Irish Film Review: Medicated Milk

Medicated-Milk-3-LG

Dee O’Donoghue assesses Medicated Milk. Áine Stapleton’s re-telling of the life of Lucia Joyce, daughter of celebrated Irish writer James Joyce.

 

As Dublin celebrated another Bloomsday on the 16th of June honouring the revered literary giant, a silenced, counter-narrative was being heard in the IFI – that of Joyce’s mysterious daughter, Lucia. Little is still known about Lucia Joyce yet her limited biography points to a controversial, untameable figure, who scholars agree was a clear muse for her father’s work. What is accepted is that Lucia, born in Trieste in 1907 and showed great promise in becoming a dance artist, had her own artistic ambitions abruptly halted in the cutting-edge world of modern dance, yet the exact circumstances remain shrouded in mystery. She was to spend 50 years of her life in a mental asylum, forgotten and erased, owing to the Joyce estate destroying or closely guarding documents, making them unavailable to scholars; any scholastic enquiry met with forthright resistance for attempting to penetrate the sovereignty of Joyce’s work.

Lucia’s biography is not an isolated one when history comes to silencing the creative, female voice – women with ‘high-spirited’ intellect – forced to live in the murky shadows of more respected, literary men (Zelda Fitzgerald was also committed to specialist clinics). While Joyce has cemented his name as one of the greatest literary figures, and his work celebrated annually and globally, Lucia has had her true legacy distorted to protect the myth of the literary hero, a literary hero whose work was hugely influenced by his creative daughter but has inherited no more than an image of a violently deranged woman who was in need of continual confinement – thanks to her own family.

Despite such sparse historic documentation, the mysterious Lucia still ignites a continued interest to unearth a more lucid portrait of her life, her true legacy and her status within the Joyce family. Michael Hastings’ 2004 West End play, ‘Calico’, navigated Lucia’s life and relationships through her mental illness. In Ireland, a 2013 RTÉ Radio documentary, ‘Lucia Joyce – Diving and Falling’ by Leanne O’Donnell, explored the extraordinary backdrop to Lucia’s confinement as the family were at the heart of literary Paris and most recently, Annabel Abbs’, ‘The Joyce Girl’, released this year, delves into circumstances in which the dancer was locked away so brutally for half a decade.

Continuing the artistic quest for answers, it was such creative, female silencing that motivated Irish dancer and filmmaker Áine Stapleton, to take up the mantle and attempt to unearth the unsolvable mystery behind the shrouded Lucia, in Medicated Milk. As with researchers before her, Stapleton was severely obstructed by the lack of recorded documents and therefore much of her film is informed by the American scholar Carol Loeb Schloss’ controversial biography ‘To Dance in the Wake’. Scholss’ biography challenged the customary madwoman figure and after studying 50 unpublished notes used by Joyce to pen ‘Finnegans Wake’, delineates how Joyce loved his creative, independent daughter and they shared a deep creative bond.

Drawing from the biography, Stapleton, whose own narrative mirrors Lucia’s and is interwoven into the film, proffers a unique interpretation of Lucia’s story, through experimental dance and music, to reclaim Lucia from the margins of literary history and give her the voice and image she has been historically denied. Also refuting the long-considered, institutionalised image of Lucia but rather, a creative genius in her own right, Stapleton, in conjunction with director José Miguel Jiménez and supported with an evocative score by Somadrone, fuses dazzling dance sequences, radiant underwater cinematography and graphic scenes of nudity and animal butchery to create a distinctive, yet unflinching interpretation on the loss, trauma and marginalization suffered by both Lucia and the director herself.

Stapleton became immersed in her Lucia mission by discovering Joyce himself three years ago, through her collaboration with the band Fathers of Western Thought, who were devising a musical interpretation of his work. Stapleton’s agenda soon shifted from Joyce’s writings to his daughter, a life publicly framed by mental illness and psychiatric care. Through Stapleton’s research, it soon became apparent that Lucia’s mental illness overshadowed her entire life, a mental illness that was concealing a fuller picture. It was this cover-up and a shared personal experience that motivated Stapleton to drive forward, to give Lucia a narrative and to give voice to the thoughts and expressions from Lucia’s own words.

Fuelled by frustration and ambition, Stapleton acquired copies of Lucia’s few, existing letters from the University of Texas, undertook trips to various locations in France and Ireland and visited the mental asylum in Northampton to shoot scenes for the film. Collectively, existing documentation and Stapleton’s own tireless research result in a brave, provocative and deeply sensual experimental piece, which pays deep tribute to the voiceless daughter of a literary genius.

While Schoss and now Stapleton’s controversial interpretations of the life of Lucia and her relationship with James Joyce are not unheard of amongst Joyce aficionados, such interpretations are rarely explored. And what becomes more compelling about Medicated Milk, is that Áine Stapleton succeeds in giving a voice to a woman from the past through a shared experience with a woman from the future, through the medium that has suppressed women for centuries, the creative arts.

Whether Medicated Milk results in an enraged or an infuriated reaction for its challenging theories and experimental expression, the film has given voice to two silenced female voices, females whose voices might otherwise have not been heard. A must-see.

 

Medicated Milk screened on Thursday, 16th June 2016 at the IFI as part of Irish Focus, a focus on new Irish film and filmmakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: The Silent Storm

url

DIR: Corinna McFarlane • WRI: Corinna McFarlane • PRO: Nicky Bentham • DOP: Ed Rutherford • ED: Kate Baird • MUS: Alastair Caplin • DES: Matthew Button • CAST: Damian Lewis, Andrea Riseborough, Ross Anderson

 

Corinna McFarlane’s The Silent Storm sees a staggering departure from her quirky 2008 comic documentary, Three Miles North of Molkom. While the latter promotes a sanguine New Age agenda, her feature debut wanders an intensely dark and sullen milieu, far removed from the optimistic, soul-stirring Swedish adult playground, depicted in her critically acclaimed documentary. Her father’s traumatic illness prompted the director to reconnect with her Scottish roots and explore more pessimistic narratives, therefore, The Silent Storm has provided McFarlane with a platform to unload her own personal burden, while delineating a fresh perspective on tensions within human relationships, rooted to a particular place.

Well respected yet feared minister, Balor (Damian Lewis) and his ethereal wife, Aislin (Andrea Riseborough), live on a remote Scottish island. Economic catastrophe has gripped the community, forcing most of its inhabitants to the mainland. As the last few people remaining, this isolation heightens incendiary relations between the couple. Balor’s stifling disposition and unyielding religious pomposity stand in complete opposition to Aislin’s tenderness, who is marginalized for her disavowal of religious and social expectation. After a violent row erupts between them, a mysterious, young delinquent, Fionn (Ross Anderson) arrives at the house, to be rehabilitated for a petty crime. While Balor attends to religious duties on the mainland, Aislin finds herself hypnotized by Fionn and the outsiders enjoy an unfamiliar freedom and a shared connection to the island. When Balor returns home, he senses a change in his subdued wife and determines to find out what has occurred in his absence.

While the Scottish landscape has never looked more enticing, sadly, majestic mountains and sweeping seascapes cannot plaster over the uncomfortable cracks in McFarlane’s feature debut. Indeed, the director appears so overwhelmed at hands of her own unsatisfactory, self-penned script; her directorial misjudgments permeate all aspects of the film’s narrative and performances, resulting in an overall unmitigated disaster. Given the director’s desire to explore a specific time and space which has contemporary relevance, the film’s era is difficult to pinpoint, although it is inferred it is set in an unspecified post-war location, forgotten by time and suffocated by hardship, introducing an unnecessary ambiguity that contributes nothing to the story.

The relentlessly gloomy, oppressive tone, intended to intensify Aislin’s persecution, fails to elicit the intended empathy or sympathy. The director’s misplaced, overly melodramatic style, greatly mimicked by the actors, merely invites ridicule at the performances, which are too manic, too wild and too theatrical and certainly do not camouflage McFarlane’s heavily clichéd script, which makes no discernible point about relationships, economic hardship or Scotland itself. The arrival of a young kindred spirit to disrupt existing tensions walks on tiresome familiar territory and the plot trundles along in such formulaic fashion, when all pulled together, The Silent Storm becomes a disappointing, yawningly empty and badly crafted piece of filmmaking and the only real antagonism created is between the film and the unfortunate viewer.

Damian Lewis is undoubtedly regretting his involvement in the film (which was made over two years ago and unsurprisingly, suffered from subsequent distribution woes) and it is difficult to correlate this performance with Lewis’ renowned film and television work. As the relentlessly abusive megalomaniac minister, his excessive performance, armed with an irritatingly, dubious Scottish accent is simply tedious and repetitive, reaching far beyond the point of caricature and devoid of any penetrative insight into the deepest corners of his character’s mind. There are some tender, understated moments between Riseborough and Anderson, providing much needed relief from Lewis’ draconian fits but alas, such emotional resonance is short-lived and their relationship becomes a mere apathetic afterthought, in favour of more antagonistic ramblings from Lewis.

But the finger of blame must be firmly pointed at the writer/director, McFarlane, who has produced an astoundingly banal, paint-by-numbers effort, which clearly lacks a distinct, subjective voice. Devoid of subtext, suspense, intrigue or ambition, the script, at times, appears to dumbfound even the director herself. Every weary cliché, patched up by every technical trick in the book is thrown at the story with very little narrative return, only serving to embarrass and heighten the director’s ill-judgment. McFarlane has admitted to being motivated by a type of storytelling that gets under her audiences’ skins, leaving them feeling intoxicated. The Silent Storm does indeed leave the viewer intoxicated, but for all the wrong reasons.

McFarlane’s inexperience glares out at every opportunity throughout the course of her intolerable narrative. Her failure to inject any new creativity into a hastily penned, hackneyed story, peppered with inexplicable melodramatic expression, smacks of a sheer lack of confidence in her abilities as a feature film director and screenwriter. Unfortunately for the performers, the director’s mistakes are far too substantial to overcome and it is the actors who suffer the most. There has been an eight-year gap between McFarlane’s last documentary and The Silent Storm. If she is to reap the same critical success her documentary garnered, her commitment to storytelling and technique needs serious reconsideration. Perhaps then, her audience and actors can reach the levels of intoxication she so desperately seeks, for all the right reasons.

 

    Dee O’Donoghue

16 (See IFCO for details)

102 minutes

The Silent Storm is released 20th May 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Report: Irish Film London, St. Patrick’s Film Festival 2016

IFL-728x744

Dee O’Donoghue reports from the Irish Film London, St. Patrick’s Film Festival, which took place 13– 23 March 2016.

2016 has proved to be a rewarding year so far for Irish film on the international stage, so the timing was just right for Irish Film London to showcase some of Ireland’s emerging talent at the recent St. Patrick’s Film Festival, part of the overall Mayor of London’s St. Patrick’s Day Festival. Bringing some of the best in new Irish filmmaking and animation to UK audiences, the festival held a host of events, including premiere screenings, Q&As, photographic exhibitions and a special Bafta event to mark the centenary of the 1916 Rising. Providing a platform to promote the rich, diverse talent currently proliferating Ireland’s film production, writing and acting scene, the festival has become an important cinematic event in the Irish film calendar and the standard at this year’s event proved that financial backing, marketable names and international exposure need not limit the creative possibilities available to low-budget Irish filmmakers.

IMG_4970

Kelly O’Connor, Founder and Director of Irish Film London presents ‘1916 The Irish Rebellion’ at BAFTA

Opening this year’s festival, a three-hour screening of shorts was held on Sunday, 13th of March at the newly refurbished and uniquely historic Regent Street Cinema. Introduced by Irish Film London Director, Kelly O’Connor, curator Eibh Collins whittled down fifteen eclectic and engaging shorts, which ranged from animation and drama to observational documentaries and a musical, each uniquely engaging with diverse aspects of individualism, marginalisation, tolerance and acceptance through visually stimulating and thought-provoking narratives. Standout shorts that executed such themes to exhibit emerging Irish talent at its most impressive, included:

 

Love Is A Sting – IFTA-nominated for Best Short Film, Love Is A Sting, directed by Vincent Gallagher and starring Ciarán Hinds and Seán T. Ó Meallaigh, follows struggling children’s writer Harold Finch’s journey of discovery, as he receives an unexpected visitor who challenges him to reassess his life. Charming, original and hugely witty, the film simplistically but effectively analyses the meaning of life.

 

Drone Blender – Shot in super slow motion by Speed Motion Films and directed by Damien Gallagher, this drone blender creates carnage, blending food like no ordinary blender and showing no mercy to the humble tomato, sausage and egg, inexorably demolishing all in sight.  Fascinating, fun and utterly transfixing, Drone Blender also invites serious reflection upon the lethality of drones in war and its effects on human life.

 

Céad Ghrá (First Love) – A little gem of a comedy following two prepubescent boys’ quest to win a popular local schoolgirl’s affections. Directed by Brian Deane and starring the impish Brandon Maher and Tadhg Moran, the Irish-language short underpins, not only the beauty of first childhood love but also the beauty of the Irish language, both narrative and language poetically complementing one another.

 

Father Murphy – Directed by Megan Devaney, this hilarious comedy follows the antics of a local priest, Father Murphy, who also happens to be the local drug dealer. When he accidently spikes his congregation at Mass with LSD, he must deal with the fallout of his drug peddling directly from the Vatican. Daring, frivolous and highly entertaining, Father Murphy is a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual sinister connotations associated with the church in Irish cinema.

 

The Teacup – A thought-provoking, traditional animation produced by the students of Ballyfermot College of Further Education, The Teacup tells the story of a man who fears going outside, until one day a knock on the door tempts him to change his mind. Poignant, childlike and atmospherically crafted, the film interweaves gentle childlike qualities with serious moral undertones.

 

Breathe – Starring John Connors and undoubtedly the most emotive film in the festival, director James Doherty explores a plethora of social issues including the travelling community, LGBT rights and social tolerance, as a rigid minded traveller father fears his son might be gay. A compelling, no-holds barred drama, which confronts marginalisation, oppression and violence and does not fail to jar.

IMG_4678

Sing Street actors Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna with Sing Street Producer, Paul Trijbits, centre, Film Wave at Regent Street Cinema

After a brief interlude, UK audiences were treated to a special screening of John Carney’s latest musical, Sing Street. Attended by the Minister for Justice and Equality, Frances Fitzgerald T.D., the film was received with a rip-roaring, toe-tapping reception. Starring Aidan Gillen and Jack Reynor and introducing Ferdia Walsh-Peelo and Mark McKenna, the film tells the story of a 1980s Dublin teenager, who attempts to win the girl of his dreams by forming a band. Tapping into 1980s Irish society and culture, the strength of Sing Street not only creates a fresh perspective on the highly nostalgic narrative of teenage love but also gives voice to tensions within the 1980s Irish family as it endured great interpersonal change amidst greater political, economic and cultural changes sweeping the Irish landscape, tensions that will resonate with disparate generations in recent decades.

After receiving such a rousing reception, the screening was followed by a highly-animated Q&A session with two of its leading stars, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, who played Cosmo, and Mark McKenna, who played Eamon. Highlighting the painstaking process in bringing the film into production and onto the screen (the film was completed two years ago), the two actors commented that the film’s keen social and cultural observance, through its simplistic yet rich narrative, has ensured that, like The Commitments twenty-five years ago, Sing Street will now become enshrined in Irish cinematic history.

 

Irish Film at BAFTA

On 16th March, Irish film went to BAFTA. Streamed live from The National Concert Hall, a special screening of the world premiere of 1916 The Irish Rebellion, was shown to specially invited guests in the Princess Anne Theatre to coincide with the centenary of the Easter Rising. Introduced by Clare Byrne at the National Concert Hall, the specially commissioned documentary (narrated by Liam Neeson and with an original score by Frank and Patrick Cassidy, performed live by the RTÉ Concert Orchestra) revisits the 1916 Rising through unique scholarly analyses of key events during Easter Week. Providing a counter response to accepted discourses of the Rebellion, the film merges rarely seen archive footage with fresh footage and insightful, didactic perspectives from international experts on the dramatic events in Dublin one hundred years ago. The film additionally explores the unknown key role Irish Americans played in the run up to the rebellion and the effect the Irish rebellion itself had on other oppressed nations. Thus, the film not only succeeds in introducing an alternative viewpoint to popular opinion but also succeeds in internationalising Ireland’s crusade and situating it within wider historical, political, cultural and social struggles.

unspecified

Prof. Briona Nic Dhiarmada during the ‘1916 The Irish Rebellion’ q&a at the Photographer’s Gallery

To conclude the festival, another screening of the 1916 The Rebellion was held at The Photographer’s Gallery on Ramillies Street, with a live Q&A discussion with writer and producer Prof. Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, who discussed at length the painstaking task in bringing the film to the screen, owing to the mass collection of archive footage that was in need of thorough examination and classification, in order to delineate a coherent and fresh Rebellion narrative for audiences.

The Irish Film Festival in London has become a highly significant event in the Irish film calendar. As part of the overall events throughout the year, the St. Patrick’s Festival not only succeeded in showcasing, celebrating and bringing the very best Ireland has to offer in emerging talent to UK audiences but also helped keep the wheels of Irish filmmaking in motion, by providing a distinctive platform on an international stage, encouraging the continuation and appreciation of Irish filmmaking. While the recent Oscar success in Irish cinema has garnered welcome attention both at home and abroad, festivals such as the Irish Film Festival in London, are hugely important in demonstrating that despite lesser funding opportunities or production resources, creativity need not be compromised. Indeed, as the St. Patrick’s festival showed its UK audience, much of the great Irish filmmaking that unfolded throughout the event, was created with minimal resources but has contributed enormously in keeping Irish cinema vibrant, diverse and robust.

 

Irish Film London will take place in November 2016.

 

www.irishfilmlondon.com
Twitter: @irishfilmlondon

Irish Film London is supported by the Irish Film Board, Culture Ireland, the IFI and the Emigrant Support Programme as part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade of Ireland

 

 

 

                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Goodnight Mommy

image

 

DIR: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz • WRI: Severin Fiala, Veronika Franz • PRO: Ulrich Seidl • DOP: Martin Gschlacht • ED: Michael Palm • MUS: Olga Neuwirth • DES: Hubert Klausner, Hannes Salat • CAST: Lukas Schwarz, Elias Schwarz, Susanne Wuest

 

Recent dark, socio-cultural events have altered the frontiers of the Austrian family, disrupting the perceived reputable image embodied by the wholesome, singing Von Trapps and inviting scrutiny on the nation’s relationship between the family and its national identity. Leading social commentators have asserted that Austria is a nation in denial and lurking beneath the glittering, snow-crystal mountain tops and Lederhosen and Dirndl-wearing choirs, lies a disturbing, malignant evil, deeply embedded in the country’s psyche, which the nation has gone to great pains to suppress. It is this contradiction between the perception of idyllic wholesomeness and a piqued disavowal of its depraved and rotting stains, that Austrian writers-directors Severin Fiala and Veronika Franz explore in their debut Goodnight Mommy, an arthouse, matricide horror, which overturns the mythical vision of the Austrian family and national identity, so carefully (re) constructed by its own history.

