For the day that’s in it watch Emmet O’Brien’s short film Dead Air about the last man on earth broadcasting to a world overrun by zombies.
Made by Deep Red Productions
For the day that’s in it watch Emmet O’Brien’s short film Dead Air about the last man on earth broadcasting to a world overrun by zombies.
Made by Deep Red Productions
Emmet O’Brien tells Film Ireland about The White Rose, which features a budding romance that could wither when a blind date goes a little awry…
The White Rose came from my co-writer and co-director Darragh Keating and his desire to, in his own words, make “a simple, nice film”. He approached me with an image and a loose concept. A man waits on a blind date holding a white rose as his only identifying marker but the date never shows up. I immediately saw a monochromatic world, cool and metropolitan like the best of French New Wave with hints of noir at the edges. This would all be filtered through a silent romantic comedy that we hoped would charm and engage.
Darragh would be the lead, bringing his customary professionalism to the role. He and I have worked together many times over the years, from films, plays and music videos and I often refer to him as my cinematic alter ego (we joke he’s the Kyle MacLachlan to my David Lynch). We are well aware of our individual rhythms. I know he can be a wonderfully expressive actor, an obvious element needed for the silent genre and with this film he trusted in my ability to add to the story and throw in some of my favourite elements. I enjoy playful films with heart and humour and, while I usually derive most humour from dialogue, this was a chance for us to expand our skills and see if we could be effective with only visual elements.
With the script finalized we set out on what we erroneously felt would be a relaxed and laid-back shoot. Cue what our friends and crew have called “the Curse of the White Rose”. The first attempted shoot, while anchored by a lovely performance from Leah Hearne, was plagued by a number of setbacks. The location we shot in closed down scuppering any potential re-shoots, while our D.O.P. came down with an illness that knocked him out for a few months. Tragically relatives of crew and cast passed away and extras went A.W.O.L. meaning continuity became meaningless. It felt like a Terry Gilliam-esque Man from La Mancha style ordeal that finally withered the flower and the project was finally put to (flower) bed.
Until it…rose once again.
Two years later with enough distance behind us in regards to the project, we returned to it with renewed gusto. The mandate remained the same, an unfussy and nice film that would blossom with the feel of a bygone age.
The second go around went as smoothly as a perfect first date and we wrapped it in one day. Our crew of Phil Connolly, Stephen Broekhuizen and Adam McCarthy were exemplary and make the company we have together, deep Red, soar. Leah decided not to return and I don’t blame her. She showed infinite patience first time out and acting is not a passion of hers (the arts in general are however and she continues to do great work) but the rose was re-planted without her.
In her place we cast Norma Howard, an actress we greatly admire and someone whose look could be from the films of the age we are honouring. She has an iconic radiance and natural charm that permeates her scenes. I’d tell you more, but as the elusive date her story should remain mysterious. Over the course of the two shoots a lot of people helped with the production, too many to name, but all were vital in what proved to be unintentionally our longest shoot. Special mention must be made of David Nelligan who created some beautiful music based on songs from 1914. He added another retro element to a film that exists in a romanticised mix of times and eras.
In many ways The White Rose is our simplest and most direct film but left many thorns in many sides. However, Darragh and I hope the scent remains as sweet.
The White Rose screens at IndieCork in Programme 2 of the Creative Cork selection @ 9.15pm on Wednesday, 11th October 2017.
IndieCork runs from 8 – 15 October 2017
Emmet OBrien is at the 27th Cork French Film Festival.
With just two days left in the 27th Cork French Film Festival we wanted to highlight the rest of what is proving to be a very strong festival. From wistful dramas dealing with the onset of adulthood, to gritty crime outings alongside a great educational programme for all ages, the scope of the week has been stellar. It has also given a number of Irish premiere screenings, which has proven to be quite the coup.
Saturday is giving us heady politics with two charged pieces, the first from the turn of the century The Anarchists, a handsomely mounted period drama alive with revolutionary zeal and featuring Adèle Exarchopoulos known for her blistering performance in the modern classic Blue is the Warmest Colour.
Political asylum is the subject of the Palme d’Or winning Dheepan [pictured], a rough and intense view of the final days of the Sri Lanken Civil War and its awful ramifications. Directed by Jacques Audiard, who previously helmed the acclaimed A Prophet, Dheepan is an unconventional exploration of immigrant concerns and unfortunately proves as topical in a conflicted 2016 as it did back in 2009 when the conflict finally came to an end.
