Review: Timbuktu

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DIR: Abderrahmane Sissako • WRI: Abderrahmane Sissako, Kessen Tall • PRO: Etienne Comar, Sylvie Pialat • DOP: Sofian El Fani • ED: Nadia Ben Rachid • DES: Sebastian Birchler • MUS: Amin Bouhafa • CAST: Ibrahim Ahmed, Abel Jafri, Toulou Kiki

 

For what seems to be a depressingly long time, the news media has been dominated by stories of extreme and barbaric acts of jihadist violence. While the primary focus presented to us in the news has been on the massacres and the destruction of historic site by groups such as Islamic State, what doesn’t get reported on is what life is like for ordinary citizens living under these new oppressive conditions. It is these people who provide the focus of the latest film by acclaimed Mauritanian writer/director Abderrahmane Sissako, who brings a sense of humanist poetry to his portrayal of life under occupation.

Taking its cue from a brief Islamist takeover in Northern Mali in 2012, Timbuktu looks at the immediate aftermath of the takeover as the Islamists drive around the streets of the ancient city on motorcycles, announcing through a megaphone the strict new rules being imposed onto the citizens. As these new rulers try to assert the authority, the residents attempt to continue with their lives as best they can. One of these is Kidane (Ibrahim Ahmed), a cattle herder living in the outskirts of the city with his wife and daughter. While their neighbours have long fled the area, Kidane and his family have decided to stay, their isolation allowing them to have relative freedom compared to those in the city. The frequent visits of one of the jihadists, who holds an attraction to Kidane’s wife, indicate that the peace that Kidane and his family enjoys maybe numbered.

While it would be easy to portray the jihadists as one-note, monstrous villains, in fact I can be certain that many filmmakers would happily take this approach for reasons of simplicity, Sissako is more interested in examining the complexities of this group of jihadists. Sissako, particularly in the early stages of the film, highlight the absurdity of the ideology to an almost comic effect. The jihadists impose a series of strict rules upon the people, though not many of them are too bother to follow them themselves. They ban football, but some have conversations about who is better, Messi or Zidane? They ban smoking but some of them hide in sand dunes in order to have a sneaky ciggie. They ban music but are at a loss of what to do when they discover that one of the locals is playing music in order to praise Allah and the prophet. It all reaches a point when they decide to announce that they are to ban “any old thing”. It seems that these men are not fully convinced of their mission themselves, in one scene a French member of the group struggles to denounce his past as a rapper with any conviction while shooting a propaganda video, but seem content to continue regardless.

For all this absurdity however, we are always aware, by virtue of the fact that they are all heavily armed at all times, there is an danger lurking about and violence can strike at any moment. This danger is shown at the very beginning of the film, where a group of jihadists chase a gazelle in a pickup truck. As they fire their automatic weapons at the animal, one member of the group shouts “Don’t kill it, tire it out”, indicating the methods of their rule and how they view the people who are now in their control. Their aims are not religious purification; a local imam tells one member of the group that their jihad is unnecessary as a majority of the population are devout, but rather using religion as a means to hold power and control the populace. Their “tiring out” of the locals is done not with random acts of violence but through oppressive laws and public punishments. These violent punishments, which include public lashings for a group of young men and women who were singing and playing music together and, in the most horrifying image of the film, a couple who are accused of adultery and are stoned to death while being buried from the neck down, are shown briefly, adding to the power of the images.

For all the cruelty of this regime, the most powerful moments of the film come not from the act committed by the jihadist but rather the quiet resilience from the locals and the persistence of the human spirit. Sissako shows how people find their own way of holding on to a piece of their humanity during a time of dehumanisation. They include a woman who is sentenced to 40 lashings for singing, continues to sing through the pain and the tears, a fishmonger who allows herself to be arrested for refusing to wear gloves because they affect her ability to do her job and in the film’s most beautiful and poetic scene, a group of boys play football with a imaginary ball, highlighting the ridiculous nature of this new world.

