Garret Walsh, Director of ‘The Observer Effect’

 

Short film The Observer Effect is a dark thriller with a twist about a man and a woman inextricably linked whose paths, when crossed, are destined to end in bloodshed.

Anthony Assad caught up with director Garret Walsh ahead of the film’s Dublin premiere at the Silk Road Film Festival. 

 

AA: First of all congratulations, the film appears to be doing very well, gaining traction across Ireland and further afield in festival circuits. How long was the production process in all? How does it feel to see it travel?

GW: Thanks very much. Well it’s been a long process! I kicked off pre-production in February 2015 and we ended up shooting it in two blocks: one in November 2015 and one in February 2017 and by the time we finished post in August it was two and a half years, all told. In reality, it only took so long because I funded this 100% myself so a lot of the time, pretty much all of 2016 in fact, was spent working elsewhere to build up the funds to do it.

It’s really incredible to see where the film’s gone since then. Our first film festival selection out of the gate was the LA Shorts film festival: Hollywood of all places. I actually flew over for that one – to be in Hollywood for the first time and have it be to screen your first film – well, I couldn’t pass up that chance.

And the reception it’s had everywhere has been just amazing – it’s fascinating and really gratifying to hear how people have reacted to it and hear what they’ve taken from the story and the performances – beyond what I ever thought they might sometimes. We actually have our Dublin premiere in a couple of weeks too – March the 9th at Trinity College as part of the Silk Road Film festival – I’m really interested to see what the reaction will be to its first showing back in what’s effectively its home town.

 

AA: I understand it’s your first film writing and directing. It’s a very ambitious piece, were you nervous about pulling it off? How long did it take to drum up interest and gather your crew?

GW: Oh, terrified – but in a good way. I’d actually been writing feature screenplays for about 20 years – doing like most writers do, I guess, which is start off writing rubbish and then hone and hone until you not only get better scripts but hopefully become a better writer in the process. When those scripts got some positive interest from a couple producers in the UK and US I decided I’d bite the bullet and make a short of my own, sort of a calling-card for them and – as no-one was going to fund me – give myself my own shot at directing.

I think it took about three months to gather most of the crew. If I remember right, after Kathy came aboard as producer the first key creative was Lilla Nurie, our production designer – and her work was the key to getting it moving. She’s unbelievably talented and I found she shared a really similar idea for the look and feel of the thing as I had. When she showed me her concepts for the main set in the film, to which the story builds and that plays such a part in the ending – almost like another character in fact – I felt we had something really special and I think that was something that drew people in initially, a strong story with that unique execution and world-building.

I think a big relief came when I found my actors though – that had been a huge worry up to that point.  As soon as I met Vanessa Emme for the lead I knew she’d be perfect for it and both she and Patrick O’Brien, who plays against her in the film, they both just own the screen whenever they’re in front of camera. It was a huge learning curve for me too – to see how just much an actor can bring to a character with their performance, conveyed with just the subtlest of emotions – something it’s so hard to imagine on the page. Whatever trappings you put around them on the screen, film is always about character and all of them, Brendan Sheehan too – really brought the whole thing to life.

Garret Walsh on set

AA: The production values are quite exceptional. I imagine you spent a lot of time conceiving the look and feel of the film. How closely did you work with your cinematographer and the set designers to realise it? Were any other films used as reference points?

GW: Lilla and I must have spent two or three months at least working on the main set design; looking at images of crypts, ossuaries and religious architecture from all across Europe and surreal artworks from artists like Zdzisław Beksiński and Hieronymus Bosch as inspiration for the look and feel of the thing, getting it just right for the part it has to play in the film. She and Aaron O’Sullivan, our set construction specialist, actually spent nearly eight weeks building it in the end – it was a huge undertaking, they worked miracles with it.

My director of photography, Philip Blake, and I, who has an incredible eye, did something similar too. We spent a long time comparing notes on films we both loved the look of and whose aesthetic could inform what we were imagining. The films of Ridley Scott – like the feel of Tyrell’s office and bedroom sets in Blade Runner – and David Fincher were big reference points. I think we looked the washed-out brown-yellow colour palettes and the textures of ‘The Game’ in our final scenes and it worked great for it.

Another thing whose importance I hadn’t fully appreciated until we made this but which had a huge effect was post-production – colour-grading and effects. We were really lucky that Chriona and Bernard at Element Post here in Dublin liked the project and agreed to work on it. Their colourist Leandro really understood what we were going for and did a beautiful job of grading the image and accentuating and refining it and the work the FX guys, Stephen and Diarmuid, did really brought it to life – it’s hard to exaggerate how much difference that makes.

 

AA: Thematically, you’re treading quite dark territory. Were you relieved once the final cut was in place, exorcised perhaps? Or do you feel at home with all things mysterious and macabre?

GW: It feels amazing when you finally finish a film, especially one that’s taken so long, so in one respect it was a relief to be done but it only takes a day or two before the withdrawal sets in and you wish you were back on set again, there’s just nothing like it – the crew were all incredible to work with and every single person just gave so much to getting this made, you wish you could work with them, like that, every day.

I guess I am drawn to mysterious and macabre stuff – but more so for how it can capture the imagination and draw an audience in. I think that’s what I love to experience in a film and to shoot too, be it a chiller, a western or a sci-fi, all of which I’ve written – it’s always to create an immersive world and characters for the audience to get drawn into, transport them completely.

 

AA: There’s a history and lore hinted at in the film. Have you thought of exploring it further, perhaps in a serialised format?

GW: Absolutely. I love films that both tell their story fully but also hint something larger, which is exactly what I was aiming for with this script to begin with. Although I hadn’t actually planned to take it any further when I started this I became fascinated by it as we explored who these characters are and the mystery that lies at the heart of it – where it all came from and where it could all go afterwards.

So yeah, as soon as I finished post-production I started developing it into a TV show and I now have a series bible/treatment written for a ten-episode first season run of The Observer Effect and the ending of it already has me excited to get started on Season 2 – I should probably just take a couple of days off or something or maybe write another feature but it’s perhaps a good sign that the possibilities of the story won’t let me go until I explore where it all goes next.

 

The Observer Effect will screen in the Silk Road Film Festival on Friday, March 9th at the Edmund Burke Theatre, TCD in a selection of Irish & international short films. Entrance is free.

 

 

 

Irish Short Film Review: The Observer Effect

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Review: A Ghost Story

DIR/WRI: David Lowery • PRO: Adam Donaghey, Toby Halbrooks, James M. Johnston • DOP: Andrew Droz Palermo • ED: David Lowery • DES: Jade Healy, Tom Walker • MUS: Daniel Hart • CAST: Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, McColm Cephas Jr.

 

This is not your typical ghost story. Only very briefly do things go bump in the night and the culprit is a prototypical white-sheeted figure but the story that embodies him is not campfire fodder meant to fuel cheap scares. Instead writer/director David Lowery (Ain’t Them Bodies Saints, Pete’s Dragon) presents us with a filmic elegy all the more haunting, and beautiful, in its quaintness and restraint.

 

C (Casey Affleck), a struggling musician, and wife M (Rooney Mara) are preparing to move out of their rural homestead when tragedy strikes and C dies in a car crash. At the morgue, the coroner carefully pulls back a white linen sheet revealing his pale, bruised face and, after a tearful goodbye, M leaves. Only we are left to watch and wait, in the first of many long and lingering shots, as the motionless corpse, now alone, suddenly rises from the gurney cloaked in its death shroud. As it wanders invisible through the halls of the hospital a doorway of light appears, prompting an exit from the land of the living, only C is not yet ready to leave. He returns home and becomes rooted to the land, a spectral spectator of the world and the people in it moving on without him.

As we explore and contemplate C’s unfinished business, Lowery and co. impart themes of loss, loneliness and regret but the true beauty of the film lies in the simple act of observation. The most private of moments often play out uninhibited by cuts. In her grief, M gorges on pie to the point of getting sick, she can’t see her dead husband lurking in the same room or us for that matter in a darkened theatre. C, covered by cloth, can’t emote to the situation but we do it for him and his presence encourages us to communicate what he can’t. In this privileged (but ultimately powerless) position, walls are no longer a barrier and, long after they crumble and rise anew, much has changed but the cycle of life remains a constant. It’s a simple and yet wholly original concept that cleverly utilises a less-is-more approach to allow room for the weighty existential themes to resonate, chiefly humanity’s want and need to create a long lasting legacy.

Cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo creates an enthralling visual framework in figure-hugging 4:3 to evoke a painterly quality, especially vivid during the near motionless moments. While potent in tone and atmosphere these long unbroken wordless sequences will test less patient souls. Fans of Malick will feel at home but to the uninitiated it might recall a thought-provoking art installation or an awkward mournful minute’s silence stretched to feature length, but the beguiling imagery is sure to enchant regardless.

In this life and afterlife affirming masterstroke, Lowery transcends what we’ve seen before easing us in with recognisable tropes only to strip back the bells, whistles and ouija boards to reveal an almost silent and yet deafening beating heart and soul beneath.