Sunday brings us back to a more Gallic setting with the thriller A Perfect Man detailing an unscrupulous actor who pilfers a manuscript of a deceased writer for his own ends. A tale of ethical bankruptcy to further ones career this twisty turny film should give audiences a nice jolt next to its concerns over the authenticity of performance and art.
The Festival comes to a close with The Measure of a Man, a Palme d’Or competing drama from Stephane Brize that showcases Vincent Lindon (in a Cannes-winning Best Actor performance) as a man struggling to hold down a new job to support his disabled child. Using non professional actors to great effect adds a unique frisson to the film and grounds its sober concerns with an unflinching and gripping realism.
With its 30th year just a little bit down the road, the Cork French Film Festival remains as vital and joyful as ever and a perfect feast for not just francophiles but lovers of fine cinema in its myriad forms.
Emmet O’Brien’s debut short film, A Novel Approach to Dating, has been released online. The film is produced by Paula Larkin and Paul Mote for Thinking Cog Productions.
The film is described as a semantic comedy about the possibilities of language in a dating context. Is it true love or just “textual attraction”?
DIR/WRI: Kieran Evans • PRO: Janine Marmot • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Tony Kearns • DES: Anthea Nelson • CAST: Antonia Campbell-Hughes, Julian Morris, William Ruane, Stephen Walters.
An intense, but at times, hollow endeavour, Kelly + Victor mixes the kinky with the clunky to middling effect. A story of damaged lovers and damaging sex it does have some stunning images and provocative themes but the sketchy arc framing these fleeting moments feels half earned.
The first encounter between the titular couple is an elegant visual dance, as they catch eyes in a nightclub, the prowling quality of intital attraction is conjured well. That silent flirtation is a place where private histories have yet to intrude, the hunt before the hurt. In fact when conveying story beats through images alone, the film largely succeeds, it is when words and mannerisms must carry the narrative is where the film falls short. While the elliptical nature of the two characters is admirable in certain respects, the film teases more than it ultimately delivers in terms of character.
Wandering accents delivering stilted dialogue wounds the central pairing and the worlds they belong to away from each other are drab and grim. Kelly joining a prostitute friend of hers and taking part in the sexual humiliation of a submissive banker continues the theme of sexual power games vital to the films arc but it never wholly convinces, while Victor flits between a sensitive art student demeanour and an amateur drug dealer subplot that feels jarring. There is certainly chemistry between the two but it only breaks the surface when the film is stripped back to lustful basics.
Much has been made of the violent sexual games here, Kelly’s desire to choke Victor and on some level his need for such treatment and it must be said the film judges these scenes quite well. The shots are never explicit, neither actor is being presented in some gratuitous light, it is the act itself which is shown most prominently. It is uncomfortable viewing when shorn of such Hollywoodisation, the glamour one usually finds attached to sex in Cinema is reduced to something this grimy and voyeuristic.
The extremes of Kelly and Victor’s dynamic almost feels like an act of rebellion against how banal their lives and the rest of the film is. We see that Victor can cherish the natural world as a respite and the sequences of him exploring woodlands and tall grass have a lo-fi Terence Malick flavour. Kelly seems trapped in a lesser Andrea Arnold mould, more urban, dealing with the ramifications of a failed romance and an obsessive ex who is keeping tabs on her. This split is interesting to note as it gives vague context to the motivations for the characters but there is not enough of a hook outside of shock value to make you invest completely. On a performance level both actors give good accounts, Campbell- Hughes imbuing Kelly with a brittle and compelling edge while Morris walks a fine line between endearing and laddish, but these virtues feel buried in a workmanlike script that outside the bedroom, feels sleepy.
As they circle each other in an on again off again fashion, one begins to feel anxious as to where such a desperate tale might take us and its conclusion has a faint air of inevitability about it, not because of anything in the film per se, but more because as a defiant indie work, such bleak results seem almost de rigueur.
It is an interesting choice of the filmmakers to only have them interact in a few key scenes while separating their domestic lives entirely. While innovative and realistic it hobbles matters in many ways because once they leave one another for their periphery stories, the film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to do.
