Review: Donbass

DIR/WRI: Sergei Loznitsa •  DOP: Oleg Mutu • ED: Danielius Kokanauskis • PRO: Heino Deckert • DES: Kirill Shuvalov • MUS: Jack Arnold • CAST: Valeriu Andriuta, Nina Antonova, Valeriy Antonyuk

The complexity and atrocity of war can be difficult to encapsulate within the running time of a film.  Sergei Loznitsa’s film Donbass rejects a linear recounting of the events leading up to the tensions in eastern Ukraine – instead the film is composed of a series of vignettes. These scenes portray a bizarre yet illuminating insight into the division in Ukraine between civilians that are Pro-Russian separatists and those that sympathise with Europe and the West. While the film is often farcical and dramatic it never fails to reveal the tyranny that the affected civilians must suffer.   

This film successfully manages to show the harsh realities of a conflicted war-zone with the addition of a heavy note of sarcasm and exaggeration. Much like the unexpected nature of war, the film jumps from one vignette to the next; the viewers never know which snippet of the war will be revealed next.

Direct conflict and battle scenes rarely feature; instead we witness how war has seeped into different aspects of culture/society and the civilian’s way of thinking and being. The film has many windows which provide a glimpse into the civil unrest – the scenes are high energy and have a sense of theatricality. For example, one of the first short vignettes includes a boisterous, feisty woman who has been slandered in the newspaper pour a bucket of what can be presumed is excrement over the head of a government figure. Her brash actions are a consequence of media manipulation and deception of the public- just one aspect of corruption at large in Ukraine.

While many of the stories in this film are similar in tone to the above, others bring us back to the reality of war, depicting the lives of civilians who have no power to stop its effects. The footage of a bomb shelter dwelling for those that have been left homeless due to the conflict quickly reminds the viewer that war can’t always be glazed over with humour. Inside, one of the residents guides the viewer through the shelter; his positive attitude clashing starkly with the grim interior he describes – dark, dingy, over-crowded and lacking in sanitation and supplies. Notably some residents turn their face away as the camera draws closer – they don’t want others to know what they have been reduced to. Stripped of comedy, it is this scene in the film that most effectively depicts the real everyday consequences of war.

Donbass doesn’t shy away from the gruesome nature of war. In particular this is illustrated through the somewhat medieval tactic of tying a soldier to a post in the middle of a public place to let passers-by do as they wish to punish him. The reactions reveal a comical, barbaric mob mentality (a tomato is genuinely shoved in his face) yet the aggression he receives also unveils a deep-seated sense of hatred and despair amongst the civilians. The film walks the line between satire and the reality of war – this scene perfectly combines them both.   

While peppered with many dark laughs, ultimately Donbass depicts the grim political landscape of the tensions in Ukraine. It provides a resounding impression of the conflict, the division and the denial of human rights in this border region.

Irene Falvey

110 minutes

Donbass is released 26th April 2019


 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza

Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.

 

Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, is introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.

In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.

To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.

One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.

One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?

In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.

For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist,  to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.

In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also  aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.

The film creatively switches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.

 

 

Gaza screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

 


 

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Review : Faces, Places

DIR/WRI: Agnès Varda, JR • PRO: Rosalie Varda • ED: Maxime Pozzi-Garcia, Agnès Varda • MUS: Matthieu Chedid • CAST: Agnès Varda, JR

This September the IFI hosted an Agnès Varda retrospective which provided audiences with the chance to dive back into the works of this pioneering new wave female director. This retrospective was no doubt sparked by the filmmaker’s latest addition to the excellent collection of films she already has under her belt. Faces, Places is a docu-travelogue which follows the dynamic and nomadic duo of 88 year old Agnès and JR, a 33 year old photographer. The duo embark on a meandering escapade through the lesser known regions of France in search of the faces and places that are being erased from the landscape of modern day life in France.

The film touches on many different ideas; it is a film about discovery, curiosity, stories, communication and the power of art. The overall aim of the duo’s shared project is to seek out the underrepresented people that they come across in their travels and give them the chance to be noticed and heard. One of the strongest aspects of this film is its ability to demonstrate the number of different ways that art can take effect. Essentially from village to village, JR plasters giant murals of these everyday people, stirring up a range of reactions and responses. These giant murals act to unify the people who inhabit these places, to pay homage to their lives and achievements in a world that may no longer support their way of life. While art can be used to remember and represent, it can also be employed innovatively to break through barriers and express the unspoken. Above all, the medium of art in this film gives people a voice.

