Patricks Day’s – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Conor Fleming checks out Terry McMahon’s Patrick’s Day, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

‘When I first saw Terry McMahon’s first film, Charlie Casanova, I hated it’, claimed festival programmer Gareth O’Brien as he introduced Terry’s latest film, Patrick’s Day, to the audience in the sold out Galway theatre. ‘But then I watched it a few more times and it had something that kept drawing me back to it’, he continued before going on to describe the polarising reception Terry’s debut feature has had, with mention that his latest film Patrick’s Day, is just as challenging and polarizing as you would expect.

 

Patrick’s Day is a powerful drama that focuses on title character Patrick (Moe Dunford), a young man suffering with mental health issues and the offbeat relationship that develops between him and suicidal air hostess Karen (Catherine Walker). A relationship that is threatened by the ever growing presence of Patrick’s obsessive mother Maura (Kerry Fox) who seeks to separate them with a misguided and almost ignorance attitude into how to handle her son’s illness.

 

It is a film whose powerful and engaging themes are in danger of being eclipsed by the performances of the main cast; with Kerry Fox and rising star Moe Dunford in particular giving exceptional performances. Moe, when asked about what research he had done for the film, replied, “none”, as he has lived with familiar member’s with mental illness. This was not just any role for him, but one he lived, a fact that shines through brightly in its unflinching accuracy and impactful delivery.
A drama of this nature can often time feel a little too overwhelming, which again runs the problem of driving away some potential suitors who would otherwise thoroughly enjoy the film. Thankfully this was something it seems Terry was aware of as the main cast is rounded out with Phillip Jackson playing police officer and aspiring comedian John Freeman, whose witty humour and flat-falling dad jokes gives the script some lift in area’s much needed.

 

McMahon’s writing skill is apparent from the get go, and whose style of direction seems to blend perfectly with the expert work of cinematographer Michael Lavelle. Shot in a simplistic yet incredibly technical manner, it is the perfect display of technique meeting storytelling resulting in a staggeringly beautiful film. Particular mention must go to a sequence in the third act, one which is truly horrific but incredibly powerful, and one which solidifies the message of the film; with memories of a similar sequence from Requiem for a Dream – it is truly one that must be seen to be believed.

 
The difference between Patrick’s Day and McMahon’s previous work is that Patrick’s Day is immediately identifiable as a stand-out film on first viewing; one that has an impact and message that will only grow stronger with time. By his own admission, director Terry McMahon set out to make a difficult film. Not a film to please a majority film audience but one to do its subject matter justice, and to prove there is an audience for challenging, emotional films. Given the care this movie treated its often mishandled subject matter, Patrick’s Day’s is an incredible display of the impact a movie can truly have if you let it.

 

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Poison Pen – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh


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Diarmaid Blehein gives us the juicy gossip on Poison Pen, the first feature film script by Artemis Fowl author Eoin Colfer. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

PC Molloy (Lochlann O’Mearain) is a Booker Prize-winning author who hasn’t published a book in fifteen years. He spends his days teaching classic poetry to uninterested college students and avoiding completion of his second novel. However, his circumstances change suddenly when his publisher is bought by the owners of a celebrity gossip magazine, Poison Pen, a genre of writing he openly despises. Much to his indignation, the magazine’s boss, the beautiful and ruthless April Devereaux (Aoibhinn McGinnity), hires him to interview celebrities for a column she hopes will add a touch of class to the scandalous rag. Facing legal action if he refuses, Molloy grudgingly takes on the job and sets about trying to get fired. But he soon finds himself becoming very involved on both sides of the game.

Eoin Colfer, famed author of the Artemis Fowl  book series, turns his hand to screenwriting and creates a quirky comedy that sucks us in to the grizzly world of magazine journalism, while at the same time entertains us immensely. It is very refreshing to see a film set in London which has an Irishman as the central character who doesn’t fall victim to any kind of stereotype. He is a man who just happens to be Irish.