 

Anthony Assad

92 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

A Ghost Story is released 11th August 2017

A Ghost Story – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World

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DIR: Werner Herzog • WRI: David Koepp • PRO: Werner Herzog, Rupert Maconick • DOP: Peter Zeitlinger • ED: Marco Capalbo • DES: Peter Wenham • CAST: Elon Musk, Lawrence Krauss, Lucianne Walkowicz

Werner Herzog’s latest documentary attempts to chart the rise of the almighty Internet and its impact upon the people and technologies dangling (often precariously) in its World Wide Web. While his past documentaries often thrived on eccentric characters and their outlandish pursuits, Lo and Behold shifts gear to focus upon an intangible phenomenon and inevitably, but forgivably, raises more questions than it can answer.

 

Herzog and co. present ten serialised chapters introducing a gamut of speakers ranging from internet scientists, robotic engineers, cosmologists, hackers and brain researchers all musing on the past, present and potential future of our connected world.  The tapestry of information weaved among them offers some absorbing insights, ideas and the odd moral quandary most notably in the development of autonomous or self-driving cars and the man-or-machine culpability concern in case of accidents. If it sounds like too much our all too familiar German accented auteur and narrator graciously acts guide, encouraging philosophical debate to ground the tech talk, but its another language altogether and struggles to coalesce from chapter to chapter.

 

Unfortunately, the most enduring ‘reveries’ are the shortest; those dealing with real people, the victims of the web.  A family in mourning harassed online, refugees of radiation living off the grid, and internet gaming addicts make for far more compelling subjects, perhaps deserving documentaries of their own but the lack of depth and their inclusion, often bookended by kooky sequences of robots playing football or ever so slowly twisting bottle caps off, feels like a disservice.

 

Most of the hallmarks are here, the compelling complex subject matter, the off-kilter commentary, the awkward but revealing interview silences but Herzog, an ardent and often domineering presence, seems to take a back seat in a self-driven vehicle of his own making. There’s a wealth of information to inspire further reading but the bite-sized chapters form a tenuous and sometimes trivial link, perhaps better suited if extended into a mini series format. It’s a mammoth undertaking, something Herzog is akin to, but his subject is a beast that can’t be tamed, leaving him awe-inspired but at a loss for words.

Anthony Assad

98 minutes

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Lo and Behold: Reveries of the Connected World – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Director Paul Heary and Producer Victor McGowan of ‘Neolithic Patchwork Quilt’

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Neolithic Patchwork Quilt introduces Herman, a husband and father of two who is coming to the end of chemotherapy. As a result of his illness, he undergoes an existential crisis. His wife, Felicia, endeavours to help him cope by practicing mindfulness. However, a tragedy involving his wife realigns Herman’s focus on what matters most.

Anthony Assad met up with writer/director Paul Heary and producer Victor McGowan ahead of the film’s screening at the Cannes Short Film Corner on 20th May.

 

Could you tell us a little about the thinking behind Neolithic Patchwork Quilt?

Paul: The patchwork quilt is meant to be a metaphor for comfort. The inspiration came from the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy world. There’s a comparison in the film between primitive life and modern life. We see a lot of comfort in the film – hospitals, cars… the comforts of civilisation. But on the other hand, we see disasters on the news;  we see a newsflash on Herman’s phone. So there’s a whole area of talk about how that can distort our view of the world, how it can cause more stress. That’s compared to a simpler primitive world, a world where we didn’t have much comfort, a world where we didn’t know what was happening outside of our own experience. We had much less stress – all we had to look after was our own environment.

There’s been some research that found that the stresses of modern life can build up the hormone cortisol in the brain which causes mental stress and anxiety and can impinge our ability to deal with situations. Mindfullness is a way of reducing cortisol levels.

 

The narrative deals with a lot of weighty themes for a short film…

Paul: Well, it went through a few drafts. During its development I was really inspired by Adaptation. With film, it’s a given that it’s a visual medium and it’s about minimal dialogue and isn’t introspective. When I saw Adaptation, it really inspired me to think outside those boundaries and go on a creative buzz. That and the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy are really the inspiration behind the film.

Victor: I got the script more or less at the final stage and that whole mindfulness-based cognitive therapy was something I was quite taken with when I read it. There’s line in the film where the therapist says to Herman no-one’s supposed to be worried about events that are happening thousands of miles away. That’s an interesting point.

 

When we’re introduced to Herman, the main character, he appears to be going through a crisis of body and mind provoked by a question mark over his health. 

Paul: His fear is natural in terms of his cancer – but again the mindfulness is meant to be cathartic for him and help him to stop worrying about things.

 

Is it safe to assume you advocate its practice?

Paul: It was the inspiration for the film – one of the scienctific theories behind it I liked was how it can physically change the brain, change the genes in your brain. .

Victor: I tried it. There’s an app called Headspace. The idea is that every day for 10 minutes you are meditating. You can have other options on the app – when you are walking you are being told how to focus on your surroundings. It’s something I’m very interested in.

 

 

 

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Interview: Jason Branagan, wri/dir of ‘Shoebox Memories’

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Written and directed by Jason Branagan, Shoebox Memories is an offbeat, musical, romcom. The indie feature tells the story of disillusioned musician and music teacher, Chris, who desperately wants to reconcile with his first love and long time girlfriend, Deb. Wallowing in self-pity after discovering she’s soon-to-be-married, his best friends, Mikey and Al, decide it’s time that Chris gets over her once and for all.

The film’s narrative is written around an album of music, which is also written by Jason, who spoke to Anthony Assad ahead of the film’s screening at the upcoming Dingle International Film Festival.
 

In terms of the film’s structure, it’s arranged episodically with chapter headings in the guise of mix-tape music tracks pre-recorded by the protagonist. What came first – the story or the songs?
 
Mainly the songs. There was an old song from way back when I wanted to be a singer/songwriter that was a dialogue between 2 people. I always wanted to use that idea to maybe write a musical or a stage play. When the idea for the film came around and we were looking at ideas for what we could shoot I had the idea of using a bunch of old songs and structuring a story around them. 6 of the songs were written long before the film and then there’s 3 of them that were written specifically for it. The reason the female lead is Emma Jane was because the song was called Emma Jane. The reason they’re broken up 3 years is because the song is called 3 years. It was an interesting way to approach trying to write a script because you have so much context and content in the songs that you are trying to work out how to fit them into a narrative.

 

It’s interesting – it’s almost like an adaptation of an album.

As it stands the film has a very linear narrative but initially in my head the idea was much more experimental. It was a film built around an album – which is still more or less what it is –  but we just found a way of making it very linear.

 

Did the actors have access to the songs in relation to each scene before shooting?

We spent longer recording the album than making the film. We recorded before we shot. Myself, Colm Gavin [who plays Chris] and a sound engineer friend of mine spent about 4 or 5 weeks in my living room recording the album. So Colm was well aware of all the music. Colm had never acted before. I wanted a musician in the role and I knew Colm through my brother who had gone to school with him. Having come from that musical background myself I felt that a singer/songwriter would hopefully be able to connect to the material and that would probably help them in scenes.

Outside of that, the rest of the actors experienced the music as we shot. Obviously, we would do multiple takes but some of the reaction in terms of when Colm plays was the first time they heard the songs. So there were very honest reactions in those moments.

 

You managed to deliver the film under a microbudget of €2,500. Some filmmakers would consider it a constraint and others believe it pushes them to succeed and think outside of the box. Where would you align yourself?

I believe that constraint leads to creativity. Of course, it’s not always the best – it can be nice to have money to fix problems. But I think it’s good to undertake something like this, even if you never do it again and you only work with bigger budgets. You’re forced to become adaptable and you have to deal with issues as they arise and to deal with them creatively because there isn’t money to throw at them. You’ve got to figure things out on the spot. I think as a director that is half your battle. Still though, I would like to do it with money!

Shoebox Memories screens on Friday 18th March as part of the Dingle International Film Festival (17 – 19 March 2016)

 

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Review: The Revenant

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DIR: Alejandro González Iñárritu • WRI: Mark L. Smith, Alejandro González Iñárritu • PRO: Steve Golin, Alejandro González Iñárritu, David Kanter, Arnon Milchan, Mary Parent, Keith Redmon, James W. Skotchdopole • DOP: Emmanuel Lubezki • ED: Stephen Mirrione • DES: Jack Fisk • MUS: Carsten Nicolai, Ryuichi Sakamoto • CAST: Tom Hardy, Leonardo DiCaprio, Domhnall Gleeson

 

In 1823, at the edge of the new world, frontiersman Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) swears vengeance when one of the men of the hunting party he’d been tasked to protect abandons him alive but mortally wounded after surviving a brutal bear attack. If revenge is a dish best served cold, Alejandro G. Iñárritu offers one better, serving up a frost-ridden western that only copious amounts of blood and testosterone can cool in a riotous and riveting ode to survival.

