ireland during the Great Famine.

Sometimes it pays to go into movies blind. Well, or as blind as you can to a film which you know is going to be about that big important event that has shaped your country’s history for the last hundred and fifty years. I’ll admit it, friends: I was expecting something appropriately Lenten. Something dreary, something slow-moving and self-important. Something, in other words, that was good for me. But good for me in that Catholic way. You know. Boring.

Boy, was I ever happy to be wrong. Not only is Lance Daly’s newest feature a rollicking western with fantastic action and excellent performances, it also demonstrates how a film’s subject matter can add much-needed pathos and nuance to a genre. Colour me impressed.

Black 47 follows Feeney (James Frecheville), an Irish ranger who has returned home to Connemara after fleeing his post in the British army. Upon arrival, he discovers that his family has been evicted and his mother and brother have died in the famine. Seeking out answers (and a spot of revenge), he takes it upon himself to find those responsible for his family’s destruction. Meanwhile, word of Feeney’s desertion has reached the British battalion in Dublin and Feeney’s former comrade, Hannah (Hugo Weaving), is recruited to hunt him down.

Of course, that is not to say the Ireland depicted here isn’t bleak in the extreme, which is just as it should be. With a fantastically evocative soundtrack and populated by skeletal extras, the Conemara depicted is one straight out of the collective Irish memory. The harsh landscapes of empty and dilapidated cottages doesn’t feel that distant, however. One cannot look at them without being reminded of the growing number of homeless families up and down the country. Indeed, Black 47 focuses much of its ire on the local landlords who exploited the poor classes for personal gain. With recent news surfacing of Dublin landlords employing heavies to break down doors to illegally evict tenants, such scenes have an added urgency to them.

Black 47 should also be praised for its fantastic stunt choreography. While many of the fight scenes take place in close quarters which best enables Feeney to square up against multiple adversaries (and also demonstrates his strategic cunning), larger shoot-outs demonstrate impressive directorial ability. Taking place in the courtyards of lavish Irish manors, such scenes bring another element to a novel take on the western.

While in its basic construction, Black 47 is not much different from other recent revenge films in the Taken franchise and its numerous imitations, its pathos comes from its wider examination of society. Black 47 recognises that Feeney’s operation cannot right all wrongs, nor that all the wrong-doing can be scapegoated to a single individual, or even a single group. Feeney’s mother dies not at the hands of one person, but because she chose not to “take the soup.” Her death is the fault of not only British but also of numerous Irish collaborators who chose to act on their own selfish impulses. Feeney can attempt to re-enact revenge on individuals, but he is powerless to affect larger social or political changes.

The drama is supported by an impressive cast: Frecheville’s Feeney is stoic but never uncaring. His carefully controlled rage is released when the situation calls for it, and Frecheville ensures that Feeney is an eternal presence. Hugo Weaving comes across anachronistically, but rather appropriately, as an Aussie who’s sick of being a subject of the Crown. Freddie Fox is eminently punchable as the British emissary who views the famine as a result of Irish laziness.

If the film has one failing it’s in its portrayal (or indeed, lack thereof) of Irish women. While Sarah Greene holds her own as Feeney’s resilient sister, Ellie, there are very few other women to speak of. Two of the film’s main male characters also use the metaphors of comely British maidens versus bedraggled Irish ones to compare the state of the two countries. One wonders whether an otherwise resourceful film needed to resort to such clichéd stereotypes.

Interestingly, while opening the film, Daly noted that at the film’s Berlin premier, several English critics appeared less than happy with the British portrayal in Black 47. An unwillingness to acknowledge Britain’s not-too-distant colonialism aside, such a response is somewhat surprising: without giving too much away, the film’s conclusion extends an invitation to redemption for one of its main English representatives. The choice may not be easy or simple, but then what about Brexit – uh, I mean history – is?

Black 47 screened on Wednesday, 21st February 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: Twilight

 

Fionn Warren enters Twilight, Pat Collins’ latest documentary.

 

Acclaimed filmmaker Pat Collins (Silence, Song of Granite) returns to his documentary roots with Twilight, a beautiful collection of images that vividly capture the passing from daylight into darkness. Having spent two years filming across the breadth of Ireland, the images Collin’s ultimately selected for Twilight were all filmed in West Cork, mere minutes from his home. And it is no surprise as to why. We watch the orange light gradually fade from the still Baltimore sky as the darkness slowly creeps over the screen. Dark, grey clouds rush ominously past us as the last of the light is sucked away. We see all the vivid pinks and blues of the setting sun framed against the rugged Cork landscape.

