Irish Short Wins Grand Prix in Paris

Atlantic, a Short Short written and directed by Conor Ferguson and funded by BSÉ/IFB, has won the Grand Prix at the Festival international des trés courts (International Very Short Film Festival) in Paris. The festival is open to shorts of three minutes duration and less. Of 1,000 films entered, 51 were selected, representing 19 countries.

Atlantic is Ferguson’s second short. His first, The Wednesdays, has won 11 international awards to date.

Share

Bray Music Video Festival

Bray Music Video Festival will be the first ever of its kind in Ireland when it brings three days of music videos to the seaside town of Bray, Co. Wicklow. The event will operate like a standard film festival with music videos being submitted and the best been chosen to screen and compete for the prizes of Best Shot, Best Cut, Best Directed, Best International and Best Overall Videos. There are a host of prizes on offer including the best overall video, which consists of two days studio time in Ardmore Studios, a lighting rental package worth almost €2,000 and a practical FX package worth over €1,000. The weekend will also feature live music and workshops with heavyweights of the music video industry.

To submit a video, please go to www.braymvf.com. The closing date for submissions is 28th March 2009 and the entry fee is €10.

Share

Film Critics Wanted

The Talent Press is a new project organised by the Berlinale Talent campus, Goethe-Institute, and FIPRESCI (The International Federation of Film Critics). Young film critics and journalists will be invited to Berlin to report on the films at the 59th Berlin International Film Festival (5–15 February 2009). The program is open to young film critics or journalists under 30 years old and who have published articles either in print or online. The deadline for applications is 8th October 2008.

For more information and details of the application process see www.berlinale-talentcampus.de

Share

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

Indiana Jones
Indiana Jones

DIR: Steven Spielberg • WRI: David Koepp • PRO: Frank Marshall, Denis L. Stewart • DOP: Janusz Kaminski • ED: Michael Kahn• DES: Guy Dyasa • CAST: Harrison Ford, Cate Blanchett, Karen Allen, Shia LaBeouf, Ray Winstone, John Hurt

In 1981, within 18 months of receiving a critical mauling for 1941, Steven Spielberg presented Raiders of the Lost Ark for the viewing world’s consideration. In paying ode to the 1940s serials so beloved by him and co-creator George Lucas, he unearthed for a new audience a world of tongue-in-cheek adventure and established an icon of cinema. The making of the movie as much as what was finally delivered to the screen has entered the Hollywood mythos. All the necessary elements fell into place; the casting, the improvised set pieces and Spielberg’s fastidious and efficient shooting style gelled seamlessly. Sequels followed, and as much might be gained by a franchise this successful being relaunched, surely there could be little served by continuing the story after the pitch-perfect sunset ending of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Nevertheless, over nineteen years trade papers and websites were filled with news of discussions, pre-production, and an endless treadmill of scriptwriters committing stories for Lucasfilm to consider. Finally, 2007 saw confirmation of a shooting date, with Lucas, Spielberg and Ford returning to the fold. Little detail of the film’s plot was revealed, though it was confirmed the events of the film would take place in the 1950s, with Communists playing the villain of the piece. The primary question of concern for legions of fans was ‘what else would change?’

In the same way Hitler’s seeming interest in relics and iconoclasm provided the springboard for the stories of Raiders… and The Last Crusade, the pioneering of physic manipulation by Communist Russia provides a loose frame for our story. This story, and its explanation, introduces a first in an Indiana Jones movie – an unwelcome and extended break in the action. The events following the opening sequence and Jones’ first encounter with sidekick Mutt Williams (Shia LaBeouf) is overburdened with exposition, as Jones deciphers the myth and fact behind an ancient artefact and its origins, which prove both muddled and bizarre.

When the action does kick in, it is largely uninspiring. There are flashes of humour and ingenuity, such as an exchange of a smile and grimace borrowed from The Last Crusade, and little can match the excitement of the Indy theme kicking in to embolden you for an upcoming thrill. The thrills, though, become repetitive, amounting to little more than multiple car chases. Only an extended chase through Amazonian rain forest goes someway towards matching the standard set by the rollercoaster rides of the previous movies. Yet the rhythm of even this sequence is misjudged, using a mix of ants and monkeys for comedic and gore effect, none succeeding to any great effect.

