Review: High Life

DIR: Claire Denis WRI: Claire Denis, Jean-Pol Fargeau, Geoff Cox PRO: Laurence Clerc, Oliver Dungey, Christoph Friedel, D.J. Gugenheim, Andrew Lauren, Klaudia Smieja, Claudia Steffen, Olivier Thery Lapiney• DOP: Yorick La Seux, Tomasz Naumiuk   Ed: Guy Lecorne CAST: Robert Pattinson, Juliette Binoche, Andre Benjamin, Mia Goth, Agata Buzek.

 

Monte (Pattinson) is the lone passenger, along with his infant daughter, aboard a spaceship headed towards a black hole. Through flashbacks we see what brought this about: how he and a group of other death-row convicts were put on this suicide mission, dressed up as a shot at redemption. We find out what became of his former colleagues aboard the ship including the authoritative Dibs (Binoche), a fellow death-row convict, who also happened to be a doctor and who was intent on carrying out various sexual experiments on those on board.

The inimitable Claire Denis returns to our screens with this, her English-language debut. Any fears that a bigger budget and name cast would see Denis attempt something more mainstream are quickly dispelled in this elliptical, hypnotic and provocative picture. This being a seriously minded, contemplative science fiction film by an auteur director, it is inevitable that there will be some comparisons drawn to 2001, Solaris and Stalker. Some of the film’s body-horror elements also vaguely call to mind Cronenberg. However, while there are some nods to those, particularly some visual homages to the latter Tarkovsky film, this is a highly distinctive piece with a singular, pungent ambience and one that doesn’t play by anybody else’s rules. The structure of the film is often quite radical, the form deeply tactile.

In terms of Denis’ other films, the one it most resembles is Trouble Every Day. While this is Denis doing a sci-fi film, that was her riff on horror and the vampire sub-genre specifically. Similar to that film, Denis here doesn’t shy away from explicit depictions of sex and violence. Denis has no sense of middle-brow prudishness about her, a large reason why Trouble Every Day and her insidious, disturbing 2013 film Bastards got such hostile reviews from many critics. The often visceral imagery on show here, to go along with a plethora of bodily fluids, works in stark contrast to the tenderness depicted between Monte and his daughter, while also forcing us to confront humans animalistic nature and how this contrasts with our great accomplishments in the advancement of technology, not in a tasteful manner, but with blunt clarity.

This is a film that is rich in theme and texture, where contrasts and contradictions abound. The film lends itself to a vast array of interpretations, with the picture working as a series of snapshots from which the viewer can piece together their interpretation. At times the film seems like it’s a vicious, filthy satire of societal norms, other times it suggests it may be a Christian allegory. One can also just simply submerge themselves in the utterly tangible world of the film. Denis utilises Le Saux’s cinematography, Lecornu’s editing, and her regular collaborator Stuart A. Staple’s terrific score to create a trance-inducing spectacle. The film flits between the long corridors aboard the evocatively simple spaceship to darkly nostalgic 16mm flashbacks of her characters’ pre-space, past to extraordinarily odd and original scenes of eroticism, to scenes of harrowing brutality, to scenes of serene beauty. All the while, Denis exhibits a mastery of tone amidst a vast swathe of ideas, both formal and thematic.

The cast are all uniformly excellent. Goth carries on her recent string of strong supporting turns, while Benjamin brings a low-key warmth to his character. Binoche exhibits her typical charisma, throwing in a splash of dangerous malevolence for good measure. However, the standout out here is, of course, the reliably excellent Pattinson who spends much of the film on-screen on his own or acting opposite his character’s infant daughter. It’s a subtle, magnetic performance – the type that has become his trademark.

This is a wholly uncompromising, deeply evocative and highly intelligent piece of work.

David Prendeville

 

112 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
High Life is released 10th May 2019

 

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Irish Film Review: Greta

DIR: Neil Jordan WRI: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan PRO: Lawrence Bender, James Flynn, Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti DOP: Seamus McGarvey ED: Nick Emerson PRO: Anna Rackard CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea

Boston native Frances (Moretz) is newly moved to New York and working as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant. Still grieving the death of her mother, she is warned by her housemate Erica (Monroe) that her good-natured ways could be taken advantage of in the Big Apple and that she needs to become more streetwise. Frances doesn’t heed Erica’s advice when she finds a designer bag left on the subway and tracks down its owner, Greta (Huppert), a lonely, widowed pianist. Frances and Greta immediately strike up a bond, Greta becoming the mother-figure Frances yearns for. However, it soon becomes apparent that there may be more malevolent elements to Greta’s character than first appeared.

Neil Jordan returns to our screens with this entertaining, daft thriller which calls to mind 90’s stalker films such as Single White Female. Unquestionably the highlight of the film is the peerless Isabelle Huppert, who you can sense is having an enormous amount of fun in such a scenery-chewing role. Huppert has evidenced time and again her capacity to author a film through her performance. While her role here does not allow for the same level of complexity as she had in the recent Elle, the material and role are unquestionably elevated by her imagination and charisma. Of the other actors, Moretz gives solid support as the naive Frances. Monroe works hard in a somewhat thankless role that could have done with further development. Stephen Rea’s appearance in a cameo role confirms that we are indeed watching a Neil Jordan film.

There’s a breeziness to Jordan’s direction here which suits the material well. He’s well aware of the film’s silliness and milks it for as much fun as he can. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is lush and seductive in a very classical sense, while Dublin does a good job of standing in for New York. There are some fairly gaping plot-holes and the film’s script is often quite predictable, particularly one final twist, which feels utterly signposted. Flaws such as these, however, don’t seem out of place in the heightened, winking world of the film.

Beyond another masterclass from Huppert, this not a film that will likely linger long in the memory, but it remains a polished, self-aware and highly diverting piece.  

David Prendeville

99 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Greta is released 19th April 2019

 

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Review: Pet Sematary

Pet Sematary

 

DIR: Kevin Kolsch, Dennis Widmyer • WRI: Matt Greenberg, Jeff Buhler • PRO: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Steven Schneider, Mark Vahradian • DOP: Laurie Rose • ED: Sarah Broshar • DES: Todd Cherniawsky • CAST: Jason Clarke, Amy Seimetz, Jete Laurence, John Lithgow

Doctor Louis (Clarke), his wife Rachel (Seimetz), and their two children, Ellie (Jete Laurence) and Gage, move from Boston to rural Maine. It doesn’t take long for Ellie to discover the local, paganistic ‘pet sematary’, befriending elderly local Jud (Lithgow) in the process. While Louis finds work at his new practice boring, Rachel is still suffering with memories of a childhood tragedy involving the death of her sister. When Ellie’s beloved cat Churchill gets killed, Jud gets Louis to bury the cat in the strange cemetery, suggesting it may have hitherto unseen powers. Sure enough, Churchill returns from the dead the next day, though there is something quite different about his behaviour.  Louis and Rachel’s’ differing engagements with mortality are pushed considerably further when Ellie dies in a horrific road accident.

This adaptation of Stephen King’s 1983 novel, previously brought to the screen by Mary Lambert in 1989, is a lean, entertaining and effective horror film. Kolsch and Widmyer do a fine job of balancing an absurdist sense of the macabre with resonant and eerie undercurrents and some impressive scenes of body-horror. The film has plenty of cliches and some incredulous moments. It’s never very well established as to why this family would move to a rural area in the first place. Rachel’s’ reaction to seeing to children adorned in Wicker Man-esque masks as they wheelbarrow animal bodies to the ‘sematary’ seems a bit too blasé. The flashbacks to Rachel’s sister’s death are also an occasion where it feels like the film is trying too hard to elicit jumps from the audience. For the most part, however, this is a film that works decidedly well on the terms it sets out.

The directing-duo are helped in no small part by fine performances from the cast. Clarke and Seimetz bring an earthy believability to their performances. Lithgow is superb, seeming alternately sympathetic and untrustworthy, wise and foolish. Laurence plays the dual roles of both her character’s normal and un-dead self excellently. The scene that sees her zombie-self, processing, as she talks to her father, that she is in fact dead, is terrifically eerie and nuanced. For a film with its fair share of jump scares, what stands out most about the film is an insidious sense of dread at our own mortality and an unmistakable streak of humour surrounding the very same thing.

David Prendeville

100 minutes

16 (see IFCO for details)

Pet Sematary is released 5th April 2019

 

Pet Sematary– Official Website

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VllcgXSIJkE

 

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Director / Co-Writer Lee Cronin & Actor Seána Kerslake, ‘The Hole in the Ground’

One night, Sarah’s young son disappears into the woods behind their rural home. When he returns, he looks the same, but his behavior grows increasingly disturbing. Sarah begins to believe that the boy who returned may not be her son at all.

David Prendeville chats to director / co-writer Lee Cronin and actor Seána Kerslake about their horror The Hole in the Ground.

 

Lee, can we start with where the idea for the film came from?

Lee: It wasn’t a lightbulb moment. It was a combination of things. The first little scene of it all was a news story I read about a man sitting in his armchair in Florida. A sinkhole emerged and took him in and he died. I thought that was terrifying, to have the rug pulled in such a fantastical way. That spawned the title The Hole in the Ground which was then rolling around and around in my mind.

At the same time I was developing a story about a mother and a son and a situation of doubt between them after a trauma in their lives –  it was more a concept. The combination of these things over a number of months came together. It felt like the sinkhole that was rolling around my mind would be a great metaphor for the situation that this mother and son found themselves in. The actual development of the film was kind of a slow. Sometimes you have these lightbulb moments when an idea comes fully formed. With this one, it was more a kind of slow creep of different things coming together.

 

Seána, what was it that attracted you to the role?

Seana: I think the challenge of being in a horror movie but to make it feel real to me and real to the character – that challenge was attractive and one I thought that we could rise to. As well, a lot of the physical stuff was a huge draw, like having to be physically ready to go underground and do the fight scenes… They were huge pulls for me. And, of course, the story. I was always interested in that kind of concept of somebody you know not being who you think they are, or slightly off. There’s the idea there – do you ever really know people fully.

 

Were there other horror films you were looking at as reference points – either directorially or performance-based?

Seana: Lee had given me a list of some stuff to watch, but I did steer clear of it because there was some female performances that I knew if I watched then I’d feel maybe I’m going to take from those performances. For me, I just had to be totally emerged in this script rather than other ones.

Lee: We had our  influences and we discussed them, but we didn’t do a deep dive where we were trying to necessarily analyse other work in any way and emulate that. We were trying to be as fresh as we could be in our own way. The reason I wanted Seána in the role was because she was very different to what I had imagined this character would actually be from the get-go. I wasn’t trying to impress upon her or anybody else’s performance necessarily. It’s a case of what I saw in Seána I thought was going to challenge me and challenge the character on the page. That was the way to go about it. We just jumped in and went for it.

 

How did the casting of James [Quinn Markey] come about?

Lee: When I met Seána, she was the first performer that I met for the role, we just stopped the hunt right away. We sat down, had a coffee and decided it was right and offered her the role. But when you’re working with young performances you have to do a greater due diligence. You’re not just getting to know them, you’re trying to understand them a little more, meet their parents, get a sense of how this will all work. Especially you have a sudden responsibility when you’re making a horror film and you’re bringing an 8 year-old out on set to be part of that and to be an object of fear in the movie. So the process was a slower one. You have a casting agent that goes out and looks at a lot of different performers and then makes shortlists. You’ll see someone on the shortlist you’ll like and make mental notes. You might dig back into the longlist and look at someone else. You build these little groups and you’re always analysing and looking at what it is you want. What’s really interesting about James is that he’s not in any way a creepy kid at all. He has this ability to just step into different subtle places. But yeah, it was a long process. We did chemistry tests with Seána with a couple of different young actors. We definitely went through it. It’s the one decision, when you’re casting someone that young, that you can only make with so much confidence until you turnover and roll camera on the first day – despite all the rehearsals, because it’s a different environment once you’re on the set, so you are kind of slightly crossing your fingers. Thankfully it worked out great – he’s a little superstar.

 

Seana, the physicality of the role that you mentioned earlier, how did it compare in reality to what you imagined it to be like?

Seana: It was pretty spot on! It was tough. Brendan [Byrne – sfx coordinator] and his whole team were so amazing. It was exciting to be part of that, but tough work.

Lee: I had said to Seána in advance that it was going to be tough. We didn’t pretend that it wasn’t going to be very physically challenging – that it would be something very different for her to do. Seána had to dive in and do some pretty serious stuff. I don’t want give away any spoilers but later on in the film there are certain physical challenges that are done for real. There’s no hiding.

Seána: I think in hindsight I go “yeh, that was fine” but in the doing off it there were certain moments where I was like ‘suck it up and do it’ or else there’s moments where I’m feeling a little wary –  not so much scared – I’d never say it because I knew Lee wanted me to be scared in parts of it!

Lee: Show no weakness.

Seána: Yeh. I’m like, I’m not giving him that! So in my head, I’m thinking ‘go for it!’ But it was a lot of fun – hard work, but a lot of fun.

Lee: Good hard work.

 

The Hole in the Ground is in cinemas from 1st March 2019.

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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Review: The Wild Pear Tree

Dir: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Wri: Akin Aksu, Ebru Ceylan, Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Pro: Zeynep Ozbatur, Atakan, Muzzafer Yildirim   DOP: Gokhan Tiryaki • Ed: Nuri Bilge Ceylan  Des: Meral Aktan  CAST: Aydin Dogu Demirkol, Murat Cemcir, Bennu Yildrimlar, Hazar Erguclu.  