In the uncharted wilderness of the Americas an expedition of fur traders and trappers is cut short when a tribe of Native Indians ambush their camp to plunder their precious pelts. A melee of arrows, tomahawks and bullets fly as a dizzying long take follows the carnage from foot and across horseback to capture every hack and slash in grisly detail. The up-close and personal approach of unbroken shots provides for a shell-shocking opener and a spectacular warning of the dread ahead.

The weary band of survivors escape across the water by boat but the hot-headed, half-scalped Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy) is fast to point a finger at Glass and son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) for failing to pre-empt the attack, sowing seeds of discord among the men. Glass remains focused and resolute, despite the doubt cast upon his abilities as a man and a father. It reveals his virtue as a character that will avoid a fight if and when he can with the gauntlet of punishment ahead laying credence to the theme that survival is a requisite of one’s strength of mind and spirit as much as body. Even when Glass is reduced to a bloody pulp after several rounds of merciless mauling by an angry mother bear, in another unrelenting long shot, his will to survive is his greatest weapon (with a little help from a well-aimed bullet and his trusty bowie knife). It betters the beast and even when left for dead drags him back to the land of the living like some vengeful ghost with unfinished business.

Henceforth, it’s a down and dirty ride fuelled by blood, sweat and tears both in front and behind the camera as Iñárritu and co. reportedly tackled harsh conditions across perilous locations, relying upon natural light alone to capture the myth and the mayhem. DiCaprio triumphs in an absorbing to-hell-and-back-again performance that may just snag that elusive Oscar. The supporting players rise to the challenge and excel in their own right, with Domhnall Glesson’s duty-bound Captain Henry and Will Poulter’s impressionable and conscience heavy Bridger adding leverage to the one-man show. The unscrupulous Fitzgerald is embodied by another wide-eyed and wild Hardy performance but the beast is cleverly kept at bay before the inevitable showdown.

At times, Emmanuel Lubezki’s cinematography recalls the majestic vision of a Terrance Malick film (lessons learnt on The New World no doubt), such as in the slow track over a waterlogged forest as Glass and Hawk creep, rifles drawn, towards drinking elk. Mother Nature is a force to be reckoned with in The Revenant, a character of its own that adds to the formidable level of realism, and the camera showcases its beauty and its brutality in equal measure. The whispery voice-over of Glass’s wife cheering him on in spirit owes again to the aforementioned oeuvre and excels in complementing Ryuichi Sakamoto and Alva Noto’s hauntingly alluring score.

Iñárritu’s Oscar follow-up is a punishing watch that pays off with captivating visuals of realistic action and adventure. The trek may tire some but fortune favours the bold after all.

 

Anthony Assad

16
156 minutes (See IFCO for details)

The Revenant is released 15th January 2016

The Revenant – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Brooklyn

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DIR: John Crowley • WRI: Nick Hornby • PRO: Finola Dwyer, Amanda Posey • ED: Mick Mahon • DOP: Yves Bélanger • ED: Jake Roberts • MUS: Michael Brook • CAST: Saoirse Ronan, Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Zegen

Home is where the heart is for Enniscorthy girl Ellis Lacey (Saoirse Ronan) but when she leaves Wexford to nurture a new life in New York her heart is split in two when a burgeoning romance and family ties clash in director John Crowley’s period drama Brooklyn, based on Colm Tóibin’s novel of the same name.

In 1950s Ireland, Ellis is sent across the big blue at the behest of her mother and older sister Rose to accept work proffered by family friend and Catholic priest Fr. Flood who also promises to set her up during her stay. Ellis is a mousy young woman who cuts a meagre figure on the Brooklyn bound ferry, a fish out of water floundering above and below deck with constant anxiety and seasickness. It’s not long before her travel savvy cabin mate takes pity and instructs her in everything from how to effectively negotiate shared toilet privileges on the boat to how she should present herself in the big city. When she applies lipstick to Ellis’s lithe lips we glimpse the woman she may well become after the life-changing year ahead of her.

On dry land Ellis practises, as advised, to think like an American, to walk with a purpose and to look like she knows where she’s going. Despite her obvious diffidence she pulls off the façade despite not knowing where she is going or what Brooklyn has in store for her.

Ronan inhabits the role of the naïve Ellis with aplomb and seemingly grows in stature as the narrative unfolds, like a flower opening towards the sun scene by scene. The New York of the 1950s is a little too polished in places but the detail certainly lends to the proceedings. What sticks out like a sore thumb, however, are the expressionistic flourishes that belie the understated style of the film’s source material. For example the moment Ellis crosses the threshold into the unknown is personified as a doorway awash with blinding white light that leads from the passport office to her new homestead, the entrance of which is accentuated in gratuitous slow motion. These moments, thankfully few and far between, are distracting and superfluous in an otherwise faultless set-up.

When she’s not struggling to make small talk with the fast-talking, fast-living Americans at her work in a high-end department store, Ellis passes her time slinking away from the meal time gossip fuelled by the boarding house matriarch Mrs Kehoe (Julie Walters) and her yappy tenants. These comedic interludes are a welcome diversion from the main narrative seeking to highlight the sensibilities of the time with particular gusto from the players especially Cavan girl Dolores (Jenn Murray) whose skittish deer-in-the-headlights performance threatens to steal the show.

The show is a romantic one after all so before Ellis can buckle under the weight of her homesickness she meets the dark and daring Italian plumber Tony (Emory Cohen) on the lookout for Irish girls at the local ceili. The courtship that follows is suitably “aw” inducing and full of first-love festivity but once again the real delights are served around the dinner table when Ellis is introduced to Tony’s family only to be scrutinised by younger brother Frankie who’s intent upon saying the wrong thing with impeccable comic timing.

Just as everything appears to be going swimmingly (in a fetching green swimsuit no less) news from back home threatens to upset all hopes of a happy ever after. Ellis returns to Wexford the talk of the town all grown up and glamorous looking for an unfortunate visit but a new job prospect, familial duty and the advances of a convenient catch add up to what could become a permanent stay if her friends and family have their way. The tension of this quietly chaotic conundrum, were everyone seems to know Ellis’s next step before she does, elevates the conventional drama. She keeps Tony a secret and when local boy Farrell (Domhnall Gleeson) enters the fray promising a comfortable life Ellis is forced to follow her heart to find her true home.

Brooklyn may capture the hearts and minds of its audience as its age-old story is lovingly crafted but its overt concern with glorifying the past in copious studio light and overwrought musical accompaniment downgrades the experience somewhat. Crowley guides us through the narrative with precision but it’s a performance-driven film and the ensemble cast, especially the chemistry between Ronan and Cohen, deserve any and all accolade.

Anthony Assad

12A

111 minutes

Brooklyn is released 6th November 2015

Brooklyn – Official Website

 

 

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Interview: Steve Gunn, director of ‘The Caller’

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Anthony Assad sat down with first-time director Steve Gunn to chat about his short film, The Caller, which screens at IndieCork. The Caller tells the story of what happens when an unemployed man receives a visit from the rent allowance inspector and things get a little too close for comfort.

 

The Caller is based on the play Fishes by David Fennelly, an actor contemporary of yours, who starred in the production as the hapless jobless Larry and reprises his role in the short adaptation. Can you tell us how you were exposed to the play and what led to your rendition of the material in The Caller?

I saw his play in Smock Alley as part of their Collaborations festival. It was a 20-minute version of what went on to be a longer play. I have always wanted to make a film; my main focus is acting but I’d always wanted to make movies. I thought I’d love to do something with the premise of Dave’s play. I loved the fact that there was 1 location with 2 characters. I approached him after the play and asked if there’s a chance he’d let me adapt it for a short film. I told him that I loved the premise – the rent inspector guy calling round to the gaff unannounced. I was on the dole years ago and I just thought that was brilliant. I’d love to take it and make a short film out of it. He was excited and thought it was a great idea. So I said I’d get a rough draft to him in 2 weeks. Three months later I woke up one day and realised it had been that long since I’d had the conversation with Dave. So I went over to the laptop and, for some reason, it all just came out. I needed to squeeze the play down into 8 minutes but I was able to kind of write it all in one go, which was great.

 

Was the screen version much different from the play?

It was different from the play, particularly the rent allowance inspector character. I knew I was going to have him call to the door, they were going to sit down, they were going to have a chat. But we go off in a different direction with his character – I wrote a monologue for him. I wasn’t really concerned where the play goes. I just needed to find a button to end it up on.

 

Was there any trepidation casting David again, considering his role in the stage production? How did he feel about someone else handling the reins and interpreting the material?

No there wasn’t. He had some screen credit under his belt. He was in Killing Bono and a few other things. I like the way he performed on stage. I like his style. I had no concerns at all really. As for me handling the reins of his personal project, when I wrote the 1st draft, which didn’t really change that much to what’s on screen, he read it and told me that he wasn’t sure about where I was going with it. And I said, ‘okay, let’s meet up and I’ll explain to you why I’m right’ [laughs]. So I met up with him and explained to him why I was right. Seriously though, the whole thing could have fallen apart at that stage. Dave could’ve dug his heels in and gone against the direction the film was going. But he is open-minded and was happy to run with it.

