Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Cured

 

Cathy Butler fleshes out David Freyne’s horror The Cured.

Genre films often are paralleled with the social anxieties of whatever era produced them. Stoker’s vision of the vampire embodied Victorian fears of societal breakdown and moral decay. The gangster in depression-era America became the everyman beating the system and making his own success. Zombies have lent themselves to a large number of metaphorical interpretations over the years; consumerism, mob mentality, racism, cultural homogenisation. As with all popular genres, the ability to reinvigorate or subvert genre expectations can be the key to standing out in quite a saturated market.

This is something the premise of The Cured achieves from the off. The film is set in an Ireland that is attempting to pick up the pieces after being ravaged by a virus which turns the afflicted into mindless, flesh-eating creatures. A cure was ultimately formulated and administered to the infected, returning them to their original state but leaving them with the memories of the acts they committed. 5,000 infected remain resistant to the cure and are kept in a secure compound while political debate ensues around what to do about them.

Senan (Sam Keeley), one of the recently cured, is taken in by his widowed sister-in-law, Abbie (Ellen Page). A recently cured friend of his, Conor (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), a former barrister-turned-politician, is rejected by his family and takes to monitoring Senan’s progress in his new life, both from near and afar. As tensions escalate between the uninfected population and the cured, Conor becomes the leader of a violent resistance cell.

Senan is the core of the film, as the dichotomy of his life is also that of the film itself. The two sides are represented by the warmth of his relationship with his nephew, which becomes key to Abbie’s trust in him, and also by the intensity of his relationship with Conor, both pre- and post-infection. Living with Abbie, Senan has the possibility of moving on from the memories that haunt him, but his complex relationship with Conor – and ultimately his connection with his infected past – looms large and threatens that prospect.

Keeley carries this narrative weight with ease. Page’s portrayal of Abbie carefully navigates the idealism her character carries in spite of great loss and how that fares when faced with the true horror of the situation. The highlight, however, is the chemistry between Keeley and Vaughan-Lawlor, Senan and Conor being in many ways the classic doppelganger, two sides of the same coin, drawn together but at war with each other. The intensity of their relationship, in common with that experienced by all infected, allows the film to be a particularly nuanced depiction of the zombie figure. What the infected experience and who they become in that state is complex and problematic.

Parallels with the rehabilitation of criminals are clear. Responsibility and atonement and whether the infected were in control are questions hanging over the narrative. The faltering of liberal ideals in the face of harsh reality are embodied in Page’s character, though that arc seems to swing back towards optimism in the rather ambiguous conclusion.

The film suggests some wider world-building while keeping its focus quite narrow, so some aspects seem a little under-developed. But The Cured is a unique and engaging reworking of an enduring genre.

 

The Cured screened on Sunday, 25th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

 

Share

ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Tomato Red

Tomato-Red-trailer-still

 

Cathy Butler takes a look at Juanita Wilson’s Tomato Red, which screened at this year’ s Audi Dublin International Film Festival and is on release from 3rd March.

Sammy Barlach is released from prison, with apparently nowhere to return to. As he bounces around unforgiving, disenfranchised, remote Midwest America, he chances upon brother and sister Jamalee and Jason Merridew. Living in a trailer in the nearby town of Venus Holler, the siblings attempt to taste a better life by breaking into the homes of the wealthy, making themselves comfortable, and maybe stealing their clothes. Sammy is pleased to find a friendly face, and sets up home with the Merridews in Venus Holler.

Jason and Jamalee dream of breaking out of the deprivation they have been born into, while their more pragmatic mother Bev works as a prostitute from the house across the way. Jamalee wants what the owners of the houses she breaks into have, but just stops short of meaningful attempts to better her situation. Sammy, in love with Jamalee but spurned by her, seeks solace in her mother, and becomes quite comfortable with the domestic situation. However, his impulsive nature and his blind love for Jamalee are the undoing of any possibility of a comfortable life for him, and cause him to set out on a sharp downward spiral.

The film is entwined around two core acts of violence, which are given spare treatment, allowing their full impact to come across. The cast are given the space to make the most of each scene, which they do ably. They are captured along the way by Piers McGrail’s captivating cinematography, along with the vast and expansive scenery.

You could view the film as a social issues piece, or ignore that altogether and look at it as a tragic love story. The classism of the ostensibly “well-to-do” in this film is blatant and shocking, with the characters being called white trash to their faces, amongst other disparagements. Jamalee wants the life they have, but continues to trespass, steal, or cause a scene at a country club. Sammy, on the other hand, seems together enough to not re-offend, and clearly wants a settled, quiet life. His feelings for Jamalee, however, ultimately bring him back into that world that he could have potentially escaped.

This is where the tragic love story kicks in; had he not been so besotted with Jamalee, it’s possible Sammy’s life could have gone a significantly better direction. Or maybe it wouldn’t have. Perhaps Tomato Red is both the social realist piece and the tragic romance.

 

Tomato Red screened on Saturday, 25th Feb 2017 at 8:45pm at the Light House Cinema as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival. 

Tomato Red is released 3rd March 2017

 

Share

Irish Film Review: Dare to be Wild

11010

DIR/WRI:  Vivienne De Courcy  • PRO: Sarah E. Johnson, Patricia Lambrecht, Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: Nick Emerson, Pedro Kos • DES: Ferdia Murphy • MUS: Colm Mac Con Iomaire • CAST: Emma Greenwell, Tom Hughes, Alex Macqueen

Landscape design is not a subject frequently examined in cinema, and the premise of Vivienne De Courcy’s Dare to be Wild certainly instils curiosity; based on the true story of Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds, it follows her quest to win the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.

Mary (Emma Greenwell) is a young Irish woman with a passion for nature and gardens, and is looking to break into the world of garden design. She gets her first opportunity with ‘celebrity garden designer’ Charlotte Heavey (Christine Marzano), which eventually turns sour when she finds herself robbed of original work and out of a job. Not to be defeated, she bounces back with a determination to take home the winning prize at the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show, despite all obstacles. On her way she meets and falls for heart-throb botanist Christy (Tom Hughes), eventually following him on a trip to Ethiopia, to win his heart as well as the aid of his botany skills.

The curious mix of landscaping and love story could have been charming, but somewhat misses the mark tonally. De Courcy gives the story the epic treatment, putting the love story at its core, and surrounding it with stunning shots of sweeping landscapes. While Mary’s cause is noble, it is hard to get on board with the high drama when it is centred around a topic such as garden design. Mary wants Christy to help with her garden instead of focusing on the much-needed irrigation projects he is installing in Ethiopia. When he objects, it seems reasonable – his is the more important task. Mary, though well intentioned, comes across as naïve in comparison. Yet she brings Christy around to her way of thinking; it is a love-conquers-all narrative, no matter how impractical.

The film’s central message is reiterated time and again throughout – the importance of the wild and wild nature, and the connection between man and the environment. It is a feel good film, with an ecological message running through it, but it may have benefitted from a more scaled back tone. Visually, the film is stunning. Never has Ireland looked so colourful and inexplicably sunny as it has in this film. The Ethiopian sequences are equally beautifully shot, and the scenes in Chelsea are a bombardment of colour. Costume design is also particularly notable here, with Mary having quite the enviable wardrobe, even when broke and unemployed!

There are elements of ‘Celtic mysticism’ and Ireland’s fairy lore contained within the film, which may come across as twee to Irish audiences, but would likely go down well internationally.

Dare to be Wild is a visual feast, but perhaps a bit too epic for this viewer.

 

Cathy Butler

100 minutes
PG (See IFCO for details)

Dare to be Wild is released 23rd September 2016

 

Share

Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Student Showcase

Cathy Butler checked out some short films exploring big themes at the Student Showcase on offer at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

It can be tempting to look for thematic similarities in student filmmaking, as if it may give some insight into the preoccupations of the young generation. While this may be a bit generalised, there were some recurring themes in this Student Showcase screening. Anxiety and depression featured prominently, whilst all the films utilised that great potential of the short form to explore big themes with small stories, be it love, vocation, ageing or even death.

 

Roll Camera

 maxresdefault

This short documentary by Alannah Murray looks at the role and depiction of disability in the Irish audio-visual industry. Murray turns the camera on various industry players, including herself. The personal note to this film gives it its impact, as Murray recounts her own struggles and her drive to achieve her ambitions. As she succinctly puts it, ‘I am more than my condition.’