Recent college graduate, Sinan (Demirkol), returns to his hometown as he ponders what next to do with his life. Upon returning he begins to realise the extent of his father’s gambling problems and of the debts he has accrued around town. Sinan also sets to work on an ambitious, personal novel about his hometown.

Distinguished Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan returns to our screens with this characteristically thoughtful and intelligent drama. The picture’s length – 188 minutes – is daunting, particularly for a film as dialogue-based as this. Patient viewers will be rewarded, however, by a film infused with a striking sense of melancholy and insightful ruminations on such things as family, human relationships, memory, art and mortality.

At the film’s centre are two wonderfully drawn performances. Demirkol as the cynical, smart, angry Sinan, a young man with lofty ideas and no little ambition. Cemcil, as his gambling-addicted father, Idris, essays a character that is, in a lot of ways, but never completely, tragic. His gambling issues are obviously a terrible strain on his family – conversations between Sinan and his mother, Asuman (Yildrimalar) – illustrate their opposing and ever-shifting considerations of Idris’ addiction.

When the electricity starts being cut-off, things hit a breaking point. Idris, however, maintains a humanity and a playful, child-like approach to life. He never loses one’s sympathies, even when he does wrong, such as stealing from Sinan. The relationship between Sinan and Idris, while strained, is always ingrained with affection. Sinan constantly vents to others around him about his father, but is never capable of confronting him himself, in fact he nearly always tries to help him.

No matter how fraught matters become in the film, every character maintains the potential for kindness. Ceylan also generally eschews clichés associated with films about alienated people returning to their past. A kiss Sinan shares with an old school-crush, Hatice (Erguclu), is never developed afterwards, as it would be in other films. We’re never given any indication as to whether Sinan’s tome is of any quality or how closely it resembles the snapshots presented in the film.

The film often veers off into tangents to explore other ideas that layer themselves into the central father-son story. One particular highlight is a humourous scene which sees Sinan approach a local, successful author in a book-shop. He moves from initial reverence to outright mockery in the space of their conversation.

Sinan is often arrogant and provocative. Another scene sees him needlessly goad his friend into hitting him. While these characteristics might be unpalatable, this is film that constantly strives to show us the complexity in human nature. Bilge Ceylan luxuriates in his duration to create what feel like utterly real characters and situations.

This is a quiet, often beautiful and powerful film that resonates with the viewer long after the credits roll.

David Prendeville

188 minutes
The Wild Pear Tree is released 30th November 2018

 

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Irish Film Review: The Devil’s Doorway

DIR: Aislinn Clarke • WRI: Aislinn Clarke, Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson • PRO: Martin Brennan, Katy Jackson, Michael B. Jackson • DOP: Ryan Kernaghan • ED: Brian Philip Davis • DES: John Leslie • CAST: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe

In 1960, seasoned, jaded priest, Fr. Thomas Riley (Roddy), and his understudy, Fr. John Thornton (Flynn), are sent by the church to investigate a supposed weeping statue in a Magdalene laundry. They are to document their findings on film. The Mother Superior (Bereen) is dismissive of the claims, suggesting the whole thing is a hoax. However the more the priests investigate matters, the more they begin to realise the extent of both the horrors being inflicted on to the women in the laundry by the sisters, and also horrors that may not be of this world.

This found-footage film follows in the recent tradition of horror films that act as metaphorical representations of serious social and psychological issues such as Get Out, which satirized liberal white America’s insidious racism through horror-comedy, and Hereditary, which examined the theme of familial grief in an occult setting. Here, in her feature debut, Aislinn Clarke tackles Ireland and the Catholic Church’s dark history with the Magdalene laundries. The presentation of this being a documentary film from 1960 adds a further layer of clever genre deconstruction. The decision to shoot on 16mm film rather than replicating the era digitally creates an evocative and eerie aesthetic, as well as adding a further layer of authenticity to the picture.

Clarke utilises the found footage element often creatively and extremely effectively. The film features a haunting birthing sequence that focuses solely on a characters’ face as she stares into camera. Clarke has cited Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in how troubling and dramatically effective sustained focus on the human face can be. The film’s frequently stark approach to horror, allowing certain scenes to play out without cuts, often also calls to mind the uncompromising style of filmmakers such as Michael Haneke more than it does other found-footage horrors. This style contrasts nicely with scenes in which Ryan Kernaghan’s camerawork is more frenetic, such as in the frantic last act. It is consistently a film, however, that plays on the power of the audience’s imagination, making them think they have seen more than they have. Clarke finds interesting and diverse ways of suggesting rather than showing and the film is all the more powerful because of that.

The form of the film also allows her to develop her characters in interesting ways, with direct-camera monologues providing effective and concise insights into their background. Clarke is aided by a superb cast. Roddy exudes wearied decency as Fr. Thomas struggles to comprehend both the supernatural goings-on in the laundry and, even more so, the shocking cruelty on display from the nuns in the laundry. It marks another superb turn from Roddy this year following his outstanding work in Michael Inside. The Mother Superior, at the forefront of the cruelty, is brilliantly essayed by Bereen. It’s a chilling and wholly believable performance. An early scene in which she viciously slaps a girl who makes flirtatious remarks to the priests is as shocking and stomach-churning as any jump scare. The Mother Superior’s continued arrogance in the face of being found out by the priests is a wonderfully drawn microcosm of the evils of the Catholic Church’s abuses and cover-ups. Flynn and Coe are also utterly convincing in their respective roles.

Smart in both form and content, this is an innovative, effective and necessary Irish horror film. It marks Clarke out as a distinctive talent to watch.

 

 

 

Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

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Review:  Assassination Nation

DIR/WRI: Sam Levinson • PRO: Manu Gargi, Aaron L. Gilbert, Anita Gou, David S. Goyer, Matthew J. Malek, Kevin Turen  DOP: Marcell Rev  ED: Ron Patane  DES: Michael Grasley CAST: Odessa Young, Hari Nef, Suki Waterhouse, Abra, Colman Domingo, Bill Skarsgard

Chaos breaks out in the small American town of Salem after a hacker exposes the secrets of its residents. Bright high-school student, Lily (Young), is ludicrously blamed for the hack, with locals now seeking violent retribution against her. This pits her and her closest friends – Bex (Nef), Sarah (Waterhouse) and Em (Abra) – into a brutal battle for survival.

This unsubtle, highly entertaining and sporadically powerful provocation boasts an excellent premise and a so far under-utilised theme of internet privacy to paint a bleak, angry and satirical portrait of modern-day America. The film, amusingly, opens with a series of ‘trigger warnings’ that include such things as violence, the male gaze and fragile male egos. This is an early indication of the brash, self-conscious brand of satire the film is going for.  

Odessa Young is superb in the lead, essaying with subtlety and charisma, an intelligent young woman, both strong and vulnerable, who remains rationale in a society in chaos. The mob, angry that their dirtiest online secrets have been exposed, need someone to vent their frustrations on. Lily is seen as the prime, easy target because of the leaks exposing her own affair with an older, married man. Of course no blame is attributed to him.

Young is ably supported by a fine supporting cast – Nef being a particular standout. The film is at its best when illustrating the escalating anarchy. However, one can’t help feel that when the violence properly kicks off in the last act, that the film loses some of its satiric edge, to some extent abandoning the frequent smarts that have preceded it to focus on action that seems too glib to be cathartic or meaningful. The foursome’s transformation into gun-toting angels of vengeance seems to happen too suddenly and is presented in too sleek a manner to work on a properly visceral level.

Levinson doesn’t quite hit on the right tone in his attempts at juggling a lot of disparate styles and ideas. There is something that doesn’t quite coalesce in the film’s juxtaposition of the exploitative with the sociological. Also, for a satire, the film occasionally slips in to what feels like an earnestness that doesn’t fit with much of the rest of the film.

Still, this remains a frequently sharp and diverting piece of work. Worth a look.

David Prendeville

108 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Assassination Nation is released 23rd November 2018

 

 

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Rebecca Daly, Director/Co-writer of ‘Good Favour’

In Rebecca Daly’s Good Favour, a wounded teenage stranger who stumbles into an isolated village of devout Christians gradually reveals his motives. David Prendeville met Rebecca to discover more about the film.

 

Can we talk about the inspirations behind the film?

There were a couple of ways that we were inspired to make this film. I’m not sure which came first, but one was when Glenn (Montgomery, co-writer) found an article online about this young guy who walked out of the woods into Berlin. He claimed to have been in a car accident with his parents and said that he had no memory of anything before that. We followed the story online for about a year and it ends in a bit of of a banal way. But we liked the set up. The idea of somebody arriving somewhere and not having a memory of where they came from. We were interested in what the possibilities of that were, especially in terms of what they could mean to the people they encountered. There were lots of theories online about this guy – who was he? They didn’t release a photo until quite late as they weren’t sure that that he was over 17. There was a lot of speculation about who he was. We thought that was quite interesting. What can someone be if they say they don’t know who they are?

 

And the religious aspect?

That was the other inspiration. My grandmother had this really strong faith, despite the fact that she understood that there had been various abuses in the church. But still, her faith was so strong that she could hold and contain all of this and still endure and persevere with it. So, I was interested in that – how much can people take an preserve their way of life and maintain the belief systems that they hold really dear. That was an interesting thing for us to explore, this microcosm of an organised religion really.

 

This film calls to mind European art house. Is there anything in particular that influences you formally? Are there other filmmakers you keep in mind?

No, not really. I watch a lot of films and I love a lot of different filmmakers’ work. But I wouldn’t say I have any conscious sense of being influenced. Of course, there are filmmakers I admire, like Haneke. I would be a big fan of his work. And Lynne Ramsay, or Paolo Sorrentino – who is completely different. These are all kind of filmmakers whose work I love. But I wouldn’t say I was influenced. I’m always trying to find the part of the film itself. Also, looking at my other films, I think you can see that they’re made by the same person yet still they are not the same necessarily in terms of tone and form. I think the story, and what we’re trying to get across in terms of theme, really influence how the film is made, the form of the film, the tone of the film – and this film needed to be a mystery for the central story to work; for this central character to be quite mysterious and for there to be lots of possibilities about him. That is the nature of faith itself.

 

There is a mystery at the heart of all your work. How important is it for you as an artist to challenge the audience? Your films are demanding in a very positive way.

I feel that audiences don’t always want to have a passive relationship with what they’re watching. I think they get that a lot in cinema and it’s satisfying to a point. But that’s not what people always want. Sometimes people do want to be challenged and they do want to see that the filmmaker is thinking about the world we live in. Maybe they’re considering our place in it. I want to have a relationship with the audience which, in a way, invites them to be the last piece of the meaning of the film. Of course, the film is itself. It’s a piece of work. It’s finished – but they are the last piece. Until the audience is in front of it, the film doesn’t have the full meaning.

Also, audiences differ. People talk about films as being different from theatre – that they are fixed and they are unchanging. But I think, depending on the audience, they can change quite a lot. I’m interested in the audience being the last piece of the puzzle and part of that dialogue. I found traveling with this film really interesting. People have based a reading of what they think is happening in the film quite often on their own belief systems and their own ideas about faith.  

 

There are very strong performances in the film. Can you talk a little bit about the casting process for this film and also your approach to directing that cast.

Quite a lot of the key cast are Danish actors. We have one German actress and several Belgium actors. We had a casting director, Dan Hopper, based in London working across all of it. And then we had a casting director in Belgium. She actually ended up finding Vincent [Romeo] who plays Tom. It was extensive. A lot of self tapes were sent before I would get in a room with people.I had a particular idea in my head that I wanted to work with Danish actors. They have such a fantastic reputation.

With Tom, he’s so extraordinary looking. We’d seen lot of tapes with a lot of young guys the right age. But there’s just something about him that was so striking, even though he didn’t have a lot of experience. I just knew this has to work. I did work with him quite intensely in prep and we did a lot of casting sessions with him that were about getting him to the place where he was would be ready for the role. We organised the filming schedule so that the most difficult scenes for him were at the end of the shoot. He really grew as an actor through the shoot, because the filming process often will give actors who aren’t experienced a lot of confidence. That really happened for him, which was a really interesting thing to watch.

 

I know on this film you had to build the village – what was that experience like for you?

It was such a pleasure to build a set. I’ve never had a film that had a built set before, for something like that to come out of your imagination really faithfully. When you shoot on location, as I have with other films, you get everything as close as you can to what you can imagine. Some locations will be really suitable and some may be better than you’d imagined. Others will fall short and you make the best of what you’ve got. But this was amazing. I could sit with the designer and the cinematographer, who came on early, and we would plan together. We designed and built this village together. Not only in terms of the aesthetics of it, but also how it would work for shooting and moving walls and things like that. That was an incredible pleasure. Of course, it puts a lot of pressure on a film that’s on a small budget because it’s expensive to build things. But the innovation of the designer was phenomenal, which really helped.

 

Sound is very important in your films. It’s very evocative always and seems like it’s a very important aspect to your style.