O’ Mearain gives a delightful performance as the bookish, snobbish, tweed- wearing Molloy, whose cynicism of his new workplace and its members proves for some genuinely amusing moments. McGinnity is equally convincing as the ambitious, gossip-hungry boss, who gradually melts once Molloy starts to deliver the dirt. The film also features a strong supporting cast. Ryan O’ Shaughnessy is hilarious as one of Molloy’s loud-mouthed students whose ambition to be a famous rapper makes him stop at nothing to attract media attention including posing as his teacher’s gay partner. Lauryn Canny of Amber fame also holds her own as Molloy’s daughter, Sally, who aspires to be a model just like her deceased mother, much to her father’s dismay.

What’s most impressive about the film is its ability to be funny without resorting to awful crassness, which sadly seems to be what many contemporary comedies are doing in order to generate a laugh. The subject matter is strikingly relevant with the power and freedom of the British press being currently under scrutiny in light of the Leveson Inquiry. Indeed, despite the many laughs the film succeeds in conjuring, there is a deeper message trying to get through, particularly through the character of Shona, a famous singer with whom Molloy finds himself confiding in during an interview.

With Poison Pen, directors Jennifer Shortall, Lorna Fitzsimons and Steven Benedict have delivered a clever, quirky, thought-provoking film which succeeds in revealing the human side to the people we read about on a daily basis as well as that of those who set out to exploit them.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

 

 

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Living in a Coded Land – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdell deciphers Living in a Coded Land, Pat Collins’ film essay that makes unexpected links between events and locations, history and contemporary life. The film screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

This film tries too hard. It’s extremely self-indulgent.

And yet, it offers sound analysis of Irish society in a way that most films don’t. It makes no concessions to its audience, and can come across as preachy; but if its viewers can stick with it they will find value. It excavates – slowly – some of the ideology at the heart of modern Ireland. It offers a vocabulary for liberation in a thoughtful manner, rather than a shouty manner.

There has been much talk about the reasons for Irish artist’s disinterest in critiquing Irish society during the financial crisis. Most writers and filmmakers seem content to ignore what has been happening, and write about tea instead; or the power of sticking together or whatever. A few, such as the poet Dave Lordan or the novelist Julian Gough, do their best to shoot from the sidelines. It is still rare, though, and that makes this film a welcome manifestation of concern.

The code of the title is the set of behaviours, mannerisms, social rules that one learns to manipulate in order to rise to the top. Those who achieve it aren’t necessarily the best or the brightest; they just know the right things to say in order to slip through. More often that not, this is due to an accident of birth; they were born into a “good” family or they went to a certain school. They learn to latch onto the part of society that rises to the top. Whereas in the past it might have been the world of oil (or milkshakes), today it is finance

What the film achieves is that it makes explicit the mechanisms at work, so that laymen can understand them. It demystifies the processes at work, which will hopefully help the population to feel more confident in criticising those processes. It is easy for those in these high status positions to accuse the “lower” classes of being overly passionate or not knowing the specifics of a situation, but, as with the many violations of the last few years, we can see that these “higher” classes don’t really know the specifics either. It’s a power system, and this film attempts to teach people to navigate it in order that they can begin to dismantle it.

That is an ambitious and admirable project. That Collins indulges in too much arthouse imagery is forgiveable, but I hope that he improves on this front in the future. This is one of the few contemporary Irish artworks that tries to say something important.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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A Nightingale Falling – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Diarmaid Blehein catches A Nightingale Falling, Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn’s debut feature about a turbulent period in Irish history, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

A full house gathered in Galway’s Townhall Theatre on a particularly warm July evening to attend the premiere of A Nightingale Falling as part of the Galway Film Fleadh. The evening began with a few words from the directors Garret Daly and Martina McGlynn, whose excitement to have their film finally shown to the world proved somewhat contagious. After many extensions of deserved gratitude, the lights dimmed and the show got under way.

Adapted from the novel by PJ Curtis, A Nightingale Falling tells the story of two sisters May (Tara Breathnach) and Tilly (Muireann Bird), who live in a large farmhouse in the country during the Irish War of Independence. Times are tough and both women work hard to make ends meet, with the help of some local farm labourers. However, their peaceful lives are suddenly disrupted when May finds a critically injured British soldier called Jack (Gerard McCarthy) in their yard. They take him in and do their best to nurse him back to health, fully aware of the consequences of such actions. As Jack slowly recovers, both sisters start to develop feