Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road

Caleb Cotter experiences twists and turns on life’s highway at the Irish Shorts 5 programme at the 2019 Cork Film Festival. 

 

It is an exhilarating experience going into a short film compilation having no idea what any of the films are. It’s made even better when the reel’s title indicates that you are to be shown a number of films with a vast range of styles, genres, tones and premises. This is what I wanted from Irish Shorts: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road, and I was satisfied with what I got; having been shown a brilliant showcase of weird, unique and creative films, from live action to animation.

Starting and ending the showcase were two strange and fantastic comedies: Eli Dolliver’s Lovestruck, in which an eccentric older woman is unlucky at finding love and Something Doesn’t Feel Right by Fergal Costello, where we see the trouble a classic slasher villain faces in setting up his perfect kills.

Lovestruck set the showcase’s tone perfectly, blending  almost creepy surreal tone with witty dialogue and an idiosyncratic lead performance by Eithne Horgan that leaves you laughing almost as much as you are baffled. On the other hand, Something Doesn’t Feel Right brilliantly gives us a brilliant subversion of the classic horror tropes as we see the time and effort it takes Zipface to set up his kills and the problems he endures when things don’t go as planned. It’s funny and surprisingly endearing as it is gory, ending the showcase with a standout film.

In between these comedies, there played some surprisingly riveting dramas. The first of these was Liam O’Neill’s Kathleen, in which a struggling writer finds inspiration in a dispossessed woman he invites into his home in a sad yet beautiful film with great lead performances. Then came Daniel Butler’s Leave the Road Behind You, in which a young man tries to wrestle control during a massive shift in his life. It was nice to see a film in Irish during the film, and the film itself had some great performances and editing, while its grim, gritty atmosphere perfectly encapsulated the turmoil the main character was going through. The last of these dramas was Michael-David McKernan’s HALO, a superb drama about a lonely taxi driver trying to protect his passenger from heartbreak. Shot completely from the passenger seat of the taxi, HALO tells an engaging and heart-wrenching story with captivating, believable performances from all involved. Top that with a brilliant screenplay and beautiful lighting, the film uses the limited space of the taxi to its advantage in order to convey exactly what it wants to, which earned it’s director a well-deserved award at the Festival’s Award Ceremony.

Finally, the short film reel showcased a trio of fantastic animated films that brought unique art styles to the forefront. The first was Streets of Fury a charming five-minute film in which the muscular protagonist of an ’80s ‘beat em up’ arcade game gets transported to the world of a much calmer game. Switching between a retro ’80s feel and a children’s book aesthetic, the film is captivating with fantastic animation, a sincere amount of heart and fantastic music (including an classic arcade game remix of the Rocky training theme) and is a simple joy to watch. Meanwhile, The Dream Report gave a stylised red-and-black airbrush art style to its strange, eerie interweaving moments of a man’s daily life and abstruse messages from out of space. The film beautifully induces a calming mind-numbing sensation, pulling you into its world and simply carrying you along its journey with its deadpan voiceover. However, the standout of the animated films was John Don’t Know Nothin’! where a successful star of a family sitcom gets into a heated conversation with his taxi driver. Trippy, eerie and sometimes downright terrifying, the film uses every trick in the book to portray its tale of sorrow and despair, from its beautifully contrasting colours and an art style that transitions back and forth between the simplicity of a children’s book and that if a surrealist painting to its fantastic writing and changing aspect ratio. After watching it, I couldn’t help but give a deep breath at what I had seen; its visuals and profoundness swirling around my brain long after I had left the cinema.

Overall, It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road was a fantastic showcase of a myriad of creative, unique films, any of which I’d highly recommend seeking out.

 

The Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road programme screened on Fri., 15th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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