 

When the Butcher Stopped Ordering Meat

 When-The-Butcher-Stopped-Ordering-Meat

In another examination of life and vocation, we meet Michael Quirke, a Sligo resident who inherited his father’s butcher shop but later converted the business into the sale of his own woodcarvings. Director Laura Gaynor takes a hands-off approach and lets the camera roll, allowing Michael’s life and that of his customers come to life on the screen in what is a charming and amusing portrait of a local businessman.

 

Aoibhinn and the Bear

Aoibhinn-and-the-Bear 

In the first of the drama pieces we meet Aoibhinn, a young woman who has isolated herself out of seeming anxiety and fear. While her friends try in vain to reach out to her, Aoibhinn’s struggles anthropomorphize themselves in the form of a stuffed bear. Kieran Burke’s film puts a lot of demand on its lead actor Esther Woods, who deftly depicts Aoibhinn’s inner struggles.

 

Fishwitch

unnamed 

This stop-motion animation from Adrienne Dowling takes a well-known theme – finding love after being hurt in the past – and applies it to a fairy-tale, seaside landscape. Eschewing dialogue in favour of some quite fun obvious imagery – this witch is literally cold-hearted – the piece is a meticulously animated and moving story.

 

What’s the Point

Whats-The-Point 

This short, animated vignette from a group of IADT animators takes the form of an information piece looking at struggles with depression. From the perspective of a young woman who has faced depression in the past, the film offers guidance to those who may find themselves in a similar situation.

 

 

Strangers

Strangers 

The perils of alcoholism come to the fore in Rebecca Thompson’s story of a young man faced with losing his family after letting them down one too many times. As with Aoibhinn and the Bear, this challenging story puts its stock in the strength of its young cast, namely the director herself and Mark Agar as the young couple.

 

 

All the Time in the World

All-the-Time-in-the-World 

In terms of big themes, director Ciarán McNamara tackles several at once in this rather comedic look at the various rites of passage human beings cycle through in the short lives we are given.

 

Pat

 Pat

Returning to documentary to finish the screening, we meet Pat, a bachelor farmer in Co. Galway. In the eighties, Pat began filming people and events in his local community, beginning with his then gravely ill father. Over the years he has amassed something of a personal archive, and an invaluable time capsule of years gone by. While looking at videos of the past, Pat reflects on his own past and the decisions he has made, in this affectionate portrait by Katie McDonagh.

 

The Student Showcase took place on Wednesday, 6th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh

 

 

Share

Review: Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art

troublemakers5

 

DIR: James Crump PRO: Ronnie Sassoon, Farley Ziegler, Michel Comte DOP: Robert O’Haire, Alex Themistocleus ED: Nick Tamburri MUS: Petar Alargic, Travis Huff CAST: Walter de Maria, Michael Heizer, Robert Smithson, Virginia Dwan

 

A common question raised about art is whether artists create work for themselves or for their audience, or a little of both. Perhaps it is more righteous to say that art is made for others, to be consumed, perceived, and discussed by those other than its creators. This nicely side-steps any aspects of the artist’s ego, their fight against mortality, or their desire for recognition. Such ideas are called to mind by Troublemakers, James Crump’s documentary about the land art or earthworks movement in America in the late sixties and seventies.

Land art took the form of large scale, open-air structures, mostly in the vast landscape of the American southwest. Much of the work was often constructed from the land itself, be it from digging gouges in the earth, or using earth-moving equipment to assemble the piece.

The former was the preferred method for Michael Heizer’s Double Negative, an almost half-kilometre long trench in the Nevada desert, bisecting a natural canyon to form the work’s title: the negative refers to negative space of both man made and natural causes. Robert Smithson, another land art figurehead, utilised the latter method in his construction of Spiral Jetty on the Great Salt Lake in Utah. Nearly 14’000 tons of rock were moved to assemble the 460m long spiral projecting from the bank of lake. Both pieces remain in place today, subject to natural erosion, as the artists wished.

Such works were an obvious affront to commercial art culture. Large scale work in remote locations cannot be easily commodified or exhibited. Land artists felt the work needed to be experienced to be appreciated, yet access to their locations was often difficult. The artists’ dislike of photographic evidence of the work further distanced it from any potential audience. The work also had an inherent violence, in that their creation inevitably involved a large degree of destruction. The nature of the work leads to questions about who or what such art is for.

As land art encompassed many artists working in that period, there was some debate about who were the ‘pioneers’. Carl Andre, a contemporary of the main players in this film – Heizer, Smithson and de Maria – remarks wryly ‘Stonehenge was there before all of them’. This is perhaps the association the artists wanted people to make – to create works that left indelible marks on the landscape that would be assessed and speculated upon by future generations. This is one way to try and cheat death – make a mark so lasting that its creator can live on through its form for millennia. Crump’s film documents this historical artistic movement, while also raising greater questions about the nature of art itself.

Cathy Butler

72 minutes

The Story of Land Art is released 13th May 2016

The Story of Land Art  – Official Website

 

Share

Irish Film Review: The Price of Desire

Orla-Brady-Alanis-Morisette-The-Price-of-Desire-by-Julian-Lennon


DIR/WRI: Mary McGuckian • PRO: Mary McGuckian, Jean-Jacques Neira, Hubert Toint • DOP: Stefan von Bjorn • ED: John O’Connor, Robert O’Connor, Kant Pan • MUS: Brian Byrne • DES: Emma Pucci • CAST: Orla Brady, Alanis Morissette, Vincent Perez, Francesco Scianna

Mary McGuckian has described her biopic of Irish modernist furniture designer and architect Eileen Gray as an art film in both content and style. The film seeks to make amends for forgotten history, Gray being somewhat sidelined in history by the much more well known Le Corbusier, and reinstate her as the pioneer of modernist design that she was.

The film opens with an elderly, frail Gray being shown pictures of E-1027, the house she designed and lived in in the south of France with her former lover, architect and critic Jean Badovici. The authorship of the modernist villa was for a time misattributed to Le Corbusier, a misconception caused in part by Gray’s slowness to accredit it to herself, and also Le Corbusier’s painting of murals on the walls of the villa in Gray’s absence, which infuriated her. Much of the film examines the strained relationship between the two designers, who, despite their disagreements, maintained a respect for each other as artists.

Perhaps in keeping with how history has remembered them, the film gives more of a voice to Le Corbusier, who narrates his version of events with playful use of voice over and direct address. The film gives the impression of a merging of the two’s memories, being recollections of both a now elderly Gray and a hermit-like Le Corbusier, perhaps wishing to atone for his past actions. The regular use of elliptical montage, propelled by a near constant lilting score, suggests that these are flashes of remembrance; the conception and then construction of E-1027 is swept along in moments, as is the jarring intrusion of World War II, when the house is looted by German soldiers.

The film’s recreation of the style and feel of the era is faultless, the costume and production design being particularly well executed. The film is visually stunning, but it is a subject matter that would demand carefully constructed visuals.

Gray herself casts an intriguing and enigmatic figure, vividly rendered by Brady. The film focuses more on her artistic peak than her early or later years, giving the impression of someone whose work life and personal life were closely intertwined. At times the narrative tends towards the more intellectual than emotional, though this is in keeping with the modernist mind-set that the film documents.

As a tribute to an artist and the pursuit of art, the film is an artistic achievement in its own right, elevated by the strength of its cinematography, design, music and cast. It is fitting that the work of Eileen Gray should be reintroduced and revisited in so rich a fashion.

Cathy Butler

109 minutes

The Price of Desire is released 27th May 2016

The Price of Desire – Official Website

 

 

 

Share

Review: A Hologram for the King

tom-hanks-a-hologram-for-the-king-image-2

DIR: Tom Tykwer • WRI: Tom Tykwer • PRO: Stefan Arndt, Gary Goetzman, Arcadiy Golubovich, Tim O’Hair, Uwe Schott • DOP: Frank Griebe • ED: Alexander Berner • MUS: Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer • DES: Uli Hanisch • CAST: Tom Hanks, Alexander Black, Sarita Choudhury, Ben Whishaw, Tom Skerritt

Despite the title, holograms and kings are only tangential in this offbeat adaptation of Dave Eggers’ novel, in which Tom Hanks falls down a rabbit hole called Saudi Arabia.

