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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Irish Film Review: The Breadwinner

Anthony Kirby was at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival to see the Angelina Jolie executive produced Irish animated film The Breadwinner, which is being tipped for Oscar success and was recently awarded Best Animated Feature by the LA Film Critics Association.

 

Set in Kabul at the height of the Taliban regime, The Breadwinner is a vivid adaptation of Deborah Ellis’ children’s novel about a twelve-year-old girl forced to disguise herself in order to provide for her mother, sister and toddler brother.

Parvana, voiced by Canadian Saara Chaudry, is tolerated by authorities as an aid to her father, a former teacher and poet. In one vivid 20-second scene at the commencement of the film he reminds his daughter of the great culture they’re part of and that Genghis Khan, Alexander the Great, The Portuguese and the British were unable to conquer them. Parvana replies that “she’s too old for stories.” Later, however, she concocts a mythical story about a killer elephant hiding in the mountains terrorizing people in the plains, to entertain her young brother. This fantasy parallels the realistic story and is beautifully illustrated and narrated.

A young zealot forces Parvana’s father to rise from his street stall and when the invalid man is slow to obey, because of a limb lost in conflict, the zealot has him imprisoned. Parvana is now the sole support for her family. She displays a maturity well beyond her years; knowing that, as a young woman, she simply can’t work; she cuts her hair, dresses as a youth and occupies her father’s work area. She’s aided by Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), a school friend. Parvana also reads and writes. These skills help her gain the friendship of an older man with prison connections. The change in Parvana’s fortunes is mirrored in the animation, which now is more vibrant and colourful. Parvana’s obsession to rescue her crippled father from incarceration is mirrored in the episodic mythical story she concocts for her toddler brother of Sulieman, a brave young boy who travels to the mountains to battle the Elephant King and free an oppressed people.

The allegorical story, threat of imminent war, further bloody conflict and a family fleeing terror build to a shattering crescendo as fighter jets soar overhead, bombs begin to fall, and bedlam reigns in the prison where Parvana’s father is held. A later injection of poignancy, relating to the death of Parvana’s older brother years previously, gives even greater emotional impact to a film that is beautifully constructed, elegantly visualized and an object lesson in love conquering hate.

Irish director Norah Twomey and her team have enhanced a classic children’s epic and made it available to a wider audience. Because of its violence the feature might be too strong for children younger than six, however, the story and its feminist hero will definitely appeal to older viewers and possibly teenagers.

A major achievement for  Twomey and her Kilkenny collaborators at Cartoon Saloon, The Breadwinner is worthy of a wide viewing audience.

The Breadwinner will have its Irish premiere at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival on 22nd February 2018.

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: No Party for Billy Burns

Loretta Goff rides into town and checks out Padraig Conaty’s film about a shy and awkward, Wild West-obsessed Billy Burns, whose cheerful cowboy fixation masks the scars of a childhood tragedy.

Padraig Conaty’s directorial debut, No Party for Billy Burns, is very much an Irish Western. The film’s titular character, Billy Burns (Kevin McGahern), lives in rural Cavan, but imagines himself a cowboy from the Wild West. Shy and innocent, Billy leads a fairly lonely life with his grandfather (Shane Connaughton), not quite fitting in with the local lads in the pub. It is his imagination that sustains and entertains him.

Like Billy in his hometown, Cavan seems out of place as the setting for a Western. As a result, the film, which captures rural life in a very realistic way, also carries the feel of a fantasy. This is especially evident in its opening and closing sequences which intersperse Super 8 footage of old Westerns with home movies of Billy’s childhood, reflecting a filmic nostalgia. Conversely, Billy’s day-to-day life, and glimpses into the lives of other locals, encapsulate the isolation and frustration felt by many in small communities.

The pub forms the centre of this community as the place where everyone gathers, shares news and kills time. A group of men the same age as Billy seem to spend most of their days here, elucidating a lack of opportunity that perhaps leaves them without many other options. Among them is Ciarán (Charlie McGuinness), whose evident frustration with his circumstances grows throughout the film along with his volatility. Billy, however, remains on the fringes of this scene. He appears to go almost out of habit, ordering a pint and observing the scene, waiting for rare moments to join in.

Billy’s sense of isolation is made even more visceral at home, where the sound of loud, chilling wind often invades the scenes. Amidst this, Billy regularly sits alone in the only lit room of the house performing his own radio show for entertainment. Other than his grandfather, Billy’s only other real companionship comes in the form of Laura (Sonya O’Donoghue), his romantic interest. Unfortunately, Laura does not return his feelings and has been with Ciarán for a number of years, which only leads to complications.

