Review: 1917

 

DIR: Sam Mendes• WRI: Sam Mendes, Krysty Wilson-Cairns • DOP: Roger Deakins • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Pippa Harris, Callum McDougall, Sam Mendes, Brian Oliver, Jayne-Ann Tenggren • MUS: Thomas Newman • DES: Dennis Gassner • CAST: George McKay, Dean-Charles Chapman, Andrew Scott

Two British soldiers are tasked with crossing no man’s land in WWI to deliver a message that could save hundreds of lives. The film presents this entire mission as one nearly unbroken, continuous shot. This presentation is so central to the film that it deserves a bit of discussion. 

Imparting the illusion of a continuous shot over a 2-hour movie is an achievement on its own. The illusion is quite effective and allows you to travel with these men throughout the entirety of their journey, which breeds a sense of intimacy between viewer and character. It helps that the acting and set design are universally superb, meaning that the environment and characters remain continually engaging as the camera lingers on them. However, the continued use of long shots can be a bit of a double-edged sword when it comes to generating a sense of authenticity. On one hand, much like in real life, there’s no opportunity to cut away or jump ahead in time, lending a horrible authenticity in the context of a war film where we must sit with characters through every step of their encounters with abject horrors, creating an uncomfortable empathy with people in nearly unimaginable situations which wouldn’t be as powerfully felt if the film were more conventional in its filmic approach to this material. On the other hand, such long takes have a tendency to lay bare the elaborate choreography necessary to make them work. Actors fight, sprint, and converse in settings of magnificent beauty and horror, and the camera always finds just the right way to capture the most important part of each scene. This film is therefore a truly impressive balletic dance between actor and camera and I often found myself in awe of this choreography that the one-shot style simultaneously necessitates and, accidentally or not, emphasizes. As the shots linger on, it becomes increasingly obvious just how precise the movie is in making sure actors hit their marks and that the camera is in just the right place, focusing on just the right things, at just the right time, which unfortunately strips away much of the illusion that anything we’re seeing on screen has much real-world spontaneity. That does hurt a film like this where some of its effect relies on a sense of authenticity, of being in the trenches with these men. It starts to give the sense that you, the viewer, are in the safe hands of a very skilled director, but safety is not really conducive to feeling immersed in a battlefield narrative.

This bit of authenticity isn’t traded away for nothing though. That the film almost never cuts allows it to powerfully deliver on its most important emotional and thematic throughlines. This is a film that is intimately concerned with what motivation and repression are necessary to keep a person pushing forward in extreme circumstances. What can drive an otherwise normal person to run towards certain trauma and probable death, and what must they quickly put out-of-mind if they are to have the strength to keep running? The film can examine this theme so powerfully and in such a nuanced way precisely because we can see how these motivations subtly shift over the course of the film. We see every step of these characters reacting to their setting, a setting which smoothly transitions from beauty to horror and back around again. We therefore see not only these extremes of character motivation and of setting, but also what happens in the transition between extremes. There is an emotional authenticity here then because we do not just cut from important character moment to important character moment or from cause directly to effect, but instead see these characters react to, reflect on, and alter their behaviour within their situation in real time, which generates a fascinatingly nuanced form of environmental and character evolution. It helps as well that Sam Mendes’ directing and Roger Deakins’ cinematography so expertly lead us through and keep us engaged in every step of the emotional journey of these characters.

I suppose it’s up to each viewer whether or not this trade-off is worth it. For me, it was, ultimately. By the end, I was quite caught up in this film whose format brings about its biggest faults, but also emphasizes its towering strengths.

Sean O’Rourke

118′ 44″
16 (see IFCO for details)

1917 is released 10th January 2020

1917 – Official Website

 

Share

Irish Film Review: Horrible Creature

Irene Falvey attended an IFI screening of Horrible Creature, Áine Stapleton’s film based on the life of Lucia Joyce between 1915 and 1950.

Áine Stapleton’s film Horrible Creature featured at the IFI as part of the First Fortnight festival on 8th January.  The feature is the second in Áine’s trilogy of films which depict the life of Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter who was a talented dancer. Lucia’s life was considerably altered by her time spent in and out of psychiatric care across Europe from the early 1930s onwards. Horrible Creature was a pertinent choice for the festival as it explores both creativity and issues surrounding mental health.