I remember when I was studying film, I had a lecturer who said that sound is nearly more important than picture so that it feels right. If the picture is a bit rough but the sound is good, the audience can still feel immersed in the world. Whereas if the sound is really bad and the picture’s great, it’s really jarring. I think it’s because we read visuals in a more conscious way. Whereas sound affects us subliminally. That’s why I think it’s so important as it taps onto our subconscious, into our dreaming states and all these areas of the mind that we’re not conscious of. I’ve been really lucky to work with really strong sound designers. There’s been different ones on each of the there films, which is part of the co-production model, that they come from different countries. I’ve been really lucky that they’ve been really responsive to a very creative approach to the sound and also a detailed approach because I am really particular about it. Or if I feel like that there’s not enough nuance in a moment, I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who go back to those moments and get it right.

 

Good Favour is currently in cinemas.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Film Review: Good Favour

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Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

 

In the autumn of 1960, Father Thomas Riley and Father John Thornton were sent by the Vatican to investigate a miraculous event in an Irish home for “fallen women”, They uncovered something much more horrific however, as their attention turned to a 16-year-old pregnant girl exhibiting signs of demonic possession.

Ahead of its screening at this year’s IFI Horrorthon, David Prendeville spoke to director Aislinn Clarke about her debut feature, The Devil’s Doorway.

 

How did the idea come about to make a film set in the Magdalene laundries and then how did it come about that it would be a found footage film?

In the initial stage the producer came to me. There was no script or anything at that point. He had an idea and he gave me a page-long pitch which was to do a modern-day horror partly set in an abandoned Magdalene laundry and shot on mostly GoPro so it would have been more like something like Grave Encounters. My feeling was that I didn’t think that was the film that I wanted to make but I felt there was something interesting to be done with the Magdalene laundries. I thought if you’re going to do a film about the Magdalene laundries you should go back to the ’60s, when there was the most people there and get into the heart of the human drama of those places rather than having the girls as spectres now as a kind of afterthought. I think all good horror has in its heart real human drama. I think it shouldn’t come afterwards, it should be the primary concern. If you look at something like Hereditary, it started out like a family drama and then came in the horror elements, not the other way around so I felt that would be the strongest way to do it. I’m a big horror fan, I watch everything. I know how much found footage there is out there and I know how much of it is really bad. Some of it is really good but even the really good stuff gets lost because there’s so much of it and so much of it so similar. I felt if you’re going to do one it needs to feel totally different. It needs to be bringing something new to that subgenre. So I thought you do something that found footage films don’t normally do, which is make it about something. It’s not just about how scary it is. I enjoy films like those too, I enjoyed Grave Encounters, Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity. I enjoyed those films but I felt this needed to be about something and I felt it was very obvious what it needs to be about. Then if we set it in the 1960s then we have to shoot on 16mm film because that’s how they would’ve done it.

 

How difficult was it to convince people that it needed to be shot on 16mm?

Really hard. Myself and the DoP Ryan Kernaghan had both shot on film previously together and separately so we’re both pretty used to that process. We shot some test stuff on different formats to illustrate how aesthetically different they were. To illustrate how much a film filter doesn’t trick you into feeling like its real film and if you’re selling something as found footage it needs to feel like an authentic document. You can’t just put a filter on top because they’re repetitive. They’re not organic. Subconsciously you can tell it doesn’t feel right. It will have repetitive flaws that would never happen on real film so we were able to convince them that this has such a nice aesthetic that was separate to everything else that we should do that. The concession we had in the end was that we would shoot anything that needed VFX digitally and match it up in the grade. That was in case there might be flaws on the film that would prevent us doing the VFX or that certainly would’ve made it harder and much more expensive to do. So that’s what we did. Ryan also got a good deal. He got a bunch of stock somewhere, really cheap. Some of the stock we used was expired. We used that for stuff we knew we didn’t need for the story but that was nice scene setting stuff. Some of it made into the finished film and it actually looks really good.

 

Did you feel as director that working within the found footage genre allowed in some ways for more creativity in how you approached certain scenes? I’m thinking of the birthing scene in particular here. It really stands out as being very powerful in the way that it utilises the found footage element to render the scene differently to the way it would be in other films.

It’s funny because it’s simultaneously limiting and freeing to have the constraints of found footage. You’ve only got a single camera so you can’t do things like get coverage for a scene. For the birthing scene in particular that suited me because I always knew how I wanted to do that scene. I always wanted it to be just her face. I was thinking of Dreyer’s Joan of Arc or Godard’s Vivre sa Vie. I was thinking also that there’s a tendency in modern films to show too much and there’s a weirdly prosaic effect. People are so used to being shown everything when it comes to gore and violence and all the rest that it has no effect. It just kind of washes over. But there’s something very uncomfortable about just watching a human face for an extended period of time. Also, what you do in your mind is going to be a lot more powerful than what you are seeing. There were conversations about coverage but I was adamant that that was how I wanted to shoot it. It also wouldn’t make sense within the story for it to be shot as if the priests were shooting it, as neither of them would do that. Neither of them could be in this room while that’s happening. This was the best way to do it. It’s my favourite scene in the film and I had to fight for it. I think it works. So yes, in a way found footage does have that thing that there are constraints but that the constraints are weirdly freeing. We also have conversations that are like monologues to camera with Father Thomas in particular. If that was shot in a more conventional way you would have reverses and show the other character and that takes a lot longer to film so that helped us film more quickly, as well as having done a lot of rehearsals before stepping on set. I think there’s a lot to be said for just a still camera. People move around a lot these days and there’s a lot of frenetic editing that’s fashionable. I like to just let a performance happen.

 

I understand you had three locations for the film? I also heard that the roof fell down in one of them the day after filming?

(Laughs) Yeah, that’s right. So the location we used for the church was actually the dining hall in a lovely mansion house in Belfast, formerly belonging to Lord Craigavon. Nobody had lived in it since the ’30s though it had been used as a hospital during the war. The day after we left the roof fell in. The house was kind of falling apart anyway. But it was kind of strange, if you wanted to read into things. People ask me about ghosts but I don’t really believe in ghosts. I wish I did, I think it’s a lot fun but I don’t. I think there was something else about one of the insurance documents had 666 engraved in it or something like that. There were theories flying around about a curse but, touch wood, I don’t think so.

 

The film has excellent performances in it as well. Could you tell me a bit about the casting process?

We auditioned everybody, particularly because the two executive producers were in LA. They wanted to see tapes. Helena, who plays the Mother Superior, I already knew and had my eye on. My husband and I both work in the theatre and he had worked with Helena there. I’d seen her in a few things. I had my eye on her but we did audition other people as well. Ciaran, who plays Father John, again I had my eye on him from theatre. We auditioned very widely. In the first round the producers were unsure about him but I knew he was right for the role. I think his first audition was a self-tape because he was in London or somewhere at the time. When I finally got him to come into the room with me, he nailed it. Then Lalor fell slightly outside of the age group that the casting director, Carla Strong, had for the role. Just you know you pick an age range and he happened to be slightly out of it. So he wasn’t in the first net we hauled in. But he heard about the project from a friend of his. He got in touch with me saying he’d really like to audition for this. It just struck something. So he came on down to my office. Again we had seen loads of people for that role and nobody was quite right. We had seen loads of people that were really good but not quite right. Lalor came down and just knocked it out of the park instantly. He was brilliant. Then in relation to Lauren who plays Kathleen, we had a different actor cast originally but due to scheduling problems she had to drop out during the shoot. We were literally already shooting when Lauren came down to audition. She auditioned on the set and that’s how she got the role. We shot the whole thing in 16 days and shot Lauren’s stuff in the second week.

Are there any films that particularly influenced you for the project?

Yeah that’s an interesting one. People assume that I’d be looking at stuff like The Blair Witch Project for something like this because it’s found footage but actually that’s not how I approach films anyway. Then you’re just repeating yourself or repeating somebody else. This is not really like that. It’s found footage but it’s no more like it than any other genre film. I was really thinking about the time, the mode of shooting, those sort of things so I was looking at a lot of documentaries from the early ’60s. In particular I was looking at The Maysles Brothers, cinema verite documentaries, stuff like Salesman because even the way you handle the camera, all of that, is going to effect the aesthetic of a film like this and it’s going to be totally different to how they handle the camera in Blair Witch. Its different equipment and of course they have the audio equipment too. Father John in the film doesn’t know he’s making a found-footage horror film, he thinks he’s making a documentary so that was the style I was trying to emulate.

 

What do you plan for your next film?

I have a couple of things in the works so, with different producers, so it’s just about seeing what comes together first in terms of financing. I’m working on a film with Fantastic Films so we’ll see where that goes. It’s in the horror genre again, I tend to gravitate toward horror or if it’s not horror, thriller or something dark. I’m attached also to direct a story that I haven’t written that’s a Bloody Mary origin story. I also have a folk-horror in development with a producer in London.

The Devils Doorway screens Friday, 26th October 2018 at 18.20 at the IFI as part of Horrorthon 2018 (25-29 October) 

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Review: Climax

DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noe • DOP: Benoit Debie • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noe • DES: Jean Rabasse • PRO: Richard Grandpierre, Vincent Maraval, Eduoard Weil • CAST: Sofia Boutella, Romain Guillermic, Souheila Yacoub, Kiddy Smile, Thea Carla Schott, Giselle Palmer

A group of dancers, choreographed by Selva (Boutella), gather together in an abandoned school in order to rehearse prior to an American tour. Things are going well until they start to party. They soon realise that somebody has drugged the sangria they have been drinking and they all succumb to a collective psychosis of paranoia and violence.

Gaspar Noe returns to our screens with this simultaneously seductive and horrifying original that fuses dance and extreme psychological horror to winning effect. In keeping with the mischievous nature of the piece, Noe announces his influences in an ingenious early sequence in which he introduces the characters via audition tapes. The small TV screen from which their auditions play are surrounded by a host of VHS boxes (apparently from Noe’s own personal collection), as well as various books related to film and philosophy. Amongst the film titles namechecked are Possession, Querelle and Un Chien Andalou. This is a film in which cine-literacy is worn as a badge of honour, with Noe exuberantly suggesting that if you get his references you probably get him as a filmmaker.

Isabelle Adjani’s infamous metro breakdown sequence in Zulawski’s Possession is once again explicitly referenced in a scene in which Boutella’s Selva has a dance-infused meltdown after getting her hands seemingly stuck in her tights. The physicality of Adjani’s performance in the scene being referenced could even have been the inspiration for the central conceit of dance’s potential as an expression of psychosis. The Fassbinder and Bunuel references tell us more about Noe’s aims in both practise and social commentary. He has stated that part of his desire in making the film was to do something quickly, in the vein of Fassbinder. Indeed it is positively mind-boggling that this dazzling picture was shot in just 15 days. Noe said recently in Sight and Sound that he was hoping he might carry on in the Fassbinder vein and complete three or four other films before the end the year, something which he then lamented ‘unfortunately is very unlikely to happen’.

An air of Bunuelian social satire also hangs over Climax, which is probably Noe’s most political work. Noe’s nihilistic worldview is here used to good effect as he satirises society and humanity’s inability to work together or simply get along for any sustained period. The film proclaims itself at the beginning as: ‘a French film and proud of it’, as Noe seems to making barbed digs at nationalism and the idea of a National Cinema. He is also cheekily framing the action within the context of it representing French society or even society in general as a whole. There is also a winking engagement with mortality. The climax of the title refers very much to death, decay and destruction.

True to form, Noe remains committed to his central premise of fusing dance and horror. There is not a single scene which does not feature a track from the outstanding soundtrack which features everything from Aphex Twin to Daft Punk to The Rolling Stones. Always a filmmaker in tune with the formal capabilities of his medium, Noe utilises every directorial trick in his armoury to create an overwhelming, singular atmosphere. The film begins with the end credits, the opening credits happen half-way through the film. Benoit Debie’s camera frequently turns on its head with some scenes shot completely upside down. The picture is littered with tongue in cheek intertitles which state such nuggets as: ‘Life is a unique opportunity’ and ‘Death is an extraordinary experience’.

Noe counteracts his directorial flourishes with moments of formal restraint – a long sequence sees him shift from different two shots of characters talking to each other, setting up these disparate characters’ world-views and desires. An overhead take of a slightly aggressive dance sequence subsequent to this, renders the dance moves hypnotic and abstract by way of the stillness of the frame.

This is a masterfully realised vision. Whether or not someone is open to Noe’s considerable virtues as a filmmaker or not, there is no denying the cinema is a far more interesting place with him in it. After the disappointing Love, it’s great to see Noe return to form. It is also heartening that in amongst the high quantity of vanilla film titles being released weekly there is something as formally adventurous and assured as this.

Consistently visceral, frequently playful and by turns beautiful and disturbing. This is a deliriously cinematic romp that demands to be seen on the big screen.

 

David Prendeville

96 minutes
18 (see IFCO for details)
Climax is released 21st September 2018


 

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Review: Good Time

 

DIR: Benny Safdie, Josh Safdie  WRI: Ronald Bronstein, Josh Safdie  PRO: Sebastian Bear-McClard, Oscar Boyson, Terry Dougas, Paris Kasidokostas  DOP: Sean Price Williams  DES: Sam Lisenco. Ed: Ronald Bronstein, Benny Safdie  MUS: Oneothrix Point Never  CAST: Robert Pattinson, Benny Safdie, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Barkhad Abdi, Buddy Duress, Erik Paykert

Connie (Pattinson) coaxes his intellectually disabled brother Nick (Safdie- also the film’s co-director) into helping him rob a bank. Things don’t go to plan during the getaway when the innocent and manipulated Nick gets arrested, while Connie gets away. With the money from the robbery marked and unusable, the film follows Connie over the course of one night, as he wanders around New York trying to raise enough money to get Nick out on bail, without himself getting caught in the process.