Essentially a compelling idea but with a love story that isn’t given enough room to breathe, and if you’ll allow me some black humour, that is a most ironic assessment of the piece as a whole. The movie should be admired for not playing it safe but it is material that could have used some more “safe” words.
18 (See IFCO for details)
Kelly + Victor is released on 17th September 2013
In 2011, John Michael McDonagh’s debut feature The Guard was awarded Best Irish Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh. To coincide with our coverage of this year’s Fleadh, here’s a chance to check out Emmet O’Brien‘s interview with Brendan Gleeson and writer/director director John Michael McDonagh, which featured in Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 138, 2011.
An unusual mix of old-fashioned values with some decidedly un-PC humour, The Guard is one of the year’s most surprising films. Sharp tongued and engaging, the story of a clever if uncouth Garda, Gerry Boyle, and his battle against drug dealers and corruption, is a great example of contemporary Irish cinema. With a satirical sweep, it enjoys poking fun at the concept of an American cop film but is observed through an undeniably Irish filter. Not as jarring as it could be, the film is a consistently engaging and well-balanced piece which has gone down well in Cannes and at Sundance. It shares the anarchic spirit of the finest of Irish Crime Cinema, like older films such as I Went Down (another Gleeson project) to the more recent triumphs of In Bruges (a movie made by John Michael McDonagh’s brother). I caught up with the director and his leading man to discuss black comedy and how even a simple story of cops and robbers can shed light on much deeper themes, all the while keeping it fresh and darkly comic.
The Western as a genre looms over the piece, its tropes fairly evident. People are always aware of that iconography even at a subconscious level – did that inform the writing?
John Michael McDonagh: That’s one of the key themes of the film, that Boyle is the small-town sheriff and the bad guys have ridden into town. That’s why I wanted to capture that landscape and the music, and use Calexico’s score to bring a Sergio Leone/Ennio Morricone tone to the whole thing. Audiences know the rhythms of the Western, that this plot is going to build to the shoot-out, the climatic gunfight. They know the undercurrents and the subtext so you have that framework. It’s up to you to then surprise them with dialogue or character.
Brendan Gleeson: Western imagery permeates everyone’s sense of the world – of a certain generation anyway, once you have that culturally placed and anchored properly. Boyle joined the Guards thinking he’d be Gary Cooper. He maintains a notion of the challenges he wants to face, which is a very Western concept. The final shoot-out, continues that idea of the cowboy who isn’t afraid to go out in the fight.
Boyle is quite a complex character. A simple surface reading would be that he is a bigot but there’s much more going on there. Has audience reaction to him surprised you?
John Michael: I’ve been hugely surprised that some people have come away from the film labelling him as just a racist, ignoring key scenes elsewhere in the story. They’ve completely missed the point. He’s an equal opportunity misanthrope. He has a W.C. Fields type of outlook. If you have scenes that set up a character one way and then undercut it with a scene of him discussing Russian literature with his mother, then that’s a clue that there’s more going on with this character than you may initially think.
Brendan: For me this film is primarily a character study. It’s all left a little cryptic. You do get to know him but I don’t think you’d be able to predict him anymore than you could at the start of the film, which is pretty cool. There’s a feeling of limbo to him but he still has great integrity and he prods others to see if they have that same integrity. He’ll come at you in a way you’d never expect. There’s a certain amount of Columbo-style investigating with him and he looks to the backward traditions. Maybe that makes him a lonely character, holding onto old ideals of nobility. The depth of his stoicism is astonishing and people needlessly focus on the politically incorrect side of him at the cost of the whole character.
There’s a great economy to the script. In one short scene you set out the three very distinctive villains of the piece with a conversation about their favourite philosophers. Not something you usually see in an Irish crime thriller.
John Michael: My intention was to think, what do you normally see and then to write the opposite, to subvert wherever and whatever you can. Villains are always shouting and swearing at each other in this type of film so I thought let them have a measured conversation about philosophy and the main villain of the piece was trying to bring that idea a step forward. Liam Cunningham’s character doesn’t really want anything, like bad guys normally do. He’s just kind of bored. I knew I’d need more than one villain so I hit upon having three and you had to decide how to make each one unique. When you’re dealing with just one guy then you always have non-descript henchmen. We didn’t want that. Each of these guys could be the main villain in their own movie and it made it much more interesting to write.
