JDIFF 2012 Real To Reel Cinema Review: Calvet

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Real to Reel: Calvet

Thursday, 23rd February, 4:00pm, Cineworld

It’s Scarface meets doodling. When you get a fascinating subject for a documentary you must be half way there. Like the jaw-dropping life story of John Healy documented in Paul Duane’s John Healy: Barbaric Genius which was screened at last year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, the subject of this documentary, Jean Marc Calvet, has battled his way through addiction and self destruction, homelessness, run-ins with the law and unsavoury types along with bodyguarding and scamming for good measure, before dramatically finding redemption through painting.

The first 30 minutes contains a heart stopping recollection of a scam carried out by Calvet in Tony Montana’s old stomping ground of Miami and in another nod to the Cuban, the titles are in blood red accompanied with thumping sound track.  This is no ordinary documentary.

Calvet is an intriguing subject; flawed, selfish and egocentric but also searingly honest and talented, indeed a price of $100,000 is placed on a painting of his by a gallery owner in New York. One gets the sense that the documentary is helping him exorcise some of his demons, just some as he looks like he holds plenty in reserve, and spurs him on to try and make good on mistakes he made in the past, in particular trying to contact his son that he abandoned many years ago as he is about to turn 18.

In the Q&A chaired by Dr. Harvey O’Brien, co-producer Brendan Byrne and Editor  Paul Carlin met in person for the first time.  Byrne said he is drawn to stories of redemption and justice but that in this case when he heard the story he thought it was too good to be true.  He also felt that it should have at least reached the Oscar® longlist for Best Documentary but the fact that it is predominantly in French held it back. Carlin said the main difficulty was the pacing and that he didn’t want to treat it as an art documentary.

But is it a true story?  Byrne believes it is 100% true and the thought that it wasn’t didn’t cross his mind until after the movie was screened and someone else brought it up.  My own thoughts are, as often happens, this story is too unbelievable and outlandish to have been made up.

*****SPOILER ALERT – QUESTIONS ANSWERED IN THE Q&A******

The documentary does raise some unanswered questions that were answered at the Q&A.

Byrne, who seems well used to the festival Q&A circuit, revealed that Calvet is indeed taking a risk going public, and the possibility of him being found and killed by his former employer is a plausible but to his mind unlikey threat.

Regarding the crew filming Calvet at intensely private family meetings Byrne believed that the camera spurred him and pushed him into doing things that otherwise he might have backed out on.  After discussions with family members that he had a crew there they consented to being filmed.

Gordon Gaffney

Click here for Film Ireland’s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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JDIFF 2012 Discovery Cinema Review: A Quiet Life [Una Vita Tranquilla]

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Discovery: A Quiet Life [Una Vita Tranquilla]

Wednesday, 22nd February, 8:10pm, Light House

Claudio Cupellini’s beautifully paced thriller A Quiet Life (2010) is not a mob movie.

Yes, the film glimpses at the shady reality of the Italian mafia but above that it looks intensely at a man’s fight for survival and his complex relationships with those closest to him.

Two decades after faking his own death to escape life with the Neapolitan mafia, Rosario (Toni Servillo), has set up a picture perfect life for himself in Frankfurt, Germany. He has a beautiful wife, a loving son and a successful hotel to run. However, when the young Italian Diego (Marco D’Amore) arrives on his doorstep with his boorish companion Edoardo (Francesco Di Leva) in tow, it isn’t long before the secrets of Rosario’s past start to unfold.

By shunning over-the-top mob movie clichés, the suspense in this tense thriller comes not from car chases and shoot-outs but from the sheer anguish of a man hiding a dark secret.

The critically acclaimed Servillo (Il Divo, Gomorrah) portrays this anguish with remarkable intensity, layer upon layer of emotion playing out on his face in almost every scene.

Sevillo moves with such fluidity from personas (jovial boss, loving family man, cold-blooded killer) that we are left wondering if we, like his own family, know him at all.

At times, close-ups of Rosario’s grimacing and weathered face enhanced by an expertly executed soundtrack and sharp editing leave you breathless.

The way in which the threat of violence simmers behind Rosario’s mild-mannered facade is enough to set the viewer on the edge. Mirroring this, the director only resorts to violence when vital to the plot but it is unnervingly ever present and poised to erupt – from the erratic behaviour of the coke-snorting Edoardo to the arty close-up of a brewing coffee pot on the point of boiling over.

