Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 4: Finding Their Place

Aoife O’Ceallachain went along to the Irish Shorts 4: Finding Their Place to find some great filmmakers and films with characters seeking acceptance, vindication, assurance or literally accommodation.

 

On the afternoon of Thursday the 14th of November, I went along to the fourth instalment of Irish Shorts at the Gate Cinema. Under the title ‘Finding Their Place’, this collection of films showcases characters dealing with homelessness, feeling trapped and trying to find their purpose. The programme proved to be a showcase for some great emerging talent and I left the cinema excited about all the work these filmmakers are going to make in the future. For anyone looking to get involved in the film industry, going to shorts is a great place to start. You get a sense of the other work out there and you’ll start to see the same names come up again and again. It really opened my eyes to the talent we have, and the talent we as a nation have to nourish. With that said, I want to draw attention to a few shorts that caught my eye. 

 

Humblebrag

Sinead O’Shea / Ireland / 2019 / 4 mins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Humblebrag had the biggest audible reaction. Directed by Sinead O’Shea (A Mother Brings her Son to Be Shot) we see a man and woman sit down on a sofa, where he shows her a montage he’s made of their relationship. It starts off normal enough, showing clips of her at gigs, on dates, at Electric Picnic and at the funfair. But the content starts to get darker, more annoyed, past the phase of pretence. Have to say it was too graphic for me at 6 o’clock on a Thursday – I just wasn’t expecting to see POV porn. But I guess the unexpected is part of the fun. At only 4 minutes it certainly packs a punch, best saved for after the watershed. 

 

Rosalyn

Olivia J Middleton / UK, Ireland / 2019 / 18 mins

Winner of Best Cork Film, Olivia J. Middleton’s Rosalyn is a psychological horror about a farmer who is expecting a child. As the delivery date looms, Rosalyn starts to see a disturbing figure coming out of the woods; animals become scared of her. Is Rosalyn imagining all this or are malevolent forces at play? Tackling themes of isolation, mental health during pregnancy and the expectations of motherhood, the film manages to teeter between delusion and reality. With influences of Jennifer Kent’s Babadook, Middleton’s haunting film leaves a lot to the imagination and inspired great discussion after the credits.  

 

In Orbit

Katie McNeice / Ireland / 2019 / 17 mins

Directed, written, produced and edited by Katie McNeice, In Orbit is a sci-fi short set in the 2050s. Maura, a retired optician is asked to describe the best experience of her life for the Human Experience Records. Maura recalls how she had never had a relationship, and how it altered the way she viewed the world. But that all changed in her forties, when she met Amy. Ultimately, In Orbit is about taking chances and opening your heart to new experiences, no matter how scared you are. Maura’s memories of the marriage equality referendum capture the gravity of the moment as a change for Ireland, further reflected in the futuristic technology of the 2050s. Composer Emer Kinsella brings great atmosphere to the film and elevates it to another level. I personally can’t wait to see what McNeice brings out next.

 

The Irish Shorts 4: Finding Their Place programme screened on Saturday, 9th November 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

 

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New Season of Storyland 

Eat The Rich is one of six new Storyland web-dramas
Eat The Rich 
Currently in its ninth season, Storyland 2019 brings original Irish stories to a national and a global audience.
 
Previous Storyland commissions have gone on to be commissioned for RTÉ comedy and drama series, developed as a feature film and have won numerous international awards, as well as generating additional opportunities within and outside RTÉ for the participating writers, directors, producers and actors.
 

This year’s Storyland contenders:
 

Wastewater

Vinny and Lauryn fall for each other but their future together is thrown into doubt by the intersection of the darkest parts of their lives… Written and directed by Dave Tynan (Dublin Oldschool) and produced by Dave Leahy and Michael Donnelly for Warrior Films, Wastewater stars Ian Lloyd Anderson and Eva Jane Gaffney.

Skip To the End

A man suffering the trauma of his young daughter’s hospitalisation following a car accident is given a mysterious solution to skip past his pain… Written and directed by Jason Butler for Brothers Gonna Work It Out Ltd, Skip To the End stars Paul Reid, Amy de Bhrun and Mark Huberman.

Eat The Rich

A young bicycle courier, struggling to survive in the gig economy, takes revenge on the boss who fired him… Written by PJ Hart, directed by Aidan Largey and produced by Katy Jackson for Wee Bun films, Eat The Rich stars Shaun Blaney, Ian Beattie and Kristina Yaneva.