 

Twin brothers Lukas and Elias lead a charmed, fairy-tale life in the tranquil Austrian countryside. Living in a beautiful Alpine chalet, they spend hot, relaxed days swimming in the lakes, running through the cornfields and jumping on trampolines, simply being kids without a care in the world. When their loving mother returns home from hospital, her face heavily bandaged from an undisclosed operation, her out-of-character behaviour leads the boys to think that she is an imposter. As her cruel actions grow more erratic, the boys resort to drastic measures to get their mother to prove her identity.

 

Tapping into recent social events and aligning itself with an evident shift in the genre, Goodnight Mummy presents and deconstructs a Utopian vision of the Austrian family and national identity, by lifting the lid on the carefully concealed contradictions that reinforce this ideological façade. Locating the film within a new surge of psychological horror films, such as It Follows, the narrative presents an alternative, multi-layered interpretation to the genre’s traditional intensity of suspense, by toying with new psychological ways to tap into primal fears, which thwart conventional constructions of suspense and challenge how horror is viewed (and whether it is even horror at all). Dividing critical opinion and hailed as one of the scariest films of all time on the one hand, while likened to a manipulative torture porn film on the other, regardless of how it is received, Goodnight Mommy certainly does not allow audiences to sit comfortably on the fence.

 

Standing in opposition to the overplayed, action-orientated, blood curdling, visceral gorefest synonymous with horror, Goodnight Mommy employs similar psychological tactics found in film noir and the gothic by arousing the same cultural moods of paranoia and mistrust, which have resulted from a disruption to a seemingly, civilized ideal. Unfolding in an achingly, laborious manner, the trudging, sedate pace plays on audience’s anticipatory senses by teasing out the narrative to the point of complete exasperation, the prickly tension designed to unnerve and infuriate, rather than thrill and titillate. The film’s exquisite style, captured through a palpably unsettling lens, becomes all the more disquieting, as slow, dark tracking shots and throbbing, pregnant silences, tear down the illusions of familial normality, to put the depraved, the sinister and the corrupt, firmly in the spotlight.

 

Reconfiguring victim and villain identity, through the sense of isolation felt by two vulnerable children who cannot come to terms with their mother’s new, callous demeanour, the film implements the alternative means of creating suspense in the genre of the past decade, evoking a new type of edginess, mistrust and doubt, which psychologically manipulates audience’s consciences and taunts moral and emphatic judgment. By toying with the psychological anticipation of fear and suspense, through a very simple plot of questionable identity, the film lures its audience into an excruciatingly, torturous sense of frustration and confusion before unleashing an unsettling maelstrom of abject horror and trauma. Similar to the sense of expectancy found in Gothic, where the supposed symbols of harmony, the grand house and sweeping, bucolic landscapes, become the playgrounds with which to unleash and shatter the illusion of idyll, the directors flirt with audience expectation, giving no clear indication of the depravity rooting beneath the surface nor ever fully convincing they are nourishing a vision of hell.

 

Disturbing, distressing and deliciously creepy, divided critical opinion both have valid arguments. It is, at times, too achingly slow to bear and the impatient anticipation of horror is both sadistic and cunning. An abrupt shift and challenge to a perceived identity, not influenced by paranormal or supernatural factors with which an audience can relate to, augment an angst and paranoia, which stands in opposition to the traditional, visceral experiences in horror. It would be misleading to say the film contains a thunderbolt twist, the narrative leaving plenty of teasing markers to enhance the expectation of fear, but that is not its point. It is the anticipation of violence and the possibility of disruption to the idyll, rather than the actual violence and the revelation of a family’s rotting stains, which makes Goodnight Mommy, not only successful in gnawing at more traditional means of viewing and receiving horror but more significantly, speak volumes about a nation’s socio-cultural malignancies that shatter a carefully orchestrated mythical ideal.

                                                                                                                           Dee O’Donoghue

 

99 minutes

Goodbye Mommy is released 4th March 2016

Goodbye Mommy – Official Website

 

 

 

Share

Review: Truth

images

 

DIR/WRI: James Vanderbilt • PRO: Brad Fischer, Brett Ratner, William Sherak, Andrew Spaulding, James Vanderbilt • DOP: Mandy Walker • ED: Richard Francis-Bruce • MUS: Brian Tyler • DES: Fiona Crombie • CAST: Cate Blanchett, Robert Redford, Dennis Quaid

 

While Cate Blanchett is currently riding high on the success of her Oscar-nominated performance in Todd Haynes’s female/lesbian-centric film Carol, unfortunate scheduling has pulled focus away from yet another outstandingly rich Blanchett performance in Truth, the directorial debut from screenwriter James Vanderbilt. Released just three weeks in the US before the diversity-friendly, melancholic melodrama Carol and almost simultaneously with Tom McCarthy’s gripping newsroom thriller Spotlight, the onus is on the celebrated screenwriter’s debut to amplify the narrative of investigation into the darker aspects of American culture and its power structure, forcefully probed by such critically acclaimed heavyweights through sobering and absorbing critiques.

 

Based on CBS news producer Mary Mapes’ 2005 memoir, Truth and Duty: The Press, The President, and the Privilege of Power, Blanchett plays the non-conforming journalist, who produced a report for the 60 Minutes II programme in 2004, which challenged Bush’s service record with the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam era. Revelling in the glory of exposing the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse story (giving Bush a further axe to grind), Mapes and long-time news anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford) attempt to prove the president’s attendance record was more than shaky, owing to his family connections. Basing their investigations on leaked documents by an unreliable source, Mapes, Rather and a mutinous production team find themselves on the receiving end of political and corporate power, compromising their journalistic integrity as the authenticity of the documents comes under scrutiny.

 

While Haynes interrogates sexual diversity and challenges to the stability of the family by emotionally investing in a tangible love story between the two female characters and McCarthy exposes the Catholic Church’s large-scale culture of abuse with ethical humility by giving prominence to the victims rather than the crusading journalists, Vanderbilt’s Truth fails to grill the hegemonic construction of political, corporate and media corruption with any stinging, impactful conviction. Vanderbilt, rather, speeds through the chain of events that almost led to a presidential downfall and changed the face of modern journalism without the emotional or moral punch that reinforces Carol and Spotlight, devaluing the scale the CBS report had on the construction of the media and the manipulation of its integrity and values.

 

While Hayne’s exquisite craftsmanship is stamped all over Carol and his customary ironic overtones intensify his dismantling of 1950s socio-cultural structures, Vanderbilt’s impulsive, disjointed style, not only prevents an identification with characters and connection to events but draws attention to the director’s inexperience, whose failure to tease the hot subject matter into a carefully considered narrative, loses much of the moral and political significance of the story. Unlike Spotlight, the considerable repercussions of the story are sidelined to accentuate the journalists’ campaign without digging into the culture of corruption that led to the crusade and rather than merging both cause and effect into a sophisticated and damning cinematic critique of modern journalism and conservative power, Truth is hesitant and hurried, becoming more akin to a nondescript television movie. Vanderbilt’s style is at such odds with the narrative objective, that his investigations becoming more alienating than immersive and the zipping fashion with which the story unfolds creates an indifference to rather than engagement with events, making the overall story appear less significant than it was in actuality.

 

Supported solidly by Redford, Truth is rescued by another engrossing performance by Blanchett, who plays the lobbying producer with such compelling nuance, it is unfortunate the overall narrative and style cannot equal her efforts. Although the film is based on her book, Vanderbilt appears determined not to exploit Mapes’ position as an identifiable, female protagonist, in favour of a more rounded overview of all players involved. As such, when the crusaders mightily fall and Blanchett is put on the spotlight and breathtakingly shines, it is clear Vanderbilt missed a great opportunity by not intensifying Mapes’ perspective, which would have given the film that much needed subjective, emotional and feminist edge. Although most of the journalists involved ended their CBS careers in the aftermath, it was Mapes who was fired from the corporation, so such feminist overtones could have bolstered identification with Mapes’ position as a woman against unscrupulous corporate hegemony, but Vanderbilt seems at pains to avoid such political engagement.

 

Although the film shares a similar agenda to Carol and Spotlight in attempting to demolish the ideological agendas of conservative, hegemonic institutions, Vanderbilt’s attempts at interrogation simply do not get under the skin and fail to penetrate the cynical cycle of corruption and cover-ups, so palpably executed in Spotlight. While Rathers became the public scapegoat and thus a symbol of modern journalistic rectitude, it was Mapes who felt the full force of the corporate and political axe and Blanchett’s stunning performance was the unexploited golden ticket in Truth. The film has evidently suffered from a tentative, inexperienced director whose cautious probing of the seedier side of a culture of corporate corruption, leaves a feeling of being outside events rather than being complicit in the crusade. Despite some fantastic separate elements, such as performances and production values, when all pulled together, the film fails to add up to a thrilling, critical exposé on the whole and Cate Blanchett will possibly not get the appreciation for her performance that she deserves.

                                                                                                 

 

 Dee  O’Donoghue

15A (See IFCO for details)

125 minutes

Truth is released 4th March 2016

Truth – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Strangerland

maxresdefault

 

DIR: Kim Farrant • WRI: Michael Kinirons, Fiona Seres • PRO: Macdara Kelleher, Naomi Wenck • DOP: P.J. Dillon • ED: Veronika Jenet • MUS: Keefus Ciancia • CAST: Nicole Kidman, Joseph Fiennes, Hugo Weaving

 

The sweeping Australian outback has been long employed by filmmakers to provide a glimpse into a notion of national identity through a distinctive narrative formula. Rooted in a particular space and ideology, the outback’s terrain radiates a utopian sense of belonging through an intimate relationship to the landscape, while its transformative powers manifest when the curious and the beguiled attempt to penetrate this alien landscape, their notable cultural difference perceived to threaten existing order. The mythical freedom embodied by the outback is metamorphosed into a dystopian, dehydrated desert, where marked outsiders, punished for such difference, must negotiate an unforgiving landscape in order to survive.

Strangerland is the debut feature by Kim Farrant, starring Nicole Kidman and Joseph Fiennes. In a psychological thriller meets suspense drama meets melodrama, the film tells the story of a married couple who relocate to a remote village in the outback with their two teenage children under dubious circumstances. As they struggle to control their promiscuous daughter’s behaviour and son’s insomniac, nocturnal wanderings, their strained marriage is further tested when the teenagers disappear and the couple must overcome their emotional distance to unearth the mystery of their children’s fate.

On the surface, Strangerland adheres to the generic criteria of a contemporary Australian outback thriller. Aesthetically, the arid, bleak landscape has never looked so enticing nor the locals so unnervingly feral, providing the perfect backdrop from which to plant a sweaty-palmed, suspense thriller. The film’s style, however, proves to be the only commendable element of Farrant’s debut and the director’s inexperience, as she toys with generic hybridization, is clearly evident as the promise of spine-chilling suspense takes a wild, underwhelming narrative detour, resulting in a rather messy affair.

The mysterious disappearance of two teenage newcomers, already marked as subversive by simply being outsiders, sets up the formulaic plot, from which a jaded couple must overcome their own marginalized status to find their children with the help of an eerily cagey community. A shift in focus from a potentially jittery thriller to a humdrum, psychological analysis of a dislocated family becomes the narrative driving force and given the rich backdrop, it appears a great opportunity has been severely missed.

Farrant has stated that the story is inspired by her overwhelming grief at her father’s death and while Kidman and Fiennes provide credible character studies on two opposing reactions to loss, the framing of the narrative does not gel with its anticipated plot. Lured into the promise of a dystopian nightmare in an intimidating landscape initially conforms to the generic outback narrative. Rather than focus on the hindrances the hostilities between the couple and community produce, which is one of the most crucial elements of the genre, the disintegration of the family takes centre stage, eradicating the suspenseful pulse of the thriller, becoming a misconceived deviation, which simply does not work. The dark, sexual undertones, which are intended to motivate the disappearance and search, never really gel with the direction of the script, the lurid secret revealed all too late without conviction, losing any impact it should have had and severely stifling the lead performances.

A frustrated housewife trapped in a loveless marriage as her children mysteriously disappear, should provide Kidman with enough scope to explore a range of emotional entanglements. The excessive psychological behaviour produced by her grief, however, appears misplaced within a narrative that has greatly detoured from its original intention and Kidman appears on the whole, at a loss. Her emotional episodes would be more justifiable if the plot remained located within the more conventional outback thriller narrative and aligned with the obstacles produced by the outback rather than her frustrations within the family and as such, she just becomes irrationally mad. Fiennes also suffers the same fate but standing in contrast to Kidman’s excessive fragility, his explosive, irrational bursts of violence and rage, just place him as psychotically dangerous. While the searing landscape forces the couple to confront their own fundamental flaws as humans, the cause for the couple’s psychological torment through a wishy-washy past does not align with the ensuing effects, leaving an overall jagged narrative within a film already suffering from a glaring identity crisis.

Despite the efforts of the film’s two leads, Strangerland is a disappointingly, misplaced attempt to refresh a tried and tested formula, a formula which provides a great introspective on Australian identity and culture. Farrant may attempt to explore a host of relevant socio-cultural issues, including the reconfiguration of the family, however, her failure to engage with the crucial elements of the outback narrative, by underinvesting in cultural differences between the family and community, is the film’s fundamental flaw. The lack of exploration of the antagonism such cultural difference ignites, makes it difficult to relate to the characters’ psychological transformations, resulting in a highly frustrating, vague and forgettable result.

                      Dee O’Donoghue

 15A (See IFCO for details)

 111 minutes

Strangerland is released 5th February 2016

 

Strangerland – Official Website

 

 

 

Share

DVD Review: In A House That Ceased To Be

image

 

Dee O’Donoghue takes a look at Ciarín Scott’s documentary which follows the Irish humanitarian and children’s rights activist, Christina Noble.

A musical tale of tragic proportions, when Christina Noble was dubbed ‘The real Miss Saigon’ by The Sunday People newspaper in 1990, the world’s media decisively took note and the children’s rights activist finally received the media exposure she desperately sought to accentuate the plight of indigent children in Vietnam. Ciarín Scott’s affecting film, In A House That Ceased To Be, documents Noble’s astonishingly complex biography, from the slums of Dublin’s inner city to the establishment of over one hundred child rescue projects through her Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, via her own traumatic journey of physical and emotional abuse. Borne from a dream, Noble’s unwavering determination to penetrate the cycle of child poverty, victimization and sexual exploitation in far-flung countries such as Vietnam and Mongolia through healthcare, education and community development, achieved the impossible for the Irish crusader whose own horrifying childhood mirrored those she sought to rescue, locating her as one of the most important global children’s charity campaigners of recent times.

Tracing Noble on the ground in Vietnam and Mongolia, Scott’s portrait of Christina at work exposes the sheer desperation of its innumerable forgotten children, where thousands upon thousands bed down in city sewers and manholes in up to minus 40 degree conditions, many deformed with irremediable illness or many simply needing comfort and love, owing to a culture of child invisibility in the world’s developing countries. Although a haunting reflection upon humanity’s shame in its treatment of those it should be safeguarding, the most compelling aspect of Scott’s documentary lies in a narrative that becomes greater than an appraisal of Noble’s steely commitment to expunge child oppression in remote Asian countries, demonstrating that suffering is not exclusive to adventitious lands. The film equally becomes a staunch polemic on the Irish State and Catholic Church, as Noble and her siblings became some of the untold victims of institutional abuse prevalent in 1950s Ireland.

Although Noble’s activism was inspired by a dream on the Vietnam War, it becomes evident that her indelible motivation is her own fraught biography, deluged with fear since her mother’s death at the age of ten and the ensuing separation from her siblings and detached, alcoholic father into disparate orphanages around the country, each informed the other was dead. As with many Irish narratives of the era, Noble’s experience was written into the scaffolding of a culture of abuse at the hands of those in systematic power, her only means of solace to sing pop songs to herself, fuelling her spirit, compelling her to survive against those who profoundly failed her. The unavoidable probing into Noble’s own personal trauma becomes a trauma in itself as she struggles to articulate the level of abuse she experienced in a West of Ireland orphanage. Compassion and warmth sit alongside explosive anger and scathing vitriol at the supposed beacons of Irish light and hope, who repeatedly failed countless of children in their care, a stain all too familiar in Ireland’s relationship with its historic institutions, asylums and orphanages.

It is the unspoken narrative that lies beneath Noble’s unresolved rage that becomes as equally distressing as the graphic images of child torment in foreign lands. As with the ever-familiar tactic of Ireland’s ability to sweep its shameful stains under the carpet, so too does Noble’s censor her own profile, her anger speaking volumes, her vivid recollections refusing to fade with time. A passionate, gregarious and outspoken woman rendered speechless, unable to give voice to her adversities, her adulthood clearly shaped and steered by anxieties she is unable or unwilling to release, surmised by her sister as a ‘demolition of our life, a demotion of our home, a dismantling of our togetherness’.

While Noble, the child saviour, finds great catharsis in rescuing the destitute from perilous conditions and infusing their young lives with hope, it is the tacit reflection of her own scarred history, including gang-rape and enforced adoption of her baby son by the Church that becomes more vivid as it unfolds through her charitable actions towards those who endured similar fates. It is what is seen rather than what is said that is most illustrative in Scott’s film, achieving a highly emotive balance between the comfort and deep empathy Noble radiates for her Asian children and the outrage and torment she endures at her own violated self, not only compelling Asian countries to inwardly reflect on its reprehensible neglect but also confronting Ireland with its own ignominious history and the treatment of its young, necessitous citizens.

Taking the film’s title from the popular Dublin song, ‘The Rare Ould Times’, Ciarín Scott’s portrait of Christina Noble fuses a past with a present that is both contemptible and hopeful.  It is not only a compelling, heart-wrenching and contradictory account of a forceful, yet fragile woman’s biography but equally of the nation she was born into and its disturbing legacy of child institutional abuse. Christina Noble may have all the love, songs and words in the world for children in need but her anger, emotional fragility and silence towards her own unresolved past becomes just as torturous as the suffering of the underprivileged children she is saving. It is an extremely important account, not only in its recognition and celebration of a lowly Dublin girl from the slums who achieved global acclaim for her charitable activism but also in its highly significant reflection upon Ireland’s unsettling history and those in power who helped shape its trajectory and maintained the cycle of child oppression.

