Irish Film Review: Papi Chulo

DIR/WRI John Butler • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DES: Susannah Honey • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

John Butler, director of Handsome Devil (2016) and The Stag (2013), has proven his ability to explore the poignancy, volatility, and ultimate realness of human connections in his films. Papi Chulo, starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño, is certainly no exception. The film follows Sean (Bomer), a TV weatherman who finds himself struggling with loneliness and isolation in the sweltering urban landscape of Los Angeles. In an effort to combat this loneliness, Sean hires migrant worker Ernesto (Patiño), under the guise of requiring his labor, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Sean is not looking for an employee so much as he is looking for a friend.

The two certainly make an unlikely pair. Sean is young, white, gay, and apparently wealthy. Ernesto is middle-aged, Mexican, married with a wife and children, and doing everything he can to make ends meet. Through these characters, human differences and their ultimate limitations becomes one of the film’s main points of exploration. Sean and Ernesto clearly have very little in common, and their relationship is even more strained by the distinct language barrier between them. However, the two men manage to find ways around it, and the film reveals through its progression that what is truly important is the act of communication itself, the connection that forms between two people simply from being heard and acknowledged.

Barriers between people undoubtedly exist; barriers of race, class, age, and language. Butler skillfully demonstrates these barriers not only through the characters’ dialogue, but also through a clever motif of glass doors and windows. An early scene in the film, for instance, has Sean taking refuge behind the window of his car door in an effort to avoid a conversation with his coworker Susan (D’Arcy Carden). This motif also serves to initially separate Sean and Ernesto, as Sean is frequently shown viewing the older man through his car window or the glass door of his deck. These separations create tensions between characters, which in turn create opportunities for the film’s wry sense of humor. Butler perfectly captures the universal human experience of awkwardness, whether it comes from stretches of silence between two characters that lasts just a little too long for comfort, or from a character trying, and failing, to keep his composure under the scrutiny of his peers.

Papi Chulo is ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships. It is brilliantly acted, with wonderfully astute and down-to-earth performances by Bomer and Patiño, backed by Wendi McLendon-Covey, D’Arcy Carden, and Elena Campbell-Martinez. The urban setting of Los Angeles is particularly well-suited to the narrative, as Sean and Ernesto form an unlikely friendship in a city where genuine human connections can prove shallow more often than not, and where time can seem to stand still under an always-shining sun.

 Dakota Heveron

98 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Papi Chulo is released 7th June 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dub Daze

Dakota Heveron reviews Shane J. Collins’ take on modern Dublin in his comedy-drama feature, Dub Daze

Director Shane J. Collins has hit the ground running with his first feature length film Dub Daze, which premiered at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival on Saturday. There couldn’t have been a better place for it, as it became clear right from the opening scenes that the film was an open and honest love letter to Dublin, written by one of the city’s own.

The film weaves together three discrete but connected narratives of young adults all trying to make a place for themselves in the city, each faced with their own particular obstacles. Dan (Ethan Dillon) and Baz (Sam Lucas Smith) are two friends looking for a way to celebrate their last day of school, but Baz’s recklessness ends up getting them in trouble with a local drug dealer named Petal (Clide Delaney). Sean (Shane Robinson) and Jack (Nigel Brennan) are medical students from Cork looking for a place to stay in Dublin. Sean is quickly accepted by a group of well-off Irish students who make Jack the butt of their ‘fresh off the tractor” jokes, causing Sean to question just where his loyalties lie. Fiona (Leah Moore) has dreams of making it as a musician, but she is forced to contend not only with Dublin’s cutthroat music scene, but also her father’s alcoholism.

It is to the film’s credit that despite the multiple plotlines and numerous characters scattered across its landscape, it manages to avoid becoming confusing or convoluted. The characters are so distinct and well-formed that we as the audience always know exactly who we’re with. This is due in large part to the film’s editing (done by Collins himself), as well as the incredible talent of its cast. There is nothing exaggerated or put-on in the actors’ deliveries; their performances are down to earth and strikingly realistic.

There are moments when the film itself feels like one long session, an unpredictable and turbulent night out in Dublin, punctuated by genuinely poignant moments that emphasize the incredibly three-dimensional emotions and realism of the characters. Scoring this night out is a well-chosen mix of songs largely featuring Irish musicians including Bantum, Majestic Bears, Indian, and This Side Up.

Also central to the film is of course Dublin itself. Dub Daze is clearly a labour of love, and Dublin is the focal point of its affection, the camera lingering just as lovingly on a graffitied wall as it does on the Samuel Beckett Bridge. The film makes a point to bring together its three narratives, connecting the city’s north, south, and center. There is a sense of intimacy in this connectedness, and in the consistent banter and comradery between its characters, painting the picture of a city where, despite its urbanity, ‘everyone knows each other’.

Deadly.

 

Dub Daze screened on Saturday, 23rd February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

Shane J. Collins, Writer/Director of ‘Dub Daze’

 

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Short Film Review: Low Tide

Dakota Heveron gets on board Ian Hunt Duffy’s short horror Low Tide, which premiered at last year’s Cork Film Festival in November.

Ian Hunt Duffy’s chilling short horror film Low Tide centres on a fishing trip taken by a father (Steve Wall) and his son Jack (Luke Lally). But what seems on the surface to be an enjoyable day out on the water soon devolves into something far more sinister.