Tradition and memory are significant themes which re-occur throughout the film, illustrated most clearly when Agnès and JR visit an old mining village in North France. Members of the community gather to tell their stories and document this way of life that is no more, with the exception of one solitary inhabitant who will not let go. On a street of former miner workers homes, one lady will not leave her residence, cherishing her past and doggedly holding onto her memories. Mining would have been an arduous way to make a living yet this community laments the past. Village members gather together in a shared reverence at the murals of former miners as they are plastered across this block of homes. Most touching perhaps is the mural of the last remaining inhabitant, she is at a loss for words and close to tears when her mural is unveiled. This is art that gives hope and spreads joy, celebrating and recognising a life lived.

While on the one hand art can be used to record, it can also be used to start a conversation and draw attention to the people that need to be noticed. JR and Agnès move on from miners to dockers and, significantly, Agnès chooses to shine a light on the dockers’ wives instead of the work men. We meet three dockers’ wives and they are given the opportunity to tell their stories. Shipping docks are piled high up into the air- with these three women’s large scale portraits plastered on- they stand tall and their images are dominant in a male dominated world.

Although the film gives a voice to some of the sadness that is present in sleepy rural towns with diminishing ways of life, the film is ultimately one of discovery and is often joyful. Two of the most heart-warming moments of sheer joy come in the form of JR wheeling Agnès through the Louvre in a wheelchair – an abandon to impulsivity and an appreciation of beauty. Another visual treat which stood out was the idea to photograph each village member of a small town with a baguette covering their mouths- collectively making a mural of one tiny village consuming one very large baguette. This could be seen as a return to basics by getting a community to really break bread together. On one particular location in which the duo has completed a wall mural someone simply asks them why they want to do this. Agnès’ response that it celebrates the power of imagination puts an important emphasis on something that we have mostly forgotten the importance and effect of: the joy of art and creativity.

Overall, this film is one of a kind and a joy to watch. It is a film that shows the wonder that stems from slowing down and noticing the people around you. Agnès and JR are united by their passion for adventure and belief that there is always someone somewhere to be discovered with a story to tell. Visually, this movie is a discovery of the pockets of beauty and life that lie in the lesser known parts of France, brought to life by this unique pair.

Irene Falvey

93 minutes
PG (see IFCO for details)
Faces, Places is released 14th September 2018

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Irish Film Review: The Delinquent Season

WRI/DIR: Mark O’Rowe • PRO: Ruth Coady, Alan Moloney • DOP: Richard Kendrick • ED: Eoin McGuirk • MUS: Ian Neil • DES: Ray Ball • CAST: Cillian Murphy, Catherine Walker, Eva Birthistle, Andrew Scott

The Delinquent Season, written and directed by Mark O’Rowe, pairs on-screen married life with a heavy dose of reality.  This is not often the case in many films, and so it becomes a believable work that is easy to feel invested in. The everydayness of events which occur between the two central couples amplifies just how little drama is necessary to weaken the loose foundations of the supposed stability of suburban married life with kids.

We are introduced to the two central couples as they are sharing a dinner together, and from this first scenario it is clear that tensions are rising between Yvonne (Catherine Walker) and Chris (Andrew Scott). By contrast Jim (Cillian Murphy) and Danielle (Eva Birthistle) are initially portrayed as having a stronger connection. Whereas the first couple appear to be on the brink of destruction, the second seem to merely be approaching marital dissatisfaction. Essentially, the plot centres on an affair that is struck between Jim and Yvonne. The movie handles what could be described as the trite and typical plot device of an affair consistently well. Only in a couple of moments does it not strike quite right.

This film looks at the highs and lows of an affair from a completely different perspective than audiences are generally accustomed to watching. Typically, when an affair is the central event of a film, the victim rather than the perpetrators gets the most attention. More often than not, it is the hurt experienced by the victim that we focus on. In place, this film examines the human motivations to start an affair and the emotions which follow it.

Through concentrating on Jim and Yvonne’s affair, this movie really calls into question how the structure of monogamy functions in the here and now. Society, on the one hand, has become arguably more accepting. Yet, in terms of monogamy and marriage we still expect clear black and white behavioural norms. On the one hand, we are more liberal and on the other hand we have as many rules as ever. If monogamy is upheld as the societal ideal, then the subject matter of this film – a marital affair – must surely be the antithesis to the framework of society.