 

 

Available for rent or purchase now and is also available to stream or download in Ireland from Volta.ie

 

  • Director: Ciarín Scott
  • Producers: Rex Bloomstein, Paul Duane, Ciarín Scott
  • Format: PAL
  • Region: Region 2
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Classification: 15A
  • Studio: Element Pictures Distribution
  • DVD Release Date: 6 Nov 2015

  Run Time:  91 minutes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Taxi Tehran

201511112_5

DIR/WRI/PRO/DOP/ED: Jafar Panahi

 

One of the most evocative features of Jafar Panahi’s Taxi Tehran is the director’s unruffled smile, which rarely falters as he drives (badly) around the streets of Tehran in a taxi. As a filmmaker, who is banned from making films or travelling outside his native country for making anti-government propaganda, Panahi’s smile evaluates the irony of his demoted employment to freely meander through the streets of Tehran and the confinement of his profession, where surreptitious cameras on a dashboard, in defiance of his sentence, symbolically capture the absurdity and reality of his situation. Following on from This Is not a Film and Closed Curtain, which were both shot in the relative safety of interior houses, Taxi Tehran, an eighty-odd minute, documentary-like style film, becomes more than another flagrant touting of the ban, it is representative of a wider confinement engulfing Iranian culture through its potent cultural and political restrictions, where each act of defiance, could signify the very last act of defiance.

As a former assistant to Kiarostami, a specialist of the chattering-and-driving trope, Taxi Tehran draws comparisons with his mentor’s Ten, also composed of a series of elliptical vignettes, in which a succession of conversations with the driver, express religious and political views, condensed into an intoxicating portrait of contemporary Iranian culture. Touching on wide variety of themes from a humanist perspective, old meets new and traditionalism meets modernity to illustrate the complexities and contradictions engulfing Iranian life. Panahi’s nuanced portrait rouses an eclectic mix of characters who penetrate the taxi’s interior with their chaotic urban bustle, ranging from the entertaining to the mundane, who either animate or puncture the driver’s mood through their philosophical discourses, creating an antagonism between the love and revolt for a culture that both suffocates and inspires through its contradictory repressive regime.

Restricted on the outside, the interior of a taxi now becomes the vehicle whereby passengers can exchange impassioned views on contentious topics, to which many citizens have become desensitized. Assuming the role of confidante, councellor and advisor, Panahi listens to discussions within the confinement of a taxi, inviting an ironic sense of surveillance and voyeurism both as passengers and as a filmmaker. Overhearing impassioned conversations on execution and human rights, meeting a black market DVD seller who recognizes Panahi, two superstitious elderly women who must take their goldfish to a spring by noon or they will die and a dying husband who insists Panahi films his final testament so his wife will inherit his money, evoke both a circumspective and openness to a culture that serves as a commentary on the similarities within the human condition and the continuation cultural oppression within Iran itself.

But as is common in Iranian cinema, it is through the eyes and mind of children that the most thought-provoking content about contemporary culture emerges. Panahi’s final passenger, his niece, lectures him on the tenants of Iranian filmmaking and the avoidance of ‘sordid realism’, as dictated by the autocratic regime, inviting reflection upon the relationship between cinema and culture, the director and the censorial theists of the Islamic republic and female oppression, the liberation the filmmaker’s niece now experiences to be cut short as she matures, a notion that sees Panahi’s smile fade.

Renowned Iranian cinema scholar Hamid Dabashi has been critical of Panahi’s three covert films, claiming that his flagrant defiance of the filmmaking ban has seen the director lose some of the sharp, social impact that informed his earlier films. While there is a sense that, as with Makmahlbaf and Kiarostami’s ‘Westernisation’ of their later work, the same political and cultural agenda that motivated an alternative type of freedom or oppression can create complacency in its social impact. While Panahi’s film is littered with recurring themes and style synonymous with Iranian cinema and does not approach his third circumspect film with any novel agenda, it is the narrative of continuation that becomes the its most potent message and arguably the most engaging of his three post-sentence films. He may have moved outside to the relative the freedom of the streets, however the continuation of the same oppressive narrative persists and he is going to still defy it.

                                                                                                                              Dee O’Donoghue

82 minutes

Taxi Tehran is released 30th October 2015

Taxi Tehran – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: The Legend of Longwood

1434416447_2

 

DIR: Lisa Mulcahy • WRI: Nadadja Kemper, Lisa Mulcahy, Gwen Eckhaus • PRO: Michael Garland, Nadadja Kemper, Paul Myler, Rob Vermeulen • DOP: Richard Van Oosterhout • ED: Gráinne Gavigan • MUS: Patrick Neil Doyle • DES: Diana van de Vossenberg • CAST: Lucy Morton, Lorcan Bonner, Fiona Glascott, Thekla Reuten, Brendan Conroy, Lorcan Cranitch, Séan Mahon

 

Best known for directing critically acclaimed television dramas such as The Clinic and Red Rock, Irish director Lisa Mulcahy’s second full-length feature film is the children’s fantasy quest The Legend of Longwood. This coming-of-age adventure follows twelve-year old, horse-mad Mickey Miller, whose life is turned upside-down when her horse dies and her mother uproots the family from New York to an eerie backwater in Ireland. Struggling to adjust, Mickey begins to see sinister apparitions linked to the local legend of a mysterious Black Knight, who has been tormenting the village for three hundred years. She soon discovers the legend, a nasty witch called Caitlin and seven precious horses are all connected back to her and she holds the key to unlocking the secret, redeeming the knight and restoring harmony to the village.

Set amidst vast rolling landscapes seeped in majestic mountains, lush hillsides and mystical moors, the Legend of Longwood provides both a beguiling and foreboding platform from which to spring the magical fantasy and supernatural intrigue the mythical legend evokes. While the cinematography is suitably enchanting, lending well to the menace of ill-omened knights, blazing fires, unexplained deaths and imposing castles, the adventure quest narrative fails to commensurate with the tone and mood established by the film’s polychromatic portrait, largely owing to a transparent imbalance within the script. Fusing a mysterious mythological tale with a contemporary fable of greed and deception, to which a young, fearless heroine must overcome adversity to restore order, is always a good starting point in the fantasy quest genre. The problem within the narrative is that despite some impressive performances, the film is just a little too short on mystery or fantasy and stripped of these crucial narrative elements, very little else remains.

Structured upon two narrative strands, whereby a plucky heroine attempts to thwart the dastardly deeds of the wicked witch while attempting to solve a supernatural riddle, should interweave to consolidate a coherent core narrative driven by the heroine’s transformation as she faces many adversities. The script however, fails to affect such a balance and the narrative takes a wild detour away from the mysterious paranormal quest into the realms of comedy and farce as the witch’s sneaky shenanigans gain momentum, engulfing the entire narrative. As such, the story now meanders from the spellbinding promise of mythological adventure to hoodwinking an incompetent castle lord, devaluing the film’s fantastical elements and losing much of the mystical weight the quest should be seeped in. The real adventure now lies with Caitlin’s cunning strategies, Mickey’s fantastical exploits becoming mere afterthoughts, peppered at random around the witch’s sadistic schemes.

Aside from the standout performances from Fiona Glascott as the calculating shrew (also currently starring in John Crowley’s Brooklyn) and Lorcan Cranitch as her partner in crime, the rest of the cast underwhelm and fail to penetrate the limitations of a script evidently burdened with too many screenwriters. Far too many characters, surplus to requirements, add to the uncertainty of the script’s direction and problematic storytelling, lacking any sense of cohesion between the cast. Seán Mahon as the hoodwinked lord, through no fault of his own, is wholly ineffectual, providing no foil to his fiancée’s plot and is representative of the many of the impotent supporting characters who dot the narrative but pose no serious threat to Mickey, depreciating her status as a heroine and situating her as a rather unidentifiable character.

With so many quest films oversaturating the market, The Legend of Longwood is unsuccessful in delivering a narrative that satisfies the crucial components of any fantasy adventure film. Without a high level of mystical intrigue and unnerving eeriness fuelling the story, the plot fails to ignite on a level that would allow for audience investment and identification. As such, the heroine’s anaemic transformation and spiritless adventures, devoid of emotional punch, merely trundle forward at a lackluster pace, lacking the robustness required to hold the attention of sophisticated audiences of the genre, both adults and children alike. Without a substantial heroine driving the narrative, in a plot that is too light on fantasy and mystery, The Legend of Longwood fails to make much impact, despite its captivating façade and unfortunately the film becomes just another forgettable adventure quest drama.

                                                                                                                                       Dee O’Donoghue

PG (See IFCO for details)

99 minutes

The Legend of Longwood is released 23rd October 2015

The Legend of Longwood Official Website

 

 

 

Share

Review: The Program

program

DIR: Stephen Frears • WRI: John Hodge • PRO: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Tracey Seaward, Kate Solomon • DOP: Danny Cohen • ED: Valerio Bonelli • MUS: Alex Heffes • DES: Alan MacDonald • CAST: Ben Foster, Chris O’Dowd, Bill Stapleton, Jesse Plemons, Guillaume Canet

 

Despite years of persistent allegations and categorical denials of taking performance-enhancing drugs, when the US Anti-Doping Agency in 2012 found that Lance Armstrong’s career was not only punctuated by drug use but that he was also the mastermind behind one of the most systematic doping programmes cycling had ever seen, it hardly sent shockwaves throughout the sporting world. For his most ardent fans, however, it was the tangled web of deceit, woven on the back of a seemingly insurmountable battle with cancer to win the Tour de France seven consecutive times, that was the ultimate betrayal. Acclaimed filmmaker Alex Gibney laid bare such perennial cat-and-mouse games between the media and the ignominious cyclist in his fly-on-the-wall documentary The Armstrong Lie in 2013, which not only challenged audiences’ perception of honesty but also ruffled Gibney’s own objectives in uncovering the ultimate truth, such was the conviction of the fabulist’s own sympathetic narrative.

British director Stephen Frears’ dramatization The Program, is not a fictional recounting of Gibney’s documentary but is rather an adaptation from David Walsh’s book, Seven Deadly Sins: My Pursuit of Lance Armstrong, the myth-busting sports journalist who spent years trailing the untouchable myth-maker of cycling. Starring Ben Foster as the mercurial champion and Chris O’Dowd as the Irish crusading newshound, Frears’ bio-drama delves into one of the most professionally orchestrated doping programmes in sport, which for almost two decades seemingly hoodwinked the UCI, the media and a legion of fans to allow Armstrong to become one of the greatest cyclists of the twentieth century.

Structuring the narrative around the intricate operations of the doping racket, which began with Armstrong’s first 1999 Tour win to his public fall from grace in 2009, The Program races through the cyclist’s biography at a thumping, cyclonic rate. Charging through his early formative years, from an unknown but cocksure competitor to a testicular cancer diagnosis that should have halted his obdurate ambition but led to an unrivalled golden age of victory, until a restless retirement and doomed comeback exposed the extensive use of performance-enhancing drugs. Executing the hyperactivity of a whirlwind career blighted by controversy and suspicion, The Program pulsates with furious pace, explosive energy and a razor-sharp visual style. Mirroring the real-life saga itself, the film’s intensity, evoked through a seductively luminous aesthetic, on the one hand gleams with the electrifying heat of inexorable bravado, while unpredictable, obscure camera angles jerk from a ferociously fidgety lens with a tour de force that shatters the mood, abruptly suspending the narrative in a directionless, disconcerting limbo.

If Gibney stands accused of becoming too emotionally embroiled in the complexity of Armstrong’s sophisms resulting in a somewhat tangled narrative, Frears has no such qualms in keeping a safe emotional distance, allowing the absurdity of the Armstrong character to unfold in accordance with the prevailing mythology constructed by the man himself. Refraining from judgment, not even through the moral compass of nemesis David Walsh, disappointingly played by a miscast Chris O’Dowd, who never appears hungry enough in catching his man, Frears is fully cognizant of the potency of the Armstrong myth, never allowing fiction to blur fact, when the facts themselves are potent enough. With the benefit of hindsight through Armstrong’s public confession, Foster relishes in the creation of a calculating, superhuman monster, avoiding any descent into caricature, simply because he does not need to, his compulsive, full-bodied performance interchangeable with the real-life construction of a man so familiar to audiences through his own manipulation of the media.

Although the film honours the chronology of the doping programme, the ‘EPG generation’, and Italian physician Michele Ferrari’s pivotal role in the scheme, it is the ambitious arrogance without compunction with which Armstrong perpetuated the myth, in full awareness of his role as a cancer survivor, champion and cultural icon, which ultimately defines the cyclist’s narrative. Foster paints an unambiguous, one-dimensional portrait, eliminating any sympathetic characteristics Gibney may have perceived, to illustrate a deeply calculating and smugly charming man, whose overriding fear of failure motivated a ruthless modus operandi of recurring lawsuits, silencing his detractors for almost two decades. Foster’s portrayal becomes so destructive and poisoned because Frears perceives Armstrong’s egotistical actions were destructive and poisoned, his manipulative tactics in competitive sport no different to his strategy in gaining public sympathy and support for his charitable work. Gibney’s flawed hero has now become Frears’ shameless and disingenuous anti-hero, moving from empathy to disgust and it is the audience who feel the most uncomfortable.

While Gibney’s attempts to unearth the truth behind the lies still evoked sympathy towards the fallen champion, Frears’ film serves as a reminder to its audience of its own flaws, taunting those who perpetuated the myth through an obsession with the cult of celebrity. Frears implies the Armstrong myth endured because those who deified the fraudster allowed it to do so. Foster’s performance is so compelling because in its entire monstrosity, it touches a raw nerve, not only exposing the feebleness of the man but more particularly, the feebleness of those who championed him. Frears points the finger as much at a gushing audience as he does at the make-up of a highly flawed man, the irony not lost that his mythical 2009 comeback came on the back of such highly-charged adoration as much as ego, ultimately leading to his final downfall.

Those familiar with Gibney’s documentary may be slightly disappointed that Frears does not take any new perspective into the prevailing Armstrong narrative nor offer fresh insight into the psyche of the man behind the painstakingly moulded mask. His complicated personal relationships remain closely guarded and The Program instead is about culture’s love affair with celebrity as much as it is about Lance Armstrong’s love affair with himself and success. The film doesn’t romanticise, condemn or exaggerate the mythical hero for dramatic purposes but rather aims to expose a truth, which Gibney could not quite infiltrate. Thanks to Armstrong’s manipulation of the media, he himself has constructed the brutal and ugly portrayal that Foster assumes in The Program. There is no room for compassion towards the truculent cyclist, who used his battle with illness to deceive the integrity of competitive sports and particularly the integrity of adoring fans, whose faith in Armstrong’s successes should have been a source of inspiration but instead has left them feeling exceptionally cheated and fundamentally flawed themselves.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

 103 minutes

The Program is released 16th October 2015

The Program – Official Website

 

Share

Review: Suffragette

87e5f126-de38-4d1a-890c-ace85c44af9f-620x372

DIR: Sarah Gavron • WRI: Abi Morgan • PRO: Alison Owen, Faye Ward • DOP: Eduard Grau • ED: Barney Pilling • MUS: Alexandre Desplat • DES: Alice Normington • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, Meryl Streep, Anne-Marie Duff, Brendan Gleeson

 

The distinct lack of films depicting the Suffragette movement in cinema since the silent era is unsurprising. Despite a host of documentaries and television movies exploring one of the most pivotal events in women’s history, cinema has predominantly shied away from the subject, possibly under the (mis) conception that suffrage is now irrelevant and contemporary audiences are better placed aligning their sympathies with more pertinent, identifiable social struggles. While most of the silent era films have been lost, those that survive delineate a collective portrait of aggressive, defeminized termagants, whose abandonment of traditional gender roles created havoc within existing social structures, allowing cinema to engage in negative propaganda and persistent stereotypes.

Sarah Gavron’s ambitious interpretation on British women’s suffrage follows its foot soldiers highly-charged campaign for social change in London, circa 2012. Penned by The Iron Lady writer, Abi Morgan, Suffragette, originally entitled The Fury, makes no apologies for its categorical feminist perspective, honouring the forgotten working-class women who fought to secure the right to vote and stand in political elections. Carey Mulligan stars as working-class washerwoman, Maud Watts, who is persuaded to join the movement, despite disapproval from her loving husband and lascivious boss. Under the encouragement of local pharmacist and seasoned activist, Edith (Helena Bonham Carter), downtrodden cockney, Violet (Anne-Marie Duff) and the watchful leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep) Maud finds herself engaged in a flurry of violent, illegal activity to increase media publicity for the cause. Soon her defiant activism compromises her family and job and with the guileful police inspector Steed (Brendan Gleeson) determined to derail her efforts, Maud is forced to choose between her old, subordinated life or continue the bloody fight for emancipation.

A compelling and propulsive no-holds-barred interpretation, Suffragette does not shy away from accentuating the extreme subversive tactics employed by the bastions of the women’s movement in the face of frenzied, brutal opposition. Delving into the psyche and spirit of the era through a bold cinematic vision, Gavron pumps a thumping rush of furious energy into the inflammable, character-driven narrative, which steamrolls along at a ferocious pace, creating a palpable, nervous edginess, which perfectly executes the pervading social unrest of the era. Captured through a highly subjective, restless feminist lens, with many of the action sequences shot in media res, the camera belligerently probes and taunts to heighten the claustrophobic milieu of a disordered society on the brink of immense social change.

Determined to redress the balance of stereotype and negative connotations aligned with suffragette identity, Gavron welcomes a heady mix of heterogeneous characters that broadly traverse the social spectrum, ranging from impoverished skivvies to grand privileged dames, with specific emphasis on working-class women. Granting her leading ladies their own weighty biography, which stands in opposition to the commonly assumed portrait of masculine, subversive harridans or well-to-do socialites, Gavron succeeds in making visible and humanizing the unknown combatants who have been long forgotten or erased by history. Carey Mullingan, at the helm of the action, plays the reluctant activist with an understated but deeply intense emotional power, her face, persistently framed in confined close-ups, etched with invisible scars from years of oppression, abuse and interminable struggle.

Although Maud’s dissatisfaction with her lot propels her to action rather than any informed political leanings, aligning her more with the affluent socialites of the time who turned to the cause to out of boredom rather than socio-political motivation, it is her transformation, from a politically ignorant subordinate to an enlightened, mettlesome mutineer that reinforces the film’s core message. Maud’s political education and her awareness to the failings of the law, align the movement’s insurgent tactics to its political ambitions, rooting a more tangible comprehension of its history for contemporary audiences. By merging the political with the personal through an accessible narrative, Gavron reaches the nucleus of its ideology, redressing the manipulation of suffrage identity and situating Maud and her cohorts as more representative of the collective rather than the unfeminine disputants in over-sized hats, so often assumed.