Alan Clay (Hanks) is a washed-up, recently divorced salesman who travels to Saudi Arabia to pitch his holographic teleconferencing software to the King. Ferried to Government buildings in the midst of vast desert by his paranoid and verbose driver Yousef (Alexander Black), Alan encounters bewildering bureaucracy in his attempts to make his presentation. He and his team are housed in a large tent while routinely being stood up by the King and their Government contact. Alan becomes concerned with a lump on his back, which turns out to be both physical and metaphorical. Through this he meets local doctor Zahra Hakem, and romance ensues.

This is a markedly odd film, where it is unclear whether Alan’s frustration is caused by his surroundings or his own anxiety riddled mind. Email correspondence and flashbacks provide some backstory, but snippets of Alan’s dreams or nightmares of his past mistakes prove more interesting. Some geopolitical issues are implied but not explored; religion, oppression of women. In this narrative, such things are secondary in what is clearly aimed to be more of a feel-good story.

One of the more humorous moments of the film may imply a greater depth, however. When giving a fake name at the Danish Embassy gate, Alan plucks ‘Søren Kierkegaard’ out of the air, as if it would be the first Danish name to occur to any middle-aged American. But in this context it kind of fits. Alan and Zahra discuss their supposed ‘culture clash’ in the car on their first date. ‘We are separated by the thinnest of filaments’ Zahra remarks. Their finding meaning in eachother, in spite of religious or cultural differences, as well as Alan seeming almost a cog in a series of random events, may be a nod to the Danish existentialist.

The central narrative is nothing new, and the usual fish-out-of-water humour abounds. It has a certain amount of charm, mostly thanks to the cast, but ultimately A Hologram for the King is a little underwhelming. Keep an eye out for a strangely under-utilised Ben Whishaw as the hologram.

Cathy Butler

97 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

A Hologram for the King is released 20th May 2016

Share

Book + DVD Review: The Woman Who Married Clarke Gable

Gable_cover-199x300

 

Cathy Butler takes a look at The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.

Edited by Lance Pettitt and Beatriz Kopschitz Bastos (Sao Paulo, USP/Humanitas Press, 2013).

256 pages + DVD.

ISBN: 978-8577322251 (paperback).

 

Many established directors have had their ‘pivotal short film’; a successful short that gains critical success, does well on the festival circuit, and gives the director a more recognisable name. This is especially true of Irish directors, for whom the transition from shorts to features is a rite of passage of sorts, with very few Irish filmmakers progressing to features without having a few shorts in their back catalogue. This book, a bilingual publication from Humanitas and the WB Yeats Chair of Irish Studies in Brazil, takes a look at the early career of Irish director Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and, more specifically, his ‘pivotal short film’, The Woman Who Married Clark Gable.

The book comprises three critical essays on the subject of O’Sullivan’s work, by scholars Lance Pettitt, Roy Foster, and Anelise R. Corseuil. It also features the short story of the same title by Seán O’Faoláin that O’Sullivan’s film is based on, as well as the adapted screenplay by Andrew Pattman. In this way, the book serves as an examination of the process and effects of adaptation, as the various texts show the transition from short story, to screenplay, to produced film.

Pettitt’s opening essay is a thorough and in-depth account of O’Sullivan’s early career, from his emigration to London, his time as an art student in that city, and his first produced films. The piece takes its title and central focus from a quote from O’Sullivan regarding his emigrant existence as similar to being in a “ ‘crack’ – somewhere between the two cultures.” Pettitt examines the effect of this existence on O’Sullivan’s work, and his struggles as an artist in ‘60s and ‘70s London. It is a common theme of Irish artists and filmmakers – the need to emigrate to seek out success. The experience of being an Irish artist producing work in another country, and the merging of elements of an artist’s native culture with the culture of their adopted home, is engagingly brought to light through the examination of O’Sullivan’s work at that time, and resonates with the climate of Ireland’s arts industry of recent years, where the arts took something of a back seat in the wake of the country’s economic downturn.

The concluding essays, from Foster and Corseuil, look at Clark Gable in terms of its adaptation, both critiques proposing that O’Sullivan expands upon and adds greater depth to the themes and characters that are briefly sketched in O’Faoláin’s short story. The film follows a few days in the lives of married couple Mary and George, played by Bob Hoskins and Brenda Fricker, in Dublin city in the 1930s. Mary is a devout Irish Catholic, and George is British and a half-hearted Methodist, which is the first obvious point of conflict between the two. They share an enjoyment of cinema, however, but Mary’s enjoyment starts to get out of hand when she starts to imagine that George is in fact Hollywood actor Clark Gable. After seeing him perform in the film San Francisco, where his character turns from non-believer to believer throughout the course of the film, Mary develops an infatuation with Gable, much to George’s chagrin.

The inclusion of O’Faoláin’s short story, Pattman’s adapted script, and a DVD of the final produced film give the reader/viewer the opportunity to assess the adaptation from start to finish. Considering the story and film side-by-side, the film is certainly a more developed narrative, with greater characterisation and emotional resonance. It omits the more ironic voice of O’Faoláin’s omnipotent narrator, and ultimately produces a more engaging and impactful story. Hoskins and Fricker’s performances add great weight to the piece, and engross the viewer in the couple’s journey. The film is a good example of that rare adaptation that adds more to the original text than it takes away.

For a slim volume, this examination of The Woman Who Married Clark Gable manages to serve as both an introduction to the early work of Thaddeus O’Sullivan, and as an engaging examination of prose-to-screen adaptation. As with most academic texts, it may be of more interest to students and researchers than to the casual enthusiast, but it is certainly a welcome addition to the body of Irish film criticism.

 

The Woman Who Married Clark Gable is available from the IFI Film Shop.

Share

Review: Big Game

big-game-trailer

DIR/WRI: Jalmari Helander • PRO: Will Clarke, Petri Jokiranta, Andy Mayson, Jens Meurer •DOP: Mika Orasmaa • ED: Iikka Hesse • MUS: Juri Seppä, Miska Seppä • DES: Christian Eisele • CAST: Samuel L. Jackson, Onni Tommila, Jim Broadbent, Mehmet Kurtulus, Ray Stevenson, Felicity Huffman

You can forgive a film of a lot of things if it’s on the whole entertaining. Big Game will inevitably be uttered in the same breath as Snakes on a Plane given its claim to some key components: Samuel L Jackson, an airplane, and cheesy dialogue. Above everything else, however, the film certainly entertains.

It’s an intriguing premise: a Finnish-American co-production, starring Jackson as an unpopular American president who finds himself being hunted in a remote Finnish forest after Air Force One is shot down, with only a young Finnish boy, Oskari (Onni Tommila), to protect him. Oskari is on a rite-of-passage hunting expedition, the outcome of which will gain him his idolised father’s approval. Oskari is not quite as skilled a hunter, but the sudden appearance of the American president, and a band of violent marauders in pursuit of him, presents Oskari with an opportunity.

The marketing material puts Jackson as a typical action figure, but the film presents otherwise. He’s an incompetent president, down in the polls, and is initially useless and bumbling when his forest ordeal begins. It’s an unusual role for Jackson but it just about works. Oskari, his valiant yet often equally incompetent protector, is the true hero of the film. Tommila is constantly engaging, and Oskari’s hunting quest – be it for big game or fatherly approval – becomes the core of the narrative.

There are some well-worn tropes here: air disaster, CIA Situation Room, a chase across unforgiving terrain. Big Game is, on one hand, playing up the clichés, while at the same time happily repeating them. It knows what it is, and it delivers on its promise, with some horrendous dialogue thrown in. There’s not enough of the bad for it to qualify for ‘so bad it’s good’ territory but it does toe the line. The ‘terrorists’ in pursuit of the President are said to be psychopaths with ‘no ideology’, conveniently allowing this film to have no political undertones whatsoever. But it’s an entertaining action film, with some well-timed humour, and is worth a watch for that alone.

 

Cathy Butler

12A (See IFCO for details)

90 minutes
Big Game is released 8th May 2015

 

Share

Ten Years in the Sun – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

CA2QyJKXEAANb0W

Cathy Butler gets her sunscreen out for Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Ten Years in the Sun, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Ten Years in the Sun, which had its premiere at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, describes itself as an experimental film. While it is a bit of a catch-all term, it does signal to any potential audiences that this may be a film with a non-linear narrative, and an intent to challenge and provoke a response from the audience in various ways and to varying levels.