At just under half an hour, Twilight is a meditative experience which combines beautiful visuals with a naturalistic and soothing soundtrack. The field recordings of sound artist Chris Watson reveal the noise of the clouds gliding by, a gull cawing in the distance, the gentle hum of a countryside uninterrupted by the modern world.

In Twilight, Collins has managed to capture the sense of stillness and calm that comes with the dwindling sunlight. Having undertaken the project to convey a world that is not so much holding its breath, but “breathing peacefully,” he has created a film in which the viewer is given time to do the same.

 

Twilight screened on Wednesday, 28th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: Good Favour

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.

 

Good Favour screened on Tuesday, 27th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March)

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8fczr0Q0hwk

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Image You Missed

Síomha McQuinn takes a look at Donal Foreman’s documentary The Image You Missed, which explores the complexities of a father/son relationship.

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?

 

The Image You Missed screened on Thursday, 1st March 2018 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

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Irish Short Film Review: Ours

Ours – Duration: 6.45 minutes

 

June Butler takes a look at Heather Grogan’s short film Ours, in which a young couple struggle to come to terms with an unexpected pregnancy and the impact it has on their relationship.

 

Ours is a short film written, produced and directed by Heather Grogan. Coming in at 6 minutes and 45 seconds, it has a tall order to fill yet does so unassumingly and with panache.

Before the characters are even seen, viewers are presented with an aural taste of what is to come as shrill voices argue and bicker while scenes come into focus. A young couple are expecting their first child. There is friction between the pair as stresses increase and tempers fray. Each accuses the other of various transgressions, adding to their fiery exchange with rash statements intended to inflict pain.

Mornings are set aside for effusive apologies, supplanted by evenings replete with rage. The cycle of bluster and irritation rolls on with inexorable frenzy as Tadhg Devery (Jason) and Susie Redmond (Melissa) deliver the finest and most arresting of performances along with some arresting images from Diarmuid Long as director of photography.

When the tale reaches its final moments, what was once alone comes together, as ‘mine’ evolves into ‘Ours’ – in the end, love is the only thing that matters.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Michael Inside

Loretta Goff takes a look at Frank Berry’s tale of Michael, a luckless 18-year-old who is misfortunate to be sent to prison.  

Michael Inside takes a hard look at the ways that young people from disadvantaged communities can become caught in a cycle of crime that they have no desire to become a part of. The film follows 18-year-old Michael McCrea (Dafhyd Flynn), who lives with his grandfather Francis McCrea (Lalor Roddy) in a Dublin housing estate. Michael’s father is in prison, his mother died of a drug overdose when he was young, and he left school early, working odd jobs instead. However, he shows a desire to follow the “right path” and an interest in furthering his education on a social care course.

Unfortunately, Michael’s life derails simply because of a series of naïve mistakes, the result of both his youth and his environment. Though he is only on the side-lines of criminal activity, he is sent to prison for three months in an attempt by the judge to shock him into correcting his behaviour. The consequences of this decision are devastating.

Dafhyd Flynn delivers an understated, emotional performance as Michael. Quiet and contemplative, his vulnerability is made evident as his incarceration looms. This is subtly mirrored by the equally excellent performance of Lalor Roddy as his grandfather, who puts on a brave face and offers words of assurance, but again exposes hidden worry in quiet moments. The faces of both these actors do the work of revealing all that is left unsaid in the film, and they do it quite well, eliciting empathy from viewers.

Once inside, Michael is forced not only to grow up quickly, but also to harden. He is repeatedly told that he must fight back and, when he is taken under the wing of Moe Dunford’s character, this becomes inevitable. This character, with another strong performance from Dunford, appears to be on the precipice of violence at any given moment and holds a position of power within the prison, having been there for a while. Under his protection, Michael not only begins to develop a penchant for fighting back, but is also drawn in to the periphery of crime in much the same way as he was on the outside.

