Nudity, Satan, ass-kissing, torture, cat faeces, black Masses, demon births – of course… it’s 1922. All this and more make up Benjamin Christensen’s enigmatic horror docudrama Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages, which screened on Saturday evening as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012 The Special Presentation provided a Dublin audience with a unique opportunity to experience this Swedish masterpiece from the silent era, accompanied by a live score from the Matti Bye Ensemble in the Light House cinema.
Both the film and the live score cast its own particular spell over the audience who were transported to supernatural dimensions by the bizarre visions unfolding before their eyes and the eerie sounds entering their ears.
The film’s journey through the history of witchcraft is a highly stylised mixture of fact and fiction utilising a dazzling array of styles and visual flair to launch its damning indictment of religious persecution. The Matti Bye Ensemble provided the perfect soundscape bewitching the audience with their beautiful organisation and manipulation of their instruments (piano, glockenspiel, haunting vocals, toys, violin, musical saw, pump organ, electric guitar) to create a mesmerizing ambiance to accompany the film.
Steven Galvin reviews Ivan Kavanagh’s film Tin Can Man
Sunday, 19th February, 8.00pm, Light House
Dumped by his girlfriend, stuck in a job he hates, things surely can’t get any worse for Pete… erm, indeed they can – with the Tin Can Man.
Tin Can Man was probably responsible for more than a few of the audience members’ nightmare-filled sleep after it screened on Sunday night as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. Shot in 2007, Ivan Kavanagh’s self-funded black and white thriller/horror follows the brutal treatment of Pete after he answers the door one evening to a stranger, Dave, and so begins his terrifying descent into a personal hell.
The film stars Patrick O’Donnell and Michael Parle, with Colin Downey on board as cinematographer. O’Donnell won Best Actor at 2010’s JDIFF for his role in another Kavanagh film The Fading Light, and why Irish audiences haven’t seen more of him is one of those mysteries of casting. The film also boasts a mentally deranged performance from Michael Parle as the film’s brutal psycho tormentor.
Kavanagh is obviously well schooled in cinema and brings echoes of filmmakers he admirers to bear upon proceedings. The film’s claustrophobic atmosphere and delirious drive make for a disturbingly oppressive, yet blackly comic, 83 minutes that never outstays its welcome – unlike Dave.
In a post-screening Q&A, Kavanagh told the audience that Tin Can Man was the second of four features he made between late 2006 and early 2009. The film had played on the festival circuit but when he received his first ever funding he dropped the film as it had no producer and focused his energies elsewhere. Recently Anne Marie Naughton came on board as producer and the film has taken on a second life.
Kavanagh explained how he developed a style of working with actors where he would reveal the plot to them a bit at a time rather than working with an actual script. One of the ideas for the film came from his own life living in apartment and not knowing his neighbours; something that Kavanagh thinks is quite scary about modern city living. He went on to tell the audience that he has always loved the horror genre as it allows directors to really push the boundaries with images and sound.
Tin Can Man is not your typical Irish film and once seen will never be forgotten. Kavanagh is to be applauded for creating a slice of unrelenting demented thrills and is definitely a name we’ll be hearing a lot more of in the future. But for now, enjoy (if that’s the right word) Tin Can Man – a nerve-wracking, nightmarish journey on a ghost train through a macabre freak show.
Sleep well… and whatever you do, don’t answer that knock, knock, knock at the door.
The Enigma of Frank Ryan is Desmond Bell’s ambitious dramatization of the life of the Irish republican socialist Frank Ryan, probably best known for his role in the Spanish Civil War. Bell’s film tackles this alongside his involvement in the IRA and his controversial time in Nazi Germany. A dynamic figure, Limerick-born Ryan was very much a multdimensional character, which the film tries to show, and attempts to deal with the complexity of Frank Ryan that history served up and the political self-contradictions that he was.