While Maud’s characterisation succeeds in making visible diverse identities across the class divide, Gavron fails to delineate a balanced perspective on the movement in its entirety. Ethnic minorities, such as Indian women were particularly active in British suffrage and in light of the film’s overly feminist perspective, it loses some narrative weight by advocating an exclusively white agenda, which somewhat reinforces the stereotype she is fervently trying to avoid. Also noteworthy is the lack of attention to women that subscribed to an anti-suffrage ideology, largely on the basis of sexual difference but it is the director’s incendiary polemic on her male characters that is most questionable, which she appears to view with feminist revisionism rather than suffragist revisionism, two distinctly disparate political ideologies. The women in the film may be angry but Gavron is furious. While the inhumane treatment and sexual humiliation experienced by the suffragettes is represented with immense emotional power, Gavron explicitly indulges in masculine stereotypes, pejoratively promoting an anti-male perspective, her all too few sympathetic male characters withdrawing support once it impinges on domestic life. Male supporters who championed the movement are also disregarded, particularly those equally subjected to discriminatory laws by failing to meet specific property requirements. To Gavron, suffrage in Britain was an elite white, female club only.

The strength of Suffragette lies in its compelling portrait of British working-class women, which roots the political to the personal through an engaging narrative, impressive production values and superb performances, allowing contemporary audiences to easily identify with a more coherent suffragette ideology, not previously seen in cinema. The promotion of an overly subjective, feminist narrative detracts, at times, from the perspicuous portrait of working-class women and it is a shame that Gavron’s over-magnification of Maud’s narrative does not locate it within a wider social context nor take into account the active participation of other social groups and political supporters.

Despite such narrative oversights, Suffragette’s supreme message is unequivocal, quashing the notion that suffrage is irrelevant (a detailed list of the countries who have attained and still seeking suffrage accompanies the closing titles) and the fight for emancipation is far from over.

   Dee O’Donoghue

12A (see IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Suffragette is released 16th October 2015

Suffragette –  Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

Share

Review: Fidelio: Alice’s Journey

1407748880812_0570x0355_1407748888157

DIR: Lucie Borleteau • WRI: Lucie Borleteau, Clara Bourreau • PRO: Pascal Caucheteux, Marine Arrighi de Casanova, • DOP: Simon Beaufils • ED: Guy Lecorne • MUS: Thomas De Pourquery • DES: Sidney Dubois • CAST: Ariane Labed, Melvil Poupaud, Anders Danielsen Lie

 

French actress and writer, Lucie Borleteau directs her first full-length feature film in a puckish, yet affecting portrait of a sexually permissive female freight engineer in Fidelio: Alice’s Journey. Ariane Labed plays the kittenish, thirty-year old titular character, who approaches her sexual affairs with missionary zeal and carnal abandon. Challenging conventional perceptions of gender roles through an anomalous approach to sexual conduct, Berleteau’s heroine steers a stormy voyage aboard an all-male freight ship, whipping up a priapic frenzy that tests her attitudes to love and commitment, which she confronts with fear and uncertainty.

When a member of the crew suddenly dies under dubious circumstances, Alice is drafted in as his replacement leaving behind her besotted Norwegian lover, Felix (Anders Danielsen Lie) and yearning for the passionate intimacy they both enjoy. Once aboard, she discovers the captain of the voyage is her first true love, Gaël (Melvil Poupaud) and in spite of her valiant efforts to remain faithful, she cannot resist her overwhelming desire for him. Ever the idealist, Alice sees no reason not to indulge two lovers and she rekindles an affair with the charismatic captain. Accidently discovering the journal of the deceased engineer, whose life was consumed with loneliness through uninspiring liaisons, prompts Alice to embark on an odyssey of self-discovery to find out what exactly she wants from life.

An accessible yet profoundly philosophical tale of love, fidelity and desire, the strength of Fidelio: Alice’s Journey lies in its candid celebration of female sexual pleasure amidst the sexually deprived, testosterone-fuelled environment of a laboriously gruelling and isolating blue-collared profession. By no means promoting a feminist perspective, Borleteau, rather, normalises and endorses female sexual autonomy and while an uninhibited sexual agenda is at the helm of the sex-drenched narrative, the emotional sensitivity that arises from Alice’s physical encounters, communicates more to Alice about her desires and needs than any articulated dialogue between her lovers. Alice’s negotiation of her sexual encounters through her own sedulous, self-governance becomes the catalyst to propel her onto a spiritual journey of self-enlightenment and finally find the self-fulfillment she craves.

Ariane Labed is a revelation as Alice, whose nuanced yet emotionally charged performance, not only anchors the core narrative but navigates the philosophical subtexts with both a skittish mischievousness and an intense urgency to encapsulate the challenges and contradictions of a sexually liberated, yet keenly introspective woman, who is clouded by wanton lust in her pursuit of self-realisation. Labed steers the spicy saga with such compulsion and conviction, that without such emotional intelligence driving Alice’s personal narrative however, Borleteau could be in danger of simply delineating another prosaic, albeit erotic, tale about a beautiful thirty-something seeking sexual and emotional stability.

Alice’s personal trajectory takes centre stage to such an extent that the multicultural supporting characters, who are so crucial on her voyage of discovery and transformation, become mere bit players, only slightly colouring the narrative through their own amusing rituals amidst the drab and soulless space, that at times, it becomes slightly puzzling as to why Borleteau did not take more advantage of such a playful mix of characters to formulate a more coherent narrative structure. However, it is a testament to Labed’s breathtaking performance, that such a tried and tested narrative is kept above water by her emotional capacity to make visible and plausible the contradictory nature of balancing life and love, in an refreshingly audacious and esoteric manner.

The highly melodramatic romantic entanglements which permeate the narrative, is deftly encapsulated by cinematographer Simon Beaufils, whose atmospheric lens rhythmically pulsates with intense potency through the sexually-charged scenes of carnal desire. Tightly framed close-ups bring an emotional catharsis and deep sensitivity to the physical act of love, which sit in opposition to the expansive and endless seascapes that become threatening spaces of unnerving claustrophobia, which heighten rather than soothe, the heroine’s disquietude as she embarks on her emotional and spiritual quest. To Alice, her personal landscape of sexual pleasure is where she attains liberation and sense of self, the seascape and its vast silences, challenging, taunting and threatening.

By chartering sexually erotic waters in an uninhibited manner, which celebrates female sexuality from a sophisticated and enlightened perspective that is not often explored in cinema, Borleteau invites reflections upon the nature of relationships and the role sexual pleasure plays in the pursuit of love and commitment. Whether a balance between the body, mind and soul may be achieved through a commitment to one relationship or whether self-enlightenment is dependent upon a deep exploration of all sexual, emotional and professional components of interpersonal relationships is not neatly resolved by Borleteau, but she does however, ambitiously and audaciously subscribe to the philosophy that self-gratification is one such pleasurable route to take when trying to figure it all out.

 Dee O’Donoghue

97 minutes

Fidelio: Alice’s Journey is released 2nd October 2015

 

Share

Review: By Our Selves

ByOurSelves2

DIR: Andrew Kötting • PRO: Edward Fletcher, Andrew Kötting • DOP: Nick Gordon Smith  • ED: Andrew Kötting, Cliff West • MUS: Jem Finer • CAST: Toby Jones, Freddie Jones, Alan Moore, Iain Sinclair

 

British filmmaker and artist Andrew Kötting’s twenty-five year idiosyncratic career has seen him become one of the most creative visionaries in contemporary cinema, exemplified by such films as Gallivant and This Filthy Earth. Through aesthetically challenging, absurdist innovation and pensively surreal, hybrid composition, which places the landscape at the pulse of his visual and structural ingenuity, the filmmaker synchronically delves into the soul of English national identity with creative structural flair across an amalgam of digital platforms, to explore concepts of origins, community, home and individuality.

Based on psychogeographer Ian Sinclair’s book, ‘Edge of the Orison’, Kötting’s latest piece from his distinctive canon takes little-known, paranoid schizophrenic nature poet, John Clare as his subject, whose powerful celebration of the rural English landscape has seen a recent resurgence of interest in his work, situating him as one of the most significant English poets of the nineteenth century. Taking Clare’s punishing four-day, eighty-mile journey on foot from Epping Forest to Northborough as its loose narrative framework and delving into the psyche of the tortured poet through a sonic mélange of musical vocalizations, By Our Selves is a vividly hypnotic odyssey of multisensory, audio-visual and semantic virtuosity.

Opening the narrative and steering the psychic reflections of the eccentric poet, the recurrent refrain, ‘John Clare was a minor nature poet who went mad’ becomes the only recognisable soundscape throughout the narrative in which to root the audience into some semblance of orientation and structure, before Kötting embarks on a heightened audio-visual maelstrom of sound, image, verse and language. Having escaped from a mental asylum in 1841 to undertake the journey in search of his true love, Mary Joyce, an unvoiced Toby Jones as the wandering elegist, undertakes the same pilgrimage, to which Kötting’s surreal soundscape becomes the narrative’s principal component to interpret the delusion and confusion driving Clare’s mental and physical odyssey.

Plucked from the depths of Clare’s febrile mind and which Kötting presents as an alternative sensory means of seeing and hearing his frenzied poetic effusions; musings, hysterics, hallucinations and lyrical narrations emanate from the rambling extracts of journals, poems, letters and medical prognoses amidst the deafening din of traffic jams, whirling wind farms, whooshing straw bears and wistful wails of Mary Joyce, to create a series of unsettling jolts, which produce their own internal narrative and sonorous logic, through a visually staggering and visionary structured enquiry.

As is customary in both Clare’s and Kötting’s oeuvres, it is a dissection of the English landscape and its relationship to the text, image and space that is at the heart of By Our Selves rather than a categorical reenactment of Clare’s most infamous peregrination. Anchoring the sonic-visual hotchpotch, as Toby Jones traipses, his father, Freddie Jones, as the elder Clare, vocalizes the poet’s own locutions and tortured inner monologue, which has a serenity and rationality to its chaotic, meditative, stream of consciousness amidst the rural landscapes and which dissipates into a more frenzied panic as they lumber through contemporary cityscapes, underpinning the symbiotic relationship between poetry, nature and insanity.

Kötting’s gnomic mish mash of audio-visual experimentation is a deeply evocative sensory exploration that fuses the past and the present, the dramatized and the experimental and the simulated and the real, through a physical investigation into the mindscape and headtalk of a brilliant, yet tortured poet. While Kötting’s piece invites his audience to view and explore the anomalous poet through a uniquely different way of seeing and hearing and despite its overwhelming audio-visual aberrations and esoteric, yet erudite musings, there is a lucidity and coherency in both Kötting and Clare’s work that seems to gel into some sort of peculiar rationality, marking both eccentrics out as two of the greatest visionaries of their generation. As there has been a recent piqued interest in the work of Clare, to those unfamiliar with the bewitchingly detailed dialect that emanates from his idiosyncratic opus or his acute observations as a fervent social and environmental commentator, Andrew Kötting’s rivetingly, outlandish portrait of John Clare is the perfect place to start.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

80 minutes
By Our Selves is released 2nd October 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets

Jordan-Davis-312-Minutes-10-Bullets-e1434902402155-401x250

 

DIR: Marc Silver • WRI: Marc Silver • PRO: Carolyn Hepburn, Minette Nelson • DOP: Marc Silver • ED: Emiliano Battista, Gideon Gold • MUS: Todd Boekelheide • CAST: Leland Brunson, Angela B. Corey, Ron Davis, Lucia McBath, Russell Healey, John Guy

 

On 23 November 2012, forty-five-year old Michael Dunn gunned down seventeen-year old, black high school student Jordan Davis in Jacksonville, Florida, after taking issue with the loud hip-hop music Davis and his three friends were playing in their car. Following his arrest, Dunn proclaimed he acted in self-defence, citing Florida’s Stand-Your-Ground law, whereby persons in fear are permitted to use deadly force when confronted with serious threat. Despite an overwhelming lack of evidence to suggest Davis was armed, the jury at Dunn’s trial was unable to reach a verdict on first-degree murder, resulting in a hung jury. At his subsequent retrial, Dunn was eventually found guilty of Davis’ murder and sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Filmmaker, writer and social impact strategist, Marc Silver’s emotive documentary, 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets attempts to delve into the equivocal events on that fateful Black Friday and investigate the circumstances that led to another unarmed, black teenage murder, the mistrial and eventual conviction of a white, middle-aged software engineer, whose unsubstantiated self-defence claim ignited a highly-charged national debate about racial gun crime, the US judicial system and Florida’s contentious self-defence laws. Drawing comparisons with the murder of seventeen-year old black student, Trayvon Martin by an acquitted George Zimmerman nine months previously, Silver’s film seeks to incriminate Dunn on the basis of racial motivation, a factor deemed inadmissible by the judge, and by doing so, expose the deep prejudicial flaws that tip the overall racial imbalances within the US legal system.

To present his case, Silver’s narrative structure is framed around three narrative strands to implicate Dunn and the judicial system, both which appear to subscribe to an unfounded national fear of unarmed black men by armed white men. Using footage of Dunn’s first trial, Silver centres on prosecution witness accounts, which testify to the inoffensive nature of Jordan Davis. To bolster such accounts, Silver’s cinematography, reproduced through a stylistically, arresting lens, enriches the trial’s original aesthetic, assuming a more sophisticated and cinematic platform, which romanticizes the victim like a Hollywood hero in a fictional courtroom drama. To ground the case on a more sobering level, Silver focuses on the extensive media coverage, which struck a national chord and proliferated a national discourse about racially motivated gun crime and the laws that pit and prejudice black victims against its white perpetrators. To humanize the brutal act of random, motiveless racial murder, Silver finally delineates the deep emotional impact on the family and community amidst the complicated political and legal wrangling, which serves to evoke a deeper senselessness in view of Florida’s laws, whereby an unmotivated racial killing through a perceived threat, is racial aggression against a wider racial community.

Silver’s overview of the murder of Jordan Davis is neatly contained within a ninety-eight minute narrative, which at times, reads like a fictional crime drama rather than a constructive investigation into the real-life murder of an unarmed black teenager. Indeed, Silver himself stands accused of the very same shortcomings that he has indicted the American justice system with, through a transparent bias and lack of critical balance in his overall reflection on the case. While the posthumous memorializing of Davis is wholly justified and the tragedy is symptomatic of the national picture, insufficient analyses of Dunn’s character and behaviour deny the opportunity to evaluate what sowed doubt in the minds of the first jury and whether Dunn did abide by the law when confronted with a perceived serious threat, leading to a hung jury. Silver equally fails to probe Florida’s self-defence law itself, which by default authorised the killing of Jordan Davis, if Dunn did indeed discern a weapon. Nor does he scrutinize the national outpouring of indignation at the result of the mistrial, which possibly had the weight to influence the second, thereby implicating the media and heated public opinion in the outcome of the eventual retrial.

Ultimately, Silver’s film does not offer fresh insight into the racial murder of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn that has not been previously analysed by other media sources. In attempting to expose the deep flaws in the US judicial system, Silver inadvertently highlights his own flaws through his failure to present an impartial, objective overview of the murder and the ensuing trial. A palpable restraint, fear and tentativeness permeates throughout the narrative and while the director may explicitly denounce the crime, he appears reluctant to offer any opposing perspective to the dominant version of events, unwilling to entertain any possibility Dunn may have acted out of anything other than racial aggravation.

The murder of Jordan Davis became another catalyst to explore the legal flaws and racial prejudices that permeate the US judicial system. 3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets continues the national discourse resulting from the case and extensively proliferated by the media. Whether the judge made a grave error in disallowing racial factors to be presented in court, Silver’s attempts to compensate for such omissions as a documentary filmmaker, fail to provide a more equitable insight into the murder, rather presenting a wholly biased and intolerant view of Dunn and his act of murder in relation to Florida’s legal stance on self-defence. While Silver’s film is a respectful and enlightening tribute to Davis’ memory and highlights a deep-rooted stain in Florida’s legal system in relation to its gun crime, racial profiling and self-defence laws, it does not attempt to challenge the system itself and Silver appears resigned to the fact that the next young black death is highly inevitable and merely a matter of time.


Dee O’Donoghue

98 minutes
3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets is released 2nd October 2015

3 1/2 Minutes, 10 Bullets – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Captive

06764324-1270-4622-a1c2-5e711242ef5c-460x276

DIR: Jerry Jameson • WRI: Brian Bird • PRO: Lucas Akoskin, Terry Botwick, Alex Garcia, David Oyelowo, Ken Wales, Katrina Wolfe • DOP: Luis David Sansans • ED: Melissa Kent • MUS: Lorne Balfe • DES: Sandra Cabriada • CAST: Kate Mara, David Oyelowo, Michael Kenneth Williams, Mimi Rogers

The recent spate of faith-based films has garnered mixed critical responses from the cinema-going public. Christian devotees flock to such feel-good films in their droves, attracted to the narrative’s core spiritual message, reaffirming audiences’ commitment to God and their chosen spiritual path. Alternatively, such family-orientated films have launched polemics from critics for substandard plots, economic production values and primarily, alienating heathens with sanctimonious ideologies, which trumpet a transparent proselytizing narrative that fails to inspire on any dramatic or entertainment level. Films such as War Room, 90 Minutes in Heaven and Heaven is for Real are exemplar of a genre that is both actively sought out by faithful audiences for their explicit Christian overtones and rejected by sceptics for their shameless promotion of evangelistic agendas, which many secular subscribers find hard to swallow.

Jerry Jameson’s faith-based, crime drama and psychological thriller, Captive, starring Kate Mara and David Oyelowo, is based on the real-life account of the 2005 Atlanta Hostage Hero, Ashley Smith’s book Unlikely Angel. The film recounts Smith’s ordeal at the hands of murderer and rapist Brian Nichols, who escaped from custody whilst awaiting trial, murdering four people, including the trial’s presiding judge. Forcing his way into the home of the recovering drug addict and single mother and holding her captive for seven hours, the film’s explores the religious strategy employed by Smith in an attempt to survive her ordeal at the hands of Nichols, including reading aloud extracts from Christian pastor Rick Warren’s book, The Purpose Driven Life, which emphasizes the meaning of existence is only found through God.