A stunning visual experience, Horrible Creature focuses on Lucia’s life from 1915-1950, providing a glimpse into Lucia’s childhood, her years as a successful dancer and her experiences of mental asylums across Europe. The narrative is told through highly interpretative and experimental dance to evoke an understanding of Lucia’s emotions. Alongside dance sequences, there are snippets of edited extracts from Lucia’s diaries and letters, providing the audience with brief yet illustrative glimpses into Lucia’s life and mental state. The chosen techniques of dance and carefully crafted extracts steers Horrible Creature away from a straightforward recounting; instead it feels as though we are going through Lucia’s experiences alongside her.  

To tell the story of Lucia Joyce’s life through the medium of dance gives us a clearer idea of who Lucia was, the movements manage to fill in the gaps of this important person’s life. The dancing is far more than just dance; it is expression, it is the outpouring of her story. The dance sequences are designed as a dialogue, representing everything Lucia could have possibly been experiencing and wanted to express but couldn’t.  

The location choices play a significant role within this depiction of Lucia’s life. Filmed across various locations in Switzerland, the natures scenes that DOP Will Humphris’ capture are breath-taking. Locations chosen include snow-covered Swiss mountains, clear lakes and hillside chapels. To contrast the natural landscapes a school, a hospital and a library room are also featured. These visually arresting landscapes and buildings/rooms add an extra symbolic quality to the dance performances. The locations switch between wide open spaces and confined spaces. Perhaps this could be interpreted to reveal the contrasts in Lucia’s life. The sprawling and open nature scenes represent how expansive Lucia’s career could potentially have been. To contrast this, the confined spaces, such as schools and hospitals, represent a closing in, a lack of freedom, spaces in which she could not express herself through dance. In particular, there is one shot of one of the dancers wedged into a fireplace. The effect of this makes us think of the talented dancer who wanted to achieve equal creative success to her father; yet her confinement to psychiatric care rendered her unable to perform which was suffocating and entrapping. 

Horrible Creature manages to bring to life the story of person who has been overshadowed. Not only is a very worthy story being told, it is also being done so with a highly creative vision. Horrible Creature acts as a meditation on how we imagine Lucia would have felt. While the film principally consists of dance sequences, the composed snippets of dialogue provide a revelatory window into Lucia’s life. We are provided with insights from her school days, the friendships of her youth, her family, her love life and her career. What Horrible Creature provides is a stylised interpretation of the emotional experiences which may have underpinned the highs and lows of Lucia’s life. The delicately nuanced yet powerfully visceral choreography ensures that this feature respects and represents Lucia’s life, her struggles and her ambitions. Overall the film relies more so on expression than documentation; it reveals the suffering Lucia must have faced while evocatively and effectively employing dance to paint a picture of Lucia’s mental state.  

 

Horrible Creature screened at the Irish Film Institute on 8th January 2020.

 

 

Áine Stapleton, director of ‘Horrible Creature’

 

Share

Review: Uncut Gems

DIR: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie • WRI: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie, Benny Safdie • DOP: Darius Khondji • ED: Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Eli Bush, Scott Rudin • MUS: Daniel Lopatin • DES: Sam Lisenco • CAST: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, Kevin Garnett

Benny and Josh Safdie, aka the Safdie brothers, are quickly defining themselves as crown jewels of New York cinema, who can go toe to toe and pound for pound with the greats.  Uncut Gems marks their follow up to their critically acclaimed film Good Time, starring Robert Pattison.

There’s a spontaneity and vitality to Uncut Gems that feels totally improvised, but make no mistake it’s a finely crafted structure; a diamond through and through.  It might have something to do with the Safdies spending a decade honing the script, distilling it down to its absolute purest form. But somehow even this explanation doesn’t cut it. It’s more likely the result of some mysterious unseen process, that’s nothing short of cinematic alchemy. Uncut Gems is an incendiary display of virtuoso, acid-soaked filmmaking. It seems to have been born straight out of the head of Zeus, like a bolt of lightning. The film follows a full-tilt day in the life of jeweller, and chronic high-stakes gambler Howard Ratner (Adam Sandler).