 

Alan Howley took on the role of the inspector, who was originally played on stage by John Doran. What happened there?

Originally, we were going to use both John and David. We were trying to nail down shooting dates. But John had a one-man show and was unavailable so I started looking to replace him with a different actor. Then it struck me that John was actually a bit young for the film version I was trying to create. I was thinking it might be more interesting with an older character there, someone who had been through his youth. Plus, I like that they’re both a certain age and are both messed-up people, which is hilarious. It worked out really well.

I’d worked with Alan on Fair City. That’s how I know him. I nearly strangled him once – he was a bit of a mouthy cab driver and I was this ex-army guy he was having a pop at; so I was able to grab him by the throat, which was fun to do! Yeh, we got on very well. He’s very practical, down-to-earth, although he’s done some crazy stuff in theatre, physical/dancing stuff . So he has a nice mix.

 

Which was perfect for this restrained official and then all hell breaks loose.

Yeh. Perfect. I was glad to get him.

 

There is a nice duality between both characters. You’re not gunning for one or the other.

Hopefully, you have sympathy for both. And that’s a credit to the actors, they flesh them out and make them human.

 

Both men are frustrated with their lives and the system that governs them.

When people are going about their business and their daily lives, a lot of the time you’ll meet their representative. There’s someone else in there that they’ll only show to their partner, family or their best friends. I think this film cuts through those layers fairly quickly. It’s kind of raw and it’s kind of primal. And that can be funny. It rips away all the conventions of how we’re supposed to behave. People like Larry David would be a big influence on me. I love that humour. What you are supposed to say and how you are supposed to act – and what happens if you don’t do that.

 

Did you find your experience as an actor afforded any advantages or insight when directing?

I’d like to think it did. I tried not to get in the way of their performances too much and, credit to the lads, they really put the work in. I tried not to over direct – but you would have to ask them if it was in any way pleasant to work with me. But I’d like to think that I try to be encouraging and supportive and not over directing.

 

Philip Graham, your director of photography, worked alongside you on The Mario Rosenstock Show. What attracted you to the idea of working with him again and for your directorial debut no less?

I’ve learnt lessons over the years being in short films and things like that. One of the most important lessons I learnt is having a really good DoP.  Sometimes you think I’m gonna save up and get a really good camera. Why not just ring up people out there who have already done that. Philip is a legend. When I worked with him before I loved the way he was lighting stuff. When I sent a message to see if he would be interested I didn’t think he would have time. But he did. I might have caught him at a good moment because he’s very busy, often back and forth between here and England where he does a lot of work. He does a lot of TV stuff but he is really into drama. So, when I met him he was excited about the idea. I wanted it to be shot really well and I wanted it to look like a movie. I knew he would be able to do that. He was great to work with.

 

You also had Tom Lane on board doing the music.

His work really lifts the film as well. I basically met him at a party. I knew he did what he did. I told him I’d just made this short film and asked could I send it to him and see if he wanted to put music to it. Thankfully, he said yes. I told him I was thinking cellos, like in Mike Leigh. When the film opens he’s walking down the street and you hear these cellos… it gives it a sort of seriousness… a bit of Mike Leighishness! But then he does this brilliant thing at the end, which is where he brings in other instruments around that cello melody. And there’s a sense of peace. It’s just a gorgeous piece of music.

 

The film went on to premiere at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh and was selected to screen in the Underground Cinema Film Festival with a nomination for best comedy. I’m sure you’re used to seeing yourself on screen but how does it feel seeing something you’ve directed doing the rounds?

It’s amazing and a little nerve-wracking and exciting. I can’t speak highly enough of the experience. It’s like when you’re on stage and it’s opening-night. There’s a moment when you can feel the audience lock into the story and that’s a great feeling, you know you’re onto something. I love the relationship between an audience and a play or a film. I’ve seen it twice now with an audience – in Galway and in Dun Laoghaire. What’s great about it is that there might be a bit of a titter and then a bit of a laugh. And then, on both occasions, there were some great big laughs and that’s amazing – to make people laugh – you feel both relieved and excited.

 

You founded your own production company, Barren Lands, to produce the film. Do you have anything else on your slate for next year perhaps? Are you planning on directing again?

I would like to direct again but I’ve nothing planned. I’m busy with the soap, which is good. I made this film with the hope that I might get a little bit of money to make the next one –  but I haven’t sat down and set things in motion yet. But that’s my plan.

 

The Caller screens on Friday, 9th October 2015 in Programme 3 of the Irish Shorts at IndieCork Festival (4 – 11 October 2015)

 

You can download the 2015 IndieCork festival programme here

 

 

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Glassland – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Anthony Assad delves into Gerard Barrett’s Glassland, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

John (Jack Reynor) lives a life of monotony driving a taxi, often pulling late night shifts just to keep afloat while playing parent to his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette). When John attempts to sober her up and encourage a reconnection with her younger son Kit (Harry Nagle) all hell breaks loose as John’s off-the-meter pick up jobs take a dark and desperate turn to fund his thankless efforts.

Gerard Barrett’s previous feature Pilgrim Hill was a monumental film from the then debutant writer/director, working from a truly miniscule budget that managed to capture the hearts and minds of audiences nationwide, even skimming the pond to achieve resonance across UK, US and Chinese theatres in 2013. Going on to garner the Rising Star Award at the IFTAs meant that expectations were inevitably sky high in the run-up to that all important second feature and I’m happy to say the Dublin premiere of Glassland at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival proved that his is a star still on a safe and steady rise.

Swapping the rural for the urban may seem like quite a risqué tonal shift but just like the former environs of Pilgrim Hill, Dublin in Glassland is similarly populated by the lost and lonely-hearted with tense familial relations and tethered responsibilities once again the resounding themes. All of these rest upon John’s shoulders who’s caught up in the same vicious circle day after day, he wonders when his mother will come home knowing full well that when she does he’ll have to pick up the pieces. His nights prove just as loathsome with wheels spinning running circles around the city streets picking up strangers and sex workers for a living that quite simply isn’t living. Reynor carries the role with an air of disembodiment, channelling a husk of young man weighed down by the duties an absent father and self-destructive mother have forced upon him. During a habitual visit to A&E, however, the doctors’ reveal that Jean is effectively drinking herself to death and an intervention is at hand, which she’ll prove to fight tooth and nail against.

As such, Toni Collette delivers a ferocious performance as Jean, a granite-faced ghost of a woman walking among the living, haunting her son and would be saviour for prolonging a life she feels has long since past, hers to end however and whenever she so wishes. And yet, there’s a soft core, evoked by an impromptu party scene fuelled by cheap wine and music administered by John to loosen tongues and heartstrings so to get to the bottom of what she’s been running from before going cold turkey. The means to this end is an expertly poised scene as mother and son dance in each other’s arms to Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ before a clever jump cut leads us towards a harrowing confession that really pushes the prowess of the proceedings, especially Reynor and Collette’s quietly chaotic heart to heart, a world away from the dish throwing teeth baring savagery of prior scenes and yet all the more powerful.

The rest from the wicked is shared among scenes with John and Shane (Will Poulter), his go-to friend whose antics provide some welcome, if not sometimes, guiltily enjoyed comic relief (the video-store dust-up comes to mind). It’s not just a pit stop from the drama however as Barrett creates an interesting duality between the two to highlight the life John has been deprived of. Shane is jobless, living at home off his all too accommodating mother and plotting a hell-raising break away from Dublin, in-between the important stuff like playing video games and avoiding movie rental fees for his own obnoxious amusement. He also found time to father a young child from a one-night stand, obviously not ideal scenarios but these follies of youth are rites of passage, mistakes John can never afford to make (and learn from) when forced instead to look after a stranger in his own home who breaks his heart everyday. Accordingly Reynor downplays the gaiety of their activities, more a silent observer, seeking to revert to his friend’s carefree mind-set but constantly aware and distracted by the myriad of responsibilities all around him.

John’s only fault is that his heart is too big, he alone attends his brother Kit’s eighteenth birthday party struggling to explain why their mother isn’t present and why Kit can’t live with them when in truth it’s because Jean never accepted and blames her life’s downfall because of his down syndrome. Again John is playing the parent and the older brother, the latter letting loose when he joyrides at his brother’s request, and in tow, around an empty car park. When he’s forced to reprimand his mother and drag her to a rehab clinic John’s pushed beyond his limits and loses it, as much for her sake as his, in a stand-out scene that reverberates throughout the rest of the movie and long after the credits roll.

She needs 24-hour surveillance for at least a month to sober-up in a controlled environment where she can push through the withdrawal but even a favour from former addict and councillor Jim (Michael Smiley) is an expense John can only afford if he ups his dark dealings with an illegal trafficker. He’s given an address to pick ‘something’ up for delivery and the resulting scene proves how far into hell and back again he’s willing to venture for his family. He enters the desolate house on the outskirts of town tip-toeing from darkness into light with the camera creeping along behind him like Peter Pan’s shadow, mocking what little innocence he has left in a heart-stopping scene paced to perfection.

