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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