Despite its gripping subject matter and highly stylized cinematic aesthetic, intensified by an urgent handheld camera and a purity to its sharply cut sequences, Captive’s overall lack of tension emanating from a substandard screenplay, recalls an uninspiring, made-for-television movie rather than an unnerving and absorbing cinematic drama, which fails to articulate the significance of the real-life religious encounter between two deeply tortured souls. Screenwriter Brian Bird approaches the spiritual relationship between the lead characters with trepidation, underplaying the theological bond that becomes the catalyst to redemption and informs the film’s core philosophy and as a result, the moment of spiritual enlightenment and self-realisation becomes remarkably overshadowed and simply unconvincing.

In an attempt to possibly avoid the faith-based film curse, its dubious ideologies and a fear of alienating cynical audiences, Captive bolsters the emotional relationship between a psychotic murderer and drug addict, the crucial religious connotations within the narrative, subdued and prosaic. However, unlike most of the recent outpourings of pious Hollywood films, Captive is based on a real-life event and is dependent upon its religious signifiers in order to comprehend its characters’ abrupt enlightened transformations. Rather than blind its audience with pietistic, sermonizing overtones, the film devalues these crucial narrative elements and in its subduing, the film’s narrative simply does not gel. By diverting attention from the religious entente to the emotional affinity between the protagonists, tenuously held together by strained relationships with their children, Captive places a befuddled and detached leading cast in an awkward position, unable to discern the characters’ psychology and grasp the gravity of their spiritual transformation.

The physical transformations undertaken by Mara and Oyelowo attempt to convince and compensate for the script’s shortcomings and Mara’s emaciated frame and bloodshot hollow eyes suggest a deeply scarred woman in the throes of addiction and spiritual cynicism, desperate to find deeper meaning, inner peace and ultimate salvation. However, owing to an ill-conceived and disconnected script, Mara is unable to satisfactorily engage with the mental or spiritual paralyses experienced by Ashley Smith and there remains a constant reminder that Mara is performing rather than inhabiting the psychology of drug-addled captive. Oyelowo’s considerable physique equally convinces as the unpredictable psychopath and navigates his character’s psychological instability with considerable investment and plausible menace. He does, however, appear out of depth when confronted with the emotionally vulnerable aspects of his character, which, as the crux of Nichols’ swift spiritual transformation, is crucial in comprehending the trajectory of his ultimate enlightenment and which Oyelowo’s performance fails to execute.

Despite its attempts to construct itself as a crime drama and psychological thriller, rather than exploit a pontificating agenda to appeal a more balanced audience, Captive remains an unsatisfactory account of a notorious real-life event that made headlines around the world, owing to the phenomenal spiritual awakening of a cold-blooded murderer and rapist. The film’s reluctance to overinvest in its religious significance will certainly not satisfy the spiritual nor will it come as a welcome relief to the skeptical, placing the overall audience in a state of limbo. The unnecessary inclusion of a post-captivity interview in 2005 between Ashley Smith and pastor Rick Warren with Oprah Winfrey as the credits close, appears to concede that the film’s interpretation of events and characters are inadequately portrayed and is utilized to make sense to the audience of Smith and Nichols’ trauma and transformation, which Captive evidently fails to delineate. Perhaps if the film had embraced a more explicit religious trajectory, which is so critical an element within the faith-based genre, Captive itself could have ascended to a higher place of being.

Dee O’Donoghue

12A (See IFCO for details)

96 minutes
Captive is released 25th September 2015

Captive – Official Website

 

Share

Review: The D Train

dtrain

DIR: Andrew Mogel, Jarrad Paul • WRI: Jarrad Paul, Andrew Mogel • PRO: David Bernad, Jack Black, Ben Latham-Jones, Priyanka Mattoo, Barnaby Thompson, Mike White • DOP: Giles Nuttgens • ED: Terel Gibson • MUS: Andrew Dost • DES: Ethan Tobman • CAST: Jack Black, James Marsden, Kathryn Hahn, Jeffrey Tambor

 

Actor, comedian and musician Jack Black returns to the big screen in his latest black comedy drama from Andrew Mogel and Jarrad Paul, making their directorial debut in The D Train. Also co-written by the directors, the film, shot in a mere three weeks, sees the all-round entertainer undertake his first major film role, guest appearances and television roles aside, since the ploddingly laborious and commercial disappointment, The Big Year in 2011.

Black plays socially awkward Dan Landsman, the self-appointed chairman of his former high school’s alumni, who charges himself with the organisation of his class’s twentieth reunion. Scarred by his traumatic high school experience, Landsman is determined to ensure as many former students attend to bolster his popularity and finally garner the acceptance he craves. When the reunion fails to ignite much interest, Landsman travels to Los Angeles to convince his popular classmate, Oliver Lawless (James Marsden), now a seemingly successful commercials actor, to attend the reunion but quickly resorts to shockingly extreme measures to bring a reluctant Lawless home, with disastrous consequences.

Fusing Hollywood black comedy conventions with latter day morality play allegories, The D Train is an idealistic and cautionary tale about the perception of success in contemporary America and the exceptional circumstances undertaken to achieve such an ideal. Lurking beneath the caustic wit, boundless hyperactivity and pretentious energy synonymous with Black’s characters and the crude and provocative content aligned with dark comedy, the film explicitly explores the nature of the human condition and poses profound philosophical questions about the perils of placing emphasis on self-gratification as a means to success, regardless of the overall consequences. Analysing the nature of greed and desire for self-satisfaction, popularity and acceptance, the film holds a mirror aloft to a contemporary society to ponder on the nature of desire, lust and obsession and the lack of evident moral or spiritual boundaries prevalent in humanity’s desire for pleasure. As unpleasant and cringeworthy a character Dan Landsman is, he is a universal character nonetheless.

Creating wholly rapacious and self-indulgent personas, Black and Marsden illuminate an otherwise blunt and hasty script from the directors with immense pathos and impeccable comedy timing. As different as both characters are similar, the on-screen chemistry between the two actors creates a convincingly candid and affecting ‘bromance’ which refreshingly explores the nature of sexual identity by embracing both dark comedy and romantic elements that simultaneously jolt and engage. Forever on the outside looking in and scarred by continual rejections, unpopular Black oscillates from smug egotism to wounded sensitivity with ease, mirrored by drug-addled, sexually-charged narcissist Marsden, whose steely suaveness and bottomless bravado crumbles to affecting disappointment and palpable insecurity, creating a plausible and sensitive relationship that should be uncomfortable, disruptive and employed for cheap thrills but instead poignantly points to the nature of obsession and desire and the determination to satisfy the self by any means possible.

While the two male lead performances create a magnetic portraiture that traverse the seven deadly sins, igniting the narrative on a both a dark comedic and philosophical level, Mogel and Paul’s tepid script ultimately falls short on becoming a true black comedy classic. The introduction of too many ill-conceived sub-plots fails to enhance or execute the essential tenets of the narrative, only serving to detract and distract from the film’s overall philosophy, lacking the sharp, subversive edge required for black comedy. The film, at times, is too self-righteous, didactic and patronising, blinded by its own perceived importance and attempts by Black to compensate for lulls and digressions in the script’s trajectory through routine acerbic witticisms and exaggerated physicality, fail to penetrate the evident inexperience and indirection of the film’s directors.

The D Train cannot claim to contain a highly original or imaginative narrative, although an unexpected plot twist will enthral, but rather the film incorporates an archetypal morality tale that has been recounted by Hollywood on numerous occasions. The outstanding performances from Black and Marsden may take an old fable and repackage it for the contemporary dark comedy genre with impeccable comedic delivery and cocksure swagger but the reluctance of the writers/directors to venture beyond the traditional, ideological Hollywood ending is at odds with the nature of black comedy itself and ultimately disappoints. The D Train, in actuality, is noteworthy for its consummate leading performances, Black in particular returns to top form after a four-year hiatus in a leading film role and it is his emotive and energetic turn that steers the narrative’s core philosophy, delineating the antagonism between an unresolved past and a disordered present bound together by a will to self-satisfy, exploit and indulge, rather than any creative or philosophical management by the film’s inexperienced, first-time directors.

Dee O’Donoghue

15A(See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

The D Train is released 18th September 2015

The D Train– Official Website

 

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Inside Out

inside_out_trailer

DIR: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • WRI: Pete Docter, Ronaldo Del Carmen • PRO: Jonas Rivera • ED: Kevin Nolting • MUS: Michael Giacchino • DES: Ralph Eggleston • CAST: Kaitlyn Dias, Amy Poehler, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Kyle McLachlan, Diane Lane

 

Celebrated animation filmmaker, writer and six-time Oscar nominee Pete Docter has honed his craft for the past twenty years in quirky box office hits such as Toy Story, A Bug’s Life, Monster’s Inc. and Up. The concept for Docter’s latest collaboration with Disney•Pixar came to the director in 2009 when he became aware of clear behavioural and developmental changes in his daughter’s personality as she approached adolescence. Set inside the mind of prepubescent Riley Anderson, Inside Out explores the psychological angst aligned with the transition from childhood into teenhood from the perspective of the emotions that drive such maturity, producing an absorbingly complex and sophisticated narrative that emotively stirs both on a visceral and intellectual level.

 

Hockey-mad Riley is happy with her carefree life in Minnesota. When her parents suddenly decide to move to San Francisco, everything changes for the young girl, provoking her emotions to spiral out of control. Aware of the suffering she endures, Riley’s five dominant emotions become activated in the Headquarters of her conscious mind, where Joy, Anger, Disgust, Fear and Sadness control how she copes with the challenging ventures in a new school and home. When Sadness, who can nullify other emotions by touching Riley’s memories and turning them to sadness, creates a new, sad core memory, Joy’s attempts to destroy it sees her inadvertently releasing Riley’s other core memories and shutting down her personality islands. As chaotic instability in Riley’s mind ensues, Joy and Sadness attempt to rescue the core memories before the other emotions can dominate her fragmented being, consigning Riley to a life of solitude, misery and sadness.

 

Twenty years since Pixar transfigured the animation filmmaking process with trailblazing innovation in Toy Story and after the recent shaky offerings of Cars 2 and Monster’s University failed to reach the dizzy heights Pixar audiences have become accustomed to, the studio’s fifteenth feature produces an abundance of spectacularly detailed CGI effects combined with an intricately ambitious narrative, which sees Pixar not only return to top form but indeed raise the bar further within animation filmmaking itself. Pursuing an existentially complex yet compassionate narrative trajectory, Inside Out is a rousing rollercoaster of tumultuous thrills balanced by nuanced characters whose raw sensitivities execute the growing pains of childhood with depth, poignancy and intuition. Palpably psychological in tone, the film dissects the profound complexities buried deep within the conscious mind through an erudite and witty script, to make visible the internal suffering of a young girl on the brink of great change, while sedating such cerebral intensity with childlike playfulness and jaunty humour as the activated emotions experience their own hilarious inner vicissitudes.

 

Delineating a perceptive insight into the psychology of memories through acute emotional intelligence, Inside Out takes a classic, universal coming-of-age narrative and didactically informs through an excess of high-spirited humour and ingenious visual allure. The systematic means by which emotions and memories are stored, processed and transformed by interpreting the symbiotic relationship between the human psyche and interpersonal relationships, serves to bring the often concealed emotional self within the psychology of a child to the forefront in a creatively original and intriguing manner. The film’s narrative entanglements document a child’s complex mental development as it adapts to change and does so with such emotional charge, it poses profound philosophical questions about the nature of human psychology and the necessity to engage with its more melancholic aspects, to attain emotional equilibrium.

Even Riley’s most potent emotion, Joy, finds her optimism persistently challenged and the omnipresence of Sadness, equips Riley’s other conflicting emotions to deal with her unpredictability, demonstrating the necessity to wholesomely embrace a variety of emotions, in order for the self to gain an understanding of the mind and flourish. The narrative’s deep-rooted themes unfold with such intellectual ferocity and at such an accelerated rate, that the labyrinthine script at times, struggles to keep pace with its own velocity, the execution of sharpness often compromised for its phenomenal visual style, sometimes failing to control its philosophies on a completely satisfactory level. But overall, Inside Out can boast a dazzling and compelling style that meets its challenging substance with bucket loads of fun, if perhaps its mature themes may swamp a younger audience.

Aware of its own unrivalled mastery within animation filmmaking, Inside Out is a highly self-reflexive, daring and thought-provoking feature, which provides a groundbreaking perspective on the narrative evolution within animation itself. The film delineates a coming-of-age trajectory, both narratively and technically, that challenges the nature of how animation films are produced and received. Adults will appreciate its wholly elaborate and painstakingly detailed production, while its sheer visual wondrousness will appeal to those whose narrative complexities may at times, overwhelm. While its depth may bewilder on occasion, its ambitious execution in transcending existing animation parameters will reposition the narrative and technical boundaries within contemporary film animation and cement Pixar Animation as the leading figurehead in animated film production.

 

Dee O’Donoghue

 

G (See IFCO for details)
103 minutes

Inside Out  is released 24th July 2015

Inside Out  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: The Salt of the Earth

5-Salgado

DIR: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • WRI: Wim Wenders, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, David Rosier • PRO: David Rosier • DOP: Hugo Barbier, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado • ED: Maxine Gödecke, Rob Myers • MUS: Laurent Petitgand • CAST: Sebastião Salgado, Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, Wim Wenders, Hugo Barbier, Regis Muller

 

Nominated for best documentary feature at this year’s Oscars, Wim Wenders showcases the life and work of Brazilian social photographer Sebastião Salgado, who for over forty years captured some of the most profound images of human suffering, in the powerfully absorbing The Salt of the Earth. Directed alongside Salgado’s son Juliano, Wenders delineates an intimate portrayal of the photojournalist’s emotive and vividly stark work, which bore witness to some of history’s most contentious chapters of the late twentieth century. Originally studying to become an economist but abandoning such career aspirations to dedicate his life to recording a shattering vision of humanity, Salgado’s images expose the trauma, deprivation and misery of human existence, as it responds to the socio-political, cultural and environmental factors that have shaped humanity’s trajectory to this day.

 

Featuring contributions from Wenders, Salgado and Juliano and infusing the narrative with some of the most iconic images of human persecution and endurance, The Salt of the Earth casts a photographic lens on an historic turbulent timeline of catastrophe from the far-flung corners of the planet, giving indirect access to the plight of the human condition in some of the most familiar places in socio-political history, for all the wrong reasons. Interweaving stunning yet saturnine black and white stills with footage of Salgado on location, the film is a panegyric to the destruction and ugliness of humanity’s capabilities while simultaneously paying tribute to the enigmatic beauty of a wondrous planet with veneration. Poignantly austere images depicting historic explosions of conflict and genocide in Ethiopia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Balkans gaze out amongst lost and forgotten souls of the past; tribes, communities and peoples of the cavernous regions of South America, India and Indonesia, encapsulating a philosophy of stoicism and serenity that stands in opposition to the harrowing plight of their volatile global neighbours.

 

Growing cynical and despondent with earth’s continual narrative of suffering, thereby changing his perspective from deep empathy and compassion to helplessness and despair over the course of his enduring career, Salgado has collated his vast photographic collection of human suffering into books of reflections, each subject matter divided into themes based on his diverse photographic experiences. From the displacement of entire marginalized populations due to wars, famine and economic shifts in Vietnam, Palestine, Iraq and Africa in “Exodus” to illustrations of steel labourers in the Soviet Union, fishermen in Galicia and farmers in Rwanda in “Workers”, Salgado has been a spectator to innumerous landscapes of hell, while concurrently inverting human destruction as a resolute environmental visionary in his own native homeland. Toying with abandoning his life’s work, Salgado’s passion for uncovering humanity’s shackles reignited his passion, shifting his focus from distress to determination by paying homage to the planet in his collection entitled “Genesis”. Reflecting on the evolution of the planet and the relation of humans to species in ecosystems, the collection iterates the narrative of life in a more positive way, illustrating that the destruction of nature he has persistently witnessed, can be reversed.

 

Disheartening and uncomfortable at times, The Salt of the Earth forces its audience to confront images of a brutal, sometimes forgotten past, deconstructing any notion of an idealized, romantic history. The sheer magnetic beauty of Salgado’s images, which capture human suffering so authentically and sit in sharp opposition to the actualities Salgado is portraying, may at times, be perceived to be objectifying human wretchedness by fulfilling a life’s ambition through the degradation of others. Yet Wenders vehemently dispels such notions of objectification, the evidence of deep, psychological suffering experienced by both Salgado and humanity itself, palpably emanating from his deeply effective portraits.

 

The Salt of the Earth is a moving and fascinating, if not a somewhat challenging documentary, which reflects upon interminable human suffering but which is evenly neutralised by paying homage to the beauty of a forgotten past, from a different time and place. While it may not be always easy to engage with the incessant onslaught of human distress, it is a vital and hopeful piece of work, which aims to consider a global history that would rather be forgotten – but by peering into the heart of darkness and pondering upon the destruction of humanity at its own hands, Wenders philosophically questions how and why such darkness persistently keeps reoccurring.

Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

The Salt of the Earth is released 17th July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: The President

 the-president-makhmalbaf-640x330

DIR: Mohsen Makhmalbaf • WRI: Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny • PRO: Maysam Makhmalbaf, Mike Downey, Vladimer Katcharava, Sam Taylor • DOP: Konstantine-Mindia Esadze • ED: Hana Makhmalbaf, Marziyeh Meshkiny • MUS: Guja Burduli, Tajdar Junaid, Daler Nazarov, Kvicha Maglakelidze • CAST: Misha Gomiashvili, Dachi Orvelashvili, Guja Burduli, Ia  Sukhitashvili, Zura Begalishvili

 

Acclaimed Iranian filmmaker and human rights activist Mosen Makhmalbaf’s pioneering thirty-two year career has produced some of the most influential yet controversial films to emerge out of the New Iranian cinema, garnering global critical approbation and innumerable international awards. Predominantly delineating a socio-political commentary on the individual role within Iranian culture as it shifts through political and religious modifications, Makhmalbaf’s revolutionary and didactic films and documentary-style features, in defiance of stringent censorship laws, have provoked retaliation in the form of murder plots, prison spells and bomb attacks, enforcing a self-imposed exile to Britain, where the director has been vociferously critical of the Islamic Republic’s highly factionalised, autocratic regime and remains under continuous threat from the present Iranian government.