What makes Timbuktu so powerful is Sissako’s reluctance to sensationalise the events that happen within the film, but to instead ask questions on how acts like this are possible in the first place. Sissako uses the film to examine the best and worst of humanity, avoiding any simplicity that would allow us easy answers. For Sissako, one gets a sense of the frustration he feels about what is happening, a frustration brought on by the fact, as seen in a image at the beginning of the film where the jihadists use traditional wood statues as targets for shooting practise, that once again an outside force have taken over and are determined to impose their way of life onto the people and destroy their ancient and traditional culture, a repetitive theme in that part of the world.

 Patrick Townsend


12A (See IFCO for details)

95 minutes
Timbuktu is released 29th May 2015

 

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Still Alice

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DIR/WRI:  Richard Glatzer, Wash Westmoreland •  PRO: James Brown, Emilie Georges, Pamela Koffler, Lex Lutzus • DOP: Denis Lenoir ED: Nicolas Chaudeurge • MUS: Ilan Eshkeri • DES: Tommaso Ortino • CAST: Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth, Alec Baldwin, Julianne Moore, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth

During the introduction of one of her lectures, linguistics professor Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) is suddenly unable to remember, of all things, the term lexicon. Soon she starts to show further problems, she gets lost while she is jogging, she introduces herself to her son’s girlfriend despite the fact that he had already introduced them moments earlier. She becomes worried about these lapses in memory and is soon diagnosed as suffering from an early onset of Alzheimer’s, despite only having recently turned fifty. While she makes attempts to manage her symptoms, her condition soon worsens, leaving her family to try and adjust to her care.

Naturally, all attention for this film will be centred on Julianne Moore’s subtle and studied performance, which leads to the question of whether or not this performance overshadows the film as whole. While it is certainly true that Moore’s performance is in itself a lot better than the film that surrounds it, I believe it would be unfair to dismiss the film along those lines. What the writers/directors Richard Glazer and Wash Westmoreland, adapting the story from a bestselling novel by Lisa Genova, are aiming to do is to depict Alice’s condition from her own point of view and to have more of a focus on how much of an impact the disease has on her life rather than the effect it has on the people around her.

There is a very personal reason why the directors would want to depict Alice’s condition in this way as in 2011 Glazer was diagnosed with motor neurone disease, an incurable disease that weakens the body by wasting the muscles. This fact is the most felt in a scene where Alice delivers a speech at the Alzheimer’s Association where she describes just how awful it feels to lose your memories and to lose control over yourself. The film’s sensitive handling of its subject matter shows this personal reticence. While it does lapse into overt sentimentality at times, it never feels emotively exploitative, as perhaps it could have been, mainly thanks to the director’s understanding of her condition and of Moore’s fantastic lead performance.

While there is much to admire about Glazer and Westmoreland’s approach to the subject matter, there still is the problem that the film is not as good as its main actress. Part of this stems from it visual style, which is quite unremarkable and where the only technique used to signify Alice’s experiences, the use of shallow or out of focus, is gradually dispensed with as the film goes on. This lack of visual imagination offers us no insight on what Alice is going through, making us more reliant on Julianne Moore’s skills to fill in those gaps. The film’s use of language symbolism is a bit on the nose as well, from Alice’s profession to the scrabble like game she plays on her phone.

For all these problems, what makes the film work as well as it does is largely in part down to the stunning central performance by Julianne Moore. While the timeframe that the film explores shows us Alice from when the earliest signs of her disease through her rapid decline, Moore shows us glimpses of the kind of person Alice used to be, which allows us to recognise just how much her mind is deteriorating. It is not a show-off performance full of large gestures and dramatic outbursts, but rather more reliant on subtle movements, both physically and emotionally. The scene that showcases just how convincing Moore is in her character comes when Alice, whose condition at this point has worsened significantly, discovers a video message that she had made while her condition was somewhat manageable on her laptop. The difference between these two versions of Alice, one with some sense of control while the other is meek and confused, is extraordinary, showing Moore’s talent, building the character but then slowly dismantling it, leaving someone who is recognisable while at the same time completely different from what they where before.

While Moore’s performance makes the film,  she does have some great support, most notably from Kristen Stewart as her youngest daughter, a wannabe actress and the only member of the family who attempts to try and understand Alice’s condition rather than cope with it, the respectful approach taken by Glazer and Westmoreland, though understandable, seems only to highlight the film’s flaws rather than its strengths. Still, its intention is undoubtedly sincere, and what it lacks in inventiveness it makes up for in heart.

