Glassland – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Anthony Assad delves into Gerard Barrett’s Glassland, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

John (Jack Reynor) lives a life of monotony driving a taxi, often pulling late night shifts just to keep afloat while playing parent to his alcoholic mother Jean (Toni Collette). When John attempts to sober her up and encourage a reconnection with her younger son Kit (Harry Nagle) all hell breaks loose as John’s off-the-meter pick up jobs take a dark and desperate turn to fund his thankless efforts.

Gerard Barrett’s previous feature Pilgrim Hill was a monumental film from the then debutant writer/director, working from a truly miniscule budget that managed to capture the hearts and minds of audiences nationwide, even skimming the pond to achieve resonance across UK, US and Chinese theatres in 2013. Going on to garner the Rising Star Award at the IFTAs meant that expectations were inevitably sky high in the run-up to that all important second feature and I’m happy to say the Dublin premiere of Glassland at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival proved that his is a star still on a safe and steady rise.

Swapping the rural for the urban may seem like quite a risqué tonal shift but just like the former environs of Pilgrim Hill, Dublin in Glassland is similarly populated by the lost and lonely-hearted with tense familial relations and tethered responsibilities once again the resounding themes. All of these rest upon John’s shoulders who’s caught up in the same vicious circle day after day, he wonders when his mother will come home knowing full well that when she does he’ll have to pick up the pieces. His nights prove just as loathsome with wheels spinning running circles around the city streets picking up strangers and sex workers for a living that quite simply isn’t living. Reynor carries the role with an air of disembodiment, channelling a husk of young man weighed down by the duties an absent father and self-destructive mother have forced upon him. During a habitual visit to A&E, however, the doctors’ reveal that Jean is effectively drinking herself to death and an intervention is at hand, which she’ll prove to fight tooth and nail against.

As such, Toni Collette delivers a ferocious performance as Jean, a granite-faced ghost of a woman walking among the living, haunting her son and would be saviour for prolonging a life she feels has long since past, hers to end however and whenever she so wishes. And yet, there’s a soft core, evoked by an impromptu party scene fuelled by cheap wine and music administered by John to loosen tongues and heartstrings so to get to the bottom of what she’s been running from before going cold turkey. The means to this end is an expertly poised scene as mother and son dance in each other’s arms to Soft Cell’s ‘Tainted Love’ before a clever jump cut leads us towards a harrowing confession that really pushes the prowess of the proceedings, especially Reynor and Collette’s quietly chaotic heart to heart, a world away from the dish throwing teeth baring savagery of prior scenes and yet all the more powerful.

The rest from the wicked is shared among scenes with John and Shane (Will Poulter), his go-to friend whose antics provide some welcome, if not sometimes, guiltily enjoyed comic relief (the video-store dust-up comes to mind). It’s not just a pit stop from the drama however as Barrett creates an interesting duality between the two to highlight the life John has been deprived of. Shane is jobless, living at home off his all too accommodating mother and plotting a hell-raising break away from Dublin, in-between the important stuff like playing video games and avoiding movie rental fees for his own obnoxious amusement. He also found time to father a young child from a one-night stand, obviously not ideal scenarios but these follies of youth are rites of passage, mistakes John can never afford to make (and learn from) when forced instead to look after a stranger in his own home who breaks his heart everyday. Accordingly Reynor downplays the gaiety of their activities, more a silent observer, seeking to revert to his friend’s carefree mind-set but constantly aware and distracted by the myriad of responsibilities all around him.

John’s only fault is that his heart is too big, he alone attends his brother Kit’s eighteenth birthday party struggling to explain why their mother isn’t present and why Kit can’t live with them when in truth it’s because Jean never accepted and blames her life’s downfall because of his down syndrome. Again John is playing the parent and the older brother, the latter letting loose when he joyrides at his brother’s request, and in tow, around an empty car park. When he’s forced to reprimand his mother and drag her to a rehab clinic John’s pushed beyond his limits and loses it, as much for her sake as his, in a stand-out scene that reverberates throughout the rest of the movie and long after the credits roll.

She needs 24-hour surveillance for at least a month to sober-up in a controlled environment where she can push through the withdrawal but even a favour from former addict and councillor Jim (Michael Smiley) is an expense John can only afford if he ups his dark dealings with an illegal trafficker. He’s given an address to pick ‘something’ up for delivery and the resulting scene proves how far into hell and back again he’s willing to venture for his family. He enters the desolate house on the outskirts of town tip-toeing from darkness into light with the camera creeping along behind him like Peter Pan’s shadow, mocking what little innocence he has left in a heart-stopping scene paced to perfection.