Dunford’s character warns Michael that “your sentence only starts when you’re released”, and this appears to hold some truth for Michael who, despite trying to turn his life around, is caught in a cycle of crime and incarceration. Director Frank Berry does an excellent job of framing Michael in such a way that he appears trapped both inside and outside of prison. This occurs not only through the repeated pressure to do favours for criminals in both places, but also with shots of Michael looking through grates on a bridge that mirror the grated windows of the prison and of shots from outside his house that look in on him, framed and trapped in the lit window, surrounded by the exterior darkness.

Authenticity was important to Berry, who also wrote this film, and in the Q&A following the screening at the Cork Film Festival he discussed the amount of research involved. He got the idea for it after making his last film in Tallaght (I Used to Live Here, in which Flynn also had a role), and knew he wanted to focus the narrative on a grandson and grandfather—a family dynamic seen a lot in disadvantaged areas. Berry had quite a few discussions with youth in these communities who did not want to become involved in crime, but were positioned there, and equally decided to reflect this in the film. He approached the Irish penal system with this idea and was set up with the prison rehabilitation service Pathways, which enabled him to interview a number of former prisoners about how being incarcerated changed their lives and ways of thinking.

Berry’s research and dedication to accurately representing the experiences of those he interviewed shows in his film. Michael Inside makes us feel for its titular character and, through the frustrating nature of the path his life takes, reveals the flaws in our systems. Dafhyd Flynn perhaps captured it best during the Q&A, saying that when he watches the film he “sees truth”.

Michael Inside, which won Best Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh, also won the Audience Award at the 62nd Cork Film Festival.

 

Michael Inside screened on 16th November 2017 as part of the 2017 Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Photo City

Loretta Goff sends us a snapshot of Photo City, a portrait of photography itself as told through the lens of the citizens of a place defined by the art form. 

With Photo City co-directors John Murphy and Traolach Ó Murchú focus their lenses on a number of photographers from all walks of life in Rochester, NY. This city, the home of George Eastman’s Kodak, was once booming, with Xerox and Bausch & Lomb providing abundant employment opportunities alongside the photography company. Today, a much different picture of Rochester’s economic situation is presented, reflective of Kodak’s bankruptcy in 2012. However, the immense impact of Kodak is still evident in the area through the city’s love of photography and amount of photographers that live there. This documentary explores Rochester’s relationship with Kodak through the unique perspectives of some of these individuals.

Importantly, Photo City examines a range of photographic practices used today, from film developed in a darkroom to the instant accessibility and shareability of digital photography. Kodak’s downfall resulted from their lack of planning for this digital age that has, indeed, reshaped consumers’ and practitioners’ relationship with the medium. However, what emerges throughout this documentary is a sense that several artists remain deeply connected to the full process of photography—the art of developing your image from start to finish. Science becomes part of the art here as a number of individuals drawn to the technical side of photography experiment with creating their own equipment and procedures.

Memory and nostalgia equally emerge as themes attached to the photographic image. While this is made clear through various discussions of older images, both personal and universal, it is particularly evident in an interview with an elderly man who once travelled the world as a Kodak portrait photographer. His house is not only full of his old photos, including one he proudly displays of Walt Disney, but also of old Kodak memorabilia and advertising cut-outs that inspire him to cheerfully reflect on his time with the company.

A photograph gives an impression not only of its subject, but also of the person behind the camera. Weaving together interviews with a variety of photographers—from commercial to artistic and personal, from photojournalists, pin-up photographers and filmmakers to those who are also teachers, engineers and technicians—Photo City delves into their lives and stories as much as it does their relationship with photography. As a result, the documentary also touches on a range of important topics (such as race, marginalised communities, class, economic dislocation, education, illness and addiction) that affect the lives of these photographers and shape their work.

Visually, this documentary creates moving portraits of its subjects, often interspersing their dialogue over images of them working, scenes of the city and close-ups that give an intimate feel to the film. Frequent shots of the iconic Kodak building give it a looming, ever-present feel in the documentary, reminding us of its impact on the city. More interesting, however, are shots of Rochester’s various communities that offer a more complete image of the city, its diversity and clear economic disparities.

Director John Murphy attended the screening of Photo City at the Cork Film Festival and noted in the Q&A afterwards that they wanted the documentary to have an emotional connection, so that viewers would learn about Kodak through the experience of individuals, rather than being an information dump on the history of the company. As photography has become so accessible and part of today’s vernacular, he also was adamant that were “keen to show photography as a church for a broad congregation” and therefore interview a variety of people. As such, they actively searched for different “character types” to fill their diverse array of roles rather than just going after the city’s top photographers. This method works well, making the documentary topical, relevant and interesting for a wide audience.