 

This is true of Ten Years in the Sun, which defies the usual summarisation that a film review might prompt. Its opening sequence bombards the viewer with flashing lights and a wall of sound, making for a visual experience that borders on the physically unpleasant. This sets the bar for the rest of the film, which is composed of images of varying tone and content; there is a vaguely film noir-esque feel to the scenes of two men discussing villains named Scorpio and Boris, who grow increasingly confused as their conversation continues; the various inserts of outer space imagery add a sci-fi slant; additionally, multiple sequences featuring naked or partially clothed women veer somewhat oddly into the realm of pornography.

 

This varying tone is clarified by the director’s comments in the subsequent Q and A that the subject of his work tends to be film itself, and a comment on the nature of cinema. This sampling of common tropes of cinema, and their combination in an abstract form with an often disconcerting or distorted audio track, delivers to the audience an assault on the senses that differs wildly from the more traditional forms of storytelling employed in filmmaking.

 

There is fine framing and composition throughout, and great use of a variety of different locations and lighting set-ups. There are moments of humour as well as moments of foreboding, providing for quite a wide scope of evocative visuals.

 

Again, it would be simplistic and also inaccurate to say that Ten Years in the Sun is an ‘enjoyable’ film. It is a film that demands much from its audience, and challenges the viewer to draw its own conclusions as regards any resulting message. It is a multi-sensory experience, having effects both physical and psychological, which is a powerful effect for any visual medium to have.

 

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

 

119235226

 

 

Share

Dare to be Wild – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

dare-to-be-wild-emma-greenwell-tom-hughes

Cathy Butler smells the roses in Dare to be Wild, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Landscape design is not a subject frequently examined in cinema, and the premise of Vivienne De Courcy’s Dare to be Wild certainly instils curiosity; based on the true story of Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds, it follows her quest to win the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.

 

Mary (Emma Greenwell) is a young Irish woman with a passion for nature and gardens, and is looking to break into the world of garden design. She gets her first opportunity with ‘celebrity garden designer’ Charlotte Heavey (Christine Marzano), which eventually turns sour when she finds herself robbed of original work and out of a job. Not to be defeated, she bounces back with a determination to take home the winning prize at the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show, despite all obstacles. On her way she meets and falls for heart-throb botanist Christy (Tom Hughes), eventually following him on a trip to Ethiopia, to win his heart as well as the aid of his botany skills.

 

The curious mix of landscaping and love story could have been charming, but somewhat misses the mark tonally. De Courcy gives the story the epic treatment, putting the love story at its core, and surrounding it with stunning shots of sweeping landscapes. While Mary’s cause is noble, it is hard to get on board with the high drama when it is centred around a topic such as garden design. Mary wants Christy to help with her garden instead of focusing on the much-needed irrigation projects he is installing in Ethiopia. When he objects, it seems reasonable – his is the more important task. Mary, though well intentioned, comes across as naïve in comparison. Yet she brings Christy around to her way of thinking; it is a love-conquers-all narrative, no matter how impractical.

 

The film’s central message is reiterated time and again throughout – the importance of the wild and wild nature, and the connection between man and the environment. It is a feel good film, with an ecological message running through it, but it may have benefitted from a more scaled back tone. Visually, the film is stunning. Never has Ireland looked so colourful and inexplicably sunny as it has in this film. The Ethiopian sequences are equally beautifully shot, and the scenes in Chelsea are a bombardment of colour. Costume design is also particularly notable here, with Mary having quite the enviable wardrobe, even when broke and unemployed!

 

There are elements of ‘Celtic mysticism’ and Ireland’s fairy lore contained within the film, which may come across as twee to Irish audiences, but would likely go down well internationally.

Dare to be Wild is a visual feast, but perhaps a bit too epic for this viewer.

 

Dare to be Wild screened on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Share

School of Babel

school-of-babel-lrg1

 

DIR/PRO/DOP: Julie Bertuccelli  ED: Josiane Zardoya  MUS: Olivier Daviaud  CAST: Brigitte Cervoni, Maryam Aboagila, Luca Da Silva, Andromeda Havrincea, Xin Li, Naminata Kaba Diakite

 

There are the usual trials of childhood and adolescence, and then there are those faced by the students of the ‘reception class’ at the College de la Grange aux Belles in Paris. A class dedicated to those students who have arrived in France from other countries and require additional French language lessons, the pupils have to negotiate language barriers and culture shock along with everything else. School of Babel follows the exploits of these students throughout one school year, which also happens to be the last year of teaching for Brigitte Cervoni, their French professor.

 

Barely a continent is unrepresented; the students hail from Poland, Romania, the UK, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka, Libya, Guinea, China, and many other regions. Such a number of nationalities in such a small space almost makes it seem like a microcosm of modern France, and its often controversial strides towards secular multiculturalism.

 

A classroom can seem like a banal setting, but here it manages to highlight the sheer scope of circumstances and human experiences that brought all these young people together in one room, who could easily have never met otherwise. One boy travelled with his mother from South America as she married a local, another boy’s family fled to France due to being persecuted by Neo-Nazis in Serbia. One Chinese girl tells of how she went ten years without seeing her mother, another girl counters that by saying she went thirteen years without seeing hers. Very few classrooms in the world would have such a wealth of story, and few children of that age would have gained that level of life experience, be it hardship, loneliness, fear or happiness. The film poignantly shows the strength of human beings in their ability to triumph over adversity, particularly with young people, who perhaps are often underestimated.

 

Such a scope of nationalities does allow for friction, however, and politics and religion are not always kept outside the classroom door. We see the children drawn into debate, and while in some ways they may show some youthful naivety, in others they exhibit that kind of canny clarity that only the young can really possess.

 

All this is conducted under the watchful eye of Professor Cervoni, with that almost super-human level of patience that only school teachers seem to possess. A woman who seems to sense with great accuracy when to acquiesce and when to reign in her students, her final day in the classroom makes for an emotive denouement.

 

School of Babel celebrates these children, but does not stray into idealism, acknowledging their individual flaws, and the tensions that such a situation can stir up.

 

Cathy Butler

 

89 minutes

School of Babel  is released 5th December 2014

 

 

 

Share

Bojack Horseman

BoJack Horseman is a darkly hilarious, irreverent, serialised, animated comedy for adults featuring a great ensemble cast. Cathy Butler checked out the first three episodes ahead of its launch on Netflix on Friday, 22nd August.

On paper, the various elements of Bojack Horseman are fairly intriguing, if bordering on the absurd; the eponymous Bojack is a one-hit wonder, nineties sitcom actor, and also a horse, voiced by Will Arnett; unkempt layabout Todd, voiced by Aaron Paul, is sleeping on Bojack’s couch and hiding a bizarre past; Bojack can’t get started on his biography so he enlists the help of ghost writer Diane, voiced by Alison Brie; Bojack’s on-and-off girlfriend Princess Carolyn, voiced by Amy Sedaris, is also his agent, and is also a cat.

The outcome is as bizarre as it sounds, but surprising in its reach. Its opener is weak – not unusual for pilot episodes – but it gains in strength as it goes on – also not unusual. Walking and talking animals can be a bit of a stretch of the suspension of disbelief, particularly in a series aimed at adults. Once it hits its stride however, these humanised animals provide some of the better comic moments of the show.

A voice cast coming from some of the most lauded television series of recent times – Arrested Development, Breaking Bad, Community, Mad Men – is certainly a draw, and as screen actors they handle the transition to voice acting fairly adeptly. Paul in particular does well with the hapless Todd. It can be difficult to un-hear Jesse Pinkman, but soon you forget about Jesse and only hear Todd, which is impressive given his largely peripheral role. Similarly, Arnett’s distinctive tones work against him initially, but eventually become synonymous with Bojack’s self-absorbed cynicism.

What on the outset seems like a raucous, one-dimensional comedy, ultimately manages to address some weighty issues – toxic family situations, unstable relationships, celebrity worship – without coming across as mawkish or disingenuous. That a morally ambiguous character such as Bojack can elicit any sympathy at all is impressive in itself. Not just a talking horse, apparently.

Despite a shaky, unpromising beginning, Bojack Horseman is worth pursuing..

Season one of Bojack Horseman featuring Will Arnett & Aaron Paul premieres with 12 episodes exclusively on Netflix on Friday, 22 August at 8am.

Share

An Bronntanas – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

m-an_bronntanas

Cathy Butler attended the screening of An Bronntanas, which closed this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Despite the World Cup final running concurrently, the main auditorium of the Town Hall Theatre was packed out for the closing screening of the 26th Galway Film Fleadh, Tom Collins’ An Bronntanas, a crime thriller set in Connemara.