There’s heaps of drama (some of it heavy-handed), but the moments of silence coupled with long locked-off compositions of seemingly natural light illuminating unnatural events will either pull you to the edge of your seat or out of the narrative. Yes, the pace may upset some, but it’s a journey that avoids the pitfalls of its genre (gratuitous sex and violence) to reach a destination fuelled by an earnest and unflinching eye.

Deservedly the film went on to win Best Film at the Galway Film Fleadh complimenting Reynor’s nod at Sundance for his outstanding performance and recently picked up the Best Irish Film award at JDIFF and the Michael Dwyer Discovery for cinematographer Piers McGrail’s inimitable contribution. This really is Irish cinema at its best, a truly transcendent and palpable experience shedding glorious light on an issue all too relevant from a bold and emphatic director at the top of his game.

Glassland screened on Friday, 27th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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The Great Wall – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Darragh McCabe moves across Tadhg O’ Sullivan’s documentary The Great Wall, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The Great Wall, Tadhg O’ Sullivan’s second documentary feature, is a series of vignettes depicting the literal and metaphorical walls that enclose Europe. The concrete-and-steel wall that’s rising around the Spanish Moroccan city of Melillia, for decades a chink in Europe’s armour, serves as a point of departure; from there the film examines other, less literal barricades, as well as their victims, from the City of London, to protesters in Greece during last year’s unrest, to a roadside camp in Bulgaria. There’s music, but no narration proper – the Franz Kafka short story, ‘The Building of the Great Wall Of China,’ read by Dr. Nicola Creighton, acts as aural counterpoint to the imagery. (Kafka’s story describes the building of the Great Wall as a sort of symbolic exercise undertaken for the purposes of self-definition.) The initial strangeness of this cinematic territory is eventually made familiar as certain conventions – the dynamic pairing of music to editing, the length and virtuosity of some of the shots – orient us. We’re in a land claimed by Chris Marker and previously visited by directors from Agnès Varda to Godfrey Reggio.

Without exposition or interviews, the film doesn’t form an explicit argument. O’Sullivan’s images can only be rhetorically effective if we’re already having the discussion he’s weighing in on, and he assumes that we are. But when the twin tyrannies of argument and narrative are overthrown, we go to great lengths to re-establish one or both and make safe again the broad avenues of explanation and exposition. For example, the music offers a sort of story; the progression from klezmer fiddle, the music of a people with a storied past of exile (and of Kafka’s own heritage), to Bach, to droning synths, might be a comment on the dangers of an approaching European monoculture. There are a few instances of written text; graffiti on the wall of a ruin just outside Melilla that serves as a way-station for African refugees – “think positive” “I will never stop my journey until I reach my home” – struggles uselessly against the bureaucratic injunctions on the wall of a border control office in Bulgaria. Looser signifiers abound, too. Footage of Greek riot police, lined up with shields raised, speaks the language of the headlines, and the camera swoops around the City’s cathedrals of capitalism in a stylistic parody of corporate advertising.

There’s a disconnect here. The Great Wall often looks like a work of anthropology. It obviously took a lot of time and effort for O’Sullivan and his cinematographer Feargal Ward to infiltrate some of these environments and to earn the trust of their subjects. Yet the footage is often so loaded, even disturbing, that to fail to comment could be seen as a cop-out. This is an old argument, one that it mightn’t even be worth having anymore, which is why I’m hedging my language. At the screening’s Q&A, one man asked O’Sullivan whether he thought he might have overestimated the parallels between Kafka’s text and the cumulative meaning of some the film’s more affecting imagery. Does modern Europe, he asked, really understand and identify with barbed wire, concrete and red tape, the way Kafka’s engineers understand and identify with their structure?

O’Sullivan’s answer was a qualified yes. Qualified because the questioner, in one sense, was pointing at the issue I’ve mentioned – that the narration, one of the techniques that transform what could have been a piece of reportage into an art film, might also manage to generalise out of existence whatever political statements the film is attempting to make. O’Sullivan bristled at this suggestion, insisting that we are culpable in the building of these walls around us. We’re terrified that a pistol shot from outside might crack the biodome that’s keeping us alive. Bare life absolutely isn’t just a feature of the faraway east or south; it’s evident in the arid lots that border our golf courses. There are some sequences, particularly those shot in Melilla and Bulgaria, where this is heartrendingly obvious.