What really stands out about this film is the depiction of Jim and Yvonne. Although it is arguable that their affair has sprung as a result of childish reasons – boredom, vanity- what we get to witness is a realistic and emotionally invested affair. Firstly, there is nothing glamorous about this affair. It begins so awkwardly that the embarrassment at making that first bold move really resonates. Occasionally, the romantic statements are a little hard to swallow as they appear to be so out of sync with the expectations that go along with the characters’ personalities and backgrounds. Yvonne initially seems far too prim and self-effacing to ever envision that she could get involved with her friend’s husband. Ultimately, Yvonne is shown as a determined fish out of water, taking on this unlikely situation she finds herself in with as much strength as she can muster. Jim plays the exact opposite of what could be considered to be the typically cheating husband. Jim’s kind and responsible nature clashes with his adulterous actions. The emotional ramifications of the affair seem to take the greatest toll on Jim revealing him as someone who is not only sexually but emotional vested in this affair.

One of the conversations which really underpins the film occurs when Danielle points out how fragile happiness is. The perceptive truth of this statement underlies all that happens in this plot. While monogamy may be seen as the way to a stable and happy life, this kind of life can unravel instantaneously. The real emotions and consequences of the banality of a stifling marriage are clearly portrayed in this film. The often ill-fated results of striking up an affair are illustrated with equal effect. Conclusively this film is a detailed and realistic examination into the outcomes of tampering with monogamy and married life. It acutely highlights the fragile nature of modern relationships through extremely human and engaging characters.

Irene Falvey

15A (See IFCO for details)

103 minutes
The Delinquent Season is released 27th April 2018

 

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-7DIW0KXCY

 

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Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

 

DIR/WRI: Rian Johnson  PRO: Kathleen Kennedy, Ram Bergman  DOP: Steve Yedlin • ED: Bob Ducsay • MUS: John Williams • DES: Chris L. Spellman • CAST: Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Lupita Nyong’o, Andy Serkis, Domhnall Gleeson, Anthony Daniels, Gwendoline Christie, Kelly Marie Tran, Laura Dern and Benicio Del Toro 

Although Star Wars has long been cemented as one of the firm favourites of science fiction cinema, it still shares the same problem as all film series do. Sequels are always potential downfalls – can the films keep getting better or will they be mere shadows of their former entertainment? Putting the comforting and familiar magic of Star Wars aside is Star Wars: The Last Jedi a worthwhile addition to the much loved franchise?

Getting a sequel right is a finely tuned art. On the one hand, changing too much threatens to wipe out all that is special about the series. On the other hand, choose to stay too close to the original works and a film can feel jaded and unimaginative. Luckily this film manages to strike the balance between old and new plots and characters to create both a fresh and authentic experience for viewers. Arguably the strongest aspect of this film is its ability to interweave the narratives of the new exciting episode 7 characters with the original and iconic protagonists of episodes 4, 5 and 6. The audience gets everything they want from a Star Wars movie such as light-sabers, the Force and intergalactic battle scenes yet these familiar aspects merely echo rather than rely on the past.

One of the overarching motifs in this film is the idea of the end, of conclusion. The film commences with The New Order on the verge of obliterating the nearby rebel troops. Of course, there is a lucky escape but this does not feel like a hopeful time for those who wish to bring peace and justice to the galaxy. We fear for the rebels as they make their shaky attempts to fight against and flee the opposite side. For hope that the end isn’t truly in sight, Rey, the new headstrong and hardworking Jedi, tries to persuade Luke for help and guidance as a last resource for the galaxy. Despite Rey’s determined struggles to convince the new despairing and hermit-like version of Luke Skywalker to believe in the importance of saving the rebel troops, Luke’s initial equally stern opposition could make audiences really toy with the idea that maybe everything really isn’t going to turn out okay, that the end is on the horizon.

The theme of approaching finality pervades the film, yet the conclusions present in this film are neither the depletion of the rebel troops or The First order. The sense of conclusion in this film is carried out on a symbolic level. Luke on his isolated planet is tormented by his loss of faith in the tradition of Jedi training. While this may not be heroic it is understandable as he bares the heavy burden of feeling responsible for the creation of Kylo Ren and fears the same dark destiny for Rey. In one of Luke’s conflicted moments, the ghostly figure of Yoda appears and all the sacred texts of the Jedi order are burned. Rather than seeing this as an end to any possible continuation of the Jedi legacy, it is just the end of the Jedi tradition as it is known. With this burning comes a new sense of hope and change, by letting go of the mythology of the past.