Patrick Townsend

12A (See IFCO for details)
100 minutes

Still Alice is released 6th March 2015

Still Alice  – Official Website

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Dreamcatcher

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DIR:  Kim Longinotto • WRI: Lisa Stevens

Over the course of her career, Kim Longinotto has built a deserved reputation as one of the finest documentarians working today. A truly global filmmaker, her work is set in places as diverse as Iran, Cameroon, Japan, India and occasionally the U.S. and her native U.K. Her films often focus on women who are taking stands against the oppressive society they are a part of. Unfortunately, despite the acclaim and awards that are usually bestowed towards her films, Longinotto and her work remains little known to wider audiences. The reasons for that are pretty simple; much of her work gets very little distribution. Outside of film and documentary festivals, her work is not shown in cinemas. While DVD labels such as the fantastic Second Run have made efforts showcase her older work, many remain unavailable, limiting the opportunity for anyone to see her work outside the occasional television screening as was the case with her last film Love Is All, which was shown on BBC4 around Valentine’s Day earlier this year.

With that in mind it is a pleasure to see that Longinotto’s latest documentary, Dreamcatcher, is not only receiving a limited theatrical release here, but is also scheduled to be released on DVD by the documentary label Dogwoof towards the end of April. For those who are new to the films of Longinotto, Dreamcatcher is a good place to start, operating on the familiar themes that can be found in nearly all of Longinotto’s work, all within the observational filmmaking style, whose non-intrusive manner allows her subjects to feel completely at ease in front of the camera offering a more revealing portrait of who they are and what they do.

Dreamcatcher follows Brenda Myers-Powell, co-founder of the Dreamcatcher Foundation, a grassroots organisation based in Chicago that was set up to allow sex workers the opportunity to exit the profession on their own terms. Myers-Powell and her co-founder Stephanie Daniels-Wilson drive around the streets of Chicago in a minivan, stopping to talking to the young women out on their street and handing out condoms. This work is unpaid and we see Myers-Powell in her regular job talking to at-risk high-school girls, as well as her home life and the people who she works with.

Early in the film Myers-Powell tell the story of woman who, after suffering from sexual abuse at a young age, became a sex worker for 25 years. During that time this woman was shot at five times, stabbed around thirteen times and after an attack that left her face disfigured, she decided enough was enough and made the effort to turn her life around. Revealing that this woman’s story is that of her own, Myers-Powell shows us why she has devoted her life to this cause. A charismatic figure with the ability to hold the attention of any room she is in, Myers-Powell’s greatest ability is that she is able to approach the women that she meets, both women who are working on the streets or the teenagers in the high school she works in whose history makes them venerable to living this kind of life, without any air of judgement, making them feel completely at ease in her presence. She makes every effort to reach out and help, from visiting the homes of the at risk teenagers to taking phone calls in the middle of the night from distressed sex workers.

What is interesting about the film is that it focuses on the socioeconomic conditions that are the main causes of this kind of sex work. Longinotto uses stock footage of aerial shots of the Chicago that would be familiar to us, the sleek skyscrapers that tower over the skyline, the bustling metropolis overlooking Lake Michigan. Longinotto contrasts this with her own footage, set between the boarded-up houses and businesses alongside the dilapidated factories that used to dominate the city’s economy. It is here, in these neglected parts of the city, where the cycle of abuse continues, shown here with an interview with Homer, a former pimp who now works alongside Myers-Powell. Giving speeches to educate people about the realities of living that life, he talks about how, as a kid seeing his father regularly beat up his mother without her leaving him, led him to believe that this was something that men naturally do. We are a long way from the “tart with a heart” cliché as you can get. Here is the reality, where the cycle of sexual and drug abuse traps women into the world of sex work and with no help from those at the top, it is up to people from within this system to try and make the changes necessary.