 

The opening credit sequence gives off a very televisual style, and upon further investigation it seems that this is a feature film incarnation of what will also be a television mini-series. This correlates with the tone of the film, which does veer more towards the televisual than cinematic.

 

JJ (Dara Devaney), an Irish engineer working in Canada, receives a call from home concerning his father’s death. Upon returning to Connemara, he is burdened with his father’s failing business and the wrath of the local employees whose jobs are in danger. When a call comes in about a boat in distress, JJ, his brother Macdara (Pól Ó Gríofa), and another lifeboat volunteer Jakub (Janusz Sheagall) venture out to assist. What they find is a boat with a murdered woman and a million euro worth of cannabis on board. The three men are then faced with the choice of contacting the police or keeping the drugs and selling them themselves. There is a complex scheme at work, however, as the brothers discover.

 

This is a well-scripted thriller, with some nice twists and misdirection, especially in relation to perceived suspicious outsider Jakub. A Polish man living locally, Jakub becomes one of the most engaging characters as the film goes on, moving between shades of threatening and empathetic with great ease. As the lead, JJ is somewhat lacking in characterisation, and the moral dilemma presented by the boat full of drugs lacks the dramatic tension such a scenario would promise. He is very easily swayed to wrong-doing by his hapless brother Macdara, despite being presented as the more upstanding of the two. Charlotte Bradley is intriguing as the cool-headed, resourceful mother to the two men, though the source of her hardened pragmatism is unclear.

 

The film is described as being as Gaeilge, which it predominantly is, but it could also be described as a trilingual film, given its use of Irish, English and Polish, almost symbolic of Ireland’s contemporary linguistic landscape.

 

This is a well-plotted narrative, which situates itself well in contemporary rural Ireland, managing to hit the right notes of a thriller without it seeming incongruous to the location. The film also makes great use of the variety of the Connemara landscape, in both the violence of the choppy seas and the sweeping valleys. And as noted by Gar O’Brien, the festival programmer, in his introduction of the film, it is certainly fitting to have a Galway film close the Galway Film Fleadh.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Share

The Canal – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

The-Canal-lowres-396

 

Cathy Butler enters the nightmare of Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Going into Ivan Kavanagh’s The Canal knowing nothing about its plot or genre turned out to be quite an experience, as a complete lack of any preconceptions strengthened the film’s impact. Dark and disturbing, yet with moments of inexplicable humour, the film is a perfectly constructed voyage through one man’s nightmarish experiences.

 

David (Rupert Evans) is a happily married film archivist with a young son and a happy home – apparently. Through his work, David discovers old crime scene footage from 1902, showing his house as the location of a brutal murder. Soon after, David discovers his wife has been unfaithful. He begins to suffer from bizarre, horrifying visions, and his wife goes missing. When she turns up drowned in the canal near their home, her death is ruled accidental. However, David believes otherwise, and begins to pursue the connection between the 1902 murder and her death, ultimately starting down a path of horror and violence.

 

One of the main plot threads is familiar: a happy couple move into a home which turns out to have been the location of a turn of the century violent murder. Horror ensues. However, The Canal takes these tropes for what they are and plays with them and the audience, instilling doubt over David’s perspective on events. Kavanagh himself remarked in the Q&A following the screening that The Canal is a very self-aware film in this manner, taking such aspects of the horror genre and subverting them.

 

Editing and sound design come to the fore here. The form of the film reflects the content in a violent and visceral manner, time and again. Great use is made of the physical film which David uses as part of his job, film that is cut and spliced and wound at great speeds through reels. Such images are used in jarring cuts between scenes, emphasising the violence of the film in yet another self-aware aspect of the piece, implying further that what you are watching is a construct.

 

Sharp cuts in audio keep the audience on edge from start to finish. One particular aural cut on the sound of a zipper on a child’s bag is unnerving and jarring, yet is just an everyday object. Much of the horror of the film is presented in this way, as being part of banal aspects of David’s life, the ordinary places and things that he sees everyday. This only serves to further intensify the thread of foreboding that winds through the film.

 

The Canal is an expert blend of horror, mystery and psychological thriller, underpinned unexpectedly by moments of comedy. That such a film could maintain its ominous tone while injecting moments of humour is a testament to the director.  All this, along with its all too vivid imagery, makes The Canal a film that will linger long with the viewer, welcome or otherwise!

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Share

Noble – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

m-m-noble

 Cathy Butler is impressed by Stephen Bradley’s emotive and engaging film, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A film like this is difficult to review, being a fact-based story about an extraordinary person, whose actions have greatly improved the lives of young children in dire circumstances. It is difficult to separate the film as a work from the real-life woman it portrays. While in some ways flawed, Noble is an emotive and engaging account of how one Irish woman found herself coming to the aid of impoverished children on the other side of the world.

 

Directed by Stephen Bradley, the film focuses on the tumultuous life of the eponymous Christina Noble, born into poverty in Dublin in the 1950s, eventually being taken into care after her mother’s death due to the negligence of her alcoholic father. Her difficult childhood, her experience of homelessness and assault as a young adult, and the eventual breakdown of her marriage force Christina to become not embittered but resourceful. After having a dream of war-torn Vietnam, Christina decides that the country holds her fate, and pledges to one day travel there. When eventually she does, she finds herself up against various obstacles – both native and foreign – in her attempts to help the impoverished children she finds there.

 

The scenes of Christina’s childhood juxtaposed with her arrival in Vietnam as an adult make quite a clear parallel between the poverty of 1950s Dublin and that of 1980s Vietnam; that these two countries have at different times suffered from third-world conditions. It bridges the geographical gap between the two regions, and goes some way to accounting for how Noble identified with the Vietnamese situation.

 

Narratively the film is somewhat black and white, and has a tendency to oversimplify. The heroes and villains lack in ambiguity, being either the good guys or the bad guys with little in between. Some major plot points don’t seem to receive adequate attention for their significance, such as Noble’s experience of sexual assault, her relationship with her children, or the collapse of her marriage. Perhaps if more of an insight had been given into the effect these events had on Christina, rather than them being just items on a long list of hardships, it may have been easier to engage more with her character. Deirdre O’Kane does a fine job presenting Noble’s endless resourcefulness and boundless strength of character, but there is still some amount of distance between the audience and the character.

 

Whatever the film’s shortcomings, the film packs a fairly hefty emotional punch. Noble’s determination and profound love for the children she is trying to help come through with great clarity, which is ultimately the film’s triumph. Christina, both the film’s character and the woman that inspired the story, is clearly someone to be reckoned with.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Share

The Light of Day – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

10247436_704219166288363_6733685474139280260_n

 

Cathy Butler sinks her fangs into The Light of Day, a mockumentary about the making of a low-budget vampire horror flick. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

When the opening title card appeared on screen, having characteristics suspiciously similar to Final Cut Pro default title settings, I had my doubts about The Light of Day. However, this meta-mockumentary about a disastrous film shoot defied its slightly unpromising opening.

 

The film was produced by students of the Filmbase/Staffordshire University MSc Digital Feature Film Production Course, and has at its helm not one, but three directors: Amy Carroll, Conor Dowling, and Eoin O’Neill. It follows the exploits of a film crew attempting to shoot a cheesy screen adaptation of a vampire graphic novel, led by their eccentric and incompetent director, Richie, and his beleaguered producer, Desmond.

 

Considering the scope of an entire cast and crew, Light of Day is truly an ensemble production. Film crews often feature diverse individuals who would never have spent time together were it not for the film they are working on, and this is used to great effect here. The cast of characters is the core of the film; the stressed yet dedicated DOP hiding from his personal problems, the writer worried about her book being butchered, the eager-to-please First AD, and a sound guy who never makes a sound, to mention but a few. The zany director figure, complete with turtleneck, is a bit of a cliché, but this ultimately serves to make more real the assorted characters surrounding him.

 

The film is certainly a testament to the potential of low budget or crowd-funded filmmaking – production values are high, showing what can be done by a talented crew regardless of how much money is behind a project.

 

This kind of self-referential film can be problematic. What if it is only enjoyable for people who know the trials of filmmaking themselves, and who can laugh out of familiarity? The film takes aspects of two of its more famous predecessors –Tom DiCillo’s Living in Oblivion and Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe’s documentary Lost in La Mancha ­– and fuses them together, making for a very enjoyable caper, with laughs that non-filmmakers will likely partake in as well.