The film is driven by the compelling, naturalistic performances of its two leads, and Wall is especially haunting in the role of a brusque, impenitent father who soon reveals himself to be anything but paternalistic. Through the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele, the water itself becomes a character of its own, revealed through shots of its glassy expanse and black depths to be cold, dark, and unforgiving. Only adding to the film’s ominous aesthetics are scenes filled with shadow and moments of visceral imagery, including a shot of a fish being indifferently gutted.

The film’s score lends itself well to the precarity of the situation, where Jack’s fate at his father’s side is deeply unsure. Swells of triumphant music as the fishing boat glides across the water suggest an adventurous voyage, an age-old tradition between father and son. When the swells drop into silence, the characters are left alone against the backdrop of dark water and a slate sky, stark and foreboding. This sense of foreboding only grows when an eerie underscore creeps into being as the figure of the father becomes increasingly darker.

The narrative is filled with uncertainty, but only to the film’s advantage. While the final outcome for Jack may not be precisely clear, it doesn’t need to be. Instead of closure, the viewer is left with an appropriate sense of dread as Duffy explores and subverts the relationship between father and son, as well as themes of familial legacy and inherited violence.

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Irish Film Review: Good Favour

 

DIR: Rebecca Daly • WRI: Rebecca Daly, Glenn Montgomery • DOP: Tibor Dingelstad • ED: Tony Cranstoun • PRO: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland • MUS: Rutger Reinders • CAST: Vincent Romeo, Lars Brygmann, Clara Rugaard

From its stark opening shot of a looming column of trees, foreboding and seemingly impenetrable, Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour establishes itself as a film that is both visually striking and unsettling in tone.

It is from these woods that a young man (Vincent Romeo), emerges like a spectre, gaunt and malnourished. He staggers his way into a small, rural settlement which appears to be abandoned but, as he soon discovers, is home to a deeply-Christian farming community who take him in as a requirement of their faith. We learn that the young man’s name is Tom, but his past is unknown. Whether he simply doesn’t remember or doesn’t wish to speak about it, is unclear, and this only adds to the mysterious, enigmatic aura that surrounds him. He is met with both distrust and fascination by the members of the community, chief among whom are religious leader Mikkel (Lars Brygmann), his brother Hans (Alexandre Willaume), Hans’s wife Maria (Victoria Mayer), and their eldest daughter, Shosanna (Clara Rugaard).

Mikkel is quick to welcome Tom into the community, and Maria seems content to follow his example. Hans, however, is outwardly suspicious of the stranger in their midst and treats him with reservation. It is thus unsurprising that the thread of ‘otherness’ runs strongly throughout the film, with Tom as its origin. His sudden presence in this close-knit, secluded community, along with his often intense gaze and subdued way of speaking, mark him as peculiar.

Despite skepticism, Tom is able to make steps to integrate himself into the community. The children in particular are enthralled with this newcomer, and we see in their acceptance of him a comment on the ability of the young to look beyond damaging prejudices. Tom also forms a friendship with Shosanna, and their developing relationship eventually shows itself to have its own startling consequences. The first third or so of the film deals with Tom’s struggle to adjust from his isolation to this codependent, intimate way of life, and his presence inevitably disturbs the rhythm of the community. Quite literally, at one point, when the sounds of his hammering to split a tree trunk disrupt and distract the choir practicing in the nearby schoolroom.

This disturbance is underlain by the suggestion that the community may have its own share of secrets. We are given mention of a young boy named Isaac who disappeared in the woods, and Mikkel’s own mother is gravely ill, but he refuses to take her to the hospital despite the wishes of his father. Using this sense of ambivalence, Daly paints the community in such murky colors that its true nature remains unclear. Is it a simple farming settlement content to keep itself to itself? Or are its people more prisoners than inhabitants?

Adding to this uncertainty are startling images of violence and death that are used to great effect. The body of a stillborn calf being tossed into a container of rotting meat, the corpse of a stag that has been struck by a vehicle, even the invasion of bees into Mikkel’s mother’s sickroom, all highlight a grim clash between nature and settlement, and one begins to wonder at the constant misfortune that the community is struck by.

Noteworthy also is how utterly quiet the film is. There is little to no soundtrack, and the backdrop of silence gives the impression of the film holding its breath, which is well-suited to its tones of suspense and unease. The rare occurrences of background music usually accompany a moment of closeness or intimacy between Tom and one of the principal characters, illustrating the significance of his arrival into their lives. But even Tom’s ultimate role is unclear. Did he simply stumble upon the town or was he brought to it? Will the community have saved him, or will he find a way to save them?

Similar to Daly’s film The Other Side of Sleep, Good Favour is not necessarily concerned with providing answers, content to let the audience speculate, assume, and be startled. The film’s undeniably slow pace is not to its detriment; rather it allows the audience an intimate look into the secluded lives of its characters and their tribulations, interspersed with stunning shots of the landscape that surrounds them. A lone tree in a field at sunset or a cliff-top view of untamable woods become as integral to the narrative as the characters themselves.

Aided by strong performances from the main cast (in particular the strikingly expressive Vincent Romeo), Good Favour is a powerful and gripping film that explores the deep complexities of faith and its consequences, particularly in the face of crisis.

Dakota Heveron

100 minutes
12A (see IFCO for details)
 Good Favour is released 9th November 2018

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