Conaty, who also wrote the film, deals very empathetically with the character of Billy as he searches for his place in the world. In a Q&A following the film’s screening at the Cork Film Festival, the director explained that while the lead role was written for actor Kevin McGahern—who also inspired the character by being the only one to dress up for a Wild West Festival held in their local Cavan—he also drew inspiration from their local community. Equally, McGahern stated that he performed the role based on a number of people he knew growing up—described as “shy country lads” who would never leave the country.

Conaty and McGahern both spoke to the ways that the film reflects their local area, including the general “cowboy” attitude of many locals, who often speak and behave in ways that offer easy comparison to cowboy films. Between the development of characters that reflects this locality and the fact that the film was shot in their hometown in Cavan, No Party for Billy Burns carries an air of authenticity that viewers from rural communities will connect with. However, its themes of isolation and of feeling trapped in a certain life are also universal.

The film, which took six years to complete on a budget of between €7,000–8,000, is a personal project handled with care, showcasing both scenery and daily-life in Cavan through the lens of its shy, observant lead. While No Party for Billy Burns evokes a number of classic Westerns throughout, such as High Noon (1952) and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), it also allows the space for Billy to create his own path in the narrative. Similarly, the film itself is able to avoid certain generic conventions by remaining very rooted in its rural Irish setting, developing its own category as a modern Irish Western.

 

No Party for Billy Burns screened on 13th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: The Lodgers

Loretta Goff gets gothic at The Lodgers, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

Introducing The Lodgers at the Cork Film Festival, Director Brian O’Malley said that he wanted to make a “beautiful and elegant ghost story” that reflected the script. O’Malley was given David Turpin’s script by producers Ruth Treacy and Julianne Forde after they saw his first feature film, the horror Let Us Prey (2014). After reading it and being struck by the beauty of some of the dialogue, O’Malley decided to bring the gothic horror to life.

The Lodgers tells the story of Rachel (Charlotte Vega) and Edward (Bill Milner), Anglo-Irish twins who live alone in a boarded up, decaying Big House in rural 1920s Ireland. The two are bound to the house by a family curse, sharing it only with the supernatural spirits that live below, emerging through a hatch in the floor to haunt their nights. The siblings must always be in their rooms by midnight and cannot let anyone else enter their residence for fear of otherworldly punishment. Edward dreads leaving the house at all, feeling “protected” by it in some way, and unravels within it, becoming part of its shadows. Rachel, on the other hand, takes her days for herself, enjoying the freedom of the outdoors, particularly after she meets the recently returned WWI soldier, Sean (Eugene Simon).

As the twins turn eighteen, the presence of the spirits grows heavier, creating a sense of urgency. This is reinforced by the visit of estate manager, Mr. Bermingham (David Bradley), who bears news of their dire finances and demands to appraise the mansion for sale. Amidst this, Rachel becomes more daring and desperate to escape, leading to increased tension with her brother.

Vega and Milner deliver strong performances as the siblings who are at once very alike (often going through the same motions in parallel) and very different (with opposing desires). The actors’ chemistry with one another carries from tender moments to violent, and often uncomfortable, ones. Together they aptly portray a relationship in turmoil, reflecting how being bound together can also tear you apart.

The striking production of this film deserves special attention; from the sets to the costuming and cinematography, The Lodgers looks very good. Under the guidance of O’Malley, who used The Innocents (1961), The Hunger (1983) and The Duke of Burgundy (2014) as references for the look of the film, director of photography Richard Kendrick and production designer Joe Fallover create a sumptuous gothic aesthetic. Loftus Hall in Wexford, itself reportedly haunted, offers an imposing presence in the film as the twins’ place of residence, eerily solid and impervious at the same time, holding the twins in, but also leaving them open to threat (thin curtains blow out an open window that lets in the elements and the otherworldly frequently intrude with their watery presence). The house reflects a fading decadence, replaced by dampness and erosion, that mirrors the weakening grip of English colonial power in Ireland at the time.

Indeed, this film reflects another haunting spectre—that of England’s presence in Ireland. A group of local young men, led by Dessie (Moe Dunford), consider the returned Sean a traitor for fighting in the British Army while they were busy fighting their own war at home. They equally regard the Anglo-Irish twins in the Big House with disdain, reflecting both political and class tensions. Topping it all off is the grave simply marked 1916 in the woods of the estate. Though this marks the burial spot of the twins’ parents, in the context of Ireland it only evokes one thing—the 1916 Rising. Genre films are often criticised as lacking cultural specificity, but that cannot be said about The Lodgers.