Rosario’s frantic bid to kill off his violent past and preserve his future is shrewdly symbolised throughout – he hunts wild boar and puts mercury-studded nails into trees in his hotel’s backyard so that they will die and he can put up a biergarten where they’re still standing

Sadly, the director was unavailable for the Q&A due to take place after the screening. Perhaps Cupellini’s absence was itself a manufactured metaphor for his protagonist’s own disappearance.  Overreaching? Probably, however it was a shame none-the-less to miss spending a while in the company of the creator of such a gripping gaze at love, death and identity.

Carmen Bryce

Click here for Film Ireland’s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wYeppf0lytc

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JDIFF 2012 Out of the Past Cinema Review: The Panic in Needle Park, starring Al Pacino

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Out of the Past: The Panic in Needle Park

Wednesday, 22nd February, 5:30pm, Cineworld 

Cautionary tales are a tricky thing to get right, especially when the subject matter is drug use, the temptation for the material to get heavy handed is always there and skill must be taken to ensure that while not condoning the lifestyle, the film doesn’t just become a sermon.

For the majority of its running time The Panic in Needle Park views its characters in a detached manner. Glimpses of intimacy between its central pair, the streetwise but permanently small fry Bobby and naive and sympathetic Helen are there, but the film covers a lot of ground in their relationship so the courtship is sketched rather than painstakingly pored over. This suits the subject of the film, the relationship begins like the giddy rush of drug use when parties stretch on for days and in that heady context the wastrels and prostitutes which surround the couple are given a worldly bohemian glow. While not glamorised in any real way the initial stages of the film do have a charming air. Pacino is at his best in these scenes, conveying Bobby’s roguishness that when divorced from the practicalities of what he actually does would make him quite seductive to the sheltered and introverted Helen. It’s not long before the inevitable comedown as we see Helen descend into a seedy lifestyle of her own, turning tricks to score drugs and become the main breadwinner .

In a post-Trainspotting world this arc is quite standard and as an audience we can see the beats as they come, anticipating the debasement we get on the screen. For its time I have no doubt it was shocking and a milestone regarding its themes and was greatly influential but it is more interesting for the impact it made rather than for its actual content. Some lovely moments are undercut by a narrative that stretches on for too long, the ups and downs of Helen and Bobby soon become quite wearying and it definitely overstays its welcome as in its latter moments the whole thing loses narrative focus and indulges some cliches and overly moralistic asides.

As Pacino’s second ever acting role The Panic in Needle Park is an interesting curio for fans of his, however it is surprising that as the film becomes more dramatic and pointed his performance falters a bit.

Kitty Winn on the other hand is a revelation throughout and the finest performance on screen, her gradual fall from innocence is full of nuance and it makes her the most tragic figure of all. She very much deserved her Best Actress win at Cannes that year for her work here. As an artifact of the 70s the film is very much of its time, and shows us the curdling of the ’60s hippie ideal of recreational drug use into a more desperate arena of shooting up and getting strung out. The dream was over well before the panic started.

 Emmet O’Brien

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JDIFF 2012: Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Special Presentation:

Häxan: Witchcraft Through the Ages

Saturday, 18th February, 8.15pm, Light House

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.

All in all, truly an extra-ordinary experience.

Steven Galvin

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JDIFF 2012 Discovery Cinema Review: Silver Tongues

Silver Tongues

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Discovery: Silver Tongues

Tuesday, 21st February, 8:20pm, Cineworld 

There’s no wonder Simon Arthur’s odd, episodic wonder Silver Tongues has been picking up awards at festivals around the globe. As one of the most tangible and original indie pictures I’ve had the pleasure – and the intense unease – of viewing for a long time, I would desperately love to go into the fabulously dark depths of the plot. Unfortunately I can’t, as to do so would give away too many spoilers, so just give the trailer a watch below and take from it what you can.

Films that makes you giggle and disturb you to the very core of your being are a rare thing, yet Silver Tongues somehow manages to get away with doing both because of its untraditional, wry nature as a character study. I suppose it’s this disjointedness that keeps the film far enough away from reality so that the tougher elements are more palatable  – and it also means the plot is completely unpredictable.