A Deal Is A Deal

A misguided and disgruntled teenage pigeon fancier reacts badly to the death of his champion young bird… Written by Francis and Geraldine Scullion, directed by Mick Gordon and produced by Pearce Cullen for Wolfhound Media, A Deal Is A Deal stars veteran actor Ian McElhinney alongside Stuart Graham, Rose Henderson and Laura Hughes.

Mushrooms

A desperate housewife takes drastic measures to solve her problem. It’s only then that she discovers that she, herself, may be the problem that someone else has decided to solve… Written by Marion McDowell, directed by Meghan McArdle and produced by Janine Cobain for Richter Media and Write Path NI, Mushrooms stars Maggie Cronin, Andrea O Neil, Julie Alderdice and Ian Beattie.

Yellow Bird

Faced with the eviction from her home by her own daughter, an elderly mother takes in a Syrian Refugee as freedom takes on a new relative meaning for the pair… Written and directed by Grainne Dwyer, and produced by Fiona Dwyer for Stori Creative Ltd, Yellow Bird stars Catherine Field, Fachtna O Driscoll, Aoife Moore and Maurice Thom.

 

Watch this year’s Storyland films here.

 

https://www.rte.ie/culture/2019/1119/1093899-new-season-of-storyland-showcases-emerging-irish-talent/

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Sweetness in the Belly

 

Caleb Cotter checks out Sweetness in the Belly, a Canadian-Irish co-production of an adaptation of Camilla Gibb’s bestseller, directed by Zeresenay Berhane Mehari.

Before seeing Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s second feature as director, I decided to spend a few minutes online researching it. Immediately, I found that it was under scrutiny for having Dakota Fanning play a “White Ethiopian Muslim”, a controversy the internet had created based off short clips of the film released online. Soon after, I closed my laptop and moved on to something productive, ready to let the film speak for itself. After watching, I couldn’t help but see the irony of the controversy, as the film seemed to argue similar points to what people had argued against it online.

Based on Camilla Gibb’s book of the same name, Sweetness in the Belly starts with Lilly (Dakota Fanning), a white Muslim woman, travelling to Britain as a refugee after the 1974 Ethiopian Revolution. She is immediately given priority over the other Muslim women, much to their dismay, but immediately sets about trying to help her fellow refugees and settle into British society. This journey is intercut with flashbacks to Lilly past, where we discover she was abandoned by her British parents at a young age at a Sufi shrine in Ethiopia and was raised by the Sufi master, and falls in love with Dr Aziz Nasser (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) during the final years of Haile Selassie’s reign, who she is trying to find in the present.

As you can see, there’s a lot going on in this film, and the film is able to carry out the story in an emotional and sincere way. Also, like his previous film Difret, Mehari delves fully into exploring his home country of Ethiopia; from its culture, social and religious beliefs, its complex political history and the ways refugees from the region were treated and how they set up life upon reaching a new country.

However, while the exploration of such subjects is possibly the most interesting part of the film, it also proves to be its biggest shortcoming. It feels like the film doesn’t quite know where to focus its attention, splitting it between the myriad of complex themes and political histories, as well as Lilly’s story and journey. Due of this lack of focus, and despite Fanning’s best efforts, Lilly never feels like a rounded, believable person but more so a blank slate we can see the world from, which takes much of the wind out of her love story that the film spends so much time on. And since the film spends so much time on this love story, it only gets to dip its toes into each of the complicated subjects and thus never explores them as fully as it means to.

However, while Lilly is never given the time to develop beyond that of her role as the protagonist, the supporting cast carry the film and bring most of the emotional depth to it.  Yahya Abdul-Mateen II as Aziz and Kunal Nayyar as an Indian doctor Lilly meets in a hospital in Britain shine as well-rounded individuals who attempt to charm Lilly throughout the film and bring great levity in the film’s darker moments.

But it is Wunmi Mosaku as Amina, a fellow Ethiopian refugee and mother of two who Lilly takes in, who is the stand-out performance, as her story and presence becomes the bedrock of the film and the centre of the film’s most emotional moments. These moments are supplemented with a beautiful array of colour that breaks up the usual grey look of dramas with moments that feel like technicolour was used. However, the film does get a little too stylish during its emotional climax, taking some of the punch out of the moment.