The Great Wall engages with debates around documentary cinema’s form and political efficacy that have been around for decades. It’s a profound and chilling piece of filmmaking, but in order to take the film on its own terms you must accept a degree of culpability that will not be comfortable for most, and that may even be counter-productive. A cri-de-coeur in place of an accurate diagnosis, then, or a poem when what’s required is an independent report. Is it enough to simply pay attention to an unfolding atrocity? It might be. Another German-speaking writer, Berolt Brecht, closed his poem ‘Bad Time For Poetry’ with the following stanza:

Inside me contend
Delight at the apple tree in blossom
And horror at the house-painter’s speeches.
But only the second
Drives me to my desk.

 

The Great Wall screened on Monday, 23rd March 2015 at the IFI as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Check out our reviews of the Irish films that screened as part of the 2015 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival. More to come…

 

After The Dance (Daisy Asquith) – Ronan Daly 

 

The Canal (Ivan Kavanagh) – Ruairí Moore

 

Dare to be Wild (Vivienne De Courcy) – Cathy Butler

 

Eat Your Children (Treasa O’Brien & Mary Jane O’Leary) – Alisande Healy Orme

 

Glassland (Gerard Barrett) – Anthony Assad

 

The Great Wall (Tadhg O’ Sullivan) – Darragh McCabe

 

Tana Bana (Pat Murphy) – Gemma Creagh

 

Ten Years in the Sun (Rouzbeh Rashidi) – Cathy Butler

 

Talking to my Father (Sé Merry Doyle) – Grace Corry

 

Yximalloo (Tadhg O’Sullivan & Feargal Ward) – Stephen Elliott

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Yximalloo – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Stephen Elliott pricked up his ears to Tadhg O’Sullivan and Feargal Ward’s documentary Yximalloo, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Yximalloo, an Irish documentary filmed over the course of a year, follows Nao Ishimaru, a Japanese experimental musician and performance artist who has made a career out of abstract avant-garde music since the 1970s and has been living in Ireland for the past 10 years. He muses that similar artists reside in greater cultural spaces such as New York or Paris but this isn’t the case for Nao who lives with his ill, long-term partner, Ger, in a Dublin suburb.

Although the documentary opens with a civil marriage ceremony between Nao and Ger, there is no doubt that Nao is unhappy with his relationship and his life in Ireland. Struggling to find work, he jets to Tokyo to take up a job but consequently becomes homesick for Dublin. Despite his eccentricities and green leggings, we eventually see that Nao is like everyone else – trying to find his way in the world. The film is testament that no matter what age you are, you can still be searching for answers.

Yximalloo is crammed with beautiful shots including a stunning transition shot from Dublin to Tokyo. We are also treated to a selection of Nao’s greatest hits throughout the film. The experimental soundtrack unfortunately creates unease by juxtaposing the visual of Nao’s present domestic life such as cooking chicken and cutting shrubs in the garden.

O’Sullivan and Ward sought to create a cinematic piece in a documentary style. This is pure cinéma vérité – there are no interruptions or probing questions from the filmmakers. We are simply the spectator watching on as Nao silently carries on with his life. You’d be forgiven for thinking Nao and Ger have no idea there is a camera watching them but that said, Nao acts up in front of the camera on a few occasions by breaking into spontaneous dance.

Nao is an endearing character stuck between two places he calls home. He is lost and unsure of where to be. While there is no conclusive narrative to this film, Yximalloo provides an interesting insight to the life of a truly individual artist.

 

Yximalloo screened on Saturday, 28th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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Ten Years in the Sun – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Cathy Butler gets her sunscreen out for Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Ten Years in the Sun, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Rouzbeh Rashidi’s Ten Years in the Sun, which had its premiere at this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, describes itself as an experimental film. While it is a bit of a catch-all term, it does signal to any potential audiences that this may be a film with a non-linear narrative, and an intent to challenge and provoke a response from the audience in various ways and to varying levels.