The Q&A after with the film’s writer/director and handsome Scotsman, Simon Arthur, proved just as fascinating. Simon had worked as a screenwriter in the UK for quite a while but shared with us how he felt he really didn’t understand people or society. Because of this he ended up working as a prison guard for a number of months and then as security in a brothel. The following year he slept on the streets of London, where he spent time living with the homeless. Simon told us how he had to exaggerate parts of his personality to fit into those worlds, but that everybody else in them was doing the same. That’s where his vision for the Silver Tongues’ main theme, shedding identity, began.

For twenty minutes he regaled us with his experiences; moving to the US, working with the actors, making his first film, his plans for the future and even how he wouldn’t be very good at shooting Transformers. And then we were all left to wander back into the rain, still shell shocked and remembering bits of subtle plot nuances as we went for last buses.

Gemma Creagh

– On second thoughts… much like the film overall, this trailer is pretty deceptive. So if you have an elderly nan who loves psychological thrillers and plan on catching it when it’s released on Netflix…? Don’t. There are some very nasty violent and rapey bits throughout.

 

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JDIFF 2012 Irish Cinema Review: Hill Street, Dublin Skateboarding Documentary with archive footage of Tony Hawk

 

"Hill Street"

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Irish: Hill Street

Sunday, 19th February, 6:45pm, Cineworld

Director JJ Rolfe and producer Dave Leahy put together the zero budget 46 minute long skateboarding documentary Hill Street in time for this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.  Featuring talking heads of well-known characters from the Dublin skateboarding scene plus some great achive footage, including the legendary Tony Hawk, it tells the story of how skateboarding in the city developed over the years.

It is an entertaining and witty account of a subculture, or ‘fad’ as Dublin City Council called it, that I knew little about. There is the Hill Street shop of Clive Rowan, the first professional skateboard shop opened up in a rough-around-the-edges area of Dublin 1.  A shop talked about in mythical terms amongst the children of a pre-internet time not yet old enough to travel there and see it for themselves, although some braved it.

The sense of a community of outsiders, the warmth and humour of those involved comes across in the film and was present at the completely sold-out screening with patrons greeting one another as they entered the auditorium for its world premiere.

The generosity of the community of skateboarders is evident through the impressive collection of archive footage sent into Rolfe and Leahy. In the days before everyone recorded live events on their phones instead of actually watching them, there is a clip of a long-haired Tony Hawk doing a 540 off of a tiny ramp in Dublin and some great everyday footage from both inside and outside Rowan’s shop.

In the Q&A Rolfe and Leahy explained that they had a lot of interest and support from the Irish Film Board, Broadcasters and the BAI, but no money was forthcoming. So they went and made it anyway. One hope they have is that they will get more funding to extend it to 80 minutes as they have a lot more archive footage, but for now they are thankful that Grainne Humphreys and JDIFF allowed them to present this version to a festival audience.

Gordon Gaffney

Click here for Film Ireland‘s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIa7iwoLdM

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JDIFF 2012: The Enigma of Frank Ryan

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Irish:

The Enigma of Frank Ryan

Saturday, 18th February, 6.30pm, Light House

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.

Steven Galvin

The Enigma of Frank Ryan will screen again at the IFI on Saturday, 26th February at 12 noon.

 

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JDIFF 2012: Discovery Cinema Review: Turn Me On, Goddammit [Få Meg På, For Faen]

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2012

Discovery: Turn Me On, Goddammit [Få Meg På, For Faen]

Sunday, 19th February, 4:15pm, Cineworld

The offbeat title is a good clue to the nature of this gentle, quirky, coming-of-age story set in rural Norway. When 16-year-old Alma has a strange encounter with Artur outside of a party she tells the truth of what happened which leads to her becoming a social outcast in her very small town.

The young brave mainly non-professional cast do a good job in some quite embarrassing scenes for an Irish male critic in his 30s to watch never mind an 18-year-old female to commit to film and to be shown around the world.

The film doesn’t outstay its welcome being a taut 75 minutes with some funny fantasy scenes via Alma’s very active imagination and the rural Norwegian scenery lingers long in the memory.

Director Jannicke Systad Jacobsen, whose background is in documentary filmmaking, conducted a short Q&A with critic Dave O Mahony saying that some of her influences included Juno and My Summer of Love. Let’s hope her feature finds a wider audience as it proves that growing up can be tough no matter where you are from.

Gordon Gaffney

Click here for Film Ireland‘s coverage of this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

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