Spielberg spoke recently of preserving the shooting style of the original movies, allowing the kinetic energy of each set-piece speak for itself, with no need for quick-cut editing more akin to the Bourne movies. More crucial a priority should have been preserving the technicolour, pulp fiction novel look of the movies. The rich colours and aesthetics created a world comfortably inhabited by glaring-eyed villains more akin to the silent movie era and fantastical paranormal plots where you accepted the pitiful aim of a squadron of soldiers. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is white-washed by a computer-generated haze, making the settings and set-pieces seem staged and artificial. This is the antithesis of what we expect from the combination of slap-dash escapes and entombed relics so integral to the series. It’s almost saddening to say that the exaggerated CGI, particularly during the finale, deny the movie of any iconic images to nestle amongst those from the original trilogy.

Cate Blanchett, as one of the collection of acting talent on screen, is one of the movie’s too few high points. Suitably austere, she is a one-woman adversary, her henchmen serving only to fill out the background and fall from moving vehicles. Shia LaBeouf interacts well with Ford and, coming from a production house not noted for creating well-loved sidekicks, plays his role well. Ray Winstone and John Hurt are always welcome on any cinema screen, even though their minor roles are lost to the mindless plot. Character arcs and relationship development were never the aims of these movies, and duly Karen Allen’s return as Marion Ravenwood is a tacked-on plot point.

Without doubt, Harrison Ford is the movie’s salvation. Ford represents (or at least represented) the pinnacle of what a movie star is, his name opening movies with audiences comfortably accepting him as the everyman in extraordinary circumstances. His role as Indiana Jones is the perfect embodiment of this, the character a teacher and a globe-trotting archaeologist. While on screen, Ford still ably serves as the movie’s hook. Just as Indy would improvise and respond as best as possible to a situation, Ford can’t but be good in the role he has defined, moulding the often mistimed and clunky dialogue apparent from the opening scene. The greatest flaw of Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is cheating us of his wry smile and scowl and the moments used to catch his breath. The opening sequence sees a shadowed face bound across rafters, the fedora used to shelter a stunt man’s face, instead of us seeing our hero wince at a misstep or growl in pain at falling through a glass ceiling. This betrays the film’s roots, denying it authenticity. When Lucas and Spielberg released the original trilogy of movies they gave up ownership, handing them over to a movie-loving public. In this respect we are entitled to demand more. The justification for returning to the character should be there. The film should be brave enough to have the character struggle. We should be able to expect a smarter film, one that finds humour and new ways of telling the story. Instead we are left with a failed rehash of a trusted formula and the mistreatment of a great character.

Share

57th Berlin Film Festival Report

Spider Lillies
Spider Lillies

Ten days (8–18 February, 2007) of cinemania have passed over Berlin. The Berlin International Film Festival is unique in its appeal to the general audience. There is hardly a student household without the festival programme, detailing almost 400 films, lying around somewhere. People who don’t care about hardcore arthouse cinema during the rest of the year start queuing for obscure Mongolian documentaries. Hardened enemies of the controversial Potsdamer Platz, where the heart of the festival beats, take a trip there just to get a whiff of the excitement, and all local newspapers sport three extra pages daily dedicated to film. Plus, of course, a daily update on the current influx of stars and parties on the society pages. It is only public transport that hasn’t caught on yet – every year, when there are thousands of foreign visitors in Berlin, some crucial line is interrupted for repairs.

For the audience, 2007 has been a good year. 200,000 Berliners and 19,000 professionals watched a diverse range of interesting films, mostly in the slightly less overcrowded sections Panorama, Forum, Generation, and Retrospective. A favorite among the many contenders was Hal Hartley’s sequel to Henry Fool. The very fast paced triple agent comedy Fay Grim unravels new layers of Henry’s past in every sequence, while drawing Henry’s ex-wife Fay deeper and deeper into unfathomable international secret service entanglements. Filmed at odd angles throughout, the film leads into a fake universe where lies are layered upon lies. Also well received was Hounds, the German debut by Ann-Kristin Reyels, about a taciturn father and son in the remote East German region Uckermarck; the Taiwanese Spider Lilies by Zero Chou about the friendship between a tattoo shop owner and a girl hooked on cybersex (Teddy Award for Best Queer Picture of the festival); and Pascale Ferran’s three hour long adaptation of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Lady Chatterley describes in meticulous detail the extremely slow process of mutual sexual discovery as well, as the fine power structure of 1920s society that resonates in every sentence the Lady and her gamekeeper exchange. The Panorama Audience Award 2007 was given once again to a documentary: Blindsight by Lucy Walker about a blind mountaineer leading blind kids up the Lhakpa Ri at the north side of Mount Everest.