 

This is true of Ten Years in the Sun, which defies the usual summarisation that a film review might prompt. Its opening sequence bombards the viewer with flashing lights and a wall of sound, making for a visual experience that borders on the physically unpleasant. This sets the bar for the rest of the film, which is composed of images of varying tone and content; there is a vaguely film noir-esque feel to the scenes of two men discussing villains named Scorpio and Boris, who grow increasingly confused as their conversation continues; the various inserts of outer space imagery add a sci-fi slant; additionally, multiple sequences featuring naked or partially clothed women veer somewhat oddly into the realm of pornography.

 

This varying tone is clarified by the director’s comments in the subsequent Q and A that the subject of his work tends to be film itself, and a comment on the nature of cinema. This sampling of common tropes of cinema, and their combination in an abstract form with an often disconcerting or distorted audio track, delivers to the audience an assault on the senses that differs wildly from the more traditional forms of storytelling employed in filmmaking.

 

There is fine framing and composition throughout, and great use of a variety of different locations and lighting set-ups. There are moments of humour as well as moments of foreboding, providing for quite a wide scope of evocative visuals.

 

Again, it would be simplistic and also inaccurate to say that Ten Years in the Sun is an ‘enjoyable’ film. It is a film that demands much from its audience, and challenges the viewer to draw its own conclusions as regards any resulting message. It is a multi-sensory experience, having effects both physical and psychological, which is a powerful effect for any visual medium to have.

 

Ten Years in the Sun screened on Friday, 27th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

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After the Dance – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Ronan Daly shimmied his way into After The Dance, which screened at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

After The Dance, directed and filmed by Daisy Asquith, is a documentary following her mother’s search for family and the scars that shame and secrecy can leave behind.

Conceived by unmarried parents after a local dance in Co. Clare, Pat, Daisy’s mother, was given up for adoption to an English couple and remained a family secret for some forty years, until she met the eight half-siblings that were born after her mother’s marriage. Pat was overjoyed to have found a flesh and blood family, but soon found that their familial bond was overshadowed by the still present feeling that she was a black stain on the family’s pride and she was effectively banned from ever setting foot in Co. Clare. However, in the Irish West, Catholic shame and guilt so often go hand in hand with a great deal of craic to be had, so don’t write this film off as a gloomy affair just yet.

The documentary begins with Pat and Daisy exploring the local church that Pat’s parents would have attended, with Pat noting that, although the Catholic Church has been responsible for her effective banishment from her homeland and caused a profound sense of loss and isolation throughout her life, (okay, it is just a little bit gloomy at times, but it gets better, I promise), she nonetheless finds herself essentially programmed by her upbringing to respect the church and its teachings. Twenty years after she was first told not to set foot in the county, Pat’s mother is now dead and she feels that her right to know her heritage outweighs the likelihood of embarrassment reaching beyond the grave.

With the support of Daisy and just one of her eight siblings, Pat steps bravely into the rural West, looking to find her father, with only the name Tom Brown and a few bare facts to go on. We’re given a pretty colourful look at the locals, who all seem to be variations of the same drunken old charmers, with their heavy accents carefully subtitled. This is interspersed with a few black and white short pieces of footage of the Ireland of yesteryear, with Sean and Mary O’Reilly walking barefoot home from school and the bent, smiling Mr. O Flaherty working away happily in his potato patch. The effect here feels very tongue in cheek and is definitely a lot of fun, though it does skirt dangerously close in its editing to patronising the quaint wee country Irish folk.

All of this is put phenomenally into perspective when we encounter John and Mary Browne, who seem to have a reputation for being “a bit odd” and who live with an insistence on sticking to tradition, feeling that “with every advance, you lose something.” Johnny has never travelled farther from home than Limerick while Mary is a woman of few words with an impressive collection of woollen hats. While at first glance, this couple seem to embody the decades old Ireland which would have branded Pat as the social equivalent of leprosy, they’re very soon revealed to be the warmest, most welcoming sort of family Pat could have asked for, not giving an ounce of undue worry to what people might say.

“We find that if people don’t do any harm, we’re happy with them, like.” – Johnny Browne.

Pat and Daisy’s journey doesn’t end in Clare, and they soon set out to find out as much as they can about where and who they came from.

“It’s like putting the piece in a jigsaw that brings out the picture.” – Pat.

Charismatic and honest, hilarious and heartbreaking, this film speaks volumes about shame, guilt, the all-too-Irish obsession with not ‘letting the family down’ and the hopefully equally Irish sentiment of ‘Family’s family, and feck anyone that has a problem with that.’

After The Dance  is a healthy reminder that although some of the ignorance and apathy in recent Irish history is staggering, maybe sweeping our shame under the rug isn’t the best response.