Brendan: It’s not often you get three villains discussing Nietzsche (laughs). It’s hilarious but in a way they’re not the real nemesis. Gerry doesn’t feel threatened by them because they can’t really get him. As villains he’s way beyond them and his enemy is more an ennui and a fear of disengaging, of pulling away from this world.
In some ways they’re a MacGuffin [plot device] to get his arc going.
Brendan:He’s grateful to them for arriving, because he finally has a challenge he can rise to.
Whereas the FBI agent is more of a counterpart – ideologically if not personally.
John Michael: With Don Cheadle’s character, Everett, he’s sort of an archetype for Boyle to bang his head against but even there we tried to invest his character with some quirks – the sugar cubes he has, and the fact that his kids are named after members of the Black Panthers. Little moments like that because there was only so much you could do with a character like that to give him a separate identity.
The way the relationship builds between Everett and Boyle is quite organic.
Brendan: In America they really followed Don’s character. He was their way into the humour of the piece. His reactions against Boyle confirmed what they were hearing from some of the riskier dialogue. Americans are more conservative than us so a lot of Boyle’s jokes were met with disbelief or a ‘Did he just say what I thought he did?’ type of reaction. They access Gerry through Everett.
What I like is how there’s not really a resolution between them. It reminds of a scene in Down by Law (Jim Jarmusch, 1986) where the characters go to shake hands and Tom Waits pulls it away and it’s a real moment between them. They have closeness due to the journey they’ve been on. Don even asked me at one point ‘do these people even like each other?’ (laughs).
So you can share an intense experience but that doesn’t mean you’re suddenly best friends.
Let’s discuss the cross pollination of taking an American procedural character and placing him in a quirky Irish town. Was that the initial drive for doing the film?
John Michael: Well the concept was let’s take a CSI and totally fuck with it. I hate those shows, and it perpetuates the myth that with all this technology and equipment you can solve crimes. It’s all a lie. Boyle hates any modern technology like that, mobile phones or computers. A lot of that comes out of my own hatred for movies that lean too heavily on technology. I hate it when there’s a cut to people on a laptop or fingers tapping away. It’s lazy; you should find a different way to communicate that sort of information. It should be more cinematic.
Brendan: Speaking of cinematic, there is such a fusion of genres in this. I think the sense of place is vital to maintaining that. Seeing the little touches of Connemara tells you where the picture lies. The genres become mixed because the viewpoint is mixed. The perspective of that place encompasses the different styles, the crime film, the Western, the black comedy and that’s what makes it possible for all these things to work together. That sense of community. It’s important that when we make films here we’re not afraid to take things actually from here to add to the film, the things that aren’t put up as touristy or sold as commodities but just the more genuine touches. It should reflect a way we look at the world even if it’s good, bad or indifferent.
John Michael: You’re getting people into the cinemas with what they think will be a ‘buddy cop’ formula and hopefully the finished product will surprise them with all these different aspects and that sense of surprise gives a bigger reaction.
There is a stylized quality to it that to me brings to mind Twin Peaks, or Fargo – small-town idiosyncrasies.
John Michael: I don’t mind hearing that at all. I love David Lynch. There’s a constant undercurrent of menace to his work that I enjoy a great deal. And in ’70s movies, the investment in character would give this great sense of melancholy and the whole film would have more resonance.
Brendan: It may be up beyond what is strictly true but you know the qualities here are based on truth. It’s very real, the hilarity of normal people. Fargo did a great job of getting inside a cultural identity. I know it’s exaggerated but you could only write it if you know it, if you lived it.
The timelessness of The Guard is a strong asset to the film.
Brendan: John is very clever in retaining that timelessness. The way the set is dressed, the old telephones and, in the film’s most iconic moment, Boyle has an old Garda dress uniform. It keeps the setting vague, the way it should be.
John Michael: Those old phones are making a comeback. Like vinyl, he puts on an old Chet Baker record in one of the scenes, and these old things always come back and I didn’t want the film to be dated in any way. When you see that in a film, it takes you out of it. You can become too distracted by that stuff and the story suffers.
Speaking of distractions, the Daniel O’Donnell poster in the background in Gerry’s house was a nice touch.