There’s a wild glisten in Howard’s eye, a yearning ambition that seems unfathomable in its scope. As Howard traverses the New York diamond district, we’re brought into the sphere of his world.  His working and domestic lives are an interconnected mess, and where one ends and the other begins is impossible to discern.  He settles bets. Trades bets. And pawns goods, only to place more bets. He’s separated from his wife. But has a lover at work. But he has to see his kids. And then, of course, he’s up to his neck in debt. But the values of his relationships rise and crash from moment to moment. It’s a perpetual hell-like dynamic, and his soul’s split in two, as he struggles to balance his insatiable desire, with his paternal responsibilities.  But when Howard’s violently beaten by debtors, he pawns anything and everything, and lays down the bet of a lifetime; and everything hangs in the balance.

The Safdie’s have capitalized on the spiritual essence of Sandler, and utilized it in a way that casts aside any doubters. And Sandler is riveting, his anxious charisma and beating heart have never been this finely tooled.  He grounds Howard with a humanity, and an existential longing which rages through his heart and drives his destabilizing lifestyle. This is the defining performance of Adam Sandler’s career, it’s a masterclass in acting that utilizes his talent to hypnotizing effect.  The cast is rounded out with a wealth of talent including Indina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Judd Hirsch and NBA superstar Kevin Garnett.

The Safdie’s turn the New York diamond district into a vista of fluorescent and neon-soaked horror. Their vision is crystallized by the inimitable genius of legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji, who wields his camera and lighting with ferocious honesty. There’s a heightened naturalism and reality to everything that feels more like a documentary. Every second within the frame there’s a tension that anything can happen, and it does; life unfolds, at a dizzying gymnastic pace.

This is complemented with a score courtesy of the Safdies’ regular collaborator Daniel Lopatin. His punchy dance score is a battle of beating synthesizers and brass that are moulded and cast to euphoric effect.  Between the sonic insanity of uncategorizable beats, there’s an impenetrable loneliness that’s so Howard Ratner.

But past the glisten of diamonds and the cocaine mist of Uncut Gems, the Safdie Brothers have a crafted a potent mediation about the cost of our desires. And it’s a mesmerisingly unique human experience. The Howard Ratner experience. His life instantly feels both familiar and unfamiliar, and it’s this paradoxical mystery that won’t let you stop watching. There’s a profound cosmic hunger and melancholy that fuels Howard at the core. He’s magnetically drawn to the chaos of the moment even when he risks gravitating towards destruction. Ultimately, this all adds fuel to fire, making Uncut Gems an open-veined shot of adrenaline straight to the heart.

Michael Lee

135′ 21″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Uncut Gems is released 10th January 2020

Uncut Gems – Official Website

Share

Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Other Lamb

 

Ciara Creedon reviews  an Irish-Belgian co-production adaptation of fantasy author Catherine S McMullen’s  haunting, visionary drama.

The Other Lamb is an Irish-Belgian co-production, written by Catherine S. McMullen and helmed by Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska. Selected for the Closing Night Gala of the 64th Cork Film Festival, it stars Raffey Cassidy as Selah, a teenage girl who has grown-up in a repressive, all-female cult referred to as the Flock. The cult members follow a man known as the Shepherd, their Charles Manson-esque messiah played by Michiel Huisman. As Selah reaches the cusp of womanhood, she begins to question her faith and her future role in the Flock. 