Despite its flaws, Sweetness in the Belly stands as a solid, emotionally driven drama that covers a variety of complicated topics, although its attempt to split its focus on both these aspects causes both to not be explored fully, leading to the film not leaving as much of an impact as it could have.

 

Sweetness in the Belly screened on Sun 10th Nov @ 17:45 & Mon 11th Nov as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

  • Director: Zeresenay Berhane Mehari
  • Producer(s): Jennifer Kawaja
  • Screenwriter(s): Laura Phillips
  • Main Cast: Dakota Fanning, Wunmi Mosaku
  • Country: Ireland, Canada
  • Language(s): Subtitled
  • Year: 2019
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Review: Blue Story

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Simon Stolland • ED: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi • DES: Gini Godwin • PRO: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Paul Grindey, Damian Jones • MUS: Jonathon Deering • CAST: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Blue Story is a compelling commentary on the contemporary postcode wars between London’s youths. It follows two young black males from different areas of London growing up as friends, external to the criminal backdrop and societal issues they live amongst. Timmy (Stephen Odubola) is a young naive romantic from Deptford who attends school in Peckham for a better chance at an education. Timmy becomes best friends with Marco (Michael Ward), who is from Peckham and has ties to local gangs due to his brother. The two are foreshadowed with over-looming conflict throughout, eventually leading to tragedy as both pick sides and indulge in the ongoing postcode war between Peckham and Deptford. 

This crime drama comes at a very relevant time as London gang crime becomes more and more prominent in mainstream media, including the recent release of the widely popular Netflix series Top Boy, in which Michael Ward also plays the lead. Though a grasp of the ‘Roadman’ vernacular is required for both,  Blue Story focuses primarily on the detriment of gang life and first time feature-film director Andrew Onwubolu, also known as ‘Rapman’, allows zero romanticisation of the crime within the narrative. Based on personal experience from Rapman’s childhood, the story does not conform to the good-guy vs bad-guy format but instead produces equally charismatic and likeable characters on opposing sides of the events. There are no winners and the true implications of the rampant hate and peer pressure within these urban melting pots illustrates the harrowing nature of the transition into adulthood young working-class London teens face. However, though the topical issue is that of grave severity Blue Story is not without its light-hearted laughs nor is it void of romance and relatable moments for the majority of the audience. 

Whilst the intention of the film was noble and the plot structure was of sound quality, the execution on screen at times was lacking. The general standard of the film felt very B class and certain avenues the director took were questionable. A primary example of this is the choice of narration Rapman himself decided to orate. Following each pivotal event of the film Rapman would emerge, in an omniscient manner, breaking the fourth wall and conveying the previous or future events through rap form, as a catch-up method. This seemed extremely out of place and completely broke the reality of the story multiple times. It also gave the sense that the production of the film was paced poorly and the plot needed to unfold at an unnatural rate for the story.

The film also begins with real life archival news footage of knife-crime and gang violence sweeping London. This set a level of expectation concerning both aesthetics and what level of realism the director wanted to connote. Unfortunately, in possibly an endeavour to dramatise, the main focus of the crime surrounded gun violence is far less of an issue compared to the knife-crime epidemic London faces today. The acting was not entirely noteworthy and there were many relationships that came across as forced in certain scenes. This being said, all characters performed the colloquial language of the real ‘Mandem’, which must be praised.

Overall, Blue Story stylistically illustrates the gravity of urban crime on English youths through a first-hand source of director Andrew Onwubolu. With many enjoyable and shocking moments there is rarely a dull scene amongst the drama. However, with a budget of 1.3 million this feature felt badly paced and poorly managed not allowing the actors to fully develop their characters to the extent that they could have. Having the potential to be a hard-hitting commentary on societal issues Blue Story instead comes across as a low-budget street-violence drama.

Tiernan Allen

91′ 16″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Blue Story is released 22nd November 2019

 

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Review: Harriet

DIR:  Kasi Lemmons • WRI: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons• DOP: John Toll • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: Warren Alan Young • PRO: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard • MUS: Terence Blanchard • CAST: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters

When Harriet (Cynthia Envo) realises that she must escape from slavery or suffer getting sold down the river she cannot risk speaking to her mother, Rit (Vanessa Bell Calloway). Instead, she reveals her plan in the form of a spiritual, singing to Rit while she is still toiling in the fields. It’s at moments like this that Kasi Lemmons’s biopic Harriet hits home: showing the collective pain shared by those in slavery, while also demonstrating the strategies the enslaved employed to circumvent daily injustices. 