While this pulsating film may not seem to offer much originality in terms of its basic outline, it is rich in raw characterization and dynamic style. The reliably excellent Pattinson essays the conniving, manipulative, complex Connie, who’s loyalty to his brother Nick is unquestionable, even if his ideas are often ill-advised. Connie views his own expedience and the way in which he uses those around him as street-smart wiliness, necessary for survival in a cruel world.

As the film opens up we see Connie interrupting Nick’s therapy session. He pulls Nick out of it and convinces him of his plan for them to rob a bank and flee to Virginia. What we see of the preceding therapy session itself gives tantalising hints as to the upbringing of the two brothers. Nick obliquely refers to abuse at the hands of his grandmother, who we only ever see in a later TV news interview where she denounces both Nick and Connie. Equally interesting is Connie’s illogical and ignorant disgust at the idea of his brother undergoing therapy. ‘Is that who you think you are?’ he asks him, dismayed at the idea of his loved one needing to turn to anyone else but him for help.

Beyond that, Connie crosses paths with an array of other fully-formed and utterly believable characters, all in varying degrees of desperation- Jennifer Jason Leigh’s hopelessly naïve Corey who will seemingly do anything to try and please Connie, Barkhad Abdi’s deeply unfortunate security guard and Duress’ rough, ragged, tortured Ray, who ends up playing a big role in Connie’s attempts to free his brother.

Stylistically the film adds freshness and vitality to what could have been a more traditionally realist piece. Sean Price Williams’ constantly roving camera finds the perfect balance between gritty vérité    and trippy absurdity. The truly transformative aspect of the film formally, however, is Oneothrix Point Never’s supreme, pounding score.

As well as being utterly gripping and extremely well drawn, the film also manages to find a lot of humour in Connie’s plight. The manner in which Connie knocks across Ray is genuinely hilarious and the increasing absurdity and surrealism of the night’s events sometimes call to mind Scorsese’s After Hours. Amidst the dark humour, however, the tragic reality of these characters’ circumstances and choices and the consequences of these, remain constantly palatable.

The film’s assuredness of tone, pace and form illustrate clearly the deftness of the direction from Benny and Josh Safdie and mark them out as singular talents. The richness of the characters and their situations is testament to Josh Safdie and Roland Bronstein’s lean, intelligent script. Pattinson anchors everything with a remarkably charismatic and nuanced turn in an excellent ensemble. Hearing the score on cinema-speakers is probably worth the price of admission alone. This is a thrillingly cinematic and powerfully compassionate piece of work.

David Prendeville

15A (See IFCO for details)

101 minutes
Good Time is released 17th November 2017

Good Time  – Official Website 

 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Yorgos Lanthimos, Efthymis Fillipou • PRO: Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Andrew Lowe • DOP: Thimos Bakatakis • DES: Jade Healy • Ed: Yorgos Mavropsaradis • CAST: Colin Farrell, Nicole Kidman, Barry Keoghan, Raffey Cassidy, Sunny Suljic, Alicia Silverstone

Steven Murphy (Farrell) is an affluent surgeon, married to Anna (Kidman) and with two children Kim (Cassidy) and Bob (Suljic). Steven also has a strange relationship with a teenage boy Martin (Keoghan). They meet up for meals, Steven gives Martin presents. As events progress it becomes clear that Steven may feel a debt of responsibility towards Martin over a botched operation he performed on his father. When Steven introduces Martin to his family, a surreal, piercing, complex cycle of revenge is set in motion.

Working once again with Element Pictures, Lanthimos retains and expands upon his singular authorial style with this gripping, formally brilliant, cruelly hilarious art-thriller. The film veers closer to genre than Lanthimos’ other work but it retains his signature style and off-kilter humour. The deadpan delivery seen in his other work is retained here but there is a little bit more emotion allowed in the actors’ delivery. The film has a real uncompromising edge in how nasty it can be, something which is particularly heartening to see in an Irish production.

In terms of Lanthimos’ humour, this is a filmmaker, in keeping with others such as Luis Buñuel or Todd Solondz, who has a genuine knack of making one laugh riotously at the saddest and cruellest aspects of life. Elements of his trademark flat dialogue allow for the absurdity of life situations, no matter how horrific, to shine true when vacated of emotion. Lanthimos is also always keen to point out the baseness of people’s motives; a character is forced to perform a sexual favour on a colleague in exchange for information in a situation of immense crisis, Steven responds to Martin’s claims, not with reasoning but with anger and threat of violence.

Also interesting is how Lanthimos paints the relationships within the Murphy family unit and how this plays into the tale as it unfolds. It is clear that both Steven and Anna favour a different one of their children, something which enriches a later dilemma proposed to them. Lanthimos also draws attention to the underlying animalism inherent in the family unit by showing that Steven’s sexual preferences are for Anna to pretend that she is under anaesthetic while he has sex with her. Martin’s unfolding revenge on Steven could be seen as a commentary on class relations and responsibility. The film could also be interpreted as a religious allegory, however like Lanthimos’ other films, the beauty of the film lies in its ambiguity, its attention to details and the questions it raises.

Barry Keoghan is the standout in a uniformly excellent cast, striking a perfect balance between tragic vulnerability and otherworldly menace. An exceptional scene sees him deliver a lightning fast explanation to Steven as to what exactly he plans for his family. Farrell, once again, excels under this filmmaker, imbuing his character with a rich combination of guilt and arrogance. Kidman’s excellent qualities are also fitting for Lanthimos’ style; illustrating a strong character, eliciting some sympathy but also retaining an iciness and an unpredictability. There are also two outstanding young performances in Raffey Cassidy and Sunny Suljic, as Steven’s children, who prove integral to Martin’s strategy of retribution.

Formally this is Lanthimos’ most accomplished film to date. Thimos Bakatakis’ supreme, Kubrickian cinematography is composed in a clinical, ominous way with frequent long takes and brooding tracking shots. Jade Healy’s production design is equally evocative of the strange, disquieting world of the film. Lanthimos’ use of music, too, brilliantly contributes to the sense of unease. This is a film with an invigorating, unshakeable formal ambience.

A nasty, hilarious, distinctive treat. Highly recommended.

David Prendeville

 

 

 

120 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

The Killing of a Sacred Deer is released 3rd  November 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Slack Bay

                                                             

DIR/WRI: Bruno Dumont • PRO: Rachid Bouchareb, Jean Brehat, Muriel Merhan • DOP: Guillaume Deffontaines • ED: Basille Belkheri • DES: Riton Dupire-Clement• CAST: Fabrice Luchini, Juliette Binoche, Valeria Bruni Tredeschi, Didier Despres, Brandon Lavievelle, Raph, Cyril Rigaux

In 1910 France, two bumbling policemen – Despres and Rigaux – investigate a series of disappearances of tourists on the beaches of the Channel Coast. The reason for the disappearances is that of the cannibalistic Brufort family, oyster farmers who reside near the Slack Bay. The eldest Brufort son, the teenaged Ma Loute (Lavievelle), then sparks up a romance with the gender-fluid Billie (Raph), son/daughter of the bourgeois Van Peteghem family, who are staying in their summer mansion that lies up above the bay.

Bruno Dumont carries on his jolting journey from the maker of austere, cerebral dramas to full-blown slapstick with this curious, formally accomplished, deeply irritating film. The film attempts to juxtapose extremely heightened, broad farce with social satire in a period setting along with dark subject matters such as cannibalism and incest.

It’s beautifully shot by Guillaume Deffontaines, Alexandra Charles’ costume design is richly evocative and the sound design is brilliantly realised. It’s a shame then that the butts of the films jokes are as cheap as they are, the punchlines so repetitive and that the film is so lacking in anything approaching wit. The pitch of the comedy on show can be exemplified by the fact that almost every scene in which the clownish policeman feature ends with them falling over. Dumont also seems to take particular delight in poking fun at senior detective’s weight problems. Classy.

Despite the puerile humour on offer, the formal qualities of the film command a certain amount of interest in its earlier parts but as it progresses, the incessant mugging of the performers becomes utterly grating. Dumont encourages the actors to turn their respective caricatures to a volume-level that would make those in something like Killinaskully seem like the height of restraint in comparison. Binoche is particularly insufferable in what is easily, and by some distance, her worst ever performance.

The Bruforts and Billie are allowed a little bit more subtlety in their performances, but this contrast is hardly insightful if intended as social commentary and Dumont’s satire of bourgeois mores amounts to nothing more than banging the viewers head repeatedly until they simply cannot take any more. The relationship between the brutish Ma Loute and the confused, curious Billie, like most other things in the film, doesn’t go quite the way one expects, but nor does it add up to anything meaningful or engaging.

The film has the odd interesting loose-end, uses music unpredictably and it is properly grotesque in places, such as the first scene in which we see the Brufort family chewing on the various limbs and body parts of their victims. These all too infrequent flashes aside and despite the picture’s considerable formal values, the film ultimately adds up to little more than an inane endurance test.

While the trajectory of Dumont’s career remains interesting in how stark the shift in his style has become, this baffling oddity marks something of an embarrassing low-point.

     David Prendeville

122 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Slack Bay is released 16th June 2017

Slack Bay – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Personal Shopper

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DIR/WRI: Olivier Assayas • PRO: Charles Gillibert • DOP: Yorick Le Saux • ED: Marion Monnier • DES: Francois-Renaud Labarthe • COST DES: Jurgen Doering • CAST: Kristen Stewart. Lars Eidinger, Singrid Bouaziz, Anders Danielson Lie, Nora van Waldstatten

Maureen (Stewart) is a personal shopper for crass, A-list model Kyra (Waldstatten), in Paris. Maureen’s reasons for living in Paris are two-fold. She is also a ‘spiritualist’ and this is the city that her twin brother recently died in. He died of the same heart condition that Maureen also has, and growing up they made a pact that whoever died first would make contact to the other from beyond the grave. Maureen frequently visits the house in which her brother died, by night, in the hope that his spirit will give her the message that she longs for.

This singular, daft, diverting psychological drama/ psychic melodrama caused quite a bit of division when shown at Cannes last year, with some critics proclaiming it is a woefully misconceived dud and others praising it as a masterpiece. While it’s easy to understand why a film such as this may cause opinions to be split, it’s hard not to think the truth lies somewhere in between.

The film is undeniably impressive on an aesthetic level. Olivier Assayas conjures up an interesting, uncertain atmosphere through Yorick Le Saux’s smoky cinematography, Francois-Renaud Labarthe’s lush, evocative production design and through Olivier Goinard and Nicolas Moreau’s rich sound design. The sparing use of music amplifies the odd, troubling atmosphere.

The emphasis of modern technology and media is an interesting motif that recurs throughout the film. Many viewers will find themselves frustrated at the fact that a large section in the middle of the film revolves around Maureen exchanging text messages on her phone with a mystery contact who she thinks may be her deceased brother. This is filmed predominantly in a very simple shot reverse shot of Stewart and the phone. While it could certainly be argued that this is highly un-cinematic, there is something admirable about how uncompromisingly stark these sequences are.

Another interesting example of this motif is how Assayas uses the internet as a source of exposition. When researching theories of how the first abstract artists were spiritualists, Maureen browses articles, with the screen being filled with that of her Mac. One extraordinary, discombobulating sequence sees the film transform into a Youtube video of a hokey ’90s TV movie about a Victor Hugo séance. This sequence calls to mind the post-modern, inter-textual jigsaws of Jacques Rivette, if the film perhaps lacks the playfulness of a director such as that. Nevertheless, there is something genuinely exciting and bold about the film’s engagement with form in this manner.

Assayas has said that he wanted to make a film set in a world where the existence of ghosts is not questioned, just accepted. This ties in with his juxtaposition of the supernatural with the fetishization of modern technology and, in Maureen’s job, high-end fashion. Beguiling, though this often is, the film never truly manages to convince us of the veracity of this world. Assayas never seems terribly far from lurching into silliness, such as the poor, CGI presentation of the spirits themselves. This, combined with the utter self-seriousness of the film, sometimes threatens to derail it.

Yet, despite these flaws, the film retains a stubborn individuality that is hard to resist and an atmosphere that is hard to forget. As an examination of grief it is haunting and imaginative. Along with its formal qualities, this aura is maintained through a superb central performance from Stewart. Brimming with insecurity, she essays a sad, scared character, desperate to find a confirmation of some meaning in her life. It’s a terrifically natural, subtle and physical performance, exhibiting Maureen’s profound fragility, even by the way she carries herself.  She is in virtually every shot and carries this curious, solemn oddity through its occasional floundering.

David Prendeville

105 minutes

15A See IFCO for details

Personal Shopper is released 17th March 2017

 

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Review: Elle

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DIR: Paul Verhoeven • WRI: David Birke • PRO: Saïd Ben Saïd, Michel Merkt • DOP: Stéphane Fontaine • ED: Job ter Burg • MUS: Anne Dudley • DES: Laurent Ott • CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Laurent Laffitte, Anne Consigny, Charles Berling, Virginie Efira, Jonas Bloquet, Judith Magre, Alice Isaaz, Christian Berkel

Successful, fifty-something video games developer Michele (Huppert) gets brutally raped in her own home by a masked assailant. She forgoes contacting the police and instead arms herself with weapons to defend herself, while slowly trying to work out who the culprit may be. She also has a myriad other problems she has to attend to, such as her dopey, broke son who’s looking for an apartment for him and his pregnant girlfriend to move into, her sex-obsessed mother who has hooked up with a gigolo less than half her age and, perhaps most pertinently, her serial killer father looking to get released from prison after decades inside.