The cult resides in a remote countryside location, and the depiction of the women’s everyday lives clearly takes inspiration from the world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The Shepherd’s Wives all dress in red while the Daughters dress in royal blue. They are completely subservient to the Shepherd, all vying to be granted his “grace”, with the Wives’ bodies completely at his disposal. The Shepherd warns his followers about the rot of the outside world, full of “broken things” that they must stay away from. At the beginning of the film Selah is his most devoted daughter, one of his favourites due to her beauty as well as the fact that she has yet to get her period, which the Shepherd is disgusted by and describes as punishment for “Eve’s sin”. However, Selah becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Shepherd’s dogmatic regime, spurred on in part by the relationship she forms with the Shepherd’s former favourite and cult-outcast, Sarah (played skilfully by Denise Gough). Sarah reveals that the Shepherd was partly responsible for Selah’s mother’s death, and that he is not all-knowing and all-powerful but a cruel, fickle false prophet. Selah begins to have disturbing, grotesque visions as her doubts grow. When the police pay a visit to the Flock’s settlement, the Shepherd informs his followers that they must find a new home, and the journey proves to test the women’s belief like never before.

The most remarkable aspect of The Other Lamb is its cinematography. The film is visually stunning, shot entirely in Wicklow. The shots of the landscape are breath-taking, featuring sequences at Powerscourt Waterfall as well as Lough Tay, which the Shepherd describes as “paradise on earth”. The royal blue and crimson costumes worn by the cult members are striking against the de-saturated grey-green of the Irish countryside. The performances are strong all-round too. Raffey Cassidy does a stellar job as a teenage girl questioning the world around her and gaining confidence in her own strength – a lot of the shots rely on Cassidy’s ability to convey myriad emotions through facial expression alone. Michiel Huisman does a fine job too as smarmy cult leader, intent on taking advantage of vulnerable women. The film’s score, composed by Paweł Mykietyn, is minimalist but powerful and fitting. The film features many haunting acapella performances of folk songs by the cult members such as “Babes in the Wood” and “Down to the Valley to Pray”, as well as one pop song that fits surprisingly well – ‘The Last Goodbye’ by indie rock band The Kills.

The film has its flaws, particularly its slow and somewhat uneven pace. The symbolism can be quite heavy-handed too. The Flock own a literal flock of sheep from which they take literal sacrificial lambs. In one scene it is made clear that the Shepherd doesn’t want any male members in the Flock, and Sarah emphasises to Selah that there is only room for “one ram”. Driving this point home to the audience, the Flock own one actual ram whom Selah has frequent stares-off with, reflecting her growing distrust of the Shepherd. These points aside however, the film is an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch. Selah’s transformation from devout follower of a patriarch to a leader in her own right is explored very well, as well as the power of embracing female rage rather than shying away from it. The importance of having control over your own narrative is emphasised too; the Shepherd makes it clear that he is the only one allowed to tell stories, but Selah defies this and tells a story of her own. The final shot of the film will stay with you for a long time after viewing. The film is worth seeing for how beautiful the shots are alone, but it also explores Selah’s coming-of-age and the dismantling of a patriarchal community in a captivating way.

 

The Other Lamb screened on Sun, 17th Nov 2019 @ the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

   

 

Share

Review: Cats

DIR: Tom Hooper • WRI: Lee Hall, Tom Hooper • DOP: Christopher Ross • ED: Melanie Oliver • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Debra Hayward, Tom Hooper • MUS: Andrew Lloyd Webber • DES: Eve Stewart • CAST: Francesca Hayward, Taylor Swift, Idris Elba, Laurie Davidson.

 

The tense times that we live in can be best defined by their moments of levity. The Pokémon Go craze of 2016 found children and adults worldwide staring through their phones while impending threats to democracy loomed overhead. If you’re at all active on Twitter (which I don’t recommend) you happen upon these moments every six months or so. A relieved exhale between gasps of rage; knives lowered from each other’s throats to catch your breath. The Cats trailer, released on 18th of July, was one such event. Its transmission was seismic, seemingly everyone in film discourse stuck in the same state of hysterics.
The ridiculous CGI on display rendered an A-list cast (itself a bizarre melting pot of British thespians and US pop stars) into pure nightmare fuel. Surely this wasn’t the look they were going with? It had to be work-in-progress, or imminently awaiting the Sonic treatment – a complete redesign from the ground up. Looking back, these assumptions read like the naïve pleas that they are.

 

Five months later, the full film hits theatres. It is neatly snuggled beneath the tent pole that is Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. This must be counter-programming, splitting the audiences for Space Operas and Broadway Musicals so each has their own event film for the Christmas weekend. It’s also convenient cover for when the film inevitably underperforms, failing to make back an astronomical budget of a rumoured €300 million.

