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).



ADIFF 2017 Irish Film Review: Tomato Red



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



Irish Film Review: Dare to be Wild


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



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


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


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


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.




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


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.





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


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.




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




Review: Troublemakers: The Story of Land Art



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



Irish Film Review: The Price of Desire


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





Review: A Hologram for the King


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


Book + DVD Review: The Woman Who Married Clarke Gable



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.