Brendan: Yeah I wasn’t so sure about that!
John Michael: (laughs) Well we decided since that was a heavy and violent scene that Boyle looking at the poster is like addressing his own conscience. Strange to say it but Daniel O’Donnell’s the conscience of our film!
Emmet O’Brien takes on Superman.
DIR: Zack Snyder • WRI: David S. Goyer • PRO: Christopher Nolan, Charles Roven, Deborah Snyder, Emma Thomas • DOP: Amir Mokri • ED: David Brenner • DES: Alex McDowell • Cast: Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon, Diane Lane, Kevin Costner, Russell Crowe
With 75 years of stories and countless versions of the character the essence of Superman can be a very hard thing to capture. It can’t be bottled like a shrunken Kryptonian city. The essential beats will always remain, doomed planet, last son, the hope and the blue streak careening across the sky. There is an old complaint about the character that he is too hard to write for, too unrelatable. This has always felt off to me. Within the Superman myth you have so much scope for how to approach it. You could play up a poignant sense of alienation or ramp up the sci- fi elements, play the sparky Daily Planet set up or instead go global with him solving problems all over the world. Love triangles technically between just two people, alien prison dimensions, mad scientists, giant robots, a colourful rogues gallery and if so inclined you can go for biblical allusions and an earned uncynical sentimentality. The world of the Man of Steel is a blessing for imagination and we’ve only barely scratched the surface of that S-Shield.
In 1978 an indelible version of the story was crafted, featuring a generation defining slant on the character. Christopher Reeve’s portrayal of a nerdy bumbling Clark Kent contrasted by the cool and assured Superman characterisation casts a shadow as big as Krypton’s destruction on Kal-El. While I adore the performance in the Donner films, I’m not as beholden to them as full films as other people seem to be. They were of their time. Parts have badly dated and certain plot elements for me seem utterly out of place in retrospect but what you can’t fault those films on was the amount of charm they had. Superman was dryly funny and had a calming confidence to himself that radiated the inherent virtue of the character. The arc of his life, if paced a bit too slowly, was brilliantly conveyed over the first half of that film.
Following the Bryan Singer Donner-aping Superman Returns which I would label an interesting misfire, too slavishly indebted to an older sensibility but still thoughtful enough to at least demand respect rather than love, it was clear the slate needed to be swept clean. The architects of this new take is a triumvirate of fluctuating talent. Christopher Nolan, the dry and serious creative force behind the Dark Knight Trilogy, a riveting and mature if occasionally ponderous exercise in grounding the fantastical elements of Superhero films, Zack Snyder a hyperactive man child whose filmography is a flashy but very often hollow example of style over substance, of effect over empathy and finally the hit and miss scripting duties of David Goyer. For every hit Batman Begins, we have something risible in Blade Trinity. Fans were aghast at Snyder’s choosing initially but believed that these three, working in unison, could cancel out any weaknesses and instead unite and create something truly special. For all of Snyder’s weaknesses he has an eye for action sequence, Nolan could ground the excess and Goyer could provide a solid foundation marrying the outlandish with the ordinary.
They come so close to succeeding. Man of Steel is a vibrant re-imagining, the opening Krypton prologue may be heavily indebted to Avatar and the Star Wars prequels but no matter. It is a bracing introduction and for someone who loves the crazier sci-fi elements of the property, seeing an alien world so teeming with strangeness proved a refreshing opening. How the tone of this could ever fit in with the world of the Dark Knight films is beyond me but it isn’t soon before literally and figuratively the film crashes down to Earth and gives us a more recognisable world. The film is sly with its chronology giving us Man of Steel action much faster than I assumed it would, the inevitable scenes of young Clark being flashbacks elegantly woven across the films narrative. I was very happy it eschewed a straight ahead progression in favour of a more interesting approach. Spectacle wise the film has some dazzling sequences and the last hour or so of straight ahead Kryptonian action is a bruising set piece, blurring figures barreling through more buildings and landmarks than you can count. I’ll admit a certain fan boy glee in finally getting an intense action scene in a Superman film. Cinematically Superman has always struggled in this area, the threat never seeming big enough, the action never that important. There is an energy to the fight scenes that can go along way to making this a distinct entry for the character but alas it’s just not enough.