 

All this context serves to background the baffling chain of events that left such a hairball on cinema screens around the world. Watching the film is an unreal experience – you are watching real people act in these roles, all the stylistic choices were made by real people; but the distancing effect of this furry CGI strips back any humanity. Great performers are neutered by the hellish technology. Imagine the constrained eeriness of Mike Myers’ Cat in the Hat, but without the fleeting comfort of the costumes being only fur and rubber. The digital uncanniness is the real darkness here – a sinister illusion that ensures you never get too comfortable.

 

Ian McKellen gets closest to some kind of beating heart as Gus the Theatre Cat. In a croaking baritone, he delivers a number on the fledgling state of contemporary theatre, noting a failure of younger cat actors to reach the dazzling highs of his generation. There appears to be a genuine soul behind Gus’ whiskers, and part of it almost feels like a cry for help. The presence of such a ballad within a film as bloated, plotless and artless as this is deliciously ironic.

 

In the lead role of Victoria, Francesca Hayward fails to grasp onto any semblance of character – the part is shallow, even by the standards of Broadway musicals. The function she serves is to be sung at, scene after scene, by an increasingly aimless parade of demonic felines. And the parade never ends, with each scene introducing us to a new cat, each with a stupider name than the last. The film leaps without breath between the personal anthems of Jennyanydots to Rum Tum Tugger to Bustopher Jones and at a certain point you start to feel a deep ache between your eyes. The endlessness of the things eats away at you. You are stranded, awaiting an inciting incident that never comes. You are trapped inside the discordant malaise.

 

Cats was controversial as a Broadway musical, and one can see why. It is not exactly an ideal calling card for the medium. Songs have laborious hooks that get stuck in your head and sink in their claws. The content of these songs is threadbare, most of them consisting of a character announcing their existence with no arcs or plot points in sight. Brief spoken asides (often mixed over song lyrics) are frantically used to advance the plot and provide relief. Director Tom Hooper seems under immense stress to try and find a movie within the margins of the material – and the stress ultimately wears him down.

 

Comparing this to Hooper’s 2012 adaptation of Les Miserables lends insight into a process that results in exponentially weaker results. Filming actors singing live onset (as Hooper did with Les Mis) allows for a reality in the performance which is ultimately undercut by technical restrictions. In trying to get multiple angles without burning out his cast’s vocal chords, the 2012 musical had a cinematic style that resembled a two-hour voyage through a wax museum with a fish-eye lens. Those big faces gave off strong, deeply held emotions, but the film around them gave no breathing space, and the result was suffocating.

 

His return to the world of musicals in Cats continues the in-your-face, breathless cinematic style, only this time the characters’ faces convey nothing but abject horror in the viewer. The editing is nervous and uncertain, with a shot time of under a second littering these inane musical numbers. The wide shots have no tangible focus, leaving the film no choice but to absent-mindedly shuffle between them like a deck of cards. There are so many reaction shots of characters look at each other in awe, but not one amounts to a meaningful relationship.

 

The July 2019 experience of watching the Cats trailer was two and a half minutes of (perhaps befuddled) joy. The full film brings more of the same, but the runtime becomes a Herculean burden to withstand. The viewer never gets used to these twisted creatures bounding towards the screen. There is no gradual process of empathising that you might get in similarly unintentional horror film like Zemeckis’ The Polar Express. These things are garish to the final frame. It instils a Lovecraftian madness in the viewer, the silver screen becomes a billowing veil of darkness. The woeful parasitic melodies enveloping them from all angles. A colossal beast beyond human comprehension stares back from the deep beyond, from a world where mercy and virtue have long since perished. It is Tom Hooper’s Cats; a film from which the reputation of cat people everywhere will never recover.