 

Inspired by a visit to the Darul Aman Palace in Kabul, the concept for The President emerged from the traumatic ramifications of the pro-democratic Arab Spring risings of late 2010. Makhmalbaf’s twenty-ninth film follows the relationship between a despotic dictator and his naïve grandson, set to inherit the philosophies of an autocratic regime, as they attempt to flee their homeland following a coup d’etat. Set in a fictional country and employing similar themes to Makhmalbaf’s surreal and controversial film, The Gardener (2012), which depicted a father and son’s trip to Israel to assimilate the Baha’I faith and presented two opposing views on religion, The President, similarly delineates two narrative perspectives, that of an imperious oppressor and those of his perceived impotent subjects. As the President’s family flee the country in the wake of military opposition, the royal fugitives are forced to pose as street musicians in an attempt to get to the border, encountering many of the consequences of a destroyed humanity enforced by the sovereign’s barbaric regime.

 

While the plot unfolds in medias res, the potency of The President lies not through a graphic depiction of events leading to civil war but rather, as is customary with Makhmalbaf and Iranian cinema, through a symbolic, poetic realism that converges art, modernity and socio-political analysis. The physical act of unrest becomes a backdrop to the psychological act of exploring profound human interpersonal relationships engulfed in chaotic circumstances that have developed as a result of brutality, subjugation and fear, creating a morally hopeful narrative amidst the palpable suffering of a nation on the brink of absolute annihilation. Casting a direct gaze on the internal wrangling between religious dictatorships and extreme opposition in Middle Eastern nations, the film poses philosophical questions about the nature of oppression, punishment and revenge with profound sympathy and lack of judgment.

 

By predominantly dispensing with the familiar iconography of war and focusing on the individual narratives of war, Makhmalbaf seeks to humanise the construction of monstrosity aligned with dictatorships while subtly, yet highly emotively, portraying its consequences on the individual within a conflicted nation. Denying access to the visual actualities of war and isolating the individual cost on both perpetrator and victim, the film presents a keenly balanced perspective on despotism and its repercussions, challenging the conventional construction of the tyrant ubiquitous in cinema, its sympathy placing the viewer in a predicament. Makhmalbaf unveils a tyrannical face that is not often visible while also erasing the possibility of oversentimental engagement with autocratic iniquity through a pedagogical insight into the political, theological and cultural factors that motivate such tyrannical rule.

 

Makhmalbaf’s allegorical narrative is bolstered by a visual mastery and magnetism that captures the futility, hopelessness and contradictions of torn nations as a mass exodus of displaced refugees wander in vain through vast, bucolic landscapes, dispelled from their homeland. The gleaming opulence of the sovereignty sits in complete opposition to the spiritless desperation of inhumane subjugation yet there sits a deep-rooted beauty in the integrity of the human spirit that beguiles the fallen sovereign in spite of the call to vengeance that would align him with his persecuted victims. Makhmalbaf refrains from idealising a portrait of human anxiety but rather delineates the interchangeability between administering oppression and seeking opportunistic revenge, situating both pacifism and violence as an inherent part of the human condition and the ease with which humanity can oscillate from one to the other, for one’s own end, regardless of socio-political circumstances.

 

While The President is infused with the thought-provoking symbolism and socio-political ideology that is indicative of the eclecticism and reflexivity of the New Iranian cinema and which Makhmalbaf, along with directors such as Beiza’I, Kiarostami, Daryush and Bani-Etemad, repositioned Iranian cinema through a new subversive way of looking inward, there is a sense that much of the director’s work, free from the prying constraints of Islamic censorship, has lost a certain socio-political potency. The westernisation and freedom pervading the film’s narrative transcend the limitations imposed by Iranian censorship laws and, at times, loses some of the symbolic weight previously explored in films such as The Peddler, Gabbeh and Moment of Innocence, pushing its socio-political matter in the face of great restriction. While the film remains a formidable fable that expresses the hopes and anxieties of a nation and views Islamic oppression through an alternative, individual gaze, it is difficult to refrain from considering the poetic and intellectual possibilities The President could have experimentally explored, had Makhmalbaf to consider the same restrictions that informed his most significant post-revolutionary work.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

118 minutes

The President is released 17th July 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Irish Film Review: Song of the Sea

song-of-the-sea-n

DIR: Tomm Moore • WRI: Will Collins, Tomm Moore • PRO: Claus Toksvig Kjaer, Tomm Moore, Paul Young • ED: Darragh Byrne • MUS: Bruno Coulais • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lucy O’Connell

 

Acclaimed Irish filmmaker and illustrator Tomm Moore follows up his first Oscar-nominated feature, medieval fantasy quest The Secret of Kells (2009) with another mythological and magical tale of venture steeped in legend and lore in his second consecutive nominated film, Song of the Sea. Inspired by the mysterious, fabled selkie creatures, who inhabit the land as humans but transform into seals at sea, Moore’s timeless tale, nostalgically delineated in hand-drawn, 2D animation, melds the mystical of yesteryear with a specific time in contemporary Irish culture to create a heartfelt story of origins, home and identity that will resonate with audiences of all ages.

 

Ben lives with his little sister Saoirse and father Conor in a lighthouse off the Irish coast. Their selkie mother returned to the sea six years previously, leaving Ben devastated and his father unable to cope. Troubled Ben grows increasingly resentful of mute Saoirse, who appears to embody the selkie tales told to him by his mother and whom he blames for her abrupt departure. When Saoirse discovers a white sealskin coat she is called to the sea and it is revealed that, she too, is a selkie and swims with the seals until she is washed up ashore, prompting Granny to take the children to the city for their own safety. Yearning to return home, they run away and in their adventurous quest, they encounter a host of mythical characters inhabiting a lost and forgotten world, who either help or hinder their challenging venture to see them safely back to the island.

 

Set in the 1980s and voiced by an all-star Irish cast, including Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Pat Shortt, Song of the Sea is a retrospective celebration of an Irish culture and identity that no longer appears visible in the nation’s ever-changing cultural landscape. Rooted in a particular space and time, depicted through its recognisable pre-Celtic Tiger iconography, unobtrusive Irish symbolism and colloquial expression, the film is a romantic and wistful portrait of a defunct past that evokes a particular cultural mood and serves as a welcoming breath of fresh air in a genre that is wholly engaged with a hyper-sophisticated, CGI platform. The film’s revisionist perspective elicits a deep emotional resonance to a specific cultural identity while also challenging the art of contemporary animation through its bewitching use of a traditional and predominantly redundant means of animation filmmaking. Moore’s hand-drawn, water-coloured aesthetic executes a craftsmanship that stimulates an intimacy, charm and melancholic beauty and which sits in complete opposition to its successor’s craft, so that each frame stands alone as a conventional laboured work of artistry and finesse.

 

A masterful storyteller, Moore’s dreamscape retrospectively entwines a bewitching fantasy of ancient folklore with a heart-warming contemporary narrative to marry the traditional with the new, the fantastic with the real, the joyous with the sinister and the mystical with the cynical. Narratively more accessible and visually more arresting than The Secret of Kells, the classic narrative of attempts to reach home in the face of adversity, driven by a host of recognizable archetypes in possession of traditional Irish values, engenders a nostalgically recognizable milieu that summons a language and behaviour of a bygone era, bringing a sense of wondrous familiarity to the film’s narrative and overall comforting aesthetic. Song of the Sea explicitly embraces its revisionism through its highly conventional narrative, stereotypes and style to commemorate a time when a sense of collective national and cultural identity appeared more clearly defined and resolute. Moore, however, does not glorify an idealised past in blissful amnesia. Shards in the narrative detail dark subtexts infusing a socio-cultural commentary that is fully aware of the past’s own failings. Themes of abandonment, alcoholism, depression, grief and isolation recall metaphorical legends of an ancient past realised through a more conflicted contemporary narrative, creating a vision that is both romantic and discordant but underpinning a sentimentality that is firmly embedded in its Irish identity.

 

Song of the Sea is a magical feast of visual delights, narrative intrigue and nostalgic revisionism that will appeal to the inner child of all ages. It can be viewed as a yearning to return to a familiar past and reclaim a forgotten identity, lost in an ever-increasing chaotic culture, both narratively and within the context of the animation genre. It serves to reinforce a more coherent vision of the past through its use of over-familiar and universal narrative devices, which will effectively resonate with knowing audiences, particularly those familiar with the pre-Celtic Tiger era in Irish culture. Song of the Sea does not seek to dethrone the existing digital prowess dominating the animation genre but rather through revisiting conventional mores within the genre itself it, celebrates a simplistic but highly emotive method of animation filmmaking and a distinctly traditional way of authentic Irish life.

Dee O’Donoghue

PG (See IFCO for details)
93 minutes

Song of the Sea is released 10th July 2015

Song of the Sea – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Jurassic World

Jurassic-World-Raptor-Bike-Chase

 

DIR: Colin Trevorrow • WRI: Rick Jaffa, Amanda Silver, Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow • PRO: Frank Marshall, Patrick Crowley • DOP: John Schwartzman • ED: Kevin Stitt • MUS: Michael Giachinno • DES: Edward Verreaux • CAST: Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vincent D’Onofrio, Judy Greer, Irrfan Khan, BD Wong, Katie McGrath

 

Originally scheduled for production in 2004 but plagued with an onslaught of script complications and scheduling issues common to the movie blockbuster, the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series has finally materialised with director Colin Trevorrow at the helm and Spielberg’s wizardry harmonising the mammoth undertaking as executive producer. As the third highest-grossing film of the 1990s, Jurassic Park was extolled for its pioneering, state-of-the-art special effects (if not a dim critical view taken on its light character development), however, the franchise’s two subsequent, undernourished efforts failed to transcend the tension-fuelled visceral thrills of its original, demonstrating the jeopardy in serialising every blockbuster success story. In essence, in a matter of eight years audiences had had more than its fill of imposing, dinosaur-stomping terror and simply moved on.

 

Inheriting a cinematic legacy that provided a digital blueprint for the industry and holding a cherished positioned in popular culture, Jurassic World has to contend with pleasing contemporary audiences who have already corroborated that dinosaurs don’t do it for them anymore, thereby questioning the relevancy of a fourth film, in addition to the increasing audience demand for the excessively bigger and better in this digitally-sophisticated climate. A decade of unstable production worries would suggest that even the digitally-advanced possibilities Jurassic World has to play with, may just not be enough to resurrect the franchise in the hearts and minds of contemporary audiences and Jurassic World is in danger of further staining the cinematic and cultural position held by its iconic original.

 

Twenty-two years have passed since trailblazing John Hammond’s dreams of an international dinosaur theme park were shattered but have now been realised back on Isla Nublar by billionaire benefactor Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan). Run entirely by commercially-driven operations manager, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Jurassic World resort exhibits a spectacular array of dinosaurs of varying species and spellbinding futuristic attractions to keep the twenty thousand daily visitors entertained. Under tremendous pressure to lure the ever-demanding audiences to the park, original InGen geneticist Dr. Henry Wu (BD Wong) pushes the boundaries of scientific innovation to create an original genetically modified hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex. Uncertain of its intelligent capabilities, Claire calls in animal behaviour expert and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to ascertain the safety of the behemoth before its grand unveiling. Just as Claire’s nephews Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins) arrive unannounced and are left to their own devices, the unpredictable Indominus rex escapes, threatening the lives of all on the resort.

 

Narratively continuous to the original film but slightly disregarding its two sequels, Jurassic World is a spectacular rush of furious energy, spellbinding awe and alarming terror from beginning to end. Firmly situating the film in the digital age and benefitting enormously from its dividends, Jurassic World brings a level of mesmeric, adrenaline-fuelled visual wonder combined with a suspenseful yet reassuringly familiar narrative, that has all the hallmarks of a Spielberg/Amblin production in its heyday, which is essentially what Jurassic World aims to achieve. The film’s revisionist and self-reflexive tone displays great deference to its cinematic creator, technically paying homage to its style of filmmaking through an elaborate and intricately detailed production design that employs both animatronics and remarkable CGI effects, to mark the film as technically impressive, narratively nostalgic and culturally relevant again. Jurassic World is all about executing its own ambitiousness on a mammoth scale both narratively and metaphorically, and similar to Jurassic Park delivers at the highest possible technical level. Yet once again, it is not without its obvious narrative concerns.

 

As with the negative critical attention directed at the storyline and character development in the original, Jurassic World is arguably destined for a similar fate. Attempts to flesh out the characters and make them more three-dimensional have only succeeded in creating a host of stereotypes that equally hark back to the 1980s action-adventure film. If a source problem is needed to throw light on the decade-long script production issues, it surely would begin with the film’s regressive leading characters and an evident inability to improve gender stereotypes in the same manner in which they have committed to revising their technical operations. While the narrative unsurprisingly remains firmly entrenched within the boundaries of action-adventure genre, ramping up the ante at every turn with flashes of horror, humour and science, the overriding themes of strong human values specific to the action-adventure remain at the core of Jurassic World once more, if not more clearly defined than in the other three films. The narrative subtexts delineating commercial greed and unethical scientific manipulation appear to predominantly manifest themselves through Claire, who appears to bear the burden of moral responsibility entirely on her shoulders, her ethical awareness only realised once a miraculous transformation into a more submissive role has been assumed.

 

While Christ Pratt fits in solidly to the archetypal action-adventure hero role, meeting character expectations without too much incident but not necessarily all burliness and brawn either, Claire’s transformation from a dehumanised, career-orientated threat to a sexualized, simpering damsel in need of feminizing by Owen, introduces a wholly regressive and misplaced feminine quality in the franchise, that was not made visible by either Laura Dern in the original or Julianne Moore in The Lost World. While the burden of moral responsibility may be seen to be shared by some of the male characters who are positioned as the moral guardians to Hammond’s enterprise, their fates do not allow for this burden to be shared equally and moral reconditioning is positioned firmly at Claire’s door and only made possible through the realisation of her nurturing values, offering reassurance that the whole world has not gone completely mad and traditional roles remain firmly in tact.

 

Gender stereotyping and a formulaic narrative aside, Jurassic World premises itself on the promise that it is both cinematically and culturally relevant by exceeding and executing the same audience expectations that defined and popularised its original film. In a sense, Jurassic World has been crying out for twenty-two years to be revised for the digitally-rich cinematic age, given Jurassic Park’s influence in the industry overall and its current timing seems just about right. Two decades on, the film undoubtedly steps up to its own plate and in keeping with the overall philosophy of the franchise, does it bigger and better, if not narratively weaker. Whether a fifth film needs to be made is one to be mulled over later. For sheer entertainment and thrills, Jurassic World is more than enough for now.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

12A (See IFCO for details)

124 minutes

Jurassic World is released 12th June 2015

Jurassic World – Official Website

 

Share

Review: The Look of Silence

208350-thumb-full-3636_the_look_of_silence_videocl

DIR: Joshua Oppenheimer • PRO: Signe Byrge Sørensen • DOP: Lars Skree • ED: Nils Pagh Andersen • MUS: Seri Banang, Mana Tahan • CAST: Adi Rukun

 

Oscar-nominated American director Joshua Oppenheimer garnered worldwide attention and great critical acclaim for his profoundly staggering, unnervingly illuminating and visually enthralling 2012 documentary The Act of Killing. Focusing on the Indonesian genocide by paramilitaries and gangsters of an estimated one million perceived Communists between 1965 and ‘66, almost fifty years on, Oppenheimer revisits the cinema-loving perpetrators to re-enact their crimes to camera, as both the administrators and victims of death, in any film genre of their choosing. What unfolds are incredulously bizarre and chilling dramatizations of one of the most horrific systematic mass murders of the twentieth century by the executioners, who as producers and actors of their own scenes, recreate the methods and means of exterminating those victims who conveniently fell outside their political ideologies.

 

Filmed alongside The Act of Killing between 2005-2010 to protect the identities of his subjects from the same people who have remained in Indonesian power, Oppenheimer’s companion piece, The Look of Silence, flips the narrative perspective from the murderers to the victims and follows forty-four year old optometrist Adi’s attempts to unearth the circumstances surrounding his brother Ramli’s brutal execution. Born after Ramli’s murder and bearing witness to his elderly and senile parents subsequent torment as survivors, Adi defies the overriding fear of recrimination prevailing contemporary Indonesia to confront the long chain of responsible perpetrators and interrogate their nebulous motives for his brother’s execution. Supplementing his day job testing the villagers’ eyes, Adi interviews those directly involved in Ramli’s death and as a spectator, indirectly watches his dramatized execution on a television set, in an attempt to comprehend a death that has torn his family apart and silenced a nation for fifty years.

 

While entering the minds of the perpetrators in The Act of Killing was motivated by action, looking at the legacy of genocide through the eyes of its survivors drives The Look of Silence. As he seeks to reconcile a disturbing and silent past, Adi’s collectiveness amidst the abject misery of his quest, delineates a much more slow-paced narrative stripped of visual allure, creating a different type of iciness than its more macabre, surreal and visually magnetic predecessor. By focusing on the legacy of one particular victim’s death through the eyes of his family, not only does Oppenheimer resurrect and give identity to one of genocide’s faceless victims, dehumanized by the incredulous dramatizations in his first film but he also erases any possible engagement with his ‘actors’ performances that are so artificially constructed in The Act of Killing, it can, at times, become all too easy to distance from the horror they are orchestrating or serve to reassure that we are simply nothing like the monsters.

 

That is not to say that The Look of Silence is not equally cognizant of its own simulated reality. The executioners’ awareness of their staged performances within a dramatized framework are also heavily coded in the artifice of cinema and although not as jarring as the action in The Act of Killing, are just as staggeringly torturous and sadistic. The transformation and performance for the cameras, some revelling in showmanship, others agitated at being confronted with the silenced past but all unequivocally refusing to express regret or harbour guilt, creates a simulated reality that sits alongside Adi’s own filming of reality, as his father crawls around the floor in the severe stages of Alzheimer’s disease, unaware of who or where he is, blurring the boundaries between both realities but both motivated and rooted in a genocidal past.

 

The defiance of monstrosity is insistent and persistent, dispelling any counter-challenge to their version of events with a scripted dialogue of denial and assuming the role of actors, echo the carefully constructed sentiments of the post-genocide generation that continues to imbue the nation’s narrative of denial to this day. The prevailing anti-Communist discourse in contemporary Indonesia justifies its past by merely aligning itself with the overall international Communist fear that pervaded the 1960s but by interrogating such justifications from the perspective of witnesses and survivors, Oppenheimer philosophically and objectively debunks this script, amplifying a conversation in contemporary Indonesia that not only has long been long silenced but also been built on lies, fear and deceit.

 

The Look of Silence therefore is an invitation to look at an inaccessible past and assimilate the transgressions of moral boundaries that have shaped its present by challenging the perceptions of those transgressions, which have been continually constructed as normal. As is evident from the two narrative perspectives in both films, Oppenheimer does not condemn the persecutors or shower their victims in sympathy, nor does he reproach his audience for their curiosity in the repulsive. He does however, impel his murderers, his victims and his audiences to confront the acts and legacies of mass human brutality through the simple acts of performing and watching the executional tactics which paralyzed and stained a nation that still refuses to talk.