There’s heaps of drama (some of it heavy-handed), but the moments of silence coupled with long locked-off compositions of seemingly natural light illuminating unnatural events will either pull you to the edge of your seat or out of the narrative. Yes, the pace may upset some, but it’s a journey that avoids the pitfalls of its genre (gratuitous sex and violence) to reach a destination fuelled by an earnest and unflinching eye.

Deservedly the film went on to win Best Film at the Galway Film Fleadh complimenting Reynor’s nod at Sundance for his outstanding performance and recently picked up the Best Irish Film award at JDIFF and the Michael Dwyer Discovery for cinematographer Piers McGrail’s inimitable contribution. This really is Irish cinema at its best, a truly transcendent and palpable experience shedding glorious light on an issue all too relevant from a bold and emphatic director at the top of his game.

Glassland screened on Friday, 27th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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Ida

Ida, London Film Festival 2013

 

DIR: Pawel Pawlikowski   WRI: Pawel Pawlikowski, Rebecca Lenkiewicz   PRO: Eric Abraham, Piotr Dzieciol, Ewa Puszczynska  • DOP: Ryszard Lenczewski, Lukasz Zal ED: Jaroslaw Kaminski  DES: Marcel Slawinski, Katarzyna Sobanska-Strzalkowska MUS: Kristian Eidnes Andersen  CAST: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska, Dawid Ogrodnik

In 1960s Poland, eighteen-year-old orphan Anna (Agata Trzebuchowska) pursues a life of servitude knowing little of life beyond the walls of her convent and is mere days away from taking her vows and sealing her fate when she receives word from a long-lost aunt seeking council. She reveals that Anna is Ida, a Jew who was not abandoned or given up but taken from her parents during the Holocaust of the German occupation. The revelation triggers a search for truth casting her sheltered life upside down and her god-fearing faith into question.

Ida absorbs the information stoically and waits patiently for the bus that will take her back on the course chosen for her but her icy aunt, Wanda (Agata Kulesza), takes pity and decides for both of them to keep digging. The journey therein is an odd-couple affair, Ida initially silent and sheepish with Wanda increasingly tenacious and volatile in the hunt for answers. The latter, a judge and former state prosecutor scrutinises everyone, never taking no for an answer, a misanthrope who guzzles alcohol and engages in one-night stands to quell her own dogged agenda. Ida, however, never openly judges her hardboiled aunt’s lifestyle even as she scoffs at her saintly manner or pesters her about carnal impulses, taking every jeer on her delicately dimpled chin.

Veteran director Pawel Pawlikowski carries the weighty subject matter flawlessly and incorporates black and white in the oft-forgotten 4:3 format with finesse, complimenting the proceedings in painterly compositions brimming with pathos. The past haunts the present and its threads threaten to overwhelm both Ida and Wanda. Long, lingering takes seek to penetrate their steely exteriors, the only refuge often below the frame of view as they crumble half submerged from prying eyes.

Their destination is Ida’s old home where Wanda wastes no time grilling the current residents who’d appropriated it unlawfully during the war. She’s convinced they harboured Ida’s family in nearby woods for a time but they refuse to confess the grisly fate that befell them. Here the narrative takes an intriguing turn as they wait it out until the accusers are ready to concede any information they might hold. The hotel they’re staying in is holding festivities and Ida discovers jazz music, it takes a hold of her and she submits to its dizzying rhythm like a moth to a flame. Of course, it helps that the pied piper of sorts is a handsome saxophonist, who finds himself equally enchanted by Ida’s aura and so begins her opening up to new experiences like a flower blooming in the new day sun.

The highlight of these scenes is the manner in which Ida allows herself to experience them. The journey unearths a host of ghosts, God has not been kind to Ida since infancy and you get a sense that she’s taking back what’s been denied in concession. But it’s not that clear-cut, perhaps Anna is exorcising Ida, placating her newfound urges when she allows herself to glimpse the desirability she emanates. Her reasoning might remain a mystery but unlike her troubled aunt she’s always in control of her impulses so when the history of her parents is finally revealed we know it can only strengthen her resolve to overcome it.

It’s a rocky road-movie but there’s so much beauty to behold that you’d gladly take the 80-minute journey again for the emphatic story, the stirring performances and Pawlikowski’s awe-inspiring visuals. Combined, the drama transcends its momentous setting in what may prove to be the most important and affecting films of the year.

Anthony Assad

82 minutes

Ida is released 26th September 2014
Ida – Official Website

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Out of Here

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DIR/WRI: Donal Foreman  PRO: Emmet Fleming DOP: Piers McGrail  ED: Donal Foreman  DES: Erin Hermosa CAST: Daniel Bergin, Kelly Byrne, Jack Dean-Shepher

Twenty-something Clontarf native Ciaran (Fionn Walton) is an art school dropout back to square one in dreary old Dublin after aimlessly bouncing around the globe for the past year. He’s a few hours early and there’s no welcoming party; mom, dad and baby sister oddly contrary, even the family dog is more concerned with getting his forty winks. Jet lag sets in, his bed is sought out and in the few hours of slumber all he’d left behind catches up and haunts him in Donal Foreman’s feature debut, an angst-ridden odyssey of youth and yearning.

All themes and tropes are present and accounted for… Ciaran’s dissatisfied and disillusioned, he’s at a crossroads but every direction feels a dead-end, catching up with friends and family is a chore and he’s even got a beautiful and talented ex he’s (of course) still desperately carrying a candle for. If it all sounds a little too familiar it was probably intended too; what’ll knock you for six, however, is the focused and yet directionless manner in which it unfolds, at a brisk 80 minutes I might add. The devil’s in the details and they’re beautifully rendered – at one point Ciaran slinks into town and stares at a statue of William Smith O’Brien, there’s the obvious and the not so obvious, the latter an image of a man rooted to the ground, standing tall and resolute, his achievements written in stone while Ciaran’s treading water, just trying to keep afloat in treacherous tides. It’s directionless in that we go with the flow, from one vignette to another as we watch Ciaran “take stock and consider options”, some of them more successful than others.

Case in point… we dive right in, curtains rise and Ciaran’s back and catching up with a friend at a house party, its certainly preferable over some conventional scenic shots of Terminal 2 but a duologue including ‘sandpaper assisted anal fisting’ doesn’t make for the best of first impressions. Next stop… we’re in a club and Ciaran’s on the prowl desperately seeking distraction and finds it in Melissa (a brief but memorable-as-always Aoife Duffin). They spend the night together but then the morning after comes around and she’s asking what he’s got planned for the day, Ciaran hasn’t a clue and double takes under her couch cushions for his belongings, having to go but with nowhere to go. It’s glorious little tragi-comic moments like this that colour the drama. What follows is again hit or miss but when it’s good it’s pretty great. After seeking advice from Eckhart Tolle of all people (on Facebook of all formats) it’s a not-so-merry-go-around across the country’s favourite leisure spots… the cinema, the pub, the club and Facebook again to stalk that elusive ex. The macho-fuelled levity of his friends wears worryingly thin and a cringe inducing catch-up with ex-girlfriend Jess (Annabell Rickerby) only reveals she’s sour over his up and leaving and lack of contact.

It’s all very grim but dotted around the drama and stitching the scenes together are some really gorgeous cutaways (courtesy of DOP Piers McGrail) perhaps hinting at the silver linings to come, in any case Dublin’s never looked so good. When Ciaran wakes up to one of his spaced-out friends looming over him seeking a bike ride buddy only to bring him to a secluded spot (away and yet in view of things) for a seaside muse, we realise what it’s all been about by the halfway point.

Everyone’s desperately carrying their heart on their sleeve, all of them an open book (even strangers, drunks and the homeless… oh my) – only the stories all sound the same in a city of lost souls. Just before the conveyor belt of colourful characters reaches full tilt Ciaran’s accosted by some beatnik-like night prowlers and we think… god this could be it, Ciaran’s going to lose it and he does, in a major beat ‘performing’ as one of the film’s many highlights. Gone is the loud and obnoxious façade, the shield we parade in times of weakness exposing here a slam-poetry inspired confession detailing why Ciaran feels in purgatory since coming home.

It’s a bold departure tonally from what’s come before, so much so that even the most seasoned cynic would be hard-pressed not to be won over so late in the game. Remarkably, the scenes that follow only get better, such as when Ciaran makes one last attempt to woo back Jess as she sits suspended in the air by a swing, big kids in a playground after hours, or when discussing the important things in life with one-night stand alumna Melissa, such as why seagulls are so damn big. You might be peeved that after floating about for hour the film fails to land upon a clear-cut climax but the filmmakers aren’t concerned with a ribbon-tied resolution and neither should you.

The cast of bright young things are a joy to watch and Foreman’s direction is exceptional, handling a story about disaffection with meticulous affection, so if you’re young or you’ve ever been young make it your mission to leave your doubts at the door (or upon the shore) and dive in, you won’t be disappointed.