Where Harriet is perhaps not so successful is in its portrayal of its central figure, slave-turned-liberator Harriet Tubman, who single-handedly rescued 70 others from slavery and lead armed expeditions in the Civil war. While Envo endows her protagonist with a quiet certainty, the narrative feels less comfortable giving Harriet too much agency too early. Instead, after fleeing her plantation in Maryland, leaving her family and husband, she must go on an overly conventional hero’s journey in which a mix of historical and fictional characters instruct her on how to escape slavery and become an abolitionist. The historical Tubman’s belief in her direct interactions with God is played down: this sadly ends up feeling like a watering down of Harriet’s personality.

Harriet explores some interesting new ground in the slave narrative genre, highlighting some of the diverging opinions in the abolitionist experience as seen in Harriet’s relationship with real-life Underground Railroad conductor and historian William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and a strong female relationship between Harriet and fictional wealthy freewoman Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe). However, in other ways, Harriet is hampered by an over-reliance on the genre. In particular, too much time is taken up following a personal enmity between Harriet and her former slave owner Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn). While Harriet undeniably risked danger at every step at the hands of bloodthirsty slavers who would stop at nothing to take down the mythical slave-liberator “Moses,” one suspects that filmmakers could figure out a way to highlight the plight of African American individuals without foregrounding white characters and actors.

Much of Harriet’s escape is portrayed as a sprint through the rural South as she narrowly avoids slave catchers and their hounds. This certainly lends the film an exciting, adventurous quality to it: however, it begins to strain credulity when every fugitive appears to have the lung capacity and muscular strength of an Olympic track athlete. And indeed, Harriet in general has something of a speeded-up quality to it, as certain fascinating aspects of Tubman’s life are glossed over.

If this review appears to be overly nit-picky that’s because it is. Harriet brings a lot of good to the table and more should be done to remember the extraordinary women who fought and continue to fight for Black civil rights in America. Tubman may in some ways just be too extraordinary a figure to fully capture in the form of a biopic. Ultimately, Harriet is an admirable and thought-provoking look at a pivotal figure in American history, and well worth the watch.

Sarah Cullen

125′ 34″

12A see IFCO

Harriet is released 22nd November 2019

Harriet –  Official Web Site 

 

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Irish Film Review: A Dog Called Money

 

DIR/WRI: Seamus Murphy

The opening scenes of A Dog Called Money brings into focus a scruffy, impish boy with button nose pressed against the window of a car as it stalls along a chaotic, noise-filled street. Viewers are locked inside that same car, witnessing the playful mischievousness of the child as his gaze fixes on the watchers. A sequence of emotions plays out across the boy’s face ranging from curiosity to marvel to a wider concept of inquisitiveness. So begins the stunning ode to director Seamus Murphy’s métier and PJ Harvey’s collaborative genius. 

Seamus Murphy is an award-winning photographer and director with an acute sense of observation – one that is intensely and sensitively connected to the wonders of the human condition. It is no accident that Murphy’s alliance with PJ Harvey became such a serendipitous perfect storm.  PJ Harvey in turn, is an artist who is not afraid of pushing change in order to effect creative growth. This made for an ideal partnership between the two.  

The model was conceived in order to lend PJ Harvey an apt conduit with which to record her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. A room within a room was constructed inside Somerset House (styled on its website as ‘an experimental workspace for artists, makers and thinkers’). The interior room was soundproofed and had windows facing into the space, through which invited members of the public could look through but Harvey and her band could neither see nor hear the people watching them. It allowed the creative process to unfold at its own pace and on a level where Harvey overlooked the fact that she was being scrutinised. One of the conditions for those observing the installation, was that they relinquished recording equipment, phones and cameras and simply subsumed the experience. 

In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as the Observer Effect whereby changes in the behaviour of subjects comes about when they become aware they are being watched. Performers amend their actions when in front of an audience. At the onset, this could be said of the ‘viewed’ recording – however, as time passes, Harvey and her band lose sight of being observed – their behaviour becomes steadily more creative and achieves greater heights as they truly enter into maximum flow. 