Overall, while the film’s narrative does let it down in some places, feeling a bit simplified, this is made up for by its stunning visual style, gothic-drenched atmosphere and strong acting by the two leads. This new Irish horror is definitely one to watch.

 

The Lodgers screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: Condemned to Remember

 

Sean O’Rourke reviews Gerry Gregg’s Condemned to Remember, in which Irish Holocaust Survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin Mosque and embarks on epic journey across a Europe in turmoil.

Condemned to Remember is a documentary by frequent collaborators Gerry Gregg and Tomi Reichental which discusses the rise of modern, neo-fascist movements throughout Europe. This unfortunately prescient topic is given a wrenchingly personal touch by the latter collaborator: Reichental, a holocaust survivor. Born in Czechoslovakia to a Jewish family, he and his loved ones were sold to the Germans by their government, just as had been done to many other Czechoslovakian Jews, and he was forced into the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The movie opens with Reichental, on his 80th birthday in Dublin where he has been invited celebrate Ramadan in a local mosque.

He is immediately disarming, joking as he is readying for his visit that there are few Holocaust survivors celebrating their 80th birthday in a mosque. Even in parts of the film that touch on the darkest moments human history has to offer, Tomi remains a bright, hopeful presence.

However, while the visit to the mosque was playing out, the film took a detour to explore the ongoing legal proceedings against a former SS guard present on a forced death march Tomi described in an earlier film. The film simultaneously starts to set up its examination of current neo-fascist movements in Europe without initially making any important thematic links between this, the mosque visit, and the German legal suit. As I watched this unfold, it seemed to me that the film lacked focus and it felt a waste to cut back and forth between these various proceedings if no greater point about their connections were to be made. The film even started to seem too eager to get to its next big moment, such that the editing often felt too fast. Rather than lingering on moments of human connection between, for example, Tomi and the granddaughter of a Nazi, it instead cut the scene to only its essential soundbites, then moved on before the humanity of these two people, miraculously occupying the same space, could really come through. In these early moments, I thought the film might be squandering its best intentions in an attempt to cover too much ground too quickly.

What relief it was for me then, to find the movie really come together as Tomi went further in his European journey. The film’s stated goal is to prevent genocides like the Holocaust from reoccurring and it does so by reclaiming the past from any complacency that moniker, “past,” might possess. As the film delves deeper into contemporary European political figures, such as Slovakia’s Marian Kotleba, whose rhetoric would not have seemed out of place in 1940s Germany (nor indeed in a massive nationalist Polish demonstration earlier this month), Reichental’s recounting of his experiences in the Holocaust do not just seem a recounting of past events, but as vital experiences that must be used to fight against those who would have them repeated.

The film also gives itself more room to breathe as it goes on and, in these moments, the film has a real poetry to it. Moments of connection, of Tomi looking into the eyes of those who have survived more recent genocides, serve the film’s central goal well and, in moments where the camera lingers on Tomi’s face as he reflects on what’s before him, we are allowed to form an intimate human connection with him, a connection that is made all the more important by a theme the movie brings home again and again: that there will be a day in the near future when there will be no more Holocaust survivors, when this direct link to that historical moment is severed. In its moments of greatest humanity, of Tomi walking down a dirt road with a Syrian refugee, or standing at the spot where his childhood home used to stand, that the film’s poetic power is brought to bear on its audience. These moments preserve the humanity of a man like Tomi powerfully, and assert the importance of such preservation.

The film is at its best when it generates that sense of immediacy in its discussion of the past with the present. Despite a certain formal conventionality, the film remains a powerful reminder of the horrors that human beings commit again and again right up to the present day. Indeed, as Tomi visits the spot of his childhood home, long since gone, its foundations buried under bush and weed, as Tomi stands in the corner of the frame, describing life there as a child, building a mental image for us that might fill the rest of the frame if we listen well, saying over and over that it is gone, and yet still feels like home, one sees the words of William Faulkner (by way of Tomi) ring true: “The past is never dead. It is not even past.” Gregg and his team capture something truly special here: the horror and the beauty of Tomi’s past, a past that carries great relevance in a world that often bears, as Gregg shows through powerful juxtaposition between Tomi’s remembrances and footage of modern-day Europe, uncomfortable relevance to the world just prior to the horrors visited on Tomi. Aside from a start that lacks focus and an occasional reluctance to let powerful scenes breath, the film manages to make its importance known, to pull the past into an uncertain present, and display for us the humanity of a man whose experience deserves our attention and prompts our action.