Myers-Powell’s approach to helping these women, gaining their trust and listening to them with complete understanding and sympathy is exactly the same as Longinotto’s filmmaking. Longinotto’s greatest skill as a documentary filmmaker is that she allows her subjects to remain comfortable in her and her camera’s presence. This gives her films a sense of intimacy while at the same time they never carry that sense of intrusion or exploitation. The admiration and sympathy she has for her subjects shines through, allowing their humanity to become the main focus point. Every time I watch one of Longinotto’s films I end up feeling nothing but complete admiration for the courage and bravery of the people that she has brought to light. While it is a shame that her work isn’t as well known as it should be, I take comfort in the fact that they are filmmakers like Longinotto that are determined to let these stories be heard.

Patrick Townsend

98 minutes

Dreamcatcher is released 6th March 2015

 

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Pelo Malo

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DIR/WRI: Mariana Rondón • PRO: Marité Ugas • DOP: Micaela Cajahuaringa • ED: Marité Ugas • MUS: Camilo Froideval • DES: Matías Tikas • CAST: Samuel Lange Zambrano, Samantha Castillo, Beto Benites, Nelly Ramos

In Venezuela’s capital of Caracas, the health of president Hugo Chávez is rapidly deteriorating and his loyal supporters are turning to desperation. Many are holding large prayer meetings in the hope of a miracle. Others are shaving their heads in support of the stricken president. While one man, driven what he calls divine voices in his head, has killed his mother as a sacrifice, chopping off her hands and arms in the process. At the same time, nine-year-old Junior (Samuel Lange) needs a photo for his school ID and is determined to find a way of straightening his curly hair in order to have the appearance of a singer, a goal which puts at odds with his newly widowed mother (Samantha Castillo), fracturing their already turbulent relationship. In Pelo Malo, which translates to “Bad Hair”, writer/director Mariana Rondón uses the story of a family, in this case between a mother and a son, as means to examine Venezuelan society and the role of masculinity and appearance.

The social-realist style of the film brings us straight into this world. The primary setting is the run-down housing blocks, a place where the sound of gunshots is a  to common occurrence, where Junior lives with his mother and infant brother. It is in this tough world that Junior, going against the macho posing that surrounds him, looks for different way to straighten his hair from using mayonnaise to cooking oil.

His behaviour worries his mother and appears to go against what her ideas of masculinity should be and regularly treats him with hostility. She resents the difference in her son, from the way he dances, more calm and dream-like, when hanging around the more energetic break-dancing boys to the obsession with his appearance. His behaviour leads her to the conclusion that he is gay, though the film leaves it ambiguous to whether the resentment she feels towards her son is due to the concern over his safety in such a hostile environment or due to her feeling ashamed that her son is “different”.

Marta’s ideas of masculinity seem reflective of  society as whole. Men must act like “men”, an image of toughness must be projected at all times no matter what age. This is shown when Junior with his friend Nina visits a photographer who suggests that hepose for his picture as an action man style soldier, with beret, rifle and camouflage. Junior’s adamant refusal of this suggestion, defiantly declaring that he will “pose as a singer with straight hair” signals his rejection of what is expected of him.

It is odd that she would resent her son’s refusal of gender stereotyping when she herself is attempting to do the exact same, in her refusal of working in cleaning jobs in order to attain work as a security job. Her frustrations with the refusals and exploitations of her bosses, could also be another factor in her growing animosity towards her son but is also telling of the position of women in society, where they are expected to fulfil male needs and desires first if they have any chance to get ahead.

While Junior is challenging his mother’s ideas of masculinity with his actions, Rondón uses his behaviour as a method to look at the idea of identity in Venezuela, not just gender but also of race. Junior’s father was of Afro-Caribbean decent and his desire to get rid of his curly hair could be seen as a way of dissenting himself from his heritage, a comment perhaps on the position of black people in Venezuelan society compared to those of European heritage.

With the aid of two fantastic central performances from Lange and Castillo, Pelo Malo is an uncompromising look at modern Venezuelan life, a life where large numbers of people are expected to make sacrifices for their beloved leader but any personal sacrifice one makes to try and claim some identity gets shut down, which only leads to bitterness and resentment.