 

Cian Geoghegan

109′ 48″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Cats is released 20th December 2019

Cats  – Official Website

Share

Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

DIR: J.J. Abrams • WRI: Chris Terrio, J.J. Abrams • DOP: Dan Mindel • ED: Maryann Brandon, Stefan Grube • DES: Rick Carter, Kevin Jenkins • PRO: J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy, Michelle Rejwan • MUS: John Williams • DES: Michael Giaimo• CAST: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley

When George Lucas produced and directed the astoundingly successful lightning in a bottle that was Star Wars he very soon had a hindsight moment in were the whole thing was always going to be a nine-part saga, though Gary Kurtz the original producer might not agree.  Whether Lucas likes it or not or whether we like it or not, the promise has been fulfilled, the ‘conclusion’ has finally been reached. We can only hope. 

Opening with the usual Flash Gordon style primer for the adventure ahead, we are told that rumours of Emperor Palpatine’s demise have been greatly exaggerated and he is plotting the final push on universe-kind. Cut to Kylo-Ren looking suitably pissed off and doing some unconvincing lightsaber moves on a band of Palpatine’s soldiers in his attempts to retrieve an exotic looking GPS device to help him find the emperor.  One device retrieval later and Kylo is chatting to the Emperor in his hidden lair. Of course it was the Emperor who was behind Snoke and every other darn bit of evil you can think of in the last two chapters while he has been readying himself for the real evil master plan.

Palpatine makes Kylo the same offer he gave his granddaddy. As part of the deal, Kylo must kill Rey as she poses a deeper threat to the Emperor’s success at evilness and despot type behaviour than your average resistance fighter. Soon he is trying to track down Rey as she and the merry band of resistance fighters are trying to track down a similar device to the one Kylo used to find the emperor in the first place. Got it?  That’s basically a synopsis of the first half hour and it continues much in the same vein for the rest of the story as plot logic and what has gone before adds up to very little.  

Back in the helm is JJ Abrams, directing with the safe pair of hands that seems to be required for the fanboy service this trilogy began with. Pretty much 70% of Rian Johnson’s plotting for the last ‘controversial’ Star Wars chapter, The Last Jedi has been ignored or laughingly turned on its head in this chapter. Rose, a key character from the last film and an enjoyable one to my mind, has been treated very shabbily here, relegated to hanging out with Princess General Leia as they plan their final attack on the emperor.  The character and the actor suffered nasty comments from internet bullies and it seems that rather than defy the lambasting, the powers that be have kept her to one side to avoid the ire of such numb nuts that have nothing better to do than troll the internet.  

The film is not without thrills and is definitely an amusing jaunt for the most part once you don’t think too hard about who, what or why. But if you do prefer character story over spectacle and a decent amount of logic to aid the storytelling then you will come out of the cinema frustrated.  At least things are wrapped up well enough by the end of the credits that we really don’t need to visit this story again. But those nine chapters might easily end up being twelve chapters when the box-office count comes in.

Paul Farren

141′ 41″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is released 19th December 2019

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker  – Official Website

 

Share

Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival’s screening of short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes.

Ten short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes had their world premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival on the 16th of November. Mags O’Sullivan of Screen Ireland introduced the programme of shorts by noting that 60% of them were directed by women and that 50% had female screenwriters, highlighting Screen Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality, which was evident across these shorts. The films ranged in their mode of expression and style—encompassing animation, documentary and live-action—but all engaged with types of community and identity, making for interesting comparisons and showing off Irish talent.

Lorraine Lordan’s A Cat Called Jam opened the programme with the humorous tale of a cat who sees himself as a dog and just wants to be part of the pack. Despite reactions suggesting he doesn’t quite fit in, Jam is persistent in his mission, lightheartedly singing about meat and chasing his tale like the other dogs. A beautifully drawn and well-crafted animation, this short has an uplifting message about finding the place you belong for yourself and being who you want to be. This message carried across several of the other films, with A Cat Called Jam offering an excellent start to the group.

The second film of the selection, Bryony Dunne’s Above the Law, explored communities in transit, cleverly drawing comparisons between paths of migratory birds and the, usually fraught, journeys of refugees and migrants. While the birds move freely, as they wish, between locations, closely examined only by birdwatchers, the refugees are instead seen by surveillance cameras patrolling borders, or those who must be ready to rescue them from overflowing boats. Moving between Cairo, Lesvos and Donegal, with narration from both migrants and those looking out for them, the film lets us literally fly along with the birds (with cameras attached) as we are grounded by the words spoken by these individuals. Above the Law faces difficult realities in a poetic and hopeful way, drawing to a close with a Syrian refugee in Ireland commenting that his “Irish passport is now [his] wings”.