 

The DOP remarks to the producer near the close of the film that he doesn’t strike him as the kind of man that enjoys being peaceful. One might wonder if this could be said of anyone with any filmmaking inclinations. Surely such a person must have some bizarre craving for disorder, given the wealth of potential problems and personality clashes that this film uses for comic effect. Light of Day takes such disorder and turns it into an entertaining and engaging piece of comedy.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

Share

DVD Review: Quirke

Quirke 2D Pack Shot

 

Cathy Butler checks out this Dublin Noir, out now on DVD.

 

Dublin’s urban landscape seems to move between shades of grey rather than ‘noir’, but aspects of the drab and foggy streets of 1950’s Dublin lend themselves rather well to the genre in BBC’s crime noir thriller Quirke, based on the novels released under John Banville’s crime genre pen-name, Benjamin Black. The three part mini-series is now available on DVD, shortly after ending its run on RTE.

 

Gabriel Byrne plays the eponymous Quirke, (first name unknown, Inspector Morse style) a pathologist with a troubled past and a drink problem. He has a rocky relationship with his adoptive brother Mal Griffin (Nick Dunning), a doctor who works in the same hospital as Quirke, and a history with Malachy’s American wife Sarah (Geraldine Somerville). His 20-year-old niece, Phoebe (Aisling Franciosi), adores him a little too much, much to the chagrin of her father, Mal.

 

The series opens with the peculiar circumstances surrounding the death a young, unmarried woman named Christine Falls, whose death certificate Quirke discovers Mal tampering with in his office. Mal has listed the death as due to pulmonary embolism, yet Quirke’s autopsy suggests she may have died giving birth. As his own family is now implicated in an apparent cover-up of something that would have been scandalous in that era, Quirke must try to get to the bottom of the young woman’s death and deal with repercussions.

 

Thematically, the show hits on some of the likely subjects that such a period in Irish history would feature – the iron rule of the Catholic Church, Magdalene Laundries, unmarried mothers – while some are glossed over. The first episode is quite rigorously anti-Catholic, the various religious figures exuding caricaturish villainy as they discuss their underhand plans or obfuscate the dark truth from those who would seek to expose it. This is understandable given Ireland’s religious history, but somewhat heavy-handed nonetheless.

 

On the other hand it is difficult not to question the abundance of upper class people who feature in the narrative. Perhaps the various cultural representations of early to mid-20th century Ireland have been so populated by poverty and the working class that a representation of such a time featuring mostly wealthy and privileged people seems lacking in credibility or plausibility. The ease with which some of the main players hop back and forth to America seems a stretch, as this was at a time when ‘American Wakes’ were being held for those who emigrated as the cost of travel likely meant that most Irish emigrants would never see their families again. Perhaps this shows how far removed the likes of the Griffins were from most people in the country at the time, rather than being an oversight or narrative convenience.

 

The series features some striking visuals, with excellent use of colour – or lack thereof. In episode one,  as Quirke bumps into Sarah outside his house, Sarah’s clothes and hair are rendered in full colour against the grey background of the street behind her, in almost a Pleasantville-effect style. Similar effects used when Quirke is spending time with Phoebe seem to suggest that from Quirke’s perspective these two women are the brightest aspects of his life, being otherwise constantly surrounded by dead bodies and Dublin’s grey streets.

 

The noir-ish elements are strong throughout, with some differences. The plot is slower paced, often more concerned with Quirke’s own story than the fate of the unfortunate women. Each episode sees another young, beautiful woman dead or murdered. This trope does grow tiresome, not just in this particular production but in countless crime novels and television shows. The endurance of this trope and audience and reader appetites for it seem to suggest that it is easier to feel sorry for a beautiful young woman who gets murdered than, say, an ugly man. In Quirke, as with much other crime narrative, man must mete out justice for the poor ‘fallen women’. The idea is reinforced thematically and narratively; to ‘fall’ pregnant, a fallen woman, Christine Falls. Looked at in this way, the much used trope is effective as a tool to highlight the position of women in Irish society of the time.

 

Performance wise, Byrne fits the bill as the brooding alcoholic with a dark past. Geraldine Somerville is standout as Sarah, managing to convey in one character the woman Sarah has become due to the choices she made in her youth, as well as that girl she was when she first fell for Quirke. Somerville meshes these girlish and mature aspects of Sarah together with great artistry, making her quite compelling to watch. Stanley Townsend is a scene-stealer as the sardonic Inspector Hackett, always having time for tea and a cigarette, and an occasional ally to Quirke’s endeavours. Hackett is possibly one of the most likeable characters, my only complaint being he wasn’t featured prominently enough.

 

All things considered, Quirke makes up with its strong visuals and capable cast what it is lacking in its narrative. If anyone has ever wondered what ‘Dublin Noir’ would look like, Quirke would hit pretty close to the mark. A certainly unique and interesting take on the genre.

 

With a combined running time of 270 minutes, the double disc  of Quirke is available to buy on DVD from 7th March from select stores nationwide, including: Tesco, HMV, Xtra-vision, Golden Discs and Tower Records (Dublin).

Quirke DVD is also available to buy online from www.elementpictures.ie/shop

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Cinema Review: Play

sweden-play

 

Dir: Ruben Ӧstlund • Wri: Erik Hemmendorff, Ruben Ӧstlund • Pro: Philippe Bober, Erik Hemmendorff • Ed: Jacob Secher Schulsinger • DOP: Marius Dybwad Brandrud • Cast: Sebastian Blykart, Sebastian Hegmar, John Ortiz, Abdiaziz Hilowle, Yannick Diakité, Nana Manu

 

Play; something children do for fun; a staged production. To ‘play’  someone; to trick, deceive or scam someone. Some of the layers of this topical Swedish drama seem to be contained in the simplicity of its title. With Play, Ruben Ӧstlund has created a film both uncomfortable and compelling to watch.

 

Three young boys – two white, one Asian – are targeted in a shopping centre by a group of slightly older boys, all of whom are black. One of the older boys – Yannick – approaches one of the younger – Sebastian – and asks to see his phone, then accuses him of stealing it from his brother the previous week. Thus begins an unpleasant trek around the city in an effort to ‘sort out’ the situation, apparently trying to track down Yannick’s fictitious older brother. This stolen phone scam is a much rehearsed activity amongst Yannick and his friends. They choose what roles they will play before it starts – the angry younger brother, the voice of reason. They call it ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’. This is their play, in both senses. This is how they pass their day. It is fun for them. They are children, but their play involves scaring and stealing from other children.

 

Common preconceptions are made obvious straight away. The group of black boys are loud, boisterous and troublesome compared to the polite and well behaved other three boys. From the outset, one group is ‘bad’ whilst the other is ‘good’. But political correctness might make it seem wrong to think that, which is what Ӧstlund seems to be challenging. Is bad behaviour a product of its environment or is it just bad? Surely there is some human instinct for good and bad that is independent of context? These questions are brought to mind as the film goes on, but no easy answers are offered.

 

Sebastian and his friends spend the day being led around the city in a state of suppressed fear. But is it their naiveté that causes them to submit to the older boys’ authority and go along with the stolen phone story, or is it political correctness, already bred into them by their ostensibly middle class upbringing? They appear to know they are being robbed, and they appear to know it because the five older boys are black and they are not. In the beginning, as they try and figure out why the gang of boys are targeting them, the Asian boy is elected by his two friends to go and talk to them. ‘Why me?’ he asks. They do not answer him. Later, as Sebastian finally demands to know why Yannick and his friends see fit to torment them, their response is ‘anybody who shows their phone to five black guys only has themselves to blame’, apparently using a racist preconception to justify their own actions – they expect it of us, so why not give them what they’re looking for?

 

It is notable that this societal dilemma plays out in entirely in the realm of children. The children seem to be paying the price asked by the culture that their parents have created for them. There is a pronounced lack of adult authority or intervention. Throughout frightening scenes on public transport, adults sit by and do nothing. The adults are impotent and the children must fend for themselves. An angry dad attempting to mete out some kind of justice at the end seems ridiculous, his actions pretty much as reprehensible as those done against his son who he is trying to avenge. His subsequent argument with the liberal, concerned onlooker is almost a too neatly packaged summation of the entire dilemma of the film. She remarks that immigrant children ‘don’t have the same opportunities as our children do’. Yet the film does not show the older boys to be the products of a deprived background. So the dilemma persists.