Seamus Murphy and PJ Harvey travelled to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C., where Harvey interacted with the people she met and Murphy filmed the process. What ensues is a mesh of originality and imagination – from the exuberant rappers in Washington D.C., narrating their story with wit and humour, to the people of Kosovo and musicians from Afghanistan – seeing and communicating as they weave their tales through music and words. Beginning with opening scenes during which viewers are witnessed and perceived, the journey of A Dog Called Money is that of a dazzling tangible manifestation – a type of chimeric blending as differences and processes fuse together in a genesis of beauty. 

Harvey and Murphy are the fasteners that suture and sew this beautiful construct. One with words, the other with images – carving an alliance that benefits and unifies, ultimately bringing forth its own potent and unique creation.  

This is a documentary well worth viewing. 

 

June Butler

93′ 46″
15A (see IFCO for details)

A Dog Called Money is released 22nd November 2019

A Dog Called Money– Official Website

 


  

 

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Review: La Belle Époque

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Nicolas Bolduc • ED: Anny Danché, Stéphane Garnier, Florent Vassault • DES: Stéphane Rozenbaum • PRO: Martin Metz • MUS: Nicolas Bedos, Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen• CAST: Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier, Fanny Ardant

Poor Victor Drummond (Daniel Auteuil). He lost his job as a comic-book illustrator because of the horrible modern world in which everyone worships the internet all the time. These days he has to suffer through life as a kept man while his wife and son make pots of money and try to convince him to accept well-paid work on their streaming service. 

Forgive me my skepticism, but for some reason I’m just finding it harder to buy into the dilemma of the poor little well-off white guy as found in Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Époque these days. Maybe it’s simply a moral failing of mine. Hmm. 

Anyhow, Victor’s son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) is luckily not entirely devoid of use when he gifts Victor a voucher for an innovative re-enactment entertainment package, in which he gets to pick the time period. Think of the packages as escape rooms, except instead of escaping a room of puzzles there’s, um, history. Victor picks the date in 1974 when he first met his recently estranged wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) and soon finds himself on a carefully recreated life-size set of the street and bar in which they first locked eyes. Cue much romantic comedy as Antoine, the producer and director of Victor’s time-travelling experience, repeatedly bullies his employee Margot, the actor playing the younger Marriane (Doria Tiller). Don’t worry though, he’s troubled and loves her so it’s apparently fine.

Comparisons have been made between La Belle Époque and the work of Charlie Kaufmann. However, what came to the fore for this reviewer was more similar to Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. While Victor may have signed up for this immersive recreation of reality, the lengths to which Antoine and his crew go in order to control and observe Victor certainly cross the line into unacceptable. However, disappointingly, and in contrast to The Truman Show, despite being ostensibly critical of the problems of technology, La Belle Époque has curiously little to say about the dangers of surveillance in the modern era. 

To give the film some light praise, La Belle Époque sets out to be provocative as demonstrated in the film’s frenetic opening regency-era sequence, replete with raunchiness and sudden shocks. It does succeed. The fast-paced, at times exhausting editing slows down as the film travels back to Victor’s more simple, idealised era. This was preferable but only just, considering that providing certain characters with more nuance did not necessarily improve events. 

Who knows? Maybe I would have been more entertained by Victor’s exploits if it didn’t take the world literally being turned into a playground for his own desires and a huge cast of characters provided to accede to his every whim in order for him to learn some surprisingly banal and rudimentary lessons about life. But that’s the plight of the poor little well-off white guy these days and I will prepare my tiny violin accordingly. 

Sarah Cullen

115″

La Belle Époque is released 22nd November 2019

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Iffy Film Festival Roundtable Podcast

Duncan McKenna,  Aoife Nic Ardghail, Jack Thornton

In this Film Ireland podcast Gemma Creagh talks to iffy film festival director Duncan McKenna and filmmakers Aoife Nic Ardghail and Jack Thornton, whose films Casual and Love Lane United are screening at the festival, which takes place on Saturday, 23rd November at The Pearse Centre Theatre, Dublin 2.

Tickets

Casual (Aoife Nic Ardghail, Kate Dolan)

Maura, an aspiring poet, has been dumped in a voice mail. It was only a casual thing, but she’s still stuck with those grim feelings that come with rejection: self loathing, anger, resentment and an insatiable hunger for chocolate mousse.
And bacon.
And wine.

 

Love Lane United (Jack Thornton)

A group of underachievers who decide to start a Sunday League football team leading to hilariously disastrous results.

 

 

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