Patrick Townsend

 
93 minutes

Pelo Malo is released 13th February 2015

Pelo Malo – Official Website

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Patrick’s Day

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DIR/ WRI: Terry McMahon • PRO: Tim Palmer • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Emer Reynolds • MUS: Ray Harman • DES: Emma Lowney • CAST: Kerry Fox, Moe Dunford, Philip Jackson

Patrick’s Day, writer/director Terry McMahon’s follow up to his debut feature Charlie Casanova, opens up with a title card giving a dictionary definition of “mental illness”. Immediately we get an understanding that what McMahon is aiming to do in this film is to address mental illness head on or at the very least create a portrayal of a person going through this condition that is grounded in some sense of reality. Given the various different portrayals of mental illness throughout the history of cinema, ranging from being depicted as manic and unyielding murderers or as a type of idiot savant whose main function is to allow the other “normal” characters to gain a sense of perspective on their own lives, the approach that the film takes on its subject and its characters makes for a much more challenging film.

The film centres around Patrick (Moe Dunford), a diagnosed schizophrenic who lives in a care home. He is allowed to leave the facility to attend the St. Patrick’s Day festival with his mother Maura (Kerry Fox). After becoming separated, Patrick waits for his mother at the hotel they are staying in, where he happens to meet Karen (Catherine Walker) and, after a few drinks in the bar, they end up staying the night together in her room and Patrick begins to fall in love with her.

It has to be said that the film struggles in its opening act. There are times here where the dialogue, in particular the scene of Patrick and Karen’s first meeting outside the hotel, comes across a bit too stagey and self aware for its own good. Another issue at this point of the film is the character of the Garda detective that Maura talks to when she is worried about her son being missing.. While the character comes into its own as the film progresses, when he is first introduced it feels as if he has wandered in from another film, especially in his scenes with Maura in the Garda station which completely feels at odds with the tone the film has established.

As the story progresses and once McMahon begins to focus on the relationship between Patrick and his mother, in particular the idea of what Maura would do to protect her son even as it crosses way beyond the point where she is causing more harm than good,  the film start to find its own voice. Worried about her son, and perhaps motivated by her own sense of loneliness and desperation, Maura convinces Karen to break any further contact with Patrick and soon makes attempts to eradicate Patrick’s memory of Karen from his mind.

The themes that McMahon wishes to explore, the idea of what love is whether it be a physical or mental relationship or from a parental sense, are brought out to the fore during these scenes. The main plot at this stage, attempting to force a man with mental illness to believe that the woman he loves is a delusion, raises questions about the nature of love in itself, whether it is something that exists in the mind or something that goes further than that? Meanwhile the role of Maura subverts the idea of paternal nurture and the thinking behind the belief of “mother knows best”. The key to her character is that we have no doubt that she believes what she is doing to her son is what’s best for him, even as she begins to take more extreme methods.

It is here where the performances of Dunford and Fox really stand out. Dunford is quite impressive in a role that could easily have descended into caricature, instead he adds more layers to Patrick, showing us that behind his friendly, almost childlike appearance, there is an unpredictable side to him that constantly keeps the viewer on the edge. Meanwhile, Kerry Fox is superb, allowing us to understand her behaviour and at times empathise with Maura even as the actions that she takes are completely unsympathetic.

While it takes its time to find its focus, Patrick’s Day is ultimately a fascinating portrayal, and subversion, of love, relationships and parental bonds. And, after the negative reception that greeted Charlie Casanova, it certainly is welcoming to see signs of growth in McMahon’s filmmaking skills and it certainly makes it interesting to see what he comes up with next.

Patrick Townsend

15A (See IFCO for details)
102minutes
Patrick’s Day
is released 6th February 2015

Patrick’s Day  – Official Website

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Amour fou

amour-fou

DIR/WRI: Jessica Hausner • DOP: Martin Gschlacht • ED: Karina Ressler • DES: Katharina Wöppermann • CAST: Christian Friedel, Birte Schnoeink, Stephan Grossmann

Amour fou, Jessica Hausner’s follow-up to her 2009 film Lourdes, tackles the idea of the romantic suicide with the type of deadpan, minimalistic subversion that the subject matter deserves. The film examines the final months of the romantic German writer Heinrich von Kleist (Christian Friedel) as he seduces the wife of a civil servant, Henriette Vogel (Birte Schnoeink), into participating in a murder-suicide with him under the notion that the expression of love is more noble in death than life.