 

There is always a choice to be made between doing or not doing something inherently wrong. When aspects of race, class and culture are brought in, however, such a notion becomes obscured. Play casts a cool eye over such issues, and addresses them in such a forthright manner as to be uncomfortable and challenging to watch. It is impossible to watch this film without a certain amount of reassessing of your own attitudes towards the political and social issues that it addresses, a great achievement for any film in and of itself. This aspect, along with its high-end production values and the performances from its predominantly youthful cast, makes it very much worthy of recommendation.

 

 

Cathy Butler

118 mins

Play is released on 12th July 2013

 

 

Share

JDIFF 2013: El Cuerpo (The Body)

Cathy Butler enters the morgue and examines The Body, which screened as part of the 2013 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

El Cuerpo (The Body)

Sat, 16th February
Cineworld 18
20.45
110 mins

Spanish thriller El Cuerpo (The Body) opens quite literally with a bang, as an unfortunate morgue security guard gets hit by a car after fleeing through some woods in terror. At this screening we got to see this grim opening not once but twice, as an error with the subtitle track meant the film had to be restarted. Once the film is resumed, accurate subtitles included, we learn that back at the morgue the body of recently deceased successful business woman Mayka Villaverde is missing, presumed stolen. Detective Jaime Peña, a cop with a troubled past, is given the task of unravelling this strange case. He and his team decamp to the morgue to investigate. It immediately starts pouring rain.

The film plays out over the course of one night, and a large proportion of the action takes place in the morgue, with most of the core characters staying there for much of the film. This grim setting along with the ‘it was a dark and stormy night’ weather outdoors gives the film a nicely macabre air from start to finish.

On informing Mayka’s husband Alex of his wife’s body’s disappearance, Jaime soon begins to suspect this recently widowed man of her murder, and also of the theft of her body. It initially appears that this may be the case, but soon Alex starts finding strange clues and items left for him around the morgue. He begins to suspect that Mayka may be in fact alive, having duped him in revenge for plotting to kill her, and also for the infidelity that drove him to it, and is leading him into a trap that he cannot avoid.

This is a cleverly plotted mystery thriller, and a strong cinematic debut from Oriol Paulo. It makes some nice use of film noir tropes, almost to the point of irony – Mayka playing the femme fatale, Jaime as the cop with a history, the constant rain. The film veers towards stylized drama rather than gritty realism. For this reason it manages to be surprisingly humorous at times, despite its dark subject.

The twist is very nicely done and seems to tie up most of the strands of plot that Paulo weaves throughout the narrative. A more shrewd viewer may say there are plot holes, but I gave the film the benefit of the doubt and assumed I had missed some things along the way. The style is polished and slick, a little too much perhaps. But an intriguing and clever two hours, all things considered.

Cathy Butler

Share

Cinema Review: Smashed

 
DIR: James Ponsoldt • WRI: James Ponsoldt, Susan Burke  PRO: Jennifer Cochis, Jonathan Schwartz, Andrea Sperling. DOP: Tobias Datum  ED: Suzanne Spangler  DES: Linda Sena  CAST: Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Aaron Paul 

This is a film about alcoholism. This is a film about love. Or this is a film about love that has formed through alcoholism, a love that needs to be drunk to survive. It is somewhat difficult to figure out which.

 

Smashed tells the story of Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), a young married couple who get smashed on a pretty much everyday basis. Kate’s drinking leads her into some unpleasant and humiliating situations to the point where she finally decides to quit and join AA. Charlie continues drinking. Difficulty ensues.

 

Drunkenness can be a little black and white in narratives; it tends towards either comedy or tragedy and rarely falls between. There can be the formidable, violent alcoholic or the loveable, roguish drunk. What if the alcoholic is a young, attractive, twenty-something school teacher? Then that is unusual territory, which makes this a somewhat unusual film. Its tone is that of a drama with the kind of playful façade of a comedy. Kate often behaves atrociously but we never dislike her. She is neither hero nor villain, being perhaps just simply human. Winstead renders Kate with highly effective realism, her performance giving the film the emotional core without which it would likely seem quite empty.

 

The film hangs on its authentic depiction of its two central themes; love and addiction. Kate and Charlie’s relationship seems as healthy as any other, apart from all the drinking. They represent the kind of habitual comfort of a long term relationship, while also ultimately showing the fallibility of love. For this reason, the understated ending is highly poignant, but inevitable. Both Winstead and Paul give commendable performances throughout.

 

The film could not be called didactic. Sobriety does not solve all of Kate’s problems, but rather creates new ones. Perhaps, at its core, this is a film about the ambiguity of life. Life is not black and white, in the way that addiction isn’t, or love isn’t. For one obstacle overcome there will be several laying in wait. This may give the impression that Smashed is a cynical film, yet somehow it isn’t. There is a truth to it that is oddly uplifting.

 

Cathy Butler

85 mins

Smashed is released on 21st December 2012

Smashed – Official Website

 

Share

Report: Graduate Screening at the Huston School of Film and Digital Media, NUI Galway

 
Amidst the bustle of the conferring ceremonies held in NUI Galway last week on Friday, 23rd November, another smaller yet unique event was taking place in the premises of the Huston School of Film and Digital Media; the graduate screening of films produced by students of both the MA in Production and Direction and the MA in Digital Media. A colourful and diverse selection, the eight short films spanned a wide scope of topics and exemplified the array of different voices and perspectives emerging from Irish film schools today.

 

Saving Turf, a short documentary about the conflict over state and EU regulation of turf cutting in Ireland, was first on the bill. Directed by Gearóid Hayes and produced by Michael Mann, the film effectively places archive footage alongside deftly executed shots of bogs and turf cutters as they are today. The tradition of turf cutting and how it is being curbed in recent times by Government intervention is underscored by a theme of man’s connectedness with land and how, in the Celtic Tiger era, this tie was loosened, but in the present downturn may need to be refastened.

 

The next film, Exodus, directed by Darren Hinchy and produced by Mairead Ní Threinir, takes the somewhat ubiquitous figure of the disillusioned white male and places him in a sci-fi setting, with ironic results. Taking the notion of commercially available time travel as its central plot device, the film makes clever use of visual effects without being overly flashy and playfully extols the lesson of ‘be careful what you wish for’.

 

Next up was a music video for the song ‘Head in the Clouds’ from Irish folk-pop outfit Amazing Apples, directed by Aisling Egan. The video is beautifully shot with a rich colour palette and convincingly evokes a bygone era of troubadours and barn dances, through clever use of costume and locations. It also comprises a tight edit, as all good music videos should.

 

Following on from this was As Long as I’m Here, a short documentary about Corofin native Martin Fleming and his work with children living in areas suffering from the effects of radiation after the nuclear explosion in Chernobyl in 1986. Directed by Dearbhla Tobin and produced by Katrin Salhenegger, the film tells the story of Fleming’s selflessness and dedication to his charitable work through the voices of those who work with him and members of the local community.

 

Next up was Liam Mellowes: Battle for the Legacy 1916, directed by Michael Mann and produced by Dearbhla Tobin. The film details the life of Liam Mellowes and his role in the Easter rising, and questions how the ideals of that uprising can be related to contemporary Ireland in its current crisis. While the events of that Easter week in Dublin are widely known, this film examines the lesser known facts about how the rising played out across the country, specifically in Galway. A well constructed documentary, it makes good use of archive footage and highly knowledgeable contributors.

 

Not Just in Tents, directed by Mairead Treanor and produced by Carla Maria Tighe, continued the documentary theme. The piece looks at the now disassembled Occupy movement in Galway, and imparts an overall message of action over passivity in the face of the financial crisis currently facing the country. Like much of the work at the screening, the film features highly competent cinematography and uses its visuals as a means to clearly reiterate its central message. The film invokes the power of the individual in the face of crisis and unreservedly places the onus on the audience to act instead of acquiesce.

 

The penultimate film, Martin McDonnell’s Grass and Lavender, takes a more abstract and experimental form than the other works. An eclectic montage of sound and visuals, in the context of this screening, the film shows the power of experimental work to subvert expectations and stir an audience out of their comfort zone.

 

Unheard, directed by Carla Maria Tighe and produced by Lynda Bradley, brought the screening to a close. This short film follows Aisling, a young musician, as she struggles with the loss of her hearing. A highly emotive piece, the film astutely depicts the effect of a sense, one that is often taken for granted, being diminished or taken away. Given the importance of music in Aisling’s life, her hearing difficulties are more palpably felt. The aural theme of the film is complemented by rich, colourful visuals, with inventive production design. This is an uplifting story of triumph over adversity, serving as a fitting finale to this thought provoking array of films.