One evident development that is well illustrated in this feature is that the Jedi, rebels and bad guys which make up the film are becoming more nuanced.  The majority of our new heroes are not destined for great good or evil but rather they are changing the face of their past and fighting their own battles. They are self-made rather than following in footsteps.  By contrast to the prophesied Luke Skywalker, Rey’s family comes from nothing. Finn, a former Stormtrooper and Rose a nobody hidden amongst other rebels are the only ones brave enough to embark on a journey which could save the rebel troops. The angst ridden and self-conflicted Kylo Ren also makes for much more intriguing viewing than his inspiration Darth Vader. With Darth Vader we could feel more assured of his intentions and of his switching from dark to light. Contrastingly, with Kylo Ren the audience are destabilised by the uneven keel of whether he is pure evil or a moody teenager. No matter how cruel he is, it still remains difficult to take his character fully seriously.

Overall, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is an engaging mesh of new and old threads of past and present Star Wars narratives coming together to make a cohesive and exciting film. The pacing of dually concluding the narrative of old favourites and developing that of the new characters is well achieved. Noticeable highlights include several laugh-out-loud moments in otherwise high-tension scenes and even more cute and fascinating creatures. However, there are moments towards the end of the film that feel as though they are just a tad unnecessary, that the race to the finale is going on just a little too long. Despite this minor error, this film is an almost seamless addition to the franchise which opens the way to much more Star Wars excitement to come.

Irene Falvey

12A (See IFCO for details)

151 minutes
Star Wars: The Last Jedi is released 15th December 2017

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Official Website

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Review: The Party

DIR/WRI: Sally Potter • PRO: Kurban Kassam, Christoper Shepard • ED: Emilie Orsini, Ander Refn • CAST: Kristen Scott Thomas, Timothy Spall, Emily Mortimer, Patricia Clarkson, Bruno Ganz, Cherry Jones, Cillian Murphy

A party is usually a positive thing. An occasion where people come together to be a little more jolly in each other’s company until they return to their everyday lives, hopefully a little more cheerful. Mostly a party does not result in that much drama, maybe someone drinks a little too much or perhaps someone lets out an opinion they wouldn’t express while sober. Generally nothing happens which cannot be reconciled in the morning. Sally Potter’s The Party however is not this kind of party. In place of a little social occasion with uninspiring canapés, the party in this film is a never ending spool of cataclysmic events.

The central character Janet played by Kristen Scott Thomas perfectly embodies the humble and hardworking politician. Obviously she feels it is only right to celebrate her newly found success as health minister by donning an apron and rustling up some vol-au-vents for her nearest and dearest. The potential for bourgeois banality this could evoke is eliminated by the opening shot of Janet in a frenzy standing at her front door and shakily pointing a gun. We instantly know something is going to go awry. After this shocking opening, we return to the normality of Janet in the Kitchen getting on with her party prep. Janet’s ability to answer her incessantly ringing phone calms the viewer into normality. How could anything go wrong? This woman is in demand and in control. She knows exactly what to say and do and how to act. However, it is the eerie stillness of her husband Bill (Timothy Spall) that makes the viewer feel on edge. Not only does he appear to be completely disengaged and unemotional about the triumph of his wife, his mind seems completely detached from any kind of reality. Bills lack of communication and movement represents the calm before the storm that is about to unfold.

A plethora of party guests drip in one after the other and a storm ensues. Many aspects of this film have a theatrical essence, rarely is a film made that could equally translate as a piece of theatre. This provides the film with a sparky in the moment energy. Shot in black and white, the events never go beyond four different rooms, the confined space making the character clash even more. The arrival of each party guest brings a new wave of commotion to the house. No opinions are spared, no issues are left unaired. To a certain degree, this film represents that no matter what your social class, wage or position, it is not always possible to remain dignified when you see what is important to you slipping away.

The character of April( Patricia Clarkson) undercuts every characters rage, joy and statement. She proclaims herself as a cynic, openly congratulating her friend on her success while denying the effectiveness of party politics. Also more amusingly she is blatantly disdainful of her hippie/ spiritual husband Gottfried(Bruno Ganz).While her character may seem like a refreshing taste of honesty, a champion at killing off social niceties, April actually provides something much more pivotal to the plot. While, The Party could simply be viewed as an insight into middle class havoc, it actually digs a lot deeper than that. Essentially this film deconstructs certain idealisms we all define ourselves by. The dismissed newly pregnant Jinny get her domestic ideals crushed when her wife will not rejoice with her. Tom (Cillian Murphy) shows that money is no protection against happiness. The numerous infidelities and martial dissatisfactions present in the film give no hope for the institution of love. April by contrast is cynical enough to remain unaffected by anything as she already knows there is nothing true enough to depend on.

Is the overall message of The Party to abort idealism altogether? Whether this is true or not The Party is a highly entertaining and sharp piece of theatrical cinema, which will engage audiences from start to finish.

Irene Falvey

70 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

The Party is released 13th October 2017

The Party – Official Website

 

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