Hausner sets out to deconstruct any glamorous depiction of the actions of von Kleist, portraying him as a man driven by his own self-importance rather than a belief in the notion of a romantic death. This is evident by the fact that his decision of choosing Henriette is not driven by any real desire towards her – his outlook on relationships with women appear to be completely asexual – but because his original choice, his cousin Marie, quite sensibly, turned him down.

Heinrich’s attentions towards Henriette seem to be brought on by the fact that he recognises the weaknesses in her. Henriette holds no ambitions at all, in fact she publicly states that she is the property of her husband and has no desire to seek any greater freedom. Henriette herself is also reluctant to Heinrich’s plans at first, though she seems to be affected by Heinrich’s blunt declarations that she is deeply unhappy and is incapable of loving anyone in this life.

When Henriette finally does succumb to Heinrich’s proposal, he is dealt a blow by the fact that her reasons are less to do with any feeling towards the notion of love in death but rather her desire to die after being diagnosed with a terminal tumour. With this, Hausner once again undercuts the shallowness of Heinrich’s ideals, in which he tells Henriette that he must think about carrying out his plan with her when he learns that her motivations differ from his, though he eventually agrees once he learns he is unable to convince Marie to change her mind. For all of Heinrich’s declarations of the nobility of his desires, he really just wants to die. And if he were unable to get the person he wants to die with him, then anybody else would do.

The fact that Heinrich is unable to recognise his own hypocrisy is reinforced by his awareness of the hypocrisy of Prussian aristocracy that he belongs to. The world in which they live mainly consists of meetings in chamber rooms where they denounce the ideals of the French Revolution and the notion of taxation on the wealthy while talking about the freedom of the poor, all the while being served by a meek and mostly silent servant. Heinrich plays along with these customs while privately denouncing them, almost like if it was a joke only known to him. What Heinrich cannot notice is that for all his observations, he is unable to distinguish between the self-interest of his class and that of his plan.

Hausner depicts this world through a series of mostly static compositions and tells the story with a glacial austerity. Underneath this exterior, however, lies some extremely deadpan humour, calmly mocking most of its characters, mainly Heinrich, own sense of importance.  Crucially, the sense of mockery is not extended to Henriette, who, while not merely being portrayed as a victim, is shown as being a consequence of the confined world she lives in.

Amour Fou is yet again another challenging piece of work from Hausner. While its slow pace may try many people’s patience, it is through Hausner’s subtle storytelling, along with the well-pitched performances of the lead actors, that the film works. One thing is for certain; Hausner has depicted the suicide of the romantic writer in a suitably unromantic way.

Patrick Townsend

96 minutes
Amour Fou is released 6th February 2015

Amour Fou –  Official Website

 

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Interview: Terry McMahon, wri/dir ‘Patrick’s Day’

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Patrick’s Day is the story of a young man with mental health issues who becomes intimate with a suicidal flight attendant. When his obsessive mother finds out she enlists a dysfunctional cop to separate them.

Patrick Townsend sat down with Terry McMahon to talk about his second feature and his desire to capture lightning in a bottle.

Can you tell us about the starting point of the movie.

I wanted to make a film about a schizophrenic. The reason being is that schizophrenia, the reductionist sense of the diagnosis, is about the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality, and I wanted to find a way of thematically exploring that in a dramatic construct. I love characters who have difficulty defining the difference between illusion and reality.

You start off the film with the title stating what the definition of mental illness is [“any of various disorders in which a person’s thoughts, emotions, or behaviour are so abnormal as to cause suffering to himself, herself, or other people”]. Was there a particular reason for this?

That’s the Collins English Dictionary definition of mental illness. But the exact same definition could be applied to love. The consequence of your actions and the inability to differentiate between illusion and reality is one of the driving forces of love. So I think it states the theme unintentionally, which is its literal manifestation and then its romantic manifestation.

The film subverts the idea of parental love, with the character played by Kerry Fox. Was that kind of relationship another area you wanted to explore?