Cathy Butler

 

 

 

Share

We Love… 25 Years of Irish Film – The Secret of Kells

Illustration: Adeline Pericart

So Film Ireland magazine is 25 years old. Over those years Ireland has produced some great films which have been successful both here and abroad – not to mention nabbing a few Oscars® along the way. And so over the next couple of weeks Film Ireland‘s army of cinema dwellers look back over the last 25 years and recall their favourite Irish films in the latest installment of…


We Love…

25 Years of Irish Film

The Secret of Kells

(Tomm Moore, 2009)

‘… a sumptuously animated feast for the eyes…’

Cathy Butler

The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore’s richly visual interpretation of the mythology surrounding The Book of Kells, centres much around the theme of ‘turning darkness into light’. Ireland, in a literal sense, can often be a dark and gloomy place thanks to our Atlantic climate. Perhaps Irish animators are turning this ‘darkness into light’ through means of their multitude and diverse works. Irish animation has been gaining in strength over the past ten or twenty years. Short animated films such as Fifty Percent Grey and Give Up Yer Aul Sins have demonstrated how Irish animation has resonance on the international platform, both works gaining Academy Award nominations. The Secret of Kells is another addition to this growing legacy, earning an Academy Award nomination for Best Animated Feature, and winning the Audience Award at both Dublin and Edinburgh film festivals.

Ireland’s transition from Paganism to Christianity is so far back in our history as to be shrouded in darkness; it is this darkness that Moore manages to illuminate in this intensely visual fictional account of one of Ireland’s literary landmarks. The story begins with Brendan, a young boy living in a monastery under the authority of his uncle, the Abbot Cellach. The threat of the imminent arrival of viking invaders causes the Abbot to relentlessly pursue the building of a wall around the monastery to protect them. The monks of the scriptorium are more concerned with their writing and illumination than building the wall, much to the irritation of the Abbot. With the arrival of ‘master illuminator’ Brother Aidan and his enlisting of Brendan’s help to complete the most magnificent page of ‘The Book of Iona’, Brendan’s crossed loyalties to both Aidan and the Abbot bring him on some perilous adventures.

 

 Wait until you see the rest of my forest

What ensues is a sumptuously animated feast for the eyes. The lush, mysterious forest that surrounds the monastery is richly depicted, while the shadowy, threatening figures of the horned ‘northmen’ are vividly rendered. The sheer extent of the detail makes the film a true feat of artistic and technical endeavour. The animation draws off various tropes of ancient Irish art, such as concentric circles and serpentine patterns, and reworks them into this more contemporary manifestation. Refreshingly, the film’s use of such aspects of ancient Irish culture and mythology does not stray into twee stage-irishness, as it could so easily do.

The narrative retains the fun and frolics of a children’s film while managing to tackle larger, universal themes. Brendan’s journey back and forth from the monastery to the forest is one that echoes of the journey from innocence to experience. The organised world of the monastery, emblematic of Christianity, is contrasted with the beauty of the natural world, that more aligned with Paganism. In another sense, the schism within the monastery between working on the wall and working on illumination suggests on a basic level the pursuit of art in the face of more practical concerns. For cinematic visuals, engaging story, and insightful themes, The Secret of Kells ticks all boxes.

Cathy Butler

 

Share

Cinema Review: Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP: Alison Klayman. • PRO: Adam Schlesinger, Karl Katz •  ED: Jennifer Fineran  CAST: Ai Weiwei, Danqing Chen, Ying Gao

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei has regularly courted controversy through his open and unrestrained critique of his country’s regime, a regime that does not take kindly to such critique. Through visuals, text, and personal accounts from friends, family, peers, and the man himself, Alison Klayman traces the trajectory so far of Ai’s personal, political and artistic life.

Ai’s extensive use of social media as a tool to expose the often concealed nature of Chinese governance has made him a symbol of dissent at home and abroad. The reactionary nature of his work could allow him to be seen as a perpetrator of political stunts – his ‘Fuck You Motherland’ video in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China being an example. Through this documentary, however, we are shown the man and the motivations behind the public persona.

Ai’s unabashed criticisms of the Chinese state has made him a man under surveillance. This was in a large part prompted by his relentless search for, and public investigation of, the true death toll of children in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, a number concealed from the public. His quest to honour and preserve these children in memory serves to show that, despite his work often being stunt-like, his actions are often instigated by an overwhelming sense of humanity. Unfortunately, the cost of this is increasing scrutiny and intimidation from the Chinese authorities.

The film also highlights how, in the digital age, the camera has become a tool of power. Several scenes of altercation between Ai and police officers see both sides using cameras to record what’s happening. They are wielded almost like weapons; visual evidence to fight visual evidence. Ai comments that whereas the police will not expose their footage, the images his camera captures will be exposed to the world. In a similar manner, Ai’s extensive internet presence perhaps shows the greater uses of social media. His blog and twitter are used to expose and critique, and spread ideas before they have a chance to be silenced. The political power of the digital era is shown here with great clarity.

This is an elucidating and inspiring account of one man’s struggle for political freedom and free speech, but it is very much a story unfinished. We are shown how Ai’s vociferousness has caused increasing attempts to silence him, similar to how many other voices of dissent in China have been silenced in the past by their becoming political prisoners. It is unclear how Ai’s story will progress. We are intriguingly shown at the start of the film that Ai has a cat that can open doors. He says, the difference between a human and a cat is that ‘a cat will never close the door behind him’. Judging from the man we are introduced to in this film, we can only presume the Ai will take the more cat-like approach in the future.

 Cathy Butler

91 mins

 Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry is released on 10th August 2012

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry – Official Website

Share

Cinema Review: Seeking a Friend for the End of the World

and yet the dog doth not laugh

Dir/Wri: Lorene Scafaria. PRO: Steve Golan, Joy Gorman, Steven M. Rales, Mark Roybal  DOP: Tim Orr. ED: Zene Baker. DES: Chris L. Spellman. Cast: Keira Knightley, Steve Carell

Apocalyptic or armageddon scenarios have oft been given the cinematic treatment, usually featuring thrilling heroics, last-ditch attempts at survival, and large-scale destruction of famous American landmarks. How your everyday Joe reacts to imminent death and destruction is rarely shown, or maybe only displayed through the traffic tailbacks that result from mindlessly attempting to flee the un-flee-able. There is a token tail-back scene in Lorene Scafaria’s directorial debut Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, but there is little by way of heroics or destruction. The film takes a look at the individual human cost of trauma and disaster, through two unlikely characters thrown together in a crisis.

An asteroid is on a collision course with earth, all attempts at diverting it having failed. Insurance salesman Dodge Peterson (Steve Carell), battling with regret and disillusionment, reconciles himself to dying alone until he is thrown unsuspectingly into the drama of his young neighbour, Penny (Keira Knightley). With only days left to live, the two embark on a road-trip to find Dodge’s long lost love and, in turn, redemption for a life half-lived. However, there is more in store for them in this short time than either of them realise.

There are common elements between this and Scafaria’s previous screenwriting credit, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. Both feature two strangers thrown together who embark upon a journey, music is a central theme, and both have exhaustingly long titles. What is notable is that, while one shows two people trying to get to their favourite band’s gig, and the other is a quest for love before the end of days, both are similar in their depiction of the consequences of random human interactions.

As regards the cast, it could be said that Knightley overplays and Carell underplays. Penny’s kooky, amped-up Britishness drifts from endearing to grating. Carell capably etches Dodge’s emotional vacancy and disillusionment, but this perhaps makes it a struggle to fully engage with his character. This kind of disillusioned white male figure is becoming quite a common trope of American cinema and literature, one which might be getting a bit tired. The kind of polarity in acting and character seen in this film renders the relationship that springs up between them a little difficult to buy.

In spite of this, the film is overall quite an enjoyable piece. The extent to which the narrative tone drifts from cynicism and despair to happiness and fulfillment is quite deftly done. It does, however, toe the line between bittersweet and overly sentimental. The idea of self-sacrificing love that could have been its central ethos is turned around for audience fulfilment. At the same time though, the various emotional and psychological processes that facing death incurs are drawn on to good effect, allowing for an engaging piece. Perhaps with a greater depth to the acting this would have been rendered more effectively.

Cathy Butler

Rated 15A (see IFCO website for details)
101 mins
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is released on 13th July 2012

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World – Official Website

 

Share