Paul Verhoeven, the eccentric Dutch director of subversive Hollywood films such as Robocop, Total Recall, Basic Instinct and Showgirls, returns to our screen after a decade-long hiatus since his German WW2 drama Black Book. The result is an exceptionally unusual, unclassifiable provocation that manages to be thrilling, utterly hilarious- in the darkest possible sense- and deeply disturbing and discomforting. While the basic premise may sound like a rape-revenge thriller in the vein of I Spit on Your Grave or MS. 45 the film subverts the expectations of this sub-genre in a variety of interesting ways. Firstly, the middle-class French setting provides an unusual backdrop from which to play out such an exploitation premise. Most arresting though is the complex characterisation of the protagonist and the endless array of sub-plots and tangents that she must wade through.

Michele initially seems rather unperturbed by her violent attack. She carries on with work as usual. She even complains that an abstract tentacled rape in a violent video game she is producing is too tame and needs to be embellished. She eventually reveals what happened to her over dinner with her ex-husband Richard (Berling), her current part-time lover Robert (Berkel) and her business partner Anna (Consigny), who also happens to be Robert’s wife. She then slowly but cannily starts investigating as to who the attacker may be, fearing it may be related to the recent attempts of her serial killer father to be granted release from prison forty something years after he performed a bizarre, horrific massacre for which a then seven-year old Michele was, somehow, demonised for in the media due to an infamous picture of her younger self staring blankly amidst the horrors. Other possible culprits could be one of her misogynist video game developers who seem to resent her power. The revelation of who the attacker is happens just over halfway through the film. Then the knotty plot veers into ever more provocative territory.

At the heart of every provocation and the glue holding the film together, however, is a magisterial central performance from the peerless Isabelle Huppert. Her Michele views the hardships and miseries of life through the same bitterly humorous and blaze vantage point of the film. While her reaction to being raped is likely to cause much debate, there is little doubt that Michele is an exceptionally strong character who exercises agency in every aspect of her life. She doesn’t always do what may be perceived to be the right, responsible or moral thing but how refreshing to see such a rich, uncompromised late middle-aged (Huppert is actually 63), female protagonist. In Huppert’s hands Michele is not only a fascinating character but also inherently charming, in spite of any flaws she may have. A performer of intense charisma and intelligence, such are the riches that Huppert provides the film with, not only is it impossible to imagine it without her, but it ranks as a clear example of actor as auteur.

Working from a sharp, witty script by David Birke, the great Verhoeven also retains his mischievous, authorial stamp albeit in a sometimes low-key fashion. Formally, the film is a lot more subdued than much of his work. Gone is the surreal extravagance of Total Recall or the carnival grotesquery of Showgirls. Stephane Fontane shoots everything in a simple, traditional fashion befitting of tasteful, bourgeois French dramas. There is a taste of Claude Chabrol or Alfred Hitchcock in the film’s approach to the utilisation of tension and Bunuelian social satire in a hilarious Christmas dinner sequence. Despite all this, that menacing Verhoeven ambiance of interchangeable horror and hilarity, and of pervasive ambivalence, lurks in every corner of the picture. This is a deceptively complex, uproariously misanthropic, unclassifiable original, powered by one of the best-ever performances of a true on-screen great.

David Prendeville

130 minutes

18 See IFCO for details

Elle is released 10th March 2017
Elle – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Toni Erdmann

 

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DIR/WRI: Maren Ade • PRO: Maren Ade, Jonas Dornbach, Janine Jackowski, Michel Merkt • DOP: Patrick Orth • ED: Heike Parplies • DES: Silke Fischer • CAST: Sandra Huller, Peter Simonischek, Michael Wittenborn, Thomas Loibl, Ingrid Bisu, Trystan Putter, Hadewych Minis, Lucy Russell

Winfried (Simonischek) is a lonely, retired piano-teacher, separated from his wife. He lives in Germany and rarely gets to see his daughter Ines (Huller), a high-flying business consultant based in Bucharest. When Winfried’s dog dies it prompts Winfried to pay his daughter a visit unannounced. With Ines in the middle of trying to broker an important deal, the trip doesn’t go well. She is short on free time to spend with him and practical joke-loving Winfried causes her much embarrassment when she brings him along to a work conference. He leaves after a couple of days and Ines returns to her normal life. However, it isn’t long before Winfried turns up again but now as his alter-ego Toni Erdmann, complete with a bad wig and false teeth. Toni follows Ines around, claiming to be her CEO’s life coach.

The premise of Toni Erdmann could in itself be that of a mainstream American comedy. However, Maren Ade layers this extraordinary film with a haunting sense of melancholy and astute social and psychological observations, creating something utterly singular, provocative and profound. The film is at once a moving father-daughter tale, a scathing satire of corporate culture and a rumination on the manner in which people perform in their day to day lives.

Ade has spoken of the pressure she was under from her producers to reduce the film’s 162-minute length. Her admirable refusal to budge is integral to the considerable qualities of the film. Ade’s slow, observational style allows for Cassavetes-like richness of characterization and elevates the film’s humour beyond mere punchlines into a profound meditation on human behaviour. The film’s increasingly surreal scenarios as Toni follows Ines around are hilarious- in a desperately awkward sense- because of how well-established and authentic these two characters feel and how well drawn their opposing traits are.

Similarly the length of the piece allows Ade the time to establish each of the supporting characters and allow them time to breathe. Her depiction of dog-eat-dog corporate culture feels utterly authentic. Ines, despite being exceptionally good at her job, is frequently met by chauvinism. Her odious CEO Hennenberg (Wittenborn) insists she take his wife out on a shopping spree around Bucharest. Ines herself is guilty of indulging her co-worker Gerald’s (Loibl) misogynistic remarks about her self-less assistant Anca (Bisu). The hierarchical nature of big business culture where the person in charge of another person treats them heinously is illustrated candidly and comprehensively. In one sequence when Ines and Winfried/Toni visit an oil field in a rural, impoverished area in Romania, Ade draws a stark image of the contrast between the shallow, greedy corporate world that Ines’ colleagues exist in with that of the harsh realities of the people working at ground level.

In that sequence Winfried/Toni tells one of the locals ‘not to lose the humour’. This exhibits Winfried’s attitude to humour and how it’s a means of performance and escape. The film examines the roles that people play in everyday life and how people perform as an extension of their loneliness. Winfried’s humour is something of defence mechanism.  This can also be seen in the dark humour he exchanges with his very elderly mother in which he claims he has taken up a new job in an old person’s home where he literally scares the elderly to death for fifty euro a pop. Winfried’s joking is brought to its maximum point with his creation of the Toni Erdmann character.

Similarly to her father seeking comedy as a means of distraction, Ines’s obsessive workaholic nature covers up her own crushing sadness. She frequently has imaginary conversations on her mobile phone to avert conversations with people. When her father leaves Bucharest for the first time, despite how much he irritates and embarrasses her, she cries inconsolably on her balcony. In its examination of performance and its relationship to mental well-being the film has some shades of Lars von Trier’s The Idiots. This is also seen in a hilarious, much-talked about nude party scene in the latter stages of the film.

The film’s stark authenticity of both humour and pathos, as well as psychological observation, is complimented by Ade’s aesthetic. Cinematographer Patrick Orth shoots everything in low-key light in a quasi-documentary style. Silke Fisher’s production design is evocative of the drab, autumnal shade of Winfried’s current existence in Germany and the clinical alienation of Ines’ world in Bucharest. The film uses music very sparingly and when used it is diegetic. Fabian Schmidt’s sound design immerses the viewer into the naturalism of the day to day sounds. A heart-breaking, surreal moment of emotional crescendo is played completely to the natural sounds of city life to thrillingly evocative and original effect.

Of course, the film wouldn’t be successful in its singular triumphs were it not for the superlative central performances from Huller and Simionschek. Huller brings an extraordinary amount of range to her role exhibiting strength, intelligence, vulnerability, melancholy and playfulness. Simionschek brilliantly captures the fragile exuberance and unconventional (and frequently misguided) kindness of Winfried. These two are ably supported by a superb supporting cast who each get characters with more nuance and veracity than the leads in many other films.

A truly original, endlessly rich, extremely moving and quietly transcendental piece of work.

David Prendeville

162 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Toni Erdmann is released 3rd February 2017

Toni Erdmann – Official Website

 

 

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A Second Look at ‘Jackie’

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David Prendeville takes another look at Pablo Larrain’s Jackie.

An examination of Jackie Kennedy in the immediate aftermath of John F. Kennedy’s assassination. The film begins with a journalist (Crudup) coming to the White House to interview Jackie. She discusses how the events unfolded, though she is quite clear that there are some things she says and does which she will allow to be published and some things she won’t. We then flash back and forward between days before the assassination, the assassination itself and Jackie’s subsequent strength, and to certain extent, performance in the face of the ensuing turmoil.

Jackie is a hard film to fault but also one that rarely sets the pulses racing. It is fairly intelligent and subtle in its dealing with a monumental historical event and as a character study. It also exhibits some wisdom in its examination of grief. It’s beautifully shot by Stephane Fontaine and brilliantly edited by Sebastian Sepulveda, with Larrain continuing his experimentation of blurring historical footage with the action of the drama in the same vein as his 2012 Pinochet drama No. The score by Mika Levi (Under the Skin) is discordant and unsettling. It adds an interesting obtrusive element to the proceedings, though it feels somewhat under-used.

The acting is uniformly impressive and subtle. Portman gives a quietly powerful performance. It occasionally feels like the sort of worthy impersonation of a historical figure that garners awards but for the most part Portman eschews these pitfalls. Like most things in the film she retains an admirable, if somewhat mundane, restraint.  There is solid supporting work from Peter Sarsgaard (as Bobby Kennedy), John Hurt and Crudup. Greta Gerwig lends her considerable charisma to the role of Nancy Tuckerman, one of Jackie’s most trusted advisors, though it feels somewhat wasteful to give an actor of her calibre such little screen time.

The film is somewhat unconventional for a Hollywood biopic but Larrain’s questioning of the veracity of imagery seems undercooked and one-note. The idea that Jackie must put on a performance for the good of her country is simple and mused upon to an extent beyond its depth or profundity as an idea. Formally also, the blurring of real footage with the artificial retelling, though impressively done, seems meagre in its scope. Jackie’s existential wrestling with mortality in the immediate aftermath is somewhat more interesting. She confides her fears with a priest (Hurt) and he offers no easy answers but speaks honestly about what it is that motivates people to live and carry on in the midst of unspeakable pain, anguish and fear. There’s a bluntness and honesty to these scenes.

There are moments where Larrain pushes things into close to uncomfortable territory. Watching Jackie undress from her bloodied clothes after the shooting feels like an intrusion of sorts. He also recreates the shooting itself and the shot to John F. Kennedy’s skull in one extremely explicit close-up. However, for the most part, Larrain seems to be on better behaviour then the quasi-provocateur of films such as The Club and Tony Manero. The whole endeavour, while admirable to a certain degree, also feels somewhat sedated.

This is a tasteful, accomplished piece of filmmaking but one that lacks the inspiration and danger of this director’s best work.

 

Jackie is currently in cinemas

 

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Review: Nocturnal Animals

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DIR: Tom Ford • PRO: Tom Ford, Alexandra Nourafchan, Diane L. Sabatini, Robert Salerno • DOP: Seamus McGarvey • ED: Joan Sobel • DES: Shane Valentino • MUS: Abel Korzeniowski • CAST: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnsen, Karl Glusman, Arnie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Laura Linney, Jena Malone, Michael Sheen

Successful LA gallery owner Jane (Adams) is stuck in an unhappy marriage with unfaithful Hutton (Hammer). One day she receives a package in the post from her former lover Tony (Gyllenhaal). This package contains a manuscript titled Nocturnal Animal – a nasty, violent novel Tony has penned and dedicated to Susan. As Susan begins to read the piece we cross-cut between her life and the fictional actions in the novel in which Edward (also Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Fisher) and his daughter Inida (Bamber) are terrorized on a road trip in West Texas by a group of vicious thugs led by Taylor Johnsen’s Ray Marcus. After the gang kidnap Laura and India, Edward is forced to team up with an old-school, chain-smoking detective (the always eminently watchable Shannon) to seek retribution. As we cross-cut between the fictional world and Susan’s glossy empty real-life, as well as earlier episodes in her and Tony’s relationship, it becomes apparent that Tony’s novel may have more veiled resonances in relation to the story of him and his ex-lover.

Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford follows-up 2010’s A Single Man with this stylish, diverting, rather empty piece of meta-fiction. The film has plenty to recommend it. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography juxtaposes gloss and grit to delectable effect. Abel Korzeniowski’s music nods to Hithcock and classic noir without ever over-egging the homages. Shane Valentino’s production design captures the tasteful decadence of the LA art world Susan inhabits to pleasing effect. Ford has also assembled an excellent cast of actors who are uniformly excellent. Adams is as reliable as ever as the glacial, outwardly strong Susan. It’s a difficult performance to pull off with Susan’s character arc being largely internal. Adams deftly skirts over-dramatization in the frequent cut-backs of her reactions to parts of Tony’s novel. She also manages to subtly paint a picture of someone consumed with regret, though she doesn’t get a whole lot to work with in terms of her character. She occasionally gets the opportunity to show some tenderness in scenes between her and Tony in happier times and some nods towards her relationship with her mother which offer a little depth.  For the most part, however, the character of Susan simply lacks the complexity and emotional depth needed to make something genuinely compelling, as good as Adams is.