For me, the best Superman story would mix such high-octane thrills with something a bit more thoughtful. The potential to do that was here. All the talk of ideals and inspiration, which I think is the single most important aspect of the character are present but oddly muted in the actual film. It feels more like characters are telling us that rather than we are seeing something inspiring on screen. It might have to do with how they approach Superman as a character here. Obviously this is his first adventure and they seed in certain doubts and insecurities but despite extensive flashbacks it amounts to very little character wise. We see events and lessons learned but Superman is still essentially half sketched. It’s hard to know why exactly but we never get to see him in his moral fortitude before those morals are challenged by the films villain, General Zod.
Throughout the whole film, relationships are barely defined, scenes are more exposition join up points than characters talking. After two brief scenes between Lois and Clark a dynamic is set up that I don’t think the film has earned. Within the story it is clear why a certain level of trust has been established but it’s happened off screen, in between more disjointed scenes. Snyder can handle the big moments but it’s the basic moments that strengthen a narrative that seems to be lacking. The producers make a big point that they had to pretend no other Superman film had ever been made before this. Now I’m well aware the tropes of the material are embedded in pop culture but if this was a fresh take on new characters I’d never feel like I’d gotten to know these people to care enough.
This is felt with various characters, the Kents are underused, in particular Jonathan Kent as played by Kevin Costner. His scenes are important for the arc but he feels more like a mouthpiece for a view point rather than as a real people. Despite being a similar presence Jonathan was always more of a character than say, Spider-Man’s Uncle Ben. But we don’t get that here.
Oddly enough the most explored character throughout the film is Jor-El, Superman’s birth father. While Kal remains a little aloof Jor-El gets meatier moments than what we should expect and provides the film with a clear through-line. Russell Crowe does seem an awkward fit at times but he largely succeeds.
And that’s how I’d view the film overall. Making Zod more morally complex gives Michael Shannon stuff to work with and Cavill as the Man of Steel has a quiet dignity. I can easily imagine him growing into the role over time and becoming the wiser Superman of various stories. Amy Adams’ Lois is a fine version of the character, nothing too different there. Although an early scene where lazy shorthand is used to make her a tough cookie in the face of arrogant male characters felt very easy and half hearted. In the end there are flaws and missteps but nothing that is Kryptonite to a big blockbuster film. Most are forgivable in the service of a brand new take and some may even be necessary for modern audiences to embrace the character but it still seems like another draft away from being the truly great Superman film I was hoping for. A dark moment in the third act is troubling too and seems to be setting us on an angst ridden road that I think has been well trod by the citizens of Gotham these last few years. I don’t want my Superman moping around, I want him to soar majestically.
By no means a failure and nothing to be cast into the Phantom Zone any time soon, I still think that for it to have truly worked it needed to be that bit more thoughtful and fully rounded from a character perspective. Superman is my favourite superhero and he is all about heart and hope, not just whizz bang pyrotechnics. Kent we have it all next time around?
The 24th Cork French Film Festival (3 – 10 March, 2013)
Emmet O’Brien reports from he 24th Cork French Film Festival.
For fans of classic French Cinema this years 24th Cork French Film Festival provided a wide array of delights ranging from hugely influential New Wave films to more recent examples of monochromatic mischief.
Making a virtue of its “Noir et Blanc” theme the programme emanated that elusive and trademark kind of cool that we associate with Franco film-making, the expressive shadows concealing what seemed like a million askew narratives. Whether it was dealing with a straight ahead Film Noir, surely the province of such dark pools and austere skies, a matinee type serial fare or tackling social and economic pressures in far flung countries it never failed to, at its heart, entertain with wit and flair.
Godard, one of the most iconic of the French New Wave lot was well represented in the screening of Alphaville, an odd fusion of dystopic science fiction filtered through a gumshoe detective story, the influences of this seminal film providing templates for future hits such as Blade Runner. Featuring a brooding central performance by Eddie Constatine, admittedly never the most versatile of actors but his granite like face and natural stoicism put to good use and when set against the luminous presence of Goddess (and Godard muse) Anna Karina the films hypnotic gaze remains hard to resist. A science fiction film bereft of any real special effects, the sleek architecture of Paris stands in for the distant future and it’s metropolitan beauty is given an ominous and menacing sheen here. One of my favourite Godard pieces even with some of its odd storytelling lurches.