Anthony Assad

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

79 minutes

Out of Here is released 29th October 2014

Out of Here – Official Website

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Lilting

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DIR/WRI: Hong Khaou • PRO: Dominic Buchanan • DOP: Urszula Pontikos • ED: Mark Towns • DES: Miren Marañón  • MUS: Stuart Earl • CAST: Ben Whishaw, Morven Christie, Peter Bowles

Floral wallpaper, rustic furnishings and black & white photographs, ornate and uncluttered in the feng shui aesthetic, accompanied by a jaunty Chinese ballad, belie the true setting and atmosphere of Lilting’s dreamy opening. Cambodian-Chinese sixty-something Junn (Pei-Pei Cheng) sits by a window, unmoving and alone, the past merely a time capsule in the present, the environs a care home in London. So begins director Hong Khaou’s feature film debut, a delicately arranged chamber drama about love, loss and cultural disparity.

When an accident claims the life of her son Kai (Andrew Leung), Junn’s only living link is his best friend Richard (Ben Whishaw), who struggles to reveal that they were also in fact lovers. Richard enlists the help of a translator to conduct their conversations but instead of sharing their grief they selfishly withhold their memories of Kai and petty jealousies ensue. Junn feels abandoned and blames Richard for robbing her of time with Kai while Richard despises the vice-like grip he feels she held over his life and liberty.

Initially, their preconceived notions give way to some common ground and Junn even appreciates Richard’s deed to help her communicate with another resident of the care home she’s smitten with but they remain wary of one another, as each step forward seems to illicit two steps back. This push-and-pull dynamic makes for some interesting scene fodder and the three-way bilingual conversations are a real highlight when they could so easily have been a hindrance. Vann (Naomi Christie) provides translation and is luckily never treated simply as a means to an end, often playing mediator between parties, sometimes to comedic effect as she tries to bring Junn and her fancy man Alan (Peter Bowles) closer together.

This is a drama of interiors and few at that, Junn’s care home and Richard’s apartment provide the scenery but as an air of mourning presides over these environments the atmosphere is ever changing. Added to the mix are a series of flashbacks that help to flesh out Kai’s relationship with Richard and Junn without pandering to the audience and the seamless transitions from past to present are expertly wrought.

We are also dealing with interior emotions so performance takes precedence and while Whishaw delivers another memorable turn, Cheng (perhaps best known to Western audiences as the villainous Jade Fox from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) steals the show in a complex role equal parts vulnerable but unyielding, like a wounded animal in an alien environment.

Director Khaou delivers on the promises of his short film successes with an elegant and intimate drama, quietly confident and deftly directed. The reliance of the close-up may benumb some but the players and the play never seem restrained with a soul-stirring rhythm and tone resonating throughout.

Anthony Assad

86 mins

Lilting is released on 8th August 2014

 

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Cold in July

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DIR: Jim Mickle • WRI: Nick Damici, Jim Mickle • PRO: Rene Bastian, Adam Folk, Lizz Morhaim, Marie Savare • DOP: Ryan Samul • ED: John Paul Horstmann, Jim Mickle • MUS: Jeff Grace • DES: Russell Barnes • CAST: Sam Shepard, Don Johnson, Michael C. Hall

 

Richard Dane is an average Joe Texan with a picture-perfect family he supports through his picture-framing business. So far, so ordinary but when he happens upon a thief in the night and decides to interrupt the robbery at gunpoint a simple slip of the finger causes him to paint a wall with the intruder’s brains. A rather ropey series of events are set in motion and all hell breaks loose in Jim Mickle’s ’80s-set throwback to the bullet-spraying, mullet-swaying heroics of Reagan-era Hollywood.

 

Richard (Michael C. Hall) and his ailing wife Ann (Vinessa Shaw) comply with police procedure, brave face their gossiping neighbours and even clean up the blood-ridden crime scene but Richard can’t paint over the blood on his hands and becomes racked by guilt and confusion. An attempt to repent leads him to pay respect at the dead man’s funeral but he’s flanked by the recently paroled father of the deceased Bill Russell (Sam Shepard), whose coy remarks of Richard’s own son hints at his intent to collect an eye for an eye.

 

A tense intimidation game ensues as Richard fortifies his house and agrees to act as bait to lure Bill into police custody but the wily ex-con remains one step ahead and continues to elude their efforts. These scenes are a treat and Shepard excels as the menacing maniac despite the sometimes overly dramatic cinematography that belies its pulp novel origins resembling instead panels in a horror-themed comic book. Theatrics aside, the film succeeds in pulling you in but the intriguing cat and mouse set-up only performs as bait itself luring you into a very different movie 45 minutes in. The sheriff’s relation of the case as it unfolds doesn’t add up so Richard plays detective and employs his picture-framing skills to tail the police undetected only to uncover more dark twists and turns.

 

The dynamic shift in tone therein may have been enough to secure its selection at Sundance but instead of presenting something fresh the story simply steers from one generic set-up to another leaving what made the first half interesting in the dust. Initially, Hall’s everyman becomes famed and feared by the locals when the news of his accidental heroics hit the headlines and the emergence of Shepard’s antagonist and the threat he presents, if followed through, may have challenged how far Richard the civilian was willing to go to protect his family; case in point – the far superior Blue Ruin of mere months past. Unfortunately, Cold in July undoes any characterisation it invested in when Richard decides to embark upon a venture he has no motivation whatsoever to fulfil and, as such, wilfully puts his life and potentially the life of his family in danger.

 

All of a sudden, he’s comfortable carrying a gun and playing vigilante with the big boys in what boils down to a blood bath with shady sex traffickers. There’s nothing glaringly wrong with this departure and Don Johnson’s private eye-cum-pig farmer Jim Bob adds some welcome humour to the badassery – only it’s half of another movie entirely and in this instance two halves don’t make a whole. Director Jim Mickle has paved an interesting career path with genre-pushing films that aim to defy convention and while his latest delivers with memorable performances and solid direction the mismanaged motivations and uneven tone keep it from transcending its B-movie trappings.

Anthony Assad

16 (See IFCO for details)
110 mins

Cold in July is released on 27th June 2014

Cold in July – Official Website

 

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Benny and Jolene

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DIR/WRI/PRO: Jamie Adams • ED: Sara Jones • DOP: Ryan Owen Eddleston, Luke Jacobs  • DES: Russell Barnes • MUS: Ashley Adams, Andy Lovegrove, Nico Tatarowicz • CAST: Craig Roberts, Rosamund Hanson, Dolly Wells

The titular one-hit wonder duo act Benny and Jolene just barely hold our attentions past their 15min fame mark in Jamie Adam’s similarly hit and miss mockumentary.

 

Craig Roberts and Charlotte Ritchie, of Submarine and Fresh Meat fame, make for an endearing coupling but there’s little mystery to be had in the ‘will they, won’t they’ stakes as they’re wonderfully one and the same from the get go. The opening scene, an ill-fated interview and song slot on ITV’s This Morning, reveals neither of them have the gift of gab or any other gifts for that matter as they blindly strum guitars and struggle to lip synch their self-penned single.

 

Benny’s lyrics are from the heart and Jolene is his muse but the prospect of a fast track to fame corrupts them both and attracts a host of clueless opportunists destined to drag them into obscurity. This is where the story tends to fall flat, the chuckles are all Benny and Jolene’s but the deserted album launch and tension heavy recording session, that make up a lot of the ensemble scenes, are marred by bland improvisations by minor characters.

 

There is comedic chemistry between the leads, especially when Jolene attempts to arouse some inspiration of her own by putting the moves on Benny so that she can note every facet of their foreplay for a steamy synth-heavy second single, but by the time the team hit the road (in a camper van tour bus no less) any hopes of more one-on-one misadventures are dashed.

 

The proximity of the road trip inevitably brings them together but when bad reviews of the album catch up with them it saps their reserves of false confidence and tantrums ensue. For a moment the film redeems itself and you can’t help but feel sorry for Benny and Jolene in the middle of nowhere desperately out of their element until of course you’re reminded that the comedy is more worryingly so.

 

A five-day shoot and a largely improvised script is a commendable effort and there are laughs to be had they’re just few and far between and both stars seem underutilised unfortunately. Sadly Spinal Tap this is not.

Anthony Assad

88 mins

Benny and Jolene is released on 13th June 2014

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JDIFF Irish Film Review: Love Eternal

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Anthony Assad takes a look at Brendan Muldowney’s second feature, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Ian (Robert de Hoog) is an enigma trapped in a defective human shell. As a child he witnesses his father’s last breath, his bereavement stalls in isolation and he descends into a morbid fascination with his own mortality. Life goes on but death seems to follow him everywhere so that when his mother kills herself he decides it’s about time to end his own life. Just as he has narrowed down the means and the smoke from his car’s exhaust pipe begins to enter his lungs he’s interrupted by a van of individuals that pull over to prep their own suicide. Curiosity leads him towards them and finding the ethereal corpse of a teenage girl sparks a dangerous love affair with the dying and the dead.