The film is at its most visceral in scenes set in the fictional world of Tony’s novel. Michael Shannon commands the screen in a performance bristling with nuance as the grizzled old-school detective. Perhaps, most surprising is a standout performance from Taylor-Johnsen as the skin-crawlingly wretched leader of the gang who kidnap Edward’s family. This section of the film acts as an essay on disparate notions of masculinity – the gentle, kind but weak Edward and the revolting, violent Ray Marcus acting as Edward’s exact opposite with Shannon’s Bobby meeting them somewhere in between.

And herein also lies the film’s biggest problem – the juxtaposition, both tonally and thematically, between the two narratives never quite fits. The cold but broadly painted picture of Susan and the LA art scene with that of Tony’s violent noir comes across as a gimmicky manner in which to engage with the film’s subject matter in a unique way as opposed to ever feeling like it’s a cohesive whole. The film’s attempts to comment on the nature of life versus art and that of an artist and his work are clunky and one-dimensional.

The commentary on relationships also seems rather one-note. Susan treated Jake badly in the manner in which she ended their relationship, and this is Tony’s way of responding. The questions of masculinity raised in his book also relate to Susan’s perception of Tony being weak and docile. It seems unlikely that Tony abstracting his feelings on his and Susan’s relationship to such an extreme, simplistic and trashy degree would have such a profound effect on someone as single-minded as Susan. And even if it did, it still seems a rather futile gesture. The film’s story can essentially be summed up as: jilted writer gets revenge on ex-girlfriend by writing an extreme, angry pulpy thriller that acts as a message about how he feels about their time together and how it ended. This is a message that appears veiled to an audience, not privy to all of the information surrounding Tony and Susan’s break-up until the closing stages, but that must surely seem like a fairly obvious one to the character herself.

Gyllenhaal (also excellent) faces the same problems as Adams before him. We gather that the Edward character in Tony’s novel is a representation of Tony himself but we never get to know anything of his character beyond the fact that he is nice and gentle and that people prey on his weakness. The idea that Tony finally gains some form of strength in writing this novel as an act of cathartic revenge, is handled in a very one-dimensional manner and the film never gets to the grips with its ideas in any facet beyond a surface level.

There are undoubtedly some standout scenes along the way – the initial scene where Edward and his family get terrorized is terrifically menacing – and it’s impossible not to root for Shannon’s detective as he goes about dishing out his unique style of justice. But when the most interesting character in a film is a support part in a fictional thread then one must question the fruitfulness of the piece as a whole. If this were a smarter film perhaps this could be perceived as a joke in itself and a commentary on the nature of art but sadly the chunkiness of the film’s engagement with its meta-narrative and the wholly cosmetic ideas it engages with puts paid to this argument.

There are certainly far worse films being made than this and it is certainly an entertaining ride. However, the film lacks the substance it seems to strive for, never really justifies its structure to any meaningful degree and, ultimately, doesn’t match the sum of its parts.

David Prendeville

116 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

Nocturnal Animals is released 4th November 2016

Nocturnal Animals – Official Website

 

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Review: The Childhood of a Leader

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DIR: Brady Corbet • WRI: Brady Corbet, Mona Fastvold • PRO: Chris Coen, Brady Corbet, Helena Danielsson, Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, István Major • DOP: Lol Crawley • ED: Dávid Jancsó • DES: Jean-Vincent Puzos • MUS: Scott Walker • CAST: Berenice Bejo, Liam Cunningham, Tom Sweet, Stacy Martin, Robert Pattinson, Yolande Moreau and Jacques Boudet

Three chapters, or more precisely ‘tantrums’, from the early life of Prescott (Sweet) a troubled, fiercely intelligent young boy who will grow up to be the fictional ‘leader’ of the title. As the film, begins Prescott, an American, is housing in France with his French mother (Bejo) and American father (Cunningham). They are residing in France while the latter, a US Diplomat, negotiates The Treaty of Versailles on behalf of President Woodrow Wilson following World War 1. Prescott’s first misdemeanour is to be caught throwing stones at parishioners, as the film progresses Prescott’s actions turn ever more sinister as he engages in disturbing mind-games with his parents along with his French teacher (Martin), and his maid (Moureau).

This extraordinary film marks the feature directorial debut of 28-year old American actor Brady Corbet (Funny Games, Melancholia, Simon Killer). It is an utterly singular, evocative and intelligent period piece. Corbet showcases supreme confidence, imagination and cinematic flair as he draws on a myriad of influences from Jean-Paul Sartre to Carl Theodor Dreyer to Michael Haneke, all the while maintaining a striking originality of vision and execution.

The film is brilliantly shot on 35mm by Lol Crawley. The dark, starkly contrasting, often candle-lit imagery sometimes calling to mind John Alcott’s work on Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon and also the paintings of Rembrandt. Haneke regular Jean-Vincent Puzo’s production design is a masterpiece of both historical and psychological evocation. Scott Walker’s outstanding score (which was played by a 120 piece-orchestra) is almost a character in the film itself. Corbet too exhibits great formal adventurousness in bold, unusual camera moves and framing.

This is film that offers no answers on its subject matter. Corbet and co-screenwriter Mona Fastvold aren’t interested in constructing a specific narrative around which a leader could be better understood but rather paint a mysterious picture in which the viewer has to fill in the gaps. The film constantly subverts one’s expectations of what they think may prove a concrete turning point in turning Prescott into the leader he is set to become. The film teases the audience with clues and foreboding hints at the causes of the malaise, but never offers anything concrete or literal, instead creating a rich allegorical framework from which an endless array of fascinating questions are raised as to how power may be intermingled with issues such as history, education, class, family, gender, sexuality and ultimately the impossibility of human communication and understanding. Corbet concedes that there is no way of resolving something as complex and unknowable as that of how a fascist leader may be formed. This a mystery in the truest, most terrifying sense. A snapshot character study of an enigmatic, terrifying but also not always unsympathetic character.

Corbet draws an incredible performance out of young debutant Tom Sweet. This is not a one-dimensional or one-note depiction of a misbehaving child but rather a tremendously nuanced turn that exhibits Prescott’s precociousness but also his searing intellect and at times also some vulnerability, The characterisation is not only rich in terms of Prescott but in the adults too. Berenice Bejo – in what may be a career best performance – conveys the duality of a highly educated woman whose potential has been halted by domesticity and who seems torn between duty and desire. She remains steadfast in attempting to keep up appearances of happiness with her exuberantly authoritative, oafish husband but it is clear that she is also deeply unhappy. As the mind games with Prescott progress, it is unclear as to what extent she admires her son’s individuality and burgeoning clout, and to what extent she resents and fears him. Prescott’s relationship with his father, Martin’s teacher and Moreau’s maid are equally murky, with the motivating factors behind the adults’ diverse treatment of the child as complex and mysterious as everything else in this magnificent film.

David Prendeville

95 minutes
16 (See IFCO for details)

The Childhood of a Leader is released 19th August 2016

 

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Review: The Neon Demon

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DIR: Nicolas Winding Refn • WRI: Nicolas Winding Refn, Mary Laws, Polly Steinham • PRO: Lene Borglum, Sidonie Dumas, Vincent Maraval, Nicolas Winding Refn • DOP: Natasha Braier • Mus: Cliff Martinez • ED: Matthew Newman • DES: Elliott Hostetter • CAST: Elle Fanning, Jena Malone, Abbey Lee, Bella Heathcote, Karl Glusman, Keanu Reeves, Christina Hendricks, Allesandro Nivola.

16-year old Jesse (Fanning) arrives in LA with the hopes of making it in the cut-throat modelling business. There she encounters make-up artist Ruby (Malone) and her model friends – Sarah (Lee) and Gigi (Heathcote). While Ruby is relatively friendly, the others don’t take too kindly to Jesse, particularly when she successfully signs up with a modelling agency fronted by intimidating Roberta Hoffman (Hendricks) and quickly starts rising up the ranks as the model all the top photographers want to shoot, who claim her to have an indefinable quality of beauty that no one else possesses.

From this simple set-up the archly divisive auteur Refn takes us on a lurid, campy, gorgeously shot, magnificently scored journey towards a last act that sees the Danish provocateur push towards new levels of grotesquery and gleeful cinematic insanity. Part satire, part horror, all Refn.

Whether you love or loathe him, Refn is a filmmaker that cannot be ignored and nor can his formal brilliance or aggressive individuality be denied. While there may be shades of Argento, a dab of Lynch and a touch of Borowczyk about the place, this is quite simply a film that could be made by no other filmmaker.

With this and the – in my opinion – unfairly maligned and highly underrated Only God Forgives, Refn, rather than move down a more commercial route after his 2011 crossover hit Drive, has instead gone into more oblique territory. This film once again demonstrates Refn’s dis-interest in narrative and character development. This leads to his work frequently being dismissed as having style but no depth. But surely such arguments are redundant when it comes to a filmmaker like Refn. He’s not a socially-engaged artist but rather a fantasist who follows in the tradition of aestheticism, favouring form over everything else.

There are elements of cruel satire and post-modern winks about The Neon Demon. The film appears to turn into something akin to the world it satirises as a glossy, shrill music video plays over the end credits. However, Refn’s engagement with the world of fashion, though cutting as it is, remains predominantly as a means by which Refn and his cinematographer Natasha Braier can forge stunning, outlandish and original imagery and combine it with Cliff Martinez’s brilliantly otherworldly electronic score to create an intoxicating atmosphere.

The actors all equip themselves admirably amongst the insanity. Elle Fanning is excellent as Jessie. She grounds the film in a certain reality while maintaining the cool distance we’ve come to expect from Refn protagonists. Jena Malone is wonderfully demented and dangerously kind-hearted as Ruby.  Malone plunges herself exuberantly into the mounting tastelessness of the last act.  Abbey Lee is cold and intimidating but shows fragility, also, in a scene in which a Nivola’s sleazy designer fawns over Jessie and humiliates Sarah, showing her nothing but contempt as he forces her to walk around in her underwear.

Ultimately, The Neon Demon can be seen as a continuation of Refn’s desire to juxtapose a formally rich, ‘art’ film aesthetic with the free-wheeling disreputability of ‘trash’ and ‘grindhouse’ cinema. His post-modern, aesthetic cinema is certainly not for everyone but is a must-see for film-goers seeking the idiosyncratic and the outlandish.

David Prendeville

117 minutes
18 (See IFCO for details)

The Neon Demon is released 8th July 2016

The Neon Demon – Official Website

 

 

 

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Review: Anomalisa

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DIR: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnson • WRI: Charlie Kaufman •PRO: Charlie Kaufman, Duke Johnsen, Dino Stamatopulous, Rosa Tran • DOP: Joe Passareli  • ED: Garret Elkins • DES: John Joyce, Huy Vu • MUS: Carter Burwell • CAST: David Thewlis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tom Noonan

The brilliant Charlie Kaufman makes a very welcome return to our screens, co-directing his own script with Duke Johnson, in this haunting and humorous stop-motion treatise on human relationships. It’s been eight years since Kaufman’s last outing – the magisterial Synecdoche, New York – and it really is sad that an artist of his calibre has struggled for funding for various projects since. Kaufman had to turn to Kickstarter to get Anomalisa made. The film’s subsequent critical raves and popularity at various festivals should at least ensure Kaufman does not have as much trouble raising finance for his next project.

The film follows Michael Stone (Thewlis), an alienated customer services author, who flies into Cincinnati the night before he is to give a talk at a conference. In Michael’s world, and the world of the film, everyone speaks with the same voice (Tom Noonan), be it a boorish taxi driver driving him to his hotel, his ex-girlfriend, his son, his wife. Even the music that Michael listens to is infused with that same droning delivery. After an ill-advised meeting with his ex-girlfriend, Michael hears from his hotel room the sound of a different intonation. It is that of Lisa (Jason Leigh), a fan of Michael’s book, who is also residing in the hotel, a few doors up from him. Subsequent to this delightful discovery Michael invites Lisa and her friend for a drink and then later, Lisa to his bedroom. And so begins a fragile, mismatched and finite night of passion and romance between the two.

There are some shades of Lost in Translation about the alienated hotel room setting but Kaufman’s film is a more slippery, ambiguous affair. It lacks the scale of Kaufman’s Synecdoche, being a more low-key and simpler affair. However, Kaufman doing simple still results in richness unmatched by most other contemporary filmmakers. With Anomalisa, he has essentially given us a film in which two lonely people spend a night together in a hotel but has injected with strange beauty and also genuine sadness and pessimism. The film is often hilarious in its cynical depiction of human nature, but there’s also something almost disturbing and eerie about the world of the film. Lisa stands out to the viewer in the same way she stands out to Michael’s foggy, depressed mind.

The engagement with Michael’s subjectivity is achieved largely through the extraordinarily detailed animation. The technical majesty on show is probably best exemplified by an extraordinary sex scene between Michael and Lisa. On paper the description of a puppeted sex scene might conjure up memories of Team America: World Police. But here the scene is not played for laughs. It is explicit, sustained, and tender. It also feels decidedly real.