 

Photo City screened on 16th November 2017 as part of the 2017 Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Song of Granite

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.

Hannah Lemass

G (See IFCO for details)

97 minutes
Song of Granite is released 8th December 2017

Song of Granite – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Writing Home

 

Jack O’Dwyer puts pen to paper about the romantic comedy Writing Home, made as part of the Filmbase Masters Course

Writing Home, though ostensibly a romantic comedy, tells that classic story of an ego being slowly stripped away in order to reveal the triumph of authenticity over artifice. Conor Scott’s script, under the direction of three Filmbase Masters’ students (Nagham Abboud, Alekson L. Dall’Armellina and Miriam Velasco) and guided by producers Mark Coffey and Jannik Ohlendieck, follows a well-worn cinematic path, with its concerns being particularly comparable to Bob Rafelson’s Five Easy Pieces, from 1970. Its rigid adherence to the tenets of feel-good cinematic romance deserves both condemnation and praise for, while it is cliché-ridden and predictable, it is also funny, satisfying and undeniably impressive given the inexperience of its cast and crew.

At its centre is Tony Kelly, in a swaggering performance as Daniel Doran, a hack writer who leaves the high-life of London to return to his rural Irish home of Darlingford, where he encounters his dying father, begrudging family, the former flame he suddenly abandoned and a young daughter that he has never met. Kelly’s confident performance brings a real vibrancy and immediacy to the film. His plastic, animated facial expressions reveal a smarmy, posturing fraud who, deep down, is ashamed of what he has become. The opening fifteen minutes or so, set in London, does just about everything it can to make Daniel a deeply unlikeable figure. Among other things, he snorts coke off of the cover of his newest bestseller, forgets the name of a Russian model he sleeps with, and replies ‘’good’’ when he learns of his father’s illness over the phone.

Upon his return to Darlingford, each scene serves one of two purposes. The first is to contribute to Daniel’s journey of self-discovery and moral retribution through acts of selflessness and honesty. The second is to show Daniel up for his arrogance and condescension, often in humorous ways. A key aspect of Daniel’s character is that, despite his overbearing self-seriousness, he is established from the start as a figure who is often the butt of the joke. He uses his wealth and large vocabulary as a weapon of self-defence, which frequently backfires. Particularly satisfying is a scene in which he is cajoled into attending a local Darlingford book club meeting, where he comes face to face with the same sort of self-important drivel that he himself peddles.

The ways in which Daniel successively negotiates the ills of his past, and the ultimate character arc that forms as a result, play out lucidly on screen, for the most part. Perhaps the most problematic scene is a conversation between Aoife (Caoimhe O’Malley), Daniel’s former girlfriend and the mother of his child, and her mother. Daniel is the subject of the conversation in spite of his absence, and there is a revelation from Aoife’s mother which suggests that Daniel has always been benevolent and generous, even before his return to Darlingford. The reveal comes from nowhere, and in light of the film as a whole it seems to dull the emotional impact of Daniel’s ultimate moral progression. Also, numerous scenes, including the film’s opening, make reference to the fact that Daniel is in fact a talented writer of serious fiction who merely became disenfranchised following the failure of his first book. However, rarely in the film do we get a glimpse of this Daniel; the talented artist beneath the showman’s veneer. In fact, Daniel’s writing is a sort of grey area throughout the entire film. The fact that such a large aspect of his life and background remains so far removed from the presentation of his character reduces somewhat the overall cogency of the film.

Shot in just five weeks, Writing Home is a fantastic achievement from up-and-coming Irish talent under the tutelage of Filmbase’s intensive Master’s programme. There is little indication of its limited budget and even when there is, it does little to distract from the verve in front of and behind the camera. All the familiar beats are there, and some of the music-heavy montage sequences are a bit too sickly sweet, but with snappy dialogue, touching performances and confident direction, Writing Home remains engaging throughout its 90-minute runtime.

 

Writing Home screened on 15th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival (10 – 19 November)

 

Mark Coffey, Co-producer of ‘Writing Home’

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