 

While the The Look of Silence asks to be viewed through different eyes than its predecessor The Act of Killing, both are frighteningly significant films that carry equal weight in ending decades of orchestrated silence that would have otherwise remained unseen and unheard. While the former may not jolt as much as its predecessor owing to its oppressors’ absurd cinematic dramatizations of their own slaughtering methods, it does offer a hopeful platform whereby the existing powers, who persistently depreciate the barbarity of their horrendous crimes, are visibly confronted and challenged, thereby revising an episode they have consistently insisted on devising and narrowing the gulf between the anonymous murderers and the silenced victims of genocide.

 

Dee O’Donoghue

103 minutes

The Look of Silence is released 12th June 2015

 

The Look of Silence  – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Danny Collins

detail.016ca1c4

DIR: Dan Fogelman • WRI: Dan Fogelman • PRO: Nimitt Mankad, Jessie Nelson • DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Julie Monroe • MUS: Ryan Adams, Theodore Shapiro, John Lennon • DES: Dan Bishop • CAST: Al Pacino, Annette Bening, Jennifer Garner, Bobby, Cannavale, Christopher Plummer

 

Despite having carved a lionized career playing mordacious mobsters, murderers, moguls and mentors in crime thrillers, Al Pacino has peppered such tragedian roles with the odd foray into the sunnier comedy genre over the course of his forty-something career. While early comedy roles in films such as Dick Tracy and Frankie and Johnnie may have garnered Pacino critical success, later roles in lesser critically received comedies such as Stand Up Guys and The Humbling have failed to reposition Pacino with anything of significant weight outside his celebrated career as the introspective intimidator in Hollywood crime dramas.

 

In his latest comedy jaunt Danny Collins, Pacino stars as the eponymous ageing pop star who compromised his musical integrity for commercial success when starting out in the industry forty years ago. In spite of his enduring successful career, he has grown cynical and frustrated with belting out the same repetitive hits to an increasingly older audience. When he discovers a letter from John Lennon written in 1971 encouraging him to remain faithful to his musical integrity, it inspires him to take control of his creativity in the way he should have done a long time ago. He sets about righting the wrongs of the past and along the way encounters a new family, true friendship and a psychological battle composing the songs he feels he was truly meant to write.

 

Inspired by the true story of British folk musician Steve Tilston, who received a letter from John Lennon thirty-four years after he wrote it, assuring him that success would not compromise his songwriting abilities, renowned Hollywood screenwriter Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love. The Guilt Trip, Last Vegas) debuts his first foray into comedy as feature film director. With such screenwriting credentials and illustrious cast at the helm, it would be safe to assume that Fogelman should be able to elevate the over-familiar narrative of sentimental self-discovery into a refreshingly contemporary and cautionary tale about the malignancy of greed and success. Unfortunately, the hit-and-miss Fogelman is unable to draw on the screenwriting resources of some of his previous films, instead lapsing into the well-oiled narrative of transformation that Hollywood ubiquitously churns out by the bucket load. Evidently assuming this universal parable is not in need of refreshment, Fogelman repeatedly meets narrative expectations, which surprisingly for an experienced screenwriter, results in a somewhat indifference to his narrative, relying all too easily on Lennon’s soundtrack to bolster the film’s predictable ruts, of which there are far too many.

 

What was much needed in Danny Collins to leaven the formulaic narrative was to engage with the dark subtext that is sporadically introduced but let flaccidly hanging. In the hands of the ever-ruminative Pacino, the exploration of Danny’s morality and conscience; addiction, abandonment, manipulation of and by the industry, would have rooted his moral transition from self-obsessed, pitying crooner into worldly-wise family man, all the more tangible had his character been given the multi-textured attention Pacino is renowned for but is instead carpeted over with sugared-coated fluff. Indeed, it is the outstanding performances from its leading actors that saves Danny Collins from becoming another forgettable, twee comedy drama and Pacino can honourably salute his latest comedy role, which is nigh on flawless as the impish and childlike, washed-out, raspy crooner who balances the burden of self-destruction from the perilous trappings of show business with the emotional sensitivity of the first flushes of genuine love, friendship and family bonding. When given the opportunity, Pacino displays the emotional pain of the tragic loner with such palpable nuance; it is a tragedy in itself that this lack of emotional exploration into Pacino’s character, concealed behind the overuse of Lennon’s soundtrack, becomes a wasted opportunity and severe oversight by Fogelman.

 

Annette Bening is as infallible as ever and plays the perfect foil to Pacino’s roguish guff with understated sophistication and razor-sharp wit, while Christopher Plummer as Danny’s corrosive manager, is failed too often by misplaced vulgar dialogue, which is so painfully at odds with his character’s intent at times, that when he does express emotional humility, it appears alienating and disingenuous. The surprise revelation is Jennifer Garner who displays impeccable comedic timing and although remains within the boundaries of her habitual risk-free maternal roles, could have stolen the acting accolades from Pacino and Bening, had she benefitted from a more robust script and developed characterisation.

 

It would be expected that a film by a first-time director would contain many of the lesser-polished elements than would be customary from a more experienced filmmaker. However, it is not the direction that is the weakest component in Danny Collins but rather ironically, its immensely lethargic script that relies too heavily on thundering clichés that devalue the illuminating comedic performances from Pacino, Bening and Garner. Within a more solid and polished narrative of self-discovery, the conclusion would be fittingly apt, however, in the absence of this, it merely appears Fogelman has run out of steam or has just simply given up.

Danny Collins is, at times, an engaging and downright hilarious comedy drama that will have you laughing through the tears but this is simply owing to the sublime performances from its cast and not through a refreshingly new perspective on the hackneyed Hollywood narrative of transformation.

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

15A (See IFCO for details)

106 minutes

Danny Collins is released 29th May 2015

 

Danny Collins – Official Website

 

 

 

Share

Review: The New Girlfriend

the-new-girlfriend

 

DIR/WRI: François Ozon • WRI: François Ozon • PRO: Eric Altmayer, Nicolas Altmayer • DOP: Pascal Marti • ED: Laure Gardette • MUS: Philippe Rombi • DES: Michel Barthélémy • CAST: Romain Duris, Anaïs Demoustier, Raphaël Personnaz, Isild Le Besco

 

 

Much like his cinematic idol R.W. Fassbinder, director François Ozon has provocatively flirted with an eclectic mix of genres, subjects and styles marking a bizarrely postmodern trajectory that is becoming increasingly difficult to explicate. As one of les enfants terribles of the new wave in French cinema in the ’90s engaging with the visceral and unsettling cinema du corps, Ozon has traversed a cinematic tightrope of sexually unshrinking, perversely political and rococo-esque creativity, through a satirical and hyperactive lens into transgressive identities and sexual behaviour. Equally like Fassbinder, such wide-ranging ambition has resulted in as many triumphs as it has frustrations, including the ridiculously joyous 8 femmes, the darkly paranoid Swimming Pool, the frothy farcical Potiche and the psychologically satirical In the House, however, it does appear that Ozon’s films are, at times, panegyrics to celebrated auteurs rather than coherent connections with his own sense of auteurism.

 

In his latest film, Ozon continues his multi-textured investigations into personal identities and transformation in The New Girlfriend, a psychological, romantic melodrama based on Ruth Rendall’s 1985 short story of the same name. Claire (Anaïs Demoustier) and Laura (Isild Le Besco) have been best friends since they were seven years old and while Claire has always faded into the background, when Laura dies, she is utterly devastated. She vows to keep an eye on Laura’s husband, David (Romain Duris) and six-month old baby but too overwrought with grief, she is reluctant to visit. One day she plucks up the courage to see David and finds him dressed in Laura’s clothes comforting the baby. David insists he is a transvestite but not gay and Laura knew he derived pleasure from dressing up as a woman. Initially repulsed at David’s fetish, Claire gradually accepts him as Virgina, becoming his friend and mentor and discovering her own buried femininity along the way, until another tragedy strikes which threatens to destroy their newfound relationship.

 

In customary fashion, Ozon plunges as many styles as he can appropriate from cinematic masters such as Fassbinder, Sirk, Hitchcock, Almodóvar and Haynes and while there is occasional delight of artful satire, fanciful farce, psychological undercurrent and political breadth, it soon becomes evident, as the intricate subplots and subtexts unfold, Ozon has rather overstretched himself again. The core theme at play, whereby a man grapples with his own and others acceptance of his ambiguous personal identity, becomes severely deluged by the film’s overriding clutter and while it does tap into relevant prevailing sexual and gender discourses, it fails to inject any intense probing from a fresh perspective and seriously loses impactful weight.

 

While the use of a seductive feminine corpse becomes the satirical catalyst to navigate explorations into subversive sexualities, kick-starting the narrative with skittish promise, the subsequent jagged narrative strands; David’s shame and subsequent liberation via Claire’s subverted and rediscovered femininity, detoured through everyone’s homosexual ambiguity, default comfortably into an underlying sense of déjà vu that never really leaves. Such meandering narrative structuring becomes rather laboriously complex and devoid of promised satirical execution, merely leaves audiences with a shed load of clutter; a cute shed load of clutter but clutter nonetheless. It has all been said and done before and said and done much better.

 

Ozon himself appears to lose interest halfway through his tangled weave and becomes more engrossed in polishing the film’s composition rather than psychologically probing his narrative themes. It would be harsh to say that style over substance reigns in The New Girlfriend, however, it does seem that Ozon’s appropriation, rather than reinvention, of Sirk’s ornate visual style and melodramatic themes that fuse irrealism with emotionalism, is simply that, borrowed but not improved. Ozon’s use of Katy Perry in his soundtrack is intended as a significant marker of a more liberal celebration of femininity, culture and sexuality, however interwoven with a deeply sombre score by Philippe Rombi, which introduces but does not execute the psychological intent of his characters aspirations á la Sirk, is at odds with the misplaced pink bubblegum and buttered popcorn tone of the overall narrative.

 

Performances by Romain Duris as David / Virgina and Anaïs Demoustier as Claire do compensate for the narrative complications and Duris must be commended for creating a wholly convincing portrayal of transvestism that categorically resists stereotype. The sense of acceptance that Ozon is attempting to capture is beautifully executed by Duris when Virgina goes shopping for in public for the first time or when he is visibly moved by the celebration of his femininity at a transvestite club and it is a testament to Duris that it is the melancholic David, rather than the liberated Virgina, that is more complex to understand. It is a shame that Ozon does not engage with more of this emotionalism to give a more rounded structure to his narrative as he does when he returns to his New French Extreme roots by seductively investigating the rituals of the flesh, which become the most unprocessed in the film, leaving the audience gasping for more. Anaïs Demoustier mirrors Duris executed performance as she grapples with her own gender identity, which transforms from heavily coded masculinity to a more overt celebration of her femininity, the further Virginia is liberated. Her own delicate transition from obstinate prejudice to acceptance via a lesbian subtext encapsulates the malleability of personal identities that Ozon intends to illustrate but too fussily delineates.

 

The New Girlfriend attempts to satirically investigate and interrogate sexual diversity through a disruption of the mundane comforts of middle class life. Where Ozon has previously succeeded in films such as 8 Women and Swimming Pool, the psychological tone in the The New Girlfriend does not lend well to its ultimate conclusion, which he has usurped and reformulated from its more apt conclusion in the source novel, resulting in the film’s overall jaggedness. It does appear that Ozon is moving further away from the deviancy, provocation and brutality that made his name and it possibly may be time for Ozon to take what he has learnt from the cinematic greats and find a way to stamp a more coherent identity over his own films.

 

 

Dee O’Donoghue

 

107 minutes

The New Girlfriend is released 22nd May 2015

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Lambert & Stamp

lambertstamp

 

DIR: James D. Cooper • PRO: James D. Cooper, Douglas Graves, Loretta Harms • DOP: James D. Cooper • ED: Christopher Tellefsen • MUS: The Who • CAST: Chris Stamp, Kit Lambert, Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, Terence Stamp, Irish Jack

 

Frequently hailed as one of the most influential rock bands of the twentieth century, The Who embodied many of the radical socio-cultural and political changes that swept across Britain when they first emerged during the Swinging Sixties. While the idiosyncratic personas of the band and their contribution to popular culture has been well-documented over the decades (not least in dramatized form in the 1979 film Quadrophenia), perhaps less familiar are the two men Roger Daltrey christened the fifth and sixth members of the band. As The Who celebrate fifty years in the music industry and to coincide with this milestone, cinematographer-turned-director James D. Cooper debuts an exhaustive and highly entertaining account of the lives of aspiring filmmakers Kit Lambert and Christ Stamp, who, in 1964, stumbled upon an unknown mod band in a grimy London club and turned them into enduring, incendiary rock gods.

 

Kit Lambert was an ostentatious Oxford-educated homosexual (still illegal at the time of meeting The Who) and son of renowned composer Constant Lambert, while Stamp was an unpolished East End lad, son of a Thames tugboat captain and brother of actor Terence. Having met as assistant directors in Shepperton Studios, the incongruous pair harboured ambitions to become film directors. Seemingly an insurmountable challenge the traditional route, Lambert proposed they make their own film about a burgeoning rock band and track their rise within the British rock scene. After trawling many a squalid club, they eventually stumbled upon the High Numbers and despite having no industry experience but plenty of swagger and tenacity, they became their managers and transformed the unvarnished High Numbers into notorious rockers, The Who, credited with affecting the band’s auto-destructive guitar-smashing act, Maximum R&B music, sonic explorations and signature target T-shirt.

 

Employing an abundance of archive stills and film footage and fusing interviews, commentaries and musical performances from the past to present day, Cooper’s cinematic scrapbook captures a relentless whirlwind of explosive rock history, in which a non-linear narrative and slick cinematography rollicks furiously through the decades, rooting the audience directly in the band’s volcanic timeline. As the only surviving members of the band, it is left to Townsend and Daltrey to cut sharply through their recollections of the hallucinatory ’60s, the rocking ’70s, the sobering ’80s to the present day and not only does Cooper extract some of the most emotive and disclosing interviews from his subjects but he also gets his hands on some of the most invaluable rock archive material to underpin the cyclone of chaos that suffocated their tempestuous rock reign.

 

Townsend is an unsparingly honest and philosophical interviewee and while he gives genuine due credit to his managers for their contribution to the band’s success, it is evident that the subsequent pitfalls at the height of their 60s fame (bankruptcy, addictions and tensions with the 1967 film Tommy, which led to their eventual parting in 1975) were owing to the duo’s mismanagement rather than any complexities within the band itself. Daltrey is equally giving if not marginally more guarded, seemingly unrecovered from Lambert’s mentoring of Townsend and remaining somewhat wounded to this day by the rivalry between Townsend, the artistic genius and Daltrey, the choreographed showman.

 

The real narrative coup in the film however, is Chris Stamp, who, despite suffering from advanced colorectal cancer during the final stages of filming, provides a highly animated and detailed recollection on behalf of Lambert and himself, who died in 1981 (Stamp died in 2012). A loquacious, sharp, hyperactive, no-holds-barred East Ender, with an abundance of charm, wit and warmth, Stamp’s high-spirited memories are so palpable and vividly illustrated, there hardly seems need at times for the wealth of archive material flamboyantly fuelling the frenetic narrative.

 

When probed about their highly discernible relationship, Stamp acknowledges it was as a result of such creative and commercial distinctions that made them so artistically compatible, doubting The Who would have succeeded had they more in common. It was equally their rebellious and anarchistic attitude, which stood in blatant opposition to the established, saccharine British pop scene of the mid-1960s and was an extension of the band’s own fractious, egocentric personalities that allowed them to tap into the zeitgeist and encapsulate the counter-cultural ideas that seeped through the decade. It was a penetration of new musical and cultural philosophies within the industry that transcended their contemporaries, namely The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, which in accordance with the counter-cultural ethos of the decade did not conform to society’s rules, but rather made them. With mischievous imperiousness, Stamp scoffs both Lambert and he did not yet know who the band was upon meeting the High Numbers but they unequivocally knew who they did not want them to be.

 

If slight nitpicking is to be done in Lambert & Stamp, it is Cooper’s tendency to be overly sentimental. While Lambert, Moon and Entwistle are all dead and evidently their versions can only be relayed through historic material and memories, theirs is a rock biography in which excessive substance abuse and melancholic dispositions played a significant role in the band’s overall life story. Cooper tentatively sketches over these actualities and veers towards a more nostalgic conclusion, with Stamp poignantly visiting Lambert’s grave, recalling the more positive aspects of his character rather than deliberate on the more tortured facets of his history. But nitpicking it is and James D. Cooper must be credited with creating a comprehensively energetic and highly intriguing portrait of two men whose wildly tangible differences gelled to create a formidable rock partnership and differences that certainly can be attributed to the enduring success of The Who to this day.

 

 

   Dee O’Donoghue

 

117 minutes

Lambert & Stamp is released 15th May 2015

 

Lambert & Stamp  – Official Website

Share

Review: Still

Aiden Gillen in the film Still

 

DIR/Wri: Simon Blake • PRO: Colette Delaney-Smith, Zorana Piggott • DOP: Andy Parsons • ED: Agnieszka Liggett • MUS: Alex Grey • DES: Mayou Trikerioti • CAST: Aidan Gillen, Jonathan Slinger, Elodie Yung, Amanda Mealing, Sonny Green

 

Adapted from his own play Lazarus Man, screenwriter Simon Blake’s first full-length directorial feature Still merges portent social realism with menacing psychological thrills in this grim and affecting film. Set in a bleak North London milieu, the film explores the unprovoked and interminable harassment experienced by a grieving man at the hands of a sinister and truculent teen gang. Although not a critique on gang culture per se, this unpropitious portrait of gang violence at micro-level does reflect existing social trends of metropolitan gang crime at macro-level, creating an apocalyptic prognostication of social catastrophe at the mercy of paralysing gang cultures. Still encapsulates a radical shift in fear seeping through society; the increasing social threat embodied by armed hunters in hoodies who stalk and terrorize victims with new types of weapons for the contemporary age.

 

Photographer Tom Carver (Aiden Gillen) lost his son in a hit-and-run accident over a year ago. Unable to assimilate his grief and divorce with a nugatory photographic career, he turns to alcohol and drugs to obliterate his overwhelming torment. On his way back from the off-licence one night, he innocuously bumps into teen-gang leader, Carl (Sonny Green), initiating a chilling chain of events, which culminates in a horrifying decision for marked man Carver and presenting an opportunity for ultimate redemption and revenge.