 

After The Dance screened on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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Eat Your Children – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Alisande Healy Orme looks at the nature of Irish protest in Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary’s documentary Eat Your Children, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Taking its name from Jonathan Swift’s 1729 satirical essay A Modest Proposal – in which the author suggested that the impoverished Irish population sell their young as a foodstuff to the wealthy as a way to alleviate the dire economic conditions of the time – ex-patriot Irish women Treasa O’Brien and Mary Jane O’Leary’s documentary Eat Your Children examines whether Ireland today is too inactive when it comes to political protest.

 

The reputation of the Irish abroad is that of the “fighting Irish” – one of a people who have never been afraid of protest and taking up arms when necessary. Here, O’Brien and O’Leary ask why the nation has not done so in the face of austerity measures that will cripple at least the next two generations to come. Unsurprisingly, though interesting, the tightly-budgeted film is not the most cheerful to watch.

 

Taking the form of a road-trip around the country, Eat Your Children has its makers meet with activists, economists, sociologists and members of the public who outline Ireland’s history of protest and how, in spite of it, the country today can appear apathetic or even complacent in the face of constant constraints and demands put upon it by politicians from across Europe.

 

Interviews with members of the public reveal a state of indifference that hinges on a two-pronged, thoroughly depressing consensus: they feel that any protest would make little to no difference anyway, and are planning to take another route that has long-served the impoverished of this country well – emigration in order to seek work.

 

Granted, there’s nothing revelatory in these disclosures (they’re certainly nothing you haven’t heard down the pub) but these sad facts of modern Irish identity are only rendered more strongly when shown alongside historical footage and accounts of how direct action benefitted citizens of this country in the past. It’s to be hoped that when it comes to future protests the filmmakers prediction that “this is not the end” holds true.

 

Eat Your Children screened on Sunday, 22nd March 2015 at the Screen Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

 

 

 

 

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Dare to be Wild – Review of Irish Film at Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2015

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Cathy Butler smells the roses in Dare to be Wild, which screened as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

 

Landscape design is not a subject frequently examined in cinema, and the premise of Vivienne De Courcy’s Dare to be Wild certainly instils curiosity; based on the true story of Irish garden designer Mary Reynolds, it follows her quest to win the gold medal at the Chelsea Flower Show.

 

Mary (Emma Greenwell) is a young Irish woman with a passion for nature and gardens, and is looking to break into the world of garden design. She gets her first opportunity with ‘celebrity garden designer’ Charlotte Heavey (Christine Marzano), which eventually turns sour when she finds herself robbed of original work and out of a job. Not to be defeated, she bounces back with a determination to take home the winning prize at the esteemed Chelsea Flower Show, despite all obstacles. On her way she meets and falls for heart-throb botanist Christy (Tom Hughes), eventually following him on a trip to Ethiopia, to win his heart as well as the aid of his botany skills.

 

The curious mix of landscaping and love story could have been charming, but somewhat misses the mark tonally. De Courcy gives the story the epic treatment, putting the love story at its core, and surrounding it with stunning shots of sweeping landscapes. While Mary’s cause is noble, it is hard to get on board with the high drama when it is centred around a topic such as garden design. Mary wants Christy to help with her garden instead of focusing on the much-needed irrigation projects he is installing in Ethiopia. When he objects, it seems reasonable – his is the more important task. Mary, though well intentioned, comes across as naïve in comparison. Yet she brings Christy around to her way of thinking; it is a love-conquers-all narrative, no matter how impractical.

 

The film’s central message is reiterated time and again throughout – the importance of the wild and wild nature, and the connection between man and the environment. It is a feel good film, with an ecological message running through it, but it may have benefitted from a more scaled back tone. Visually, the film is stunning. Never has Ireland looked so colourful and inexplicably sunny as it has in this film. The Ethiopian sequences are equally beautifully shot, and the scenes in Chelsea are a bombardment of colour. Costume design is also particularly notable here, with Mary having quite the enviable wardrobe, even when broke and unemployed!

 

There are elements of ‘Celtic mysticism’ and Ireland’s fairy lore contained within the film, which may come across as twee to Irish audiences, but would likely go down well internationally.

Dare to be Wild is a visual feast, but perhaps a bit too epic for this viewer.

 

Dare to be Wild screened on Thursday, 26th March 2015 at the Light House Cinema as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

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