So there wasn’t a lack of good and exciting movies. The flagship of the festival however, the competition with its 22 pictures, screened few of them. Torn between director Dieter Kosslick’s many and often mutually exclusive ambitions – to make the Berlin Festival a local and international glamour event, to present cutting edge political cinema, to welcome famous directors and to cover filmmaking worldwide – the selection seemed arbitrary. Next to friendly topical films like The Year My Parents Went on Vacation by Cao Hamburger and new works by François Ozon, Jacques Rivette and Robert de Niro stood star vehicles like The Good German by Soderbergh and such oddities as the lame depression-in-middle-age drama When a Man Falls in the Forest (starring Sharon Stone without make-up) and Bordertown, a B-picture presenting the plight of women maquilladeras at the Mexican-American border (starring Jennifer Lopez).

On the other hand, the high-profile jury headed by Paul Schrader took a clear stance for the uncompromising arthouse picture. Jury members Willem Dafoe, Gael García Bernal, Mario Adorf, Hiam Abbass (actress in Paradise Now), Nansun Shi (producer of Infernal Affairs) and Molly Malene Stensgaard (Lars von Trier’s favorite cutter) awarded the Golden Bear for Best Film to the Chinese film Tuya’s Marriage by Wang Quanan. In the bright tones of the clear Mongolian sky and the colourful Mongolian costumes Wang tells the story of a family torn between emotional and material needs. Tuya’s husband Bater is handicapped. When Tuya herself collapses and is told by her doctor to work less hard, the survival of the family is in danger. Tuya and Bater decide to divorce and Tuya tries to find a new husband who will look after Bater as well. A line of suitors appear offering wealth and education in the city but unwilling to look after the ex. A tight script, humour, warmth and low-key emotional cliffhangers make Tuya’s Marriage an engaging film, while never glossing over the extreme hardship the family endures. Interestingly, the second Chinese film of the competition, Lost in Beijing by Li Yu, although opposite in style and location, touched on similar issues. In the breathless film about a young rural couple trying to make their way in the megacity, private happiness fights a loosing battle against the demands of a rapidly changing society.

The acting awards too, were bestowed upon non-topical films with a clear atheistic concept; films that locate the political in small private stories; films dealing in the language of cinema. The Silver Bear for Best Actor went to Julio Chávez for his performance in the strictly non-commercial Argentinian film El Otro by Ariel Rotter (which also received a Silver Bear). Chávez plays a 46-year-old man who is told by his girlfriend that they are expecting a baby. The news send him on a contemplative journey through sombre bars and hotels. He toys with the idea of changing his identity, he fucks with a stranger and saves an old woman pretending to be a doctor. After maybe two days in this silent and dark other world of thought he returns home to his girlfriend and his old father. For a similarly austere performance, German actress Nina Hoss received a Silver Bear for Best Actress. In Yella by Christian Petzold (Wolfsburg) she plays an East German woman running away from a failed marriage and material hardship to an unearthly steel-and-glass world of venture capital and big business. The decision came as a big surprise since press and public alike had seen Marianne Faithful as the most likely contender, followed by Marion Cotillard as Édith Piaf. In the europudding production Irina Palm about a grandmother becoming a sexworker to save her grandson, Faithful is delightful to watch as the ‘wanking widow’. In fact her performance of a woman who is forced to overcome her shyness and discovers new horizons in a sleazy sex shop saves an otherwise rather shallow comedy that nevertheless charmed audiences.

The Silver Bear for Best Director was awarded to the Israeli drama Beaufort by Joseph Cedar. In his film Cedar portrays the last unit to be stationed at the famous seafarer fortress Beaufort in Lebanon before the complete retreat of the Israeli army. The story of a group of men defending and dying for a hill that will be given up soon anyway concentrates on the lethal absurdities that political decisions force upon the ordinary soldier. Without discussing those decisions as such. In a similar vein, Clint Eastwood’s sequel to Flags of Our Fathers, Letters from Iwo Jima, portrays the kamikaze fight of the Japanese Army against the Americans on the island of Iwo Jima, in which 20,000 Japanese soldiers died.

The Silver Bear for Outstanding Artistic Achievement went to the ensemble cast of The Good Sheperd by Robert de Niro, the Bear for the Best Film Music was given to the coming-of-age drama Hallam Foe by David Mackenzie and the weird computer animated asylum extravaganza I Am a Cyborg, But That’s OK by Old Boy director Park Chan-wook received the Alfred-Bauer-Price for ‘new perspectives in the art of filmmaking’.

Share