The enigma of the title refers to Ryan’s actions during his life as a revered Irish Republican leader of the 1920s and 1930s and leader of Ireland’s International Brigade volunteers fighting fascism in the Spanish Civil War, yet ending his life in some quarters being regarded as some sort of ‘crypto-Nazi’ and branded a collaborator for his time in Nazi Germany split ideologically by the adage ‘England’s misfortune is Ireland’s opportunity’.
Ryan’s story is told in flashback, with Ryan recording his tale for German radio in war-time Berlin, before his death in a hospital in Dresden in 1944. Bell’s film makes skillful use of archival footage effortlessly interweaved throughout the narrative and is held together by Dara Devaney’s solid central performance as Ryan.
While some may have problems with the film’s reading of events it’s clear that Bell’s intent is to bring a more expressive interpretation of historical fact to an audience, which he succeeds in doing in a fertile manner. The film invites debate and functions as a gateway for further research for those interested.
In a lively Q&A after the screening Desmond Bell explained how he had been aware of the story for a long time referring to it as an ‘elephant in the room’ when he was active in politics on the left himself 25 years ago. It was always a story he had wanted to tell but it was a question of how to find the resources and the strategy to deal with the story in its breadth. Bell was joined by Queens lecturer Dr Fearghal McGarry, who acted as historical consultant on the film. McGarry told the audience he found it very challenging to participate in the making of the docu-drama because the project involved using historical imagination and that his role was not simply to provide historical detail but to determine whether the film is getting the essence of the story across and support the dramatic sense of the project. Bell admitted that he had to sacrifice complex intellectual and ideological argument for the sake of getting the broad contours of the story across to a general audience.
An informative, engaging and well-constructed film, Desmond Bell’s The Enigma of Frank Ryan is an engrossing story of great scale and significance of a fascinating character from Irish history and beyond.
The Enigma of Frank Ryan will screen again at the IFI on Saturday, 26th February at 12 noon.
Aki Kaurismäki Le Havre is a pure gem; a fine tale of immigrants, love and simplicity. The Finnish director brings a mood of bone-dry humour to proceedings with jokes you’re not sure weather to laugh or cry at. Le Havre is set in the most popolous province in the Haute-Normandie region in the North of France and is the story of Marcel Marx (Andrè Wilms), once writer and bohémien, in his sixties, a refugee from Paris to Le Havre, where he leads a poor but happy life -divided between his work as a proud shoeshiner, drinks at the bar, and the love of his wife, Arletty (Kati Outinen). The existence of Marcel changes after two unexpected events: his wife’s illness illness and an encounter with a boy from Gabon, Idrissa (Miguel Blondin), who has just arrived at the port of Le Havre along with other illegal immigrants. Suddenly for Marcel it is time to grow up quickly, to start to polish his own shoes and to dress like an adult in order to embrace a ‘war’ against injustice. The injustice of the French police of taking Idrissa away from his dream to join his mother in London.
In addressing the issue of immigration, one of the most important issues in politics and also in cinema today, the Finnish director is not bothered even for a second with what might be seen as politically correct or incorrect in his film. In fact often politically incorrect, his film is a clear statement that whatever state, government, law or order that seeks to destroy the dream of a son to rejoin his mother, becomes a lawless and inhuman state.
Aside from the usual cast of actors usually involved in Kaurismäki’s films, the film marks the first time he has worked with the magnificent Jean-Pierre Daroussin, who plays the role of the detective Monet. Also outstanding is the appearance of Jean-Pierre Léaud as an unfriendly and vicious neighbour.
Anca Damian is a well-known cinematographer, director, writer and producer and in this, her first animated feature, she delivers the beautifully made, well-told and shockingly recent (2008) story of Claudiu Crulic. Claudiu is a 33 year-old Romanian who went on hunger strike after being wrongly accused of theft in Poland. Narrated by the protagonist from beyond the grave, Crulic chronicles the events that lead up to his death.