If this all sounds a tad grim so far that’s because it is, one would expect no less from an adaptation of Kei Oishi’s necrophilia-laden novel Loving the Dead but the real surprises shine through writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s spirited treatment of the material. A sense of unease pervades through much of these early scenes however and when Ian begins to routinely scope out women on the verge of suicide, so that he can acquire their corpses for company, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no hope nor humanity to be had.

He props them up around his seaside abode, arranges meals for them, bathes them and even engages in conversation but when they begin to decompose Ian is forced to engage with the real world again to find fresh company. It is in the means to this end, however, that he begins to slowly come out of his self-imposed shell most notably with Tina played tenderly by Amanda Ryan. Her spritely demeanour offsets Ian’s sombre stoicism and their odd couple pairing adds some comedic relief which Muldowney proffers with commendable discretion. They listen to songs on the radio, dine together and drown their sorrows in champagne so that when the time comes, brutal as it is, you get a sense that Tina has imparted some life into Ian and that he has perhaps lost more than he’s gained when only her body remains.

Nature takes its course and Tina is duly discarded when Ian sets his sights on Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh) who’s struggling to cling to life after her son dies in an accident. Ian is drawn to her energy and her sense of living life on the edge ramps up the size and scope of their scenes adding a welcome change of pace and atmosphere as we wonder to what their pairing will lead.

The fact that Ian pursues women exclusively raises cause for concern initially and the intimate behaviour that follows could easily be construed as sexual objectification.  Thankfully, however, the liberties Muldowney and co. take avoid the pitfalls of the book so that the women in Love Eternal emerge as the real stars and savours of the piece. Their lives and personalities are infinitely more intricate than the patterns of snowflakes or leafs Ian is mystified by and despite their absence they continue to echo through each scene that follows colouring de Hoog’s performance as the narrative unfolds.

With his second feature in the bag, Muldowney continues to breath new life into dark material presenting, from what could easily have become another body horror B movie, a twisted and tender fairy tale about loneliness that is as much concerned with life as it is with death. The whole affair warrants repeat viewings and Tom Comerford’s cinematography and Bart Westerlaken’s elegiac score combine and compliment Ian’s evolution beautifully.

It may upset the squeamish but brave the initial bleakness and you’ll be pleasantly surprised and perhaps even revitalised.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Love Eternal screened on Sunday, 23rd February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Cinema Review: Broken Song

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DIR: Claire Dix • PRO: Nodlag Houlihan • DOP: Richard Kendrick • ED: Guy Montgomery • CAST: Willa Lee, James Costello. Git, Costello

If you’re on top of homegrown TV, documentaries on the Irish hip-hop scene seem to be a dime a dozen these days but Claire Dix’s feature film debut Broken Song proves there’s nothing to fix (and a few new boundaries to break) when shining a light on a counter culture as fresh and as fluid as ever. We’ve all seen them, heard them and judged them, as harshly as their American counterparts before them, but the artists featuring in this award-winning documentary attain real heart and soul and come to articulate the meaning behind their art as fluently and beautifully as the film that frames them unfolds.

 

Broken Song follows the trials (in one case literally so) and tribulations of Costello, Git, and Willa Lee as they meditate and mediate upon the thin line separating a life of crime or a life of rhyme, where their street poetry has overlapped and why perhaps the former must be left behind to truly pursue the latter. Their chaotic lifestyles are reflected in recording studios, live on stage, outside court proceedings and most succinctly on the streets aligning their homes and havens of North Dublin from which their passions transpired and inspired them to write.

 

It’s worth noting here that the film’s credit lies in the fact that it isn’t concerned solely with hip-hop music. The beautifully photographed opening (courtesy of DOP Richard Kendrick), featuring Costello and Willa Lee diving and floating in slow motion above the depths of Dublin bay, performs as a prologue of sorts proposing that we are going to explore something spiritual, akin to all artists and individuals alike. In other words, that ‘special something’ that calls on us from time to time to express our innermost thoughts in return for a precious moment of catharsis. The stark black and white orchestration also encourages us to leave our stereotypes in the foyer as the people often perceived to be the dregs of society prove to be it’s guttural poets fluent in a unique language to combat adversity.

 

The scenes that follow feature Costello, Git and Dean Scurry (of Working Class Records) engaged in youth work to encourage a new generation of morally conscious artists to be passion and not power-fueled. At first they approach local teens quick to portray a confident, brash and threatening machismo but the filmmakers invest enough time and a respectful distance to allow the gangster persona to dissolve revealing in it’s place self-conscious and self-critical individuals desperate to have their voices heard above overwhelming hardships and our own generalisations.

 

Any posturing for the camera on Willa Lee’s part is also swiftly dispelled as conversations become confessionals of addiction, muggings and extreme violence. He’s wise beyond his nineteen years but past faults and fissures coupled with periods of plain stupidity see him teetering perilously on a knife’s edge. Refreshingly so, he’s not a character we’re prompted to simply love or hate and in one particularly memorable sequence we go from learning the verdict of his ongoing court proceedings to a live performance wherein he serenades his audience with a soulful tune of personal affliction and we, his second audience, are then caught somewhere in the middle of our judgments provoking an interesting collision of thought and emotion. If that wasn’t complex enough there’s a real sense of suspended guilt in his lyrics and we can only hope (by the final curtain) that he learns to do right by the law and achieve his dreams untainted.

 

Scenes with the mentor-like duo of Costello and Git remind us eloquently that music has allowed them and others to transcend any dead-end mentalities imposed upon them. It performs as a ‘beacon’ over troubled waters, a ‘light in darkness’ and reflects in the filmmakers’ own recurring motifs to express a sense of floating above and below water and the fear of drowning (in life and in the industry), a clear and constant danger. If we forget where the world of the narrative takes place it’s presented to us in stark blues and greens, first in a misty veil that slowly dissolves to reveal North Dublin homes and housing estates submerged in water, like paintings in a fish tank to evoke that sense of entrapment and timelessness, of past lives the artists can sometimes sink into and have sought to soar above.

 

In virtue of this, Broken Song is more of a character piece than your run-of-the-mill music doc and despite the talent on screen and the arena of scope, the filmmakers are confident enough to allow moments of silence and quiet contemplation. The emphasis is focused firmly on an art that has helped its practitioners to transcend daily life and strife not to mention its redemptive power as complex characters with complex pasts relate what it means to find something worth living right by.

As a whole the documentary succeeds without falling foul of preachy or overly sentimental discourse and so achieves a refreshingly raw and sometimes uncompromising experience that elevates its subjects in a compelling light.

Anthony Assad

 

70 mins

Broken Song is released on 15th November 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview: Claire Dix, director of ‘Broken Song’

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Broken Song turns the camera on street poets, hip-hop artists and songwriters from north Dublin. For the young men featured in the film, self-expression in the form of poetry, rap and song has become a spiritual experience. Anthony Assad chats to director Claire Dix about music, redemption and the struggle to find and articulate meaning in an often chaotic world.

 

What lead you to the subject of north Dublin hip-hop scene?

 

Well I knew nothing about the Irish hip-hop scene but I got introduced to it and there was something there in the message of the music and the lyrics and the poetry, and something interesting about what they were saying and how they were saying it. I wanted to find out more about the guys doing it and the more I found out about them the more interested I was.

 

Can you explain the title?

 

Broken Song came after having a working title for a while. It has a double meaning in a way because the rap is almost like a deconstructed song, it’s very staccato and broken down, and the other meaning is kind of a loose reference to how you’re on a knife edge throughout the film. This guy really trying to make it with his music but having all these issues where he might go to prison.

 

The opening sequence incorporates some really beautiful black and white imagery of the artists floating above water in slow motion and becomes a reoccurring motif. What was the intention behind that?

 

I suppose you go down a dark passage in a past life and we wanted these underwater sequences to represent the past. We filmed a lot of the landscape because that was the landscape that inspired a lot of their music. All of these housing estates were going to be featured a lot in the film anyway that show the present day and we thought about using this idea of water to represent the past. Also kids go swimming a lot in Dublin and we knew there would be swimming sequences in the film, so we thought of water as a way of tying memory and the past. Sometimes these things just work, I think some people love it and some people hate it.

 

I loved it. I thought it was great and it caught my attention straight away. You mentioned the exteriors of these north Dublin housing estates, and they are in colour but are kind of veiled in this surreal, misty palette. What was the intention behind that?

 

Richard Kendrick (cinematographer) helped devise an underwatery look to link in with the underwater sequences and the water theme that runs throughout. So he gave it that dreamy feel. And I suppose it comes back to the importance of the landscapes, and we hold for quite a while on these landscapes, because this is where they’re from. These are what inspired the rappers and we wanted to give it this poetic lens. We wanted the viewers to really look at those landscapes, maybe for a little longer than they otherwise might have.

 

It almost looks like a painting, especially when you get used to the black and white.

 

Yeah and Richard Kendrick had a really good eye for that.

 

The opening specifically is really soulful, some say might spiritual. Was that to get the viewers to maybe transcend their notions and stereotypes of hip-hop and north Dublin?