 

Condemned to Remember screened on 12th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

 

In Irish cinemas 3rd November 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Gerry Gregg, Director of ‘Condemned to Remember’

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival: The Man Who Invented Christmas

Sean O’Rourke gets festive for The Man Who Invented Christmas, which screened at the Cork Film Festival.

Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is one of the most adapted literary works of all time and, at least in my estimation, any work that engages with Dicken’s novel succeeds or fails largely based on its ability to capture that central feeling of joy the book imparts on its readers. Dickens’ words dance along the page in such a way that, to my knowledge, there’s no better work of fiction for cutting through the most pessimism-coaxing aspects of the holiday to the joy that should be at its centre.

The novel’s joyousness is precisely what The Man Who Invented Christmas, directed by Bharat Nalluri, attempts to tap into. The film, almost entirely shot in Dublin, is often beautiful to look at. The costumes, tend towards the outrageous and colorful. Snow routinely falls around color-saturated red brick, illuminated by the yellow glow shining from shop windows. As such, there are frames, and indeed entire scenes, that capture that festive, joyful quality that the film so rightfully takes from Dicken’s work. It is unfortunate then that, through unfocused storytelling and an overabundance of on-the-nose references to the text, the film undermines its ability to achieve its joyful goal.

The film depicts a cash-strapped Dickens (an appropriately energetic Dan Stevens) reeling after a string of literary flops. Dickens proposes what will become A Christmas Carol to his publisher, but is rejected, prompting him to self-publish. Getting a loan to cover its costs, hiring an artist, a printer, and, above all, writing the thing, must be done in a mere six weeks. In the meantime, he is aided by his lovesick friend John Forster (Justin Edwards), tries to mend his marriage with Kate Dickens (Morfydd Clarke), elicits help from a new Irish servant girl (Anna Murphy), struggles with a father (Jonathan Pryce) for whom he feels great animosity and, perhaps most importantly, converses with Mr. Scrooge (Christopher Plummer) in an often interesting interplay between author and his creation who seems more and more to represent something that Dickens must confront within himself.

Herein lies the problem: the film does not find a way to balance and develop these potentially interesting storylines and therefore fails to achieve an adequate emotional payoff for any of them.

These plot lines appear and disappear from the movie seemingly at random. For example, we learn early on that Forster has a fiancé. However, it is only brought up a couple other times in the film, each time causing me to remember that he is, in fact, engaged to be married and that I am supposed to be invested in the success or failure of their relationship. Some of the character dynamics do work well. Dickens’ clashes with his father are a highlight of the film, the actors showing themselves more than capable of carrying this particular plot should the film decide that it is the central thread. Scrooge and Dickens’ relationship, though it only exists in the author’s mind, could have probably sustained the film as well and indeed does attempt to carry much of the emotional weight near the end of the film. However, the emotional weight of these storylines is undercut since their development is crowded and ultimately suffocated amidst the rest of the film.

The film pairs this narrative confusion with other strange decisions on a stylistic level. As above described, the film is stylistic in its approach to its setting which is entirely appropriate to its tone. However, occasionally the camera seems to adopt an almost improvisational mode, with strange zooms and a bobbing, handheld effect which might lend an air of authenticity to the proceedings if gritty and authentic were the aesthetic, which they are not.

Even more distracting are the moments where Dickens finds inspiration for his novel. In certain scenes this works, such as when Dickens sees people dancing in an outdoor market which is eventually transformed into Fezziwig’s Christmas party. However, such intrusions become problematically on-the-nose, exemplified in a single scene where a wealthy man berates Charles with Scrooge’s “are there no prisons” speech nearly word for word, two children are seen in the folds of a large man’s robe, an unattended funeral for a man nobody loves is carried out, and a miserly looking man accosts Charles with the words “humbug,” all of which occurs in a matter of minutes. Such situations persist throughout the film, distracting from its numerous narrative through lines in favor of a game of “spot the reference.” Frustration with the film’s misplaced emphasis soon began to unravel the more joyful aspects of the film.

Such frustration is unfortunate because in certain moments, such as when Dickens walks through his office, silhouetted by the light coming through his windows, contorting himself, body and voice, straining to find the right articulation for Scrooge, the movie comes alive. Unfortunately, in its inability to tie these individual scenes into a compelling narrative, we are left with some well-done, festive, joyful scenes that are overshadowed by a constant string of on-the-nose in-jokes and an overabundance of plotlines with little emotional payoff, stifling the effusive joy the film attempts to unleash.

The film’s heart is in the right place and may, I hope, entice people to read the original novel. However, the problems mentioned above make it difficult to recommend on its own merits.

