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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