 

I’m glad you mentioned the opening. Costello is actually a very spiritual guy and for him rap and hip-hop is a spiritual experience. He talks about his music as not only an art form but says ‘it’s not me’, ‘it’s beyond art’, ‘it’s my religion’. It has given his life purpose so we wanted to highlight that spiritual poetic element in the opening and set us on that path.

With the Arts Council you are able to experiment a bit with the filming and this was my first documentary but I had that luxury to, if I saw something in my head, to just go with it.

 

Willa Lee is very explicit about his past and current offences, and the music kind of offers him a chance for salvation. As an audience we are never forced to sway in favour or against him, he’s a creative individual but with violent tendencies. Were you worried that viewers would dislike Willa and the documentary would be accused of sensationalising his endeavours?

 

It’s always difficult making a film about a real person because people want be shown something they haven’t seen before and to engage with the character, but then you have to remember that this is a real person who’s only 19 or 20. So I suppose we were conscious about it. When we came to edit we wanted you to get to know him, and we see him going to court but only later find out what he did.

 

People are complex and we weren’t making any judgements. I don’t know what people who walked out of the cinema thought of him but I know him as a person and I think he’s a good guy who did some things in the past that he’s really not proud of and he regrets it every day. But then he did do them.

 

I think you did a good job of making him balanced. One of the artists says he wants to find something to die for, that’s his ultimate wish in life. A lot of the artists have lived dangerous lifestyles but they all seem to believe that their music offers a way out, that in their music is something pure that is worth dying for. Without being arty-farty, is that something you relate to in terms of your own artistic endeavours?

 

I suppose yeah, I love filming and I love stories, whether they are fiction or through documentaries. I love meeting people and hearing their stories. Filmmaking is tough as well, it takes so much out of you, especially with a family, but I think it’s worth it.

 

On the choice of black and white, there are instances where the subjects nearly blend in with their environment, with a lot of the greys overlapping coupled with the depth of field. Was this to reflect that their personalities, their faults, their creativities are all subjects of their environments?

 

It was black and white because again I wanted them seen in an almost poetic way, and that was an idea I had when we were first conceiving the idea of the documentary. Maybe it’s because I love black and white film. But that’s interesting about them blending into the back, I don’t know if that was intentional. We had such talented camera people and their framing was really beautiful. There’s that lovely pan from the darkness onto Willa when he’s getting the tattoo  and that’s beautiful.

Film is such a collaboration. You know how people say ‘Claire did that film’, or ‘a film by…’ I really don’t like that because everyone, Hugh Drumm the composer, all the guys shooting it, Nodlag Houlihan who produced it, Guy Montgomery who cut it, we all made it.

 

Broken Song is released on Friday, 15th November 2013.

 

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We Love… Superheroes: Watchmen

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  Illustration: Adeline Pericart

Bam! Pow! Thwack! From masked avengers to caped crusaders, what would we do without spandex-wearing superheroes fighting crime and righting wrongs? While we mere mortals go about our daily business and sleep soundly in our beds at night, an army of superheroes are working tirelessly around the globe – but mostly in America – fighting to bring peace, justice and outside-underpants to the world.

And so, in honour of their efforts, our own band of Film Ireland superheroes assemble to dish out their own critical form of justice and wreak havok on those villians who long for a world without heroes.

Eat dust evil! Superheroes are here to stay.

We Love…

Superheroes:

 

Watchmen

‘… the motion picture remains an ambitious and sharply crafted companion piece to Moore’s game changing graphic novel…’

Anthony Assad

 

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Alan Moore’s graphic novel Watchmen was originally released as a 12 issue mini-series by DC Comics between 1986 and 1987. In it Moore weaves an alternate history where ordinary men and women donning costumes to seek justice in the ’40s and ’60s heralds a culture of superheroes. Their deeds, among them turning the tide of the Vietnam War, inspires another generation of misfits culminating in an assembly of vigilantes calling themselves the Watchmen.

Despite noble endeavours their methods are outlawed and the group disbands into an early retirement to watch helplessly as the powers that be of the U.S. and Soviet Union prepare for nuclear war. When one of their own is murdered however it sparks a series of events leading them to assume their alter egos once more to protect a world that condemns them.

Although termed ‘superheroes’, all but one of the Watchmen have superpowers and the league consists of vagrants and sociopaths among the other well-meaning but essentially flawed characters. As the narrative unfolds, across various perspectives and timelines, Moore subverts our notions of the superhero and successfully reinvents the format of storytelling they were attributed to cementing the status of the ‘graphic novel’ as a serious means of literary expression.

Critical and commercial success meant a live-action adaptation was inevitable but not without its challenges. As soon as the ink was dry studios began to trade turns across two decades to develop the project drawing talented directors as diverse as Terry Gilliam, Paul Greengrass and Darren Aronofsky only to hit a dead-end effort after effort. During a second run of studio interventions coupled with the encouraging rise of comic-book adaptations in the ’00s the project finally found its home at Warner Bros. and its director with comic-book movie veteran Zack Snyder.

The world of Snyder’s Watchmen is expertly rendered with costume and set design often taking precedence over the screen. Fans of the source material will notice that every detail has been meticulously recreated for the film and the few liberties the filmmakers do take compliment without dumbing down the elaborate narrative.

Each of the Watchmen harbour their own reasons for suiting up and fighting crime but years of social and political duress have left them feeling disillusioned, discarded and defeated as the world counts down to its own annihilation. The performances on show do manage to convey the gravity of this grim reality with Jackie Earle Haley and Patrick Wilson (as Rorschach and Nite Owl II respectively) inhabiting their roles with particular aplomb, in addition their scenes are the most credible as they have the most to lose. The Travis Bickle-like Rorschach needs to hide behind a mask, it binds him and defines him from hellish thoughts as an inhuman product of an inhuman upbringing, crime fighting offers the only semblance of meaning in his life and his sometime partner Drieberg / Nite Owl II seems only to live for the past until the love for another forces him into harm’s way once more.

If this wasn’t drama enough, the omnipresent Dr. Manhattan, the result of a freak experiment and one-time Watchman is now Earth’s greatest defence but humanity is proving meaningless in it’s time of need and only a miracle could alter it’s fate while The Comedian appears to have given up years ago and accepted the puppetry of their lives. This is where Snyder’s Watchmen really succeeds, latex and heroics aside, the characters and their trials and tribulations take centre stage and the show is a compelling experience aided by the lack of recognisable stars.

Despite the best of intentions howeve,r the film ultimately falls short of its expectations. While credits are due to the writers for their exorbitant task of adapting Moore’s celebrated material into a cohesive if somewhat bloated two and a half hours, one can’t help thinking some extended sequences may have merited and perhaps better suited a mini-series for TV. While Snyder does exhibit a competent style his recurrent use of slow motion, used to embellish iconic images from the graphic novel, disrupts the momentum of some scenes already plagued by overemphasised music cues.

Notwithstanding these faults, Watchmen the motion picture remains an ambitious and sharply crafted companion piece to Moore’s game changing graphic novel, the visuals are often sumptuous with the material adding some much needed substance to Snyder’s debated but undeniable style. If you prefer anti-heroes over superheroes steeped in philosophical angst then there’s much to be enjoyed watching the Watchmen.

Stay tuned. Next time on ‘We Love… Superheroes’ – David Neary on The Hulk

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Cinema Review: Frances Ha

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DIR: Noah Baumbach • WRI: Noah Baumbach, Greta Gerwig •  PRO: Noah Baumbach, Rodrigo Teixeira, Lila Yacoub • DOP: Sam Levy • ED: Jennifer Lame • DES: Sam Lisenco • Cast: Greta Gerwig, Mickey Sumner, Adam Driver

 

Frances lives for her toe-tapping joviality, play fights and late night pillow chats until her best friend and playmate Sophie moves out to live with her successful boyfriend. What follows is a quaint New York odyssey as Frances attempts to lose herself in any friends and acquaintances that might distract her from the quarter-life crisis descending upon her.

 

Baumbach’s seventh outing as director is a lovingly crafted testament to the young and restless, that endlessly ambitious but aimless period of post college calamity with writing partner and muse Greta Gerwig glittering in black and white glory as the aforementioned heroine seeking direction in all the wrong places.

 

Frances’s dilemma renders her awkwardly self-conscious in social circles, a foil that follows into her modern dance class as she struggles to maintain the grace and poise of her fellow students. An elegance of performance on Gerwig’s part utilises every inflection possible not to draw sympathy for Frances but a sense of endearment towards her exuberant personality and unwavering (sometimes squirm-inducing) honesty.

 

While the freewheeling narrative isn’t for everyone there’s some beautiful throwaway lines of improvised humour confident enough to poke fun at its hipster trappings and the Bowie soundtrack is sure to cause some toe-tapping in the aisles.

Anthony Assad

85 mins
15A (see IFCO website for details)
Frances Ha is released on 25th July 2013

Frances Ha – Official Website

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