A Better You, written and directed by Eamonn Murphy, brings us to a well-designed modern steampunk world with the advanced technology of programmable carbon clones alongside computers that are cranked to scroll through pages as you would archival material. In this setting, a shy man, Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) finally decides to purchase a “better version” of himself to go on a date with a girl he likes. Ó Meallaigh’s performance and the production design are both very strong and, after some light-hearted scenes setting up the clone, we are left with a similar message to that in A Cat Called Jam—that it is best to be yourself.

Ruari Robinson’s Corporate Monster takes a turn toward horror as an overworked and recently laid-off man in NYC takes some untested pills to help with his exhaustion. These further unravel him, causing him to see monsters all around him who pose as humans—from policemen to his former boss. Are the pills making him unstable, causing him to go on a rampage, or are they exposing the truth of the creatures living amongst us? The fast-paced Corporate Monster keeps you guessing with its impressive looking creatures, and makes you consider the perils of losing oneself in work and greed. It also offers some well-placed political commentary as the first appearances of these creatures are surrounding Trump on the stage during a televised speech.

Welcome to a Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, documents the creative process of dancer and choreographer of Oona Doherty. As Doherty explains that she had moved to Belfast from London, didn’t feel she fit in, and found a way to express herself through movement, we see her practicing her choreography in the street of a housing estate, as well as in an auditorium. This movement embodies not only herself, but the local identity. Welcome to a Bright White Limbo is artistically shot, capturing the arresting and emotive movements of Doherty, and offering insight into the thoughtful construction of her award-winning show, Hope Hunt.

In Claire Byrne’s Sister This, a simple phone conversation between two sisters reveals a depth of emotion and shines a light on the struggle to get by, and what is sometimes sacrificed to do it. With one sister abroad for work, and the other taking care of her son, they argue over the mother missing the boy’s birthday and about the safety of her line of work. Charlie Bailey and Jordanne Jones deliver strong performances as the sisters, packing this short with an emotional punch.

Based on Ryan’s essay “The Fear of Winning”, Iseult Howlett’s cleverly named The Grass Ceiling is a short documentary in which three of Ireland successful female athletes—Rianna Jarrett, Elise O’Byrne White and Ryan herself—relate what sport means to them. Through this a portrait is spun of powerful, inspiring women who resist constrictive and conservative gender expectations. Finding their place and their confidence through their athleticism, these women serve as strong role models. The Grass Ceiling rightfully showcases their talents and perspectives, which are often overlooked in favour of the male athletes who are more frequently in the spotlight, and is itself a powerful and inspiring film.

Sophia Tamburrini’s Maya stars Pat Shortt as Ken, who lives happily connected to a machine that simulates his reality using his memories. However, as his payments for this run out, he will soon be confronted by reality. Maya sensitively explores loss and what grief can do to a person—replaying memories and subtly overwriting them through time until we are faced with a new reality. Tamburrini smartly uses elements of sci-fi in this film as a way to confront what are equally natural processes. 

Kalchalka, directed by Gar O’Rourke, documents “the world’s most hardcore gym”—Kiev’s outdoor Soviet scrap metal gym, offering a snapshot of the day-to-day running of this unique place and the variety of individuals that use it. Well put-together shots tell the story of this space as its caretaker brings us through it, providing several humorous moments. The gym equipment and construction is interesting in itself, but the glimpses we are given of the characters that populate it leave an even bigger impression. Personalities are well-captured here, often simply through gesture.

Finally, rounding off the programme was Brendan Canty’s Cork-based Christy, which received quite a few cheers from the home crowd. This short follows a 16-year-old as he goes on a disappointing job interview and is brought back to good spirits by his friends. Showing off plenty of Cork charm, in a similar vein to The Young Offenders, the film deftly moved between heartfelt moments and humour, ending the Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts with plenty of laughs.