Keeping with the New Wave for a moment, Shoot the Piano Player was screened, Truffauts follow on to his stunning debut The 400 Blows, it’s easy to see why on it intitial release, the reception was so muted. Following 400 Blows would be a daunting task for anyone and a genre fusion of gangster farce and existential musing must have puzzled the audience first time around. Seen from a distance there is no doubting that it’s a minor work for the director, it’s attempts to marry it’s disparate threads never quite cohering as much as you like. For every well observed, tense moment you get a throwaway gag that is quite jarring and the film prides itself on being almost wilfully obscure from an exposition point of view. Tyring to figure out the relationships becomes gradually less important as the more farcical elements get ramped up. Best to just forget it and enjoy some of its well staged scenes, an awakrd fight sequence gets special attention for its attempts to convey a really messy scuffle and how something like that might go in real life. For all it’s comedy moments that don’t quite work, the film has a chilly unsettling air that is interesting when contrasted against it’s on the surface fluff. Not essential to be seen but diverting while it lasts.
A highlight of the festival was a multi-media event in which La Jetee was screened alongside exhibit of photographs from the film in the Wandesford Quay art gallery. This evening was competed with a performance by electronic musicians I AM THE COMOS. La Jetee itself, is an undisputed masterpiece, directed by Chris Marker (his only foray into Sci-Fi alas) and its tight story of fate and time travel mechanics is a disquieting creation. Filmed using only still photographs and voice over it shows that when a concept is strong enough,like Alaphaville no special effects are required and the clipped nature of its production adds a layer to the piece. It makes the audience feel that we are less seeing a narrative than unearthing a horrific document of sorts that outlines a terrifying temporal cautionary tale. With language that finds an elegiac balance between technical and poetic La Jetee has earned its place as towering science fiction and it’s no surprise it gave a template to the still most satisfying film of Terry Gilliams career, Twelve Monkeys (sorry Brazil fans).
Persepolis, one of the most contemporary films at the festival this year, is an utterly charming coming of age tale about a girl named Marjane living under a strict Iranian regime and her curiosity about the world at large. Based on a graphic novel which had a distinctive look thankfully retained for its cinematic translation, the story is an fascinating insight into the conservative traditions and violent past of Iran. Following Marjane’s attempts to explore the wider world, it encompasses a great many tones, the comedy is sweet natured and truthful but the film isn’t afraid to show just how bleak things can get for the central character not just within Iran’s borders but beyond in Europe as she makes a number of mistakes and ends up homeless. What emerges is a truthful, touching story that if played straight might not have been anywhere near as poignant. The cartoonish presentation allows many inspired flights of visual imagination, the narrative strains at the leash of standard storytelling devices and it’s this fluid integration between the reality and the more abstract dreams and thoughts of its central character that makes it as affecting as it is. For anyone who feels a stigma with regards to animation, this should be seen as sophisticated and mature filmmaking.
Maturity was in short supply in the best film of the festival, Aki Kaurismäki’s 1992 take on the famous novel La Vie de Bohème, it follows three Bohemian artists, a writer, a painter and musician and their strange meandering adventures chasing fortune and romance. Rodolfo played by Kaurismäki regular Matti Pellonpää gets the meat of the story, his relationship with a woman named Mimi gives the film it’s main emotional hook. Pellonpää had this ability to essay a perfect man child, an emotionally stunted adult who with just one laconic expression could convey a depth of feeling, be it love or longing. His awkward courtship and the genuinely sweet relationship that springs up gives some of the film’s best gags but it is the unusual formation of bonds between the characters that the film really takes hold. There’s just no reason we should be so charmed by these individuals but each actor brings a sort of lived nuance to the role and it makes their interactions very effective. While episodic in nature and a bit too over long, it’s surprising how much this gets under your skin and it’s all down to the subtlety Kaurismäki brings to the affair. Nothing is overstated, and while some longeurs heavy with melancholy it never gets to grim and even at its bleakest the film has a winning edge and many laughs. It certainly wouldn’t suit everyones tastes but as an exercise in bohemian whimsy it packs a pretty big emotional punch come the films end.
A festival then which covered a myriad of tones all coated in eternal monochrome cool, it showed most definitely who indeed was hue when it comes to the possibilities of classic French cinema.