Another key component of the film is the terrific voice work from the three actors. Thewlis really captures the burrowed melancholy of a man so cut-off from those around him. It is to my mind, the actor’s most memorable role since Mike Leigh’s Naked. Jennifer Jason Leigh also does exceptional work. Her rendering of Cyndi Lauper’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is another odd image and sound that proves difficult to forget on seeing the film. Noonan, voicing every character other than those two, also excels in what could have been a thankless role.

A film of hidden depths and subtle riches. Essential viewing.

David Prendeville

89 minutes

15A (See IFCO for details)

Anomalisa is released 11th March 2016

Anomalisa – Official Website

 

 

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Review: Night People

NIGHT PEOPLE - Parle in bedroom(1)

DIR/WRI: Gerard Lough • PRO: Gerard Lough, Tanya McLaughlin • DOP: Greg Rouladh • ED: Greg Rouladh • CAST: Michael Parle, Jack Dean Shepherd, Claire Blennerhasset, Sarah Louise Carney, Aidan O’ Sullivan, Eoin Leahy

Gerard Lough makes the transition from shorts to features with this anthology horror/sci-fi in which a pair of seemingly mismatched criminals Mike (played by the brilliant Michael Parle) and Luke (Jack Shepherd), who break into a house as part of an insurance scam. When in the house the pair, with time to kill, start telling each other tall tales. One involves a pair of friends who discover a mysterious, powerful, potentially alien device which pits them against each other. The other tale follows a business woman who provides a prostitution service for wealthy fetishists and how her attempts to escape this line of work leads her down stranger, more sinister rabbit-holes.

This ambitious film is full of distinctive flavour. The set-up and stories are certainly unusual in terms of an Irish film. Lough exhibits a very particular style in how’s it shot – lots of underexposed cinematography, and in its soundtrack, which is heavy on impressive synthesized ’80s style music.

Lough has no qualms about juxtaposing different genres and sub-genres and also attempts to tackle a variety of diverse subjects from the economy and housing crisis to grand philosophical concerns. The result is a film that looks and feels very different to most Irish cinema. It doesn’t always add up and the complex nature of its presentation can be sometimes difficult to follow with the anthology film being a famously difficult trick to pull off

The special effects are also somewhat creaky in places and the budgetary restrictions do show. However, Lough must be commended for making a virtue of this. He himself has cited the New Romantic music scene and films such as Tony Scott’s bonkers Catherine Deneuve/David Bowie vampire picture The Hunger as big influences aesthetically and the effects of the film when integrated with these aesthetic influences work to create a referential B-movie style as opposed to incompetence. It is heartening to see a film as singular as this being made in Ireland, even if not every aspect of it works.

The real star of the show here is Michael Parle. Best known probably for his role in Ivan Kavanagh’s outstanding Tin Can Man, he here once again makes for a magnetic screen presence. Parle could easily lay claim to being Ireland’s first genre movie ‘star’. One is reminded of B-movie luminaries such as Udo Kier in his innate ability to balance just the right amount of knowingness and earnestness in the – often sinister – characters he plays. We need to see more of this man in Irish cinemas.

The other performers unfortunately often cannot match Parle for his presence and there are times, when Parle is off-screen, this his absence is felt somewhat and one yearns for a return to the framing story in which he is a part of, rather than the tall tales themselves.

Despite these flaws it is pleasing to see a film that neither looks nor sounds like any other Irish film historically or contemporaneously being made and further reinforces the notion that new ideas both formally and thematically are now being explored in independent Irish cinema.

David Prendeville

16
108 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Night People is released 4th September 2015

Night People – Official Website

 

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Review: Love

 

DIR/WRI: Gaspar Noé • Pro: Brahim Chaoiu, Vincent Maravel, Gaspar Noé, Rodrigo Teixeira, Edouard Weil • ED: Denis Bedlow, Gaspar Noé  • DOP: Benoit Debie • Mus: Pascal Mayer • CAST: Karl Glusman, Aomi Muyock, Klara Kristin

Relentless provocateur Gaspar Noé returns to our screens with this sexually-explicit opus which follows an American film student living in Paris, Murphy (Glusman) and his doomed love affair with the depressive, fiery, sexually experimental Elektra (Muyock) and his subsequent fall into parenthood and domesticity with another woman Omi (Kristin), whom he does not love. We piece together the story of Murphy and Elektra’s stormy affair through flashbacks to episodes in their time together, intercut with the present, as Murphy muses how he’s gotten himself into this situation.

Since the film’s premiere at Cannes much has been made of the film’s sexual frankness and the fact that it was shot and is presented in 3D.The sex and 3D in fact turn out to be the least notable aspects on show here. The former is pervasive and hardcore, but this is hardly anything new in arthouse cinema. The idea of the director of Enter the Void making a film in 3D certainly seemed like an interesting proposition but for the most part the 3D effects seem unnecessary. There is the odd moment when Noé uses it interestingly, generally in scenes outside of the bedroom, such as a fiery argument between Murphy and Elektra in the back of a taxi and also in a couple of nightclub scenes in which the effect captures an atmosphere and dreaminess that seems fresh. For the most part the effect is used in a subtle way and Noe resists the temptation to fling things at the audience, apart from one shot in which Murphy ejaculates out into the crowd. Well, this is a Gaspar Noé film after all.

Noé himself has stated (as does Murphy, who is clearly a surrogate for Noé in the film) that what he wanted to do was to make a film exploring sexual sentimentality. Indeed, Noé allows far more sweetness and sentimentality into Love than encountered in his previous, aggressive pictures I Stand Alone, Irreversible and Enter the Void. Noé himself has compared it to Love to Blue is the Warmest Colour in its emotional and physical frankness. There are times in the film when this works and Noé does capture something raw, honest, sad and, indeed, beautiful. Unfortunately, however, these moments are far too few and instead the viewer most endure lots of silliness, indulgences, wretched dialogue and indifferent acting on its way to climax.

Noé has argued there is a continued conservative attitude to showing sex in films and has suggested to really examine romance one must examine the sexual side of it in the same manner as all other things. This is a fair point and his use of Blue is the Warmest Colour as an example of a counterpoint is a good one in that it did achieve these goals. In that infinitely superior picture the viewer was submerged into all aspects of the couple’s relationship. This was achieved through an intense attention to detail of which explicit sex was a part of, but also through the relatability of the characters, and through profoundly brilliant acting from the leads.

After a decent, sober start it does not take long for Love to plunge headlong into pure male fantasy. Poor Murphy’s problems with Elektra, you see, stem from them having a threesome with their 17-year-old neighbour Omi. They do this because its Elektra’s biggest sexual fantasy to have sex with a man and another girl. Of course. Following this, when Elektra is away for the weekend, Murphy just can’t help himself once more and has to have sex with Omi again, this time by himself, at which point he impregnates her and so ends his romance with the love of his life.

To be fair to Noé, he never suggests that Murphy is a character we should necessarily like but it is a grave mistake on his part to allow what could have been an interesting, moving look at lost love to become so far removed from its intentions by indulging in such (ahem) hard to swallow contrivances. And it’s not just here that the film emits dubious and depressingly conservative attitudes to sex and gender. There is an ear-bleedingly banal conversation about abortion, not to mention a tasteless and unnecessary scene in which Elektra coaxes Murphy into having (another) threesome  – this time with a transsexual prostitute – which is played somewhat for laughs. At one point early on Murphy also states that he fears if he leaves Omi she might turn his son ‘gay’.

There are other problems beyond the weary conservatism on show. Noé seems determined to shoehorn as much of himself as he possibly can into the film. It’s already been noted that Murphy is a surrogate for Noé himself: he’s an aspiring filmmaker with a taste for the controversial, his apartment is adorned with posters for Salo and Birth of a Nation, his favourite film is 2001 (which is also Noé’s). On top of this Murphy and Omi name their child Gaspar and, most hilariously, Noé himself turns up in a bad wig as an art dealer ex-boyfriend of Elektra’s. There’s a strong whiff of Tarantino at his most indulgent about this aimless self-reflexivity. There’s nothing wrong with a filmmaker being self-referential but it needs to be done with wit or to a purpose, both of which are lacking here.

There is no question, however, that Noé is an extremely talented filmmaker. He has exhibited great formal innovation in his previous works. It is the opinion of this writer, however, that his ideas are not as good as his practise. Irreversible is a powerfully realised film but that too was somewhat bogged down by simplistic philosophies and ideologies. Enter the Void – his best film – managed to transcend some on the nose dialogue, due to the sheer originality of its form.

Love is a deeply frustrating film. For all the seemingly endless flaws it has, it still retains some unquestionably brilliant flourishes and moments. Noé continues to experiment with the idea of a cinema of subjectivity. The blinking of the main character’s point of view in Enter the Void is used here once again to break through time. For example Murphy might one moment be in a room with Omi, the image will blink like a person would, and all of a sudden he will be in a different place and time, most likely with Elektra. This beautifully conjures up the mosaic like nature of memory and its role in human relationships and experiences.

It’s also beautifully shot by Noé regular Benoit Debie, it features some terrific use of music and sound, and at its best it really does touch upon a kind of insanity and tenderness all too rarely seen in films about romance. It’s just such a shame then that it is all weighed down so heavily by Noé’s adolescent world-view.

 

David Prendeville

18A
135 minutes (See IFCO for details)

Love is released 20th November 2015

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IFI Ireland on Sunday Interview: David Prendeville & Brian Quinn, co-directors of ‘Monged’

Monged-Chosen

Film Ireland spoke to 2 of the 3 co-directors of Monged ahead of the film’s screening at the IFI as part of its monthly showcase for new Irish film. No drugs were taken in the making of this article.

Based on the award-winning play by Gary Duggan, Monged takes place over one drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin and stars Graham Earley, John Connors and Rex Ryan as three mismatched friends. .

Monged was directed by Rory Mullen, David Prendeville and Brian Quinn, and made as part of the Masters in Digital Feature Film Production at Filmbase, which places an emphasis on practical filmmaking to prepare students for a future in film production.

“The course really showed that making a film is entirely doable,” explains Brian. “You get thrown right in the deep end straight away. Our team was responsible for all aspects of the production. Prior to the shoot, we did classes in everything: script writing, pre-production, casting, camera, marketing, funding, music, etc. Then suddenly the powers that be pluck you from the cosy confines of the class room, hurling your feverish limbs into the real world where you have to put what you learned to use. I found the most important thing I learned was how to work with the people around you. Through initial practical class exercises you discover early on who you can trust. Trust is the key component to a healthy relationship and in turn opens up avenues of communication, which, for a director, is everything.”

As one of three directors, Brian animates how they approached the script. “Bash! Mash! Mush! as we squashed our brains together, producing a single cohesive pink wad. Instantly, we tried to intellectually devour the script, harvesting what lay beneath the surface. One of the first things we did as a team was that we wrote down 3 key phrases or words on post-it notes, sticking them in our office wall for all to see. ‘Trapped’, ‘coming of age, ‘duality’ became our story’s spine which would permeate though every directorial decision that was made. This helped to quash out any arbitrary choices so that decisions were solely motivated by story. I find when you make yourself rules or put yourself in a box you become more creative in your approach. Limitation is inspiration. With regard to dividing the script, we thought it best to split scenes among ourselves to direct, thankfully it was an equal spread and straight away we began to prep on our individual scenes.”

In addition to the three lead actors, the film boasts an impressive support cast that includes Aoibhin Garrihy, Clare Dunne, Joe Rooney, Alicia Ayres, Geraldine MacAlinden, Neill Fleming, Gerry Wade, Sharon Skerritt, Shane Robinson and Kyle Hixon. Working with such a cast was something David tells me was one of the highlights of his experience. “We were really fortunate to have such a talented group of actors. The three leads were all phenomenal to work with. They brought a lot of new ideas to the table, that weren’t in the script, and their eagerness to improvise and to create really brought a terrific energy to the film. This really is a film that would live and die by the performances and it was brilliant working with these guys. They are outstanding actors and also their openness, their quick-thinking on set and their creativity made them a pleasure to direct. And it wasn’t just with the leads we were fortunate, all the supporting players did great work on the film and were terrific to work with as well.”

The film is based on the play of the same name by Gary Duggan (RTÉ’s Amber), with a screenplay penned by Barry Dignam. David says, “I don’t think either myself, Brian or Rory were familiar with the play before filming and I think we kind of felt it may be healthier to separate the two mediums and focus on the script we were presented with and let that evolve rather than going back to the play as a point of reference.”

Talking about particular influences the directors brought to bear on the film, David says,we talked a lot about other ‘drugs’ film, such as Trainspotting. The Wolf of Wall Street was a big influence in terms of its gleeful debauchery. We talked also a lot about Boogie Nights in the sense that you go on a journey along with a character into an exciting new world. Also the film has a strong ‘buddy’ element to it and for that we took films such as Withnail and I as a big inspiration.”

Looking back over the whole experience Brian reflects that “the most important thing for a director is preparation, for me it provides personal confidence, ensuring I don’t run around on set like a headless chicken. Though, and here’s the slight contradiction, I find the ability to adapt is on par with prep’s importance. You really have to be prepared to relinquish some of that preparation up to the impromptu mischief of the day of shooting, salvaging the surprises that intensive preparation sometimes sedates.

“When you’re hidden behind closed doors, composing shot-lists, etching ‘n’ sketching storyboards, there’s no way of illustrating reality’s input. I found it hard at times being flexible with my preparation, so it took a while for me to open up my brain’s aperture, letting in the possibilities that may peek.”