 

The Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts programme screened on 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

Share

Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Cork on Camera

Emma Keyes checks out a programme of Cork-themed films from collections at the IFI Irish Film Archive. 

The Cork on Camera programme, put together by the Irish Film Institute, consisted of short films made in and about Cork between, with the earliest from 1902 and the latest from 1978.  The sound section included a short documentary about the sculptor Seamus Murphy, “The Silent Art” from 1959, directed by Louis Marcus, a half-travelogue, half-advertisement commissioned by the DuPont Chemical Company in 1978, “Travels Through Erin”, and a short film directed by Colin Hill in 1972 called “Dark Moon Hollow”. The silent section included three very short films by the Kenyon and Mitchell Film Company from 1902 and an un-finished travelogue, “Car Touring,” directed by Jim Mullerns in 1965. Paul Smith provided improvised piano accompaniment to the silent portion of the program.

“The Silent Art” looks at Cork through the lens of Murphy’s work there. The narration states, “These are people of character in a city of contrasts,” but the twelve-minute film does not much delve into what exactly makes Cork a city of contrasts. Still, the film lingers over Murphy’s work all over Cork, including the Church of Annunciation and sculptures and carvings at University College Cork and the Cork City Hospital. The bells of Shandon Tower serve as a auditory through line as the film returns to them again and again. We get an inside look at Murphy’s studio and Murphy and his young daughter as he works on a bust of her. The film ends with some musings on Cork and art. The film is a worthwhile historical glimpse of a city and one of its storied residents. “The Silent Art” can be viewed on the IFI Player online.

“Travels Through Erin” shows Ireland through the eyes of outsiders. (“Beauty abounds in the land of the leprechaun” is a real line that is said in this short.) The film could be compared to cotton candy for its airy quality and lack of substance, but it was an enjoyable watch nonetheless. More than a film, this piece is an advertisement for the sweaters made out of the acrylic yarn created by the DuPont Chemical Company, but the models are charming and beautiful and they pose in all kinds of picturesque locations around County Cork. Sometimes there’s no need for more.

An elderly man (played by James Dempsey with voiceover narration by Dan Donovan) goes on a journey “walking the River Lee to its source in Gouganne Barra” in “Dark Moon Hollow.” This lovely little film takes its time following this man from one end of County Cork to the other and listening to his musings about life as he goes. As the man says at one point, “London is a long way off from this place.” The bells of Shandon feature again, of course, as one of County Cork’s most distinctive sounds and views. Although mostly in English, the man includes some Irish, some of which he translates and some of which he leaves untranslated: a small prize for those in the know. And Gouganne Barra looks much the same now as it does in the images in this film from 1972. 

The three Kenyon and Mitchell films are examples of early “actuality films”. Each short is only a minute or two long and shows Cork City people going about their lives. “Tram Ride from King’s Street to St. Patrick’s Bridge, Cork” and “Views of the Grand Parade, Cork” both show the streetscape, complete with streetcars with open double-decker tops, horses pulling carts, and people of all stripes walking the streets. “Cork Fire Brigade Turning Out” showcases the Cork Fire Brigade as they go through various fire-fighting exercises. These three shorts are entertaining as a small anthropological glimpse into Cork City of more than a century ago.

Finally, the last film in the programme, the unfinished travelogue, “Car Touring” exudes 1960s vibrancy. The clothing, the hairstyles, the cars, the furniture, and just about everything else speak to such a specific historical moment. The unnamed people/characters eat and drink their way around County Cork, seeing Ireland in the way that most people say you should: just driving around and stopping when you feel like it. They kiss the Blarney Stone, they go to Kinsale, they stroll the streets of Cork City. Life unfolds around them in both color and black and white footage. The film match cuts scenes of a young woman driving one car with a young man in the passenger seat with another young woman driving a second car. That film also cuts to various gorgeous shots of the Cork landscape. It’s just a shame this film was never finished, but I found it delightful to watch nonetheless and the piano accompaniment here was particularly good.

 

The Cork on Camera programme screened on Fri., 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

Share