Irish Film Review: Medicated Milk

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Silent Storm

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

 

 

                                                                                                                               

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Goodnight Mommy

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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

 

 

 

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Review: Truth

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: Strangerland

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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

 

 

 

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DVD Review: In A House That Ceased To Be

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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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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