 

Monged screens on Sunday, 18th October 2015 at 13.00 as part of the IFI’s Ireland on Sunday monthly showcase for new Irish film.

The cast and crew will attend the screening.

Tickets for Monged are available now from the IFI Box Office on 01 679 3477 or online at www.ifi.ie

 

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‘Monged’ Completes Shooting

IMG_582334

Monged wrapped principal photography on the 5th May after a 19-day shooting schedule in nearly two dozen Dublin City Centre locations. Directed by Brian Quinn, David Prendeville and Rory Mullen, the film has an extensive cast of up-and-coming young actors, as well as some well known faces.

Monged takes place over one drug-fuelled weekend in Dublin and stars Graham Earley, John Connors and Rex Ryan in the leading roles of Dave, Bernard and Ray – three mismatched friends. Dave owes a debt to pyschotic drug dealer Corkfella (Joe Rooney) to the chagrin of his loving girlfriend Samantha (Aoibhin Garrihy), while Ray is a failed musician turned radio DJ who finds out that his girlfriend Linda (Clare Dunne) is pregnant in the middle of his seemingly endless struggle with his sexuality. Bernard, meanwhile, is the socially awkward office worker with no friends and no clue how to talk to girls until he meets Nadia (Alicja Ayres). After meeting at a house party, these three very different guys enjoy a comically riotous weekend cocktail of narcotics, alcohol and heavy partying – with trouble and crazy situations facing them at every turn.

Based on the play of the same name by Gary Duggan (RTE’s Amber), with a screenplay penned by Barry Dignam, Monged is produced by the students on the MSc Digital Feature Film Production course at Filmbase.

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Mr. Turner

mr-turner

DIR/WRI: Mike Leigh  PRO: Georgina Lowe  DOP: Dick Pope  ED: Jon Gregory  DES: Suzie Davies  MUS: Gary Yerson  CAST: Timothy Spall, Dorothy Atkinson, Marion Bailey, Karl Johnson, Lesley Manville

The great Mike Leigh returns to our screens with a pleasingly eccentric look at the later period in the life of the great British painter JM Turner. The film focuses mainly on Turner’s relationship with various people – his father, the house maid who he has curious, carnal exchanges with and Sophia Bush, a widow who Turner strikes a fondness with when lodging in her house in Margate.

Present along with these are the subtle but integral presence of Turner’s strange relationship with his own daughters. Turner, on the surface, has no interest in them. There’s a brilliant scene when his aunt tells him of a tragedy involving them. With the camera facing his back, Turner does not express any emotion forthrightly, however, his hand gestures tell a different story, expressing a hidden pain. Turner is depicted as a complex, frequently decent, sometimes animalistic force of nature. The strangeness of his relationship with his children is perhaps summed up in another sequence in which Turner tells another artist that he should not inflict his own problems on his loved ones. Hints at Turner’s estranged mother and curious goings-on with her in his youth, add further richness to him as a character and to the film as a biopic. Leigh here makes points on the irreconcilable differences between an artist and his work and the inability of people, no matter who they are, to communicate with their loved ones. Leigh goes a step further in suggesting that no matter how close one is to a person, they will never really know them or understand them fully.

As is always the case with Leigh, the performances are outstanding. In painting such a comprehensive yet mysterious picture of Turner, Leigh needed the extraordinary ferocity, vulnerability and humanity that Spall brings to the role. His pervasive sighing and grunting sometimes turns into robust, borderline violent sex, with the aforementioned housemaid or sometimes into maniacal laughing, joy and generosity of spirit. Spall deservedly won best actor at Cannes in May for his stunning work here. The supporting players are all impressive as well. As the house maid, Atkinson finds the perfect balance between the weariness of her day to the day life and the subtle, honest expressions of fondness she exhibits for Turner. Bailey too is impressive. Her character of Sophia Bush comes across as similar to many other characters seen in films before. She is in many ways a sort of quintessential mother figure – kind, gracious, modest, loving, naive – yet Bailey and Leigh strive and succeed in making her into something new and fresh and ensuring there is a genuine believability to her character.

The honesty and complexity with which Leigh paints his characters, be they real as here or fictional as in others, is one of the key facets of his work. Dick Pope’s cinematography is quietly beautiful while Gary Yershon’s score adds a further level of oddness to proceedings. With Mr. Turner, Leigh once again confirms his status as a genuinely unique British filmmaker. While it may not quite reach the heights of his very best work, it remains a rich, engrossing and very moving piece of work.

Highly recommended.

David Prendeville

12A (See IFCO for details)

149 minutes

Mr. Turner is released 31st October 2014
Mr. Turner – Official Website

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A Most Wanted Man

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Dir: Anton Corbijn Wri: Andre Bovell Pro: Andre Calderwood, Simon Cornwell, Stephen Cornwell, Gail Egan DOP: Benoit Delhomme ED: Claire Simpson Mus: Herbert Gronemeyer Cast: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe, Robin Wright, Grigoriy Dobrygin

A German intelligence officer, Gunther Bachmann (Hoffman), operating in Hamburg investigates and attempts to track down a Chechen Muslim, Issa Karpov (Dobrygin), who has illegally immigrated to Germany and is a suspected terrorist. Gunther must try to strike the right balance between doing the right thing and appeasing American spies all too vicious and eager in their hunt for potential terrorists. Young, idealistic lawyer Annabel Richter (McAdams) gets caught up in the messy goings on when she tries to help Issa. Her help involves Issa’s attempts to get money from a suspect banker (Dafoe).  Needless to say as events progress the film gets ever more complicated and twisty in its proceedings with the viewer not ever quite sure who is good and who is bad. This leads on to an explosive, hugely suspenseful ending.

This classy John La Carre adaptation is a slow-burning, engrossing and tense espionage thriller.  Anton Corbijn, director of the solid Ian Curtis adaptation Control and the stylish but empty George Clooney vehicle The American, tells the film’s story in a patient, decidedly competent fashion. There are few traces of the flair he sporadically showed in those other pictures or in his famous work as a photographer. He does bring a coldness to the picture and utilises his Hamburg setting effectively but he also occasionally utilises some lazy techniques to instil emotion in the viewer and ultimately the direction is mostly workmanlike rather than inspired. The acting, on the other hand, is superb. Naturalistic, utterly engaging performances are what draws the viewer into the murky, slippery world of the film. Such is the quality of the actors on show they even make you forget the silliness of the fact that the majority of the characters are German yet constantly speak in English.

McAdams brings a strength and vulnerability to her role as Annabel. Dafoe is as watchable as ever as a somewhat shady banker. But this film will, of course, be best remembered as the last leading role for the late, great Phillip Seymour Hoffman. His brilliant performance ensures it’s a fitting if terribly sad end to his career. He brings such an understated touch, such imagination, command and complexity to the role. Gunther is a tough, chain-smoking, moral man. Hoffman plays him as weary and hard-edged but retains a twinkle in the eye, a certain charisma. There are some delightful moments of unpredictability. Hoffman chuckling at a prisoner making an offensive signal at his camera or a terrifically bizarre scene where, in the middle of a meeting with American CIA operative Penn, he breaks up a domestic fight that breaks out in a bar.  It’s impossible to think of any other actor that could have made something so interesting from the role.

Film fans are urged to check this out if only to see the master’s swansong. He’ll be sorely missed.

David Prendeville

15A (See IFCO for details)

121 minutes

A Most Wanted Man is released 12th September 2014

A Most Wanted Man – Official Website

 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cYORzJ3e-Og

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Night Moves

Night Moves

Dir: Kelly Reichardt  Wri: Jonathan Raymond, Kelly Reichardt  Pro: Saemi Kim, Todd Haynes, Neil Kopp, Chris Maybach, Anish Savjani, Rodrigo Texeira  DOP: Christian Blauvet   Mus: Jeff Grace  CAST: Jesse Eisenberg, Dakota Fanning, Peter Sarsgard

Three young, radical environmentalists – Josh (Eisenberg), Dena (Fanning) and Harmon (Sarsgard) – plan to blow up a hydroelectric dam. Kelly Reichardt records, with methodical precision, the minute details of the before and the after of the event in this riveting drama-cum-thriller. Sedate imagery and sounds can turn into something more sinister at any turn. Reichardt takes her time, examining her characters and surroundings with an astute eye and ear. Everything is in the details in this film. Reichardt consistently finds very interesting ways to both illustrate the ideological bankruptcy of her characters and to ratchet up the tension to unbearable levels. She wrings suffocating tension from the repetitive attempts to buy fertilizer without a social security card. Subtle, small scenes such as when Josh finds an injured deer on the side of the road or the inclusion of the most discreet of sex scenes paint a fascinating, complex picture of the film’s characters and the motivations for their highly dubious actions. There is an insidious sense of foreboding running throughout the film, ready to erupt at any moment. The contrast illustrated between the beautiful, calming nature and the nasty, messy humans at the heart of the film is both tragic and unsettling.

The characters are all unlikeable. They never gain our empathy as such but Reichardt’s aforementioned attention to details draw the viewer so comprehensively into their world and the world of the film, it is impossible not to feel something as their respective worlds collide in around them. The performances are uniformly excellent. Eisenberg, following on from excellent work earlier on in the year in Richard Ayoade’s The Double, here once again strikes the right kind of nebbish nastiness and underlying malevolence. Fanning is smartly cast and utterly believable as the least morally reprehensible of the main three characters. Her Dena is naïve and terribly irresponsible in her actions but she doesn’t have the same ruthlessness as either Josh or Harmon. As Harmon, Sarsgard, an actor with a lot of potential usually squandered in sub-standard fare,  is terrifically slimy. From his first moments on screen he paints a character you wouldn’t trust in a million years. As his perfectly laid-out plans turn out to be not so perfectly laid, the viewer grasps his or her breath at the naivety and the ultimate selfishness of the respective characters and the ensuing gravity of their actions.

The cinematography by Christian Blauvet is flawless, being at once beautiful, naturalistic but also retaining an icy, chilly quality that suits the material. Reichardt here once again exhibits her mastery of sound through both the films sound design and Jeff Grace’s brilliant score. Reichardt has some very interesting things to say on such human responsibility, ideology and identity to name but some. Never once does the ambience she creates come unstuck to overwrought politics or philosophising. This is an understated, intellectual and rich piece of work yet Reichardt still has the guts to push the film into full-blown genre territory in the last act. While this would unbalance a lesser director, Reichardt manages to integrate this tonal shift seamlessly into her low-key aesthetic style and into the world of the film. Following on from fine films such as Old Joy, Wendy and Lucy and Meek’s Cutoff, this superb film confirms Reichardt’s status as one of American cinema’s foremost talents.

David Prendeville

 15A (See IFCO for details)

112 minutes

Night Moves is released 29th August 2014

Night Moves – Official Website

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A Second Look at ‘The Rover’

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David Prendeville takes another look at “this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie”.

The premise of this impressively bleak apocalyptic road movie is simple. Ten years after a worldwide economic crash a violent, damaged loner Eric (Pearce) follow a group of criminals after they steal his car, in the hope of retrieving it. This task becomes more realistic when he bumps into one of their accomplices, and brother to one of the criminals, Rey (Pattinson) who they left behind after a robbery, wounded and assuming he was dead. Rey knows where his brother and the gang are headed and he and Eric strike up an unlikely alliance. On this simple premise Michód (Animal Kingdom) ambitiously attempts to tackle themes such as good and evil, human responsibility, loyalty and masculinity.

Initially there are echoes of pictures such as Mad Max in the deliriously exciting opening car chase and the sudden, brutal jolts of violence, and The Road in its relentlessly bleak outlook. However, from the arrival of Rey onwards, the film attempts to juxtapose into this dark universe something of the buddy movie, albeit, in a much less frivolous manner than in pictures such as Midnight Run and 48 Hours.  It is through the interactions between Eric and Rey that a humanity and a certain amount of emotion emerge from this often relentlessly grim portrait of the human race. This is conveyed through conversations between the two characters which allow Michód to verbalise some of the philosophical ideas of the picture and hint at his character’s motivations. These interactions hinge on two brilliant lead performances by Pearce and Pattinson. Pearce manages to be both terrifying and also empathetic. He carries a great air of unpredictable malevolence yet also retains a vulnerability.  The real star of the show here, however, is Pattinson. In between a double-whammy of Cronenberg- 2012’s Cosmopolis and the forth-coming Maps to the Stars – Pattinson continues to make astute post-Twilight career choices and anyone who has any doubts about his acting ability need only look at his stunning work here. His Rey is the closest thing to a good character in the film. Not the smartest- but oddly innocent and loyal- he is the real heart of the film. Pattinson is nuanced, engaging and utterly believable.

Not everything about the film is as successful as the performances. While Michód exhibits a sure hand visually – helped by Natasha Braeir’s sumptuous cinematography – he is sometimes uncertain as to how to pace his sophomore effort. The film is at its best when taut and spare but on more than one occasion the film stutters and drags its way through scenes. Michód is unable to make something truly poetic of his arid setting and seems more at home when directing action or when bluntly depicting the grubbier aspects of human nature. At this point he seems a director not short on ambition or ideas but perhaps not entirely sure of what his signature formal style is as of yet. The film, for all that’s impressive about it, sometimes feels like a very serviceable mish-mash of older films and genres.

These reservations mean that the film doesn’t quite live up to its considerable potential. It remains, however, a hard-hitting, provocative and brave slice of genre film-making.

Well worth a look.

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