I love characters who have the courage to pursue what they think is right, despite the fact that the consequences can be profound. So in the negative and the positive I think it’s a great thing that we respond to the aspiration of a character. And all the characters in the film with no exceptions have an aspiration towards something that might be minute to us but profound to them. Or it might be profound to us but only seems like minute to them. So a mother who’s trying to protect her son, who believes that her love will justify all kinds of aberrations, is in itself the kind of mental illness we’re exploring. And I love the idea of having a character who thinks that, despite all consequences, they must do what they believe is right. On a political level, as a political metaphor, we have a government doing that at the moment, who justify to themselves completely aberrant behavior trying to qualify it as being beneficial to the people when in actuality they’re doing untold damage. So it works as a political metaphor and a human story.

I’m interested in the reception that the film has got from people who suffer from these kinds of mental illnesses. Have people from that community embraced the film?

Well, it’s funny. Before we made it I made sure the script was as freely available as possible to anybody who wanted to read it. We did a lot of research and I spoke to many different groups and many different individuals on both sides of the diagnostic fence. And schizophrenia is such a controversial subject anyway; it’s such an emotive, extreme response. So I met with people who claimed that the film was not representative of their lives and met others who claimed that the film was like their life recorded and summed up. We wanted to make sure we did not cause any unintentional offense to anybody but at the same time we wanted to remain true to an authentic world. What subsequently happened was that I received a staggering amount of letters and emails from people who’ve been so profoundly moved by it and feel empowered by it within the reductionist realm of their diagnosis that it’s actually humbling, really humbling.

Plus we have people like Prof Ivor Browne, one of the great mavericks in Europe, stand not just shoulder to shoulder with the film but actually make these extraordinary declarations about how authentic it is in the realm of his 45 years of experience. We have the amazing Dr Garrett O’Connor from the John Hopkins Institute, former head of the Betty Ford Clinic, making these extraordinary public statements about the film. So it’s working in a way that has even transcended our aspirations.

Can we talk about Moe Dunford. I understand that you had to fight to get him into this role.

Moe is a one-of-a generation talent to be honest with you. But nobody knows that yet. So there are people who understandably and justifiably were saying “we have a couple of well-known named actors who want to play this role, why are you going with an unknown?” I believed that Moe had the capacity to go to a place that no one else could really go to. So in order to justify casting him, I brought him home after the casting. There was a football match on that night and there were a couple of my mates coming around to have a beer. We got Moe drunk and brought him into the sitting room. My daughter had this beautiful dog, a border/collie mix, and the dog jumped all over him and licked his face and gave him such love and he was telling the dog how much he loved her and all that, and I was filming it. I uploaded it to youtube, sent it to the financiers and they cast him that night and were profoundly happy with him in the end.

That’s been pretty much justified… he won the Shooting Star in Berlin.

Yes and he’s won awards in America and he’s been embraced in America. It’s incredible. Heavyweight agents, heavyweight casting directors, heavyweight everyone suddenly want to be a part of him. It worked out for everyone in the end. It’s just one of those things – to take a risk on an unknown entity is a difficult thing. If it doesn’t pay off, you’re in trouble. If it does pay off, everybody’s thrilled.

You need to take that risk though…

Most of the times we don’t though. We just replicate what we feel already works. That’s one of the reasons why repetition becomes tiresome for an audience.

Looking to the future, I understand you have one or two projects down the line.

There’s a hard-core prison drama called Dancehall Bitch and it’s about what men are prepared to do to convince themselves they’re men. It’s dark and aggressive and potentially, I think, a very visceral film, but it’s a genre film, a prison genre film. And I’m excited about the idea of working with Emmet Scanlon again, Moe Dunford again, Catherine Walker again, Michael Lavelle again, the cinematographer, Emer Reynolds again as editor, a small core group of remarkable people who I think could capture something remarkable.

Talking about taking risks, is it important for you in your career to challenge yourself with each film and to create something different?

I don’t really have a career and I don’t really see the world in terms of a career because I’m piss-ass broke, so I don’t know what a career is. But I do know that there are some people who would feel that the next step should be towards some sort of commercial venture, but I don’t know what that means. I just want to be on set with a small core group of people trying to capture lightning in a bottle, whether people like it or not. Something like Charlie Casanova creates such extreme reactions in the negative; something like Patrick’s Day creates such extreme reactions in the positive, but you can’t control either of those things. All you can do is hope that on the day in front of the lens of the camera you capture lightning in a bottle.

Patrick’s Day is in cinemas from 6th February 2015

 

 

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