The film begins with a phone call to Crulic’s uncle from Polish authorities telling him that Crulic is dead. His mother and sister go to Poland to identify him, which they find difficult, as he had lost about 30KG and looked much older than he was. As they journey home with Crulic’s body, the story commences. He begins with his childhood, which is a typical story of a boy born into a poor family, whose parents separated when he was very young. He was left in the care of his father but was raised by his aunts and uncles. He left school early as the family needed money and went to work in a garage. He then began travelling to Poland with his Uncle buying various trinkets (that were unavailable in Romania) and selling them. He is then arrested and this is where his life changes forever.
The style of animation is very beautiful – but dark. The medley of animated styles used throughout the film serve to really hold the viewer’s attention and ultimately lend themselves to the tragic nature of the story. Collage, line drawings, watercolors, stop motion and a small amount of live action along with the narration by one of Romania’s top actors, Vlad Ivanov, creates a visual and auditory spectacle. The bleak colours and often childlike line drawings evoke further empathy for Crulic and the events that unfold after his imprisonment. The transitions between animation styles are seamless and stylish. The small details in the animation, for me, had the greatest impact. This is clearly evident in the distressing scenes where he is in prison wasting away from hunger lying in the foetal position. The lines become thinner, sketchier, the colours of his clothes and face change and become bleaker and more transparent.
The story is mainly told visually but the slow, steady pace and the sadness in the voice of the narrator completely envelops you. Crulic’s own letters, photographs and documents are incorporated with animated images and when the film ends and the credits are rolling, real news footage is shown, bringing the audience back to reality with a bang. The introduction of news footage at this point reminds us that this is a real story and these injustices can and really do happen.
There was a Q&A session immediately after the showing with the director of the film Anca Damian. Damian related how unconditionally trusting and supportive Crulic’s family were during the making the film and their intention to go to trial using the film to prove his innocence. Damian describes Crulic – The Path to Beyond as a story about the dignity of human beings and human rights.
The film was very well received although there were some comments from the audience about how critics view animated documentaries and how they might not be as respected and not as believable as live-action documentaries. Damian described how she made an animated feature rather than a live action documentary, having conducted her research for a year and collected countless documents and photographs. The contrast between the starkness of real events and the creative medium of animation strengthens what is a visually unusual, moving and thoroughly enjoyable documentary.
Apples of the Golan, Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth’s absorbing documentary, attempts to tell part of the complex story of the village of Majdal Shams in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. The opening narrative tells us that before the 1967 Six Day War, there were 139 Arab villages in the Golan Heights region. Israel seized the Golan Heights from Syria during that war – and now only five villages remain. All of the others were destroyed. Over 138,000 Syrian Arabs were forced from their homes. The documentary tells the tale of those that remain in one of those five remaining villages, Majdal Shams. They are a proud people and stood firm against Israeli national identity being forced upon them in 1982. They are not recognised as being Syrian and refuse to be Israeli – as a result their status is classified as ’undefined’.
A heartbreaking aspect of the film is that all the people we meet in the village have family in Syria. Family they cannot visit as they are not allowed cross the ‘ceasefire line’, providing for some moving scenes of families separated from each other. Only students, pilgrims and brides can cross over from the Golan Heights into Syria – and apples. The apples from the Golan Heights are transported and sold in Syria for better prices than they get in Israel. The apples are essential for the villagers as a source of income as well as a metaphor for survival. ‘The apples are like the soul of the Golan people,’ one villager explains, ‘how they cling to life.’
The documentary also points out how the area supplies Israel with one-third of its water, which, along with its strategic vantage point overlooking southern Syria, was one of the main reasons why Israel occupied the Golan Heights.
In a brief Q&A after the screening Keith Walsh and Jill Beardsworth explained how the film was born out of a chance encounter with Gearóid O Cúinn, the film’s executive producer, who had been doing some human rights research in the Golan Heights. This set the ball rolling for the idea for the film. After getting backing for half the film from the Film Board and securing matching funding elsewhere, Walsh and Beardsworth spent 8 months over and back filming the documentary.
A well-structured documentary that tells part of a complex story with skill and craft, Apples of the Golan is a striking tale of the strength and spirit of a people determined not to lose their identity and the land that it is tied to.