 

Although it may appear ambiguous at times as to whether Still is a one-man character analysis on psychological trauma or a highly-stylised noirish thriller, it is nonetheless a grippingly immersive and socially valuable film, which is situated at the intersection of relevant socio-cultural and psycho-behavioural concerns. Blake’s spasmodic shift in the narrative’s trajectory from the exploration of personal loss and professional frustration to personal survival and vengeance via sadistic emotional torture by a young antagonist pushes the parameters of rationality to its upper limits, challenging and probing the audience with the boundaries of their own moral consciences.

 

Aidan Gillen is spellbinding as the man and father whose descent from self-pitying grief and abandonment into dehumanized, soulless aggression thrusts the narrative forwards at an emotionally electrifying rate. Gillen portrays Carver as a somewhat latter-day Hamlet; an essentially benevolent man who struggles to retain his sanity as he seeks to apprehend his bizarre, fragmented reality through grief and psychological hostility. Submerged in irrepressible chaos and entangled between bravado and self-abhorrence, Gillen pierces Carver’s fear, paranoia and failure with melancholy, bitterness and cynicism, making it difficult to ascertain who or what Carver predominantly grieves for; his son, a squandered photographic career or his sanity. That he loses a child whom he realises he never knew and that his artistic interpretations on the world have failed to ignite hold him up as the epitome of human failure, fuelling and blinding his motivation for retribution. Carver is as indecisive and hesitant as he is reckless and impulsive; characteristics that have severe consequences for those around him and his endurance of abject misery through sadistic threats and violence becomes the angst-driven catalyst he needs to either morally administer or repudiate revenge.

 

Still’s small-scale, low budget skilfully creates effectively high production values which alternate between bleak and dehydrated North London cityscapes and Carver’s flat, his own psychological graveyard; spaces that pulverize and devour any remnants of Carver’s lucidity. Blake expertly toys with pace which he aligns with Carver’s wavering mental state, scenes swinging between prolonged tension-fuelled stillness, evoking the grieving process and decent into alcoholism, to brittle and palpation-charged surges of the false highs of substance abuse and psychotic revenge. Appropriating a film noir style of the 1950s, low-key lighting and darkly lit scenes marry with blindingly lurid, neon hues of 1970s neo-noirs through an uncontrollable drug-fuelled psychosis, heightening Carver’s suffocation, claustrophobia and delusory elation. Rather than mimic the current vogue for fierce electro-pop in contemporary urban cinema, Blake revisits the evocative and moody jazzy soundtracks of noir, which reflect Carver’s many interchangeable moods and gives a more sadistically seductive feel to the narrative.

 

Still marks an impressive full-length directorial debut from Blake and frighteningly palpable turns from Aidan Gillen and Sonny Green. The fusion of film noir conventions with a portrait of a bereaved man’s descent into psychological disintegration and an inadvertent social commentary on gang youth culture should be slightly chaotic, misplaced and overambitious but it is rather a combination of these elements, set within a North London social realist context, that makes the film all the more disconcerting, and convincing; Carver in North London, could be anyone, anywhere, at anytime.

 

 

     Dee O’Donoghue

 

97 minutes

Still is released 14th May 2015

 

 

 

 

 

Share

Review: Heaven Adores You

002b93ac

DIR: Nickolas Rossi • PRO: Nickolas Rossi, J.T. Gurzi, Kevin Moyer, Marc Smolowitz • DOP: Nickolas Rossi, J.T. Gurzi • ED: Nickolas Rossi, Eli Olson • MUS: Elliott Smith, Kevin Moyer • CAST: Elliott Smith, Rossie Harris, Jon Brion, Chris Douridas, Larry Crane

 

Contrary to similar rock stars who have died young and controversially, documentaries on melancholic musician Elliott Smith are rather thin on the ground. Steve Hanft’s metaphorical and prophetic short film, Strange Parallel (1998) fuses funereal performances with disjointed and surreal dream sequences, leaving the audience bemused but rather baffled. Gils Reyes abandons notions of impartiality in his bio-documentary Searching for Elliott Smith (2009), instead providing a platform for Smith’s much-maligned former girlfriend, Jennifer Chiba to exonerate herself from involvement in his death, leaving a rather bad taste in the mouth. Director Nickolas Rossi is well positioned, therefore, to redress the balance of such middling attempts and assemble an objective, informative and engaging film that should attempt to exhibit both Smith’s euphonious legacy and unmask the mercurial moods behind the sombre songwriter.

 

Heaven Adores You opens to an ominous declaration from Larry Crane, owner of Portland’s Jackpot! Recording Studio and Elliott Smith archivist, that Smith’s unforeseen and uncomfortable Oscar nomination for his ode to his dark depression, ‘Miss Misery’ in Good Will Hunting (1997) was “the worst thing, in a way, that could have happened”. According to Crane, the nomination was a monumental turning point, displacing Smith from the comfort of his gloom-ridden angst and catapulting him onto a global stage of over eighty-seven million viewers, who were just as confused as he was, as to what this introspective Texan man in a white suit was doing performing at the Oscars. Five years later Smith was dead. Smith’s Oscar nomination and death appear to have defined and eclipsed his musical legacy, despite producing five critically acclaimed studio albums during his terse solo career; his death more so, as theories of homicide abound and the case remains open, apparently insoluble.

 

Owing to Rossi’s eagerness to get to the crux of the matter within the first few minutes, it would be easy to assume he intends to engage with a sensationalist narrative, creating yet another disproportionate overview of the man, the music and the mystery. Heaven Adores You is indeed an unbalanced portrayal of Elliott Smith but not through a distasteful voyeuristic lens, as the opening would suggest, but rather through a determined rejection to investigate any aspect of Smith’s maladjusted life at all. Rossi, evidently aware the weight these two life-defining episodes carry, acknowledges both incidents swiftly and that concludes any personal investigation into his biography for the duration of the film. Heaven Adores You alternatively becomes an outlet to deify Smith’s discography; his wistful and stirring music hauntingly showcased throughout.

 

Locating the film in the three US cities that ultimately rooted his life, Portland, New York and LA, Heaven Adores You charts Smith’s musical rise from his early days in hard-core punk band Heatmiser between 1991 and 1993 (as his equally tragic predecessor, Kurt Cobain was finding commercial success in neighbouring Seattle with Nirvana) to his dissatisfaction with the band and his subsequent ruminative solo career, which saw a prodigious shift in style to a more melancholic, folksy/pop formula. Rossi’s adoration of Smith’s laments permeates throughout and his refusal to engage with the more disturbing aspects of his character (crack addiction, depression, suicide attempts) attests to his unwillingness to smear the film’s objective; to simply showcase Smith’s musical brilliance.

 

This tactic however, leaves the audience with a rather skewed impression of a man whose music was a reflection of the despair, erraticism and abuse that ultimately drove his song writing. Indeed, Heaven Adores You portrays a somewhat stable and composed man, deeply at odds with the unsettling lyrics he is singing, which contain an abundance of signifiers to his fragile state of mind. That his insuperable addictions, raging paranoia and ambiguous death at the age of thirty-four from two stab wounds to the chest and heart is scarcely reflected upon, is to largely negate the palpable significance of the music Rossi is actually worshipping.

 

Frequently and erroneously compared to Paul Simon, interviews with former associates and friends tentatively paint a portrait of a man whose music more than consumed him, as a consequence of his intense, moribund state, thereby illustrating the crucial symbiotic relationship between the man and music and the need to interrogate the personal tragedies in order to fully comprehend the saddest songs. Although there is reference to a clearly troubled relationship with his childhood past, which undoubtedly became the catalyst to his angst, Rossi, whether owing to deference or trepidation, refuses to probe into this relationship and this common element throughout becomes wholly frustrating, leaving the film severely lacking.

 

Whilst Heaven Adores You undoubtedly showcases the creative genius of Elliott Smith and will either introduce or re-engage audiences with the musical mastermind behind emotive and prescient songs such as ‘The Biggest Lie’, ‘Between the Bars’ and ‘Waltz #2, it is unfortunate Rossi has failed to extract a more symmetrical narrative, balancing the music with the myth, which could have served as an effective counter-narrative to the tabloid sensationalism and inadequate documentaries he is so desperately attempting to disavow. Which is a shame, as owing to this, Rossi may have aroused an appreciation of Smith’s music but he may also have unwittingly refuelled more than a traducing interest in his gnomic demise.

 

Dee O’Donoghue

 

104 minutes

Heaven Adores You is released 8th May 2015

 

Heaven Adores You  – Official Website

 

Share

Review: The Canal

FangoTheCanal2

DIR/WRI: Ivan Kavanagh • PRO: AnneMarie Naughton • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Robin Hill • MUS: Ceiri Torjussen • DES: Stephanie Clerkin • CAST: Rupert Evans, Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Hannah Hoekstra, Steve Oram

Following on from his bizarrely demented and macabre film Tin Can Man (2007), The Canal sees Irish writer, director and film festival favourite Ivan Kavanagh’s fifth feature entering the realm of horror once again. Less idiosyncratic and shadowing a more traditional narrative paradigm than Tin Can Man, The Canal is a self-conscious and unnerving supernatural horror and fully aware of its lineage within the genre, strategically appropriates from its cinematic predecessors and remains faithful to its cinematic form. Such self-awareness would therefore suggest a more accessible narrative to its audience and yet, it is as a result of this familiarity that Kavanagh is able to assemble a horror film that is instantly recognisable and formulaic, yet refreshingly contemporary, intelligent and immersive, which does not fail to startle, ruffle and hugely disconcert.

Placid film archivist David (Rupert Evans) and his pregnant wife, Alice (Hannah Hoekstra) move into a charming, old house and five years on, along with their son, appear to live a reasonably contented life. When David is asked to view some archive police footage from a 1902 murder, he fearfully recognises his house as the murder scene where a man brutally murdered his wife and deposited her body in the local canal. His angst is further heightened when he suspects Alice of having an affair and when she fails to return home one night and her body is pulled from the canal, David becomes prime suspect. As he sets about finding the true killer, supernatural forces impede his efforts, catapulting David into a hypnotic mindscape of psychological paranoia.

In a sort of Paranormal Activity meets The Shining and The Babadook vein, The Canal is elevated from becoming another lethargic, disposable horror film by Kavanagh’s intellectual investment into his narrative, whereby the plot unfolds through the eyes of a personable man, whose steady mental decline not only mirrors but also exceeds the impetus of the most horrific and supernatural elements of the film. By consciously evoking repetitive signifiers of horror and arousing a feeling of nostalgia through pastiche, Kavanagh artfully lures and provokes his audience into a sense of recognition and predictability before assaulting them with the psychological annihilation of the film’s protagonist. Such narrative scaremongering fuses the horrific with the psychological, melds the past with the present and unveiled through a traditional narrative structure, blurs the boundaries between reverie and reality, creating a pulsating platform for the prolonged mental erosion of both protagonist and audience.

Mirroring The Canal’s cinematic heritage within the horror genre, David’s obsession with connecting Alice’s death with the deaths of the past, leads him to conclude that he is merely the next link in a long lineage of supernatural events in the house, which have returned to wreak further havoc and may not necessarily end with him. Kavanagh elicits motifs from supernatural horror Paranormal Activity, whereby David uses an old film camera to not only gather supernatural evidence, but also to demonstrate an appeal from the director to look to the past and reinvest in the genre as it increasingly appears to being devoured by cinema itself.

Rupert Evans’ performance as David is alarming in the shift from unassuming and tender husband and father to demonic neurotic and delusional obsessive. His performance is excruciatingly palpable and prickly; his decent into a nightmarish madness jolts and jerks far more perturbingly than any of the blood-spattered apparitions haunting the house. Hannah Hoekstra, as David’s seductive Dutch wife, extends beyond the archetypal horror beauty and mirroring David’s schizophrenic tendencies, invests great emotional malleability, oscillating between attentive wife and mother to deceiving adulteress with chilling ease. The two supporting characters skilfully bolster and sedate David and Alice’s overwhelmingly burdened performances. Antonia Campbell-Hughes as Claire sobers the overall intensity, her understated pragmatism the perfect foil to the psychotic madness. Steve Oram, as the quintessential Cockney copper, brings an equally law-abiding practicality to the narrative and compliments Claire’s skepticism as he attempts to remain outside the psychopathic minefield and remain inside the realm of rationality.

Piers McGrail’s moody cinematography jerkily vacillates between David’s four core spaces of calm; the house, canal, film archive rooms and his own mind, to a shattering of such oases of tranquillity, which explode into tense and suffocating pockets of bloody carnage and gore. The murky, putrid, and suffocating ambience, underpinned by a knowing spine-chilling score, cuts through the stillness of perceived normality to become an ominously fluorescent and hauntingly shadowy milieu, as the architects of David’s malaise haunt and taunt him into further preternatural torment, leaving both David and the audience with nowhere to go but remain locked inside this psychotic mindscape.

Although horror may be conventionally located as a low-cultural genre, The Canal is an intelligent revision of familiar horror and supernatural formulas, which, by littering the narrative with recognisable signifiers, instils a sense of familiarity to its audience before perversely steering the narrative into an unknown realm. By flirting with conventional haunted-house tropes which distort the perceptions of both genres, the film engages, intimidates and strikes terror on a whole new level, demonstrating that the horror and supernatural genres are far from dead.

Dee O’Donoghue

16 (See IFCO for details)

93 minutes
The Canal is released 8th May 2015

The Canal – Official Website

Share

Review: Far From The Madding Crowd

140701042_471529c

DIR: Thomas Vinterberg • WRI: David Nicholls • PRO: Andrew Macdonald, Allon Reich • DOP: Charlotte Bruus Christensen • ED: Claire Simpson • MUS: Craig Armstrong • DES: Kave Quinn • CAST: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple

 

Undoubtedly acclaimed filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg has had a somewhat fractured relationship with directing films in the English language, his previous two attempts, It’s All About Love (2003) and Dear Wendy (2005), mercilessly panned by critics and audiences. Obviously wounded by both experiences, it has taken ten years for Vinterberg to venture near English-language films, instead carving a celebrated career in his native tongue. However, in Far From the Madding Crowd, not only does the highly eccentric Dane revisit a language that has somewhat stained his otherwise accomplished filmography but he perversely provokes himself by undertaking an adaptation of one of the most revered quintessential British novels of all time and a novel that has already been exhausted by adaptations across the board in popular culture.

 

Carey Mulligan stars as the proud and willful Bathsheba Everdene, who has vowed to retain her independence and remain unwed. She lives and works with her aunt on a small farm and appears content with her uncomplicated life. When her uncle leaves his prosperous farm to her in his will, she becomes mistress of the land, relishing in her fortune and autonomy. Owing to her beauty and spirit, Bathsheba becomes the focus of many a suitor, including the dignified and stoical Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) whom she has already refused to wed, the wealthy but demoralized William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and gambling reprobate, ex-Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). All three men determine on taming and marrying Bathsheba, challenging her to succumb to her latent desires or retain her cherished freedom, throwing her into a complete entangled state of affairs.

 

With the spate of period dramas oversaturating both film and television industries in recent years, it can be quite exhausting for sated audiences to muster up enthusiasm for yet another period drama adaptation and for a director to root out some unchartered element to inject into a formulaic genre that refuses to be tampered with. However, with an idiosyncratic, art-house cinema virtuoso at the helm, it is reasonable to expect that Vinterberg’s aberration in directing Far From the Madding Crowd could transgress and alter the conventions of the traditional period drama by bringing a distinctive avant-garde style to a staid and stubborn genre. Alas, such expectations are not met and this is owing to Vinterberg’s reluctance to challenge the conventions of a cinematic genre in the manner in which he has founded his entire career upon, which comes as a complete disappointment.

 

The screenplay adaptation does not deviate in any way from its source material; therefore those familiar with the novel should not expect any narrative rude awakenings. Such an inflexible adaptation results in a rather half-hearted screenplay that lacks the energy of its source novel, failing to arouse or thrill on any level. That screenwriter David Nicholls harbours a fear of alienating ardent period drama / Hardy enthusiasts by reformulating an over-familiar plot is evident, but what is more regrettable is, although there are flashes of Vinterberg’s skilled craftsmanship throughout the film, it ultimately remains contained within the tight strictures of the genre and becomes no better or worse than the plethora of recent period dramas; solid and dependable but utterly riskless and tired, begging the question, is the period drama genre well passed its sell by date?

 

Mulligan is competent if not slightly confined in the role of spirited Bathsheba, which is somewhat ironic given the mettlesome characteristics of her character and Mulligan’s penchant for plucky but vulnerable heroines. She appears too self-contained by the limitations of the screenplay and finds herself with nowhere to go but join up the predictable and restrictive period drama dots. Matthias Schoenaerts has not been unduly stretched since his previous detached lead role in Alan Rickman’s recent costume drama, A Little Chaos, and again appears reluctant to navigate his character beyond specific emotional boundaries, but does inject just enough pathos into Gabriel Oak to consider him a plausible suitor for the headstrong but fragile Bathsheba. Both Michael Sheen, as the repressive-turned-obsessive Boldwood, and Tom Sturridge, as the capricious soldier Troy, more than compensate for the impediments of the two leading actors, commandeering each scene they are in and striking the perfect balance between fear and self-loathing and compulsive desire and manic obsession.

 

Aside from the supporting cast, the only other significant element redeeming Far From the Madding Crowd from its otherwise sluggishness is the style of the film. As is customary with BBC period dramas, the film is a beautiful spectacle to behold. Cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen has masterfully created a dazzling work of art with a kaleidoscopic vision of spellbinding and hypnotic landscapes captured through a frisky and fluid cinematic lens. The production design gleams, fusing sophisticated, gentrified wealth with agricultural peasantry and penury, aesthetically rooting the audience in late 19th century England, undoubtedly spectacular but not imposing enough to salvage the film from its overall narrative shortcomings.

 

Far From the Madding Crowd will undoubtedly appeal to period drama devotees who demand film adaptations remain faithful to its classic source material. All required narrative archetypes and characteristics of the genre remain firmly in tact; spirited heroine, brooding hero, charming villain, bumbling paramour, resplendent setting and costumes, entangled plot and linear narrative that overcomes conflict and order restored. It does remain difficult, however, to reconcile this adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd with a director who championed for a more aseptic form of filmmaking twenty years ago and if Vinterberg himself cannot inject some anomalous quirk into the jaded period drama, then perhaps it is time the genre itself took a long break in a nice quiet, rural place.

 

 Dee O’Donoghue

12A (See IFCO for details)

119 minutes

Far From the Madding Crowd is released 1st May 2015

 

Far From the Madding Crowd  – Official Website

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Share