 

The Man Who Invented Christmas screened on 10th November 2017 as part of the Cork Film Festival

In Irish cinemas 1st December  

 

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Review of Irish Film @ IFI Documentary Festival: Elián

Naomi Shea reviews Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell’s film about Elián González, a five-year-old Cuban boy plucked from the Florida coast in 1999, and how the fight over his future sparked a flashpoint for simmering US and Cuban tensions.

A montage of blurred and pixelated archival footage moves us through a hieroglyphic narrative of human survival; handmade rafts struggle against the ferocious expanse of an unidentifiable sea; dozens of stooped figures emerge from dark waters onto unnamed land. Although the opening sequence of Tim Golden and Ross McDonnell’s latest documentary Elián (2017) reflects upon a particular time in the fraught history of the Americas, during which droves of Cubans fled their native land for the promise of citizenship and stability in the United States, these images uncannily echo the humanitarian crisis of our contemporary time, captivating the perilous and largely anonymous journeys of thousands of refugees and migrants today.

Elián’s story is at once wholly of its time—the metamorphosis of a five-year-old boy into the embodiment of US-Cuban relations at the turn of the century—and simultaneously a universal narrative that echoes our contemporary age, warning of the dangers and toxicity of political power and symbolism on individual human autonomy and self-determination. Elián deftly synopsizes the breadth of Cuban history in the aftermath of the Revolution, offering a journalistically sound insight into the tensions underlying the fledgling country’s break from its longstanding US affiliations, which prompted many Cubans to journey north to Florida, enticed by the prosperity and opportunities offered by America.

Elián begins with the reenactment of the eponymous child’s rescue by two fishermen off the coast of Florida following the death of his mother, who had attempted the journey from Cuba to America on a handmade raft. Elián was subsequently put into the care of his Cuban-Miami relatives, prompting a custody battle between them and his father, who lived in Cuba and requested his son’s immediate return. The familial tensions that played out between Elián’s relatives were refracted momentously throughout America and Cuba, whereby Elián rose almost instantaneously to become the symbol of each country’s respective political and national agenda. Crucially, the Elián case emerged alongside the contemporaneous American presidential campaign of 2000, in which the clash of political egos and patriotic extremism provided a vicious and ulterior backdrop to the child’s custody battle.

The documentary unfolds through an interplay between contemporary interviews with Elián himself, his family members and key figures involved in the case, as well as an extensive array of archival footage from the period surrounding the event. At the forefront of this archival material is the obsessive and penetrative presence of the American media, paralleled with campaign footage of Bill Clinton, Al Gore, George Bush and an uncannily prescient speech from Donald Trump, who each engage with the Elián case for their own respective political advantage. Ninety-miles from the North American coast Fidel Castro leads an alternative but no less propagandistic public campaign that uses Elián as a symbolic vehicle for Cuban patriotism and anti-American rhetoric. And caught between these two antagonistic and egocentric powers is a five-year-old child who has just experienced his mother’s death and remains forcibly separated from his father in the name of political and national identity.

Germinating across a period of five years, the making of Elián also traversed two momentous events in the political landscapes of both the US and Cuba—the death of Castro on November 25, 2016 and the election of Trump to office on January 20, 2017. These events inflect the documentary with an urgent immediacy, balancing the reflective and historicizing tone of the film with a pertinent relevancy for the political and humanitarian crises we face today. Most evocative are the interviews with Elián, now in his early twenties and living in Cuba, whose profound humility and collectedness belie the trauma and notoriety of his early childhood.

In the course of the documentary Elián admits that he is yet to tell his own story, because the narrative recounted by Elián himself and the many other participants in the film is not his own. Elián’s childhood became the embodiment of a particular moment in US-Cuban political relations, the narrative of an overwrought struggle for power between these nations and a mythical symbol for the Cuban population and Miami-Cuban community’s grapple to negotiate their respective cultural and national identities. The cult of personality and superstitious mysticism frame these chaotic scrambles for power and self-determination. Questions of fatherhood, nationhood, religious belief and media fame orbit around the various characters of the film, including Castro, an assemblage of American (male) political figures, and Elián himself, who simultaneously acknowledges his unequivocal symbolic power for the Cuban people, as well as attempting to live below the firing line of stardom.

Above all, Elián explores how the political is always personal, while warning of the dangers of subsuming the personal under the political. And within this, Elián attempts to renounce his status as the miracle, prodigal son that has been inflicted upon him by both American and Cuban society, in order to live freely and humanly.

 

Elián screened as part of the IFI Documentary Festival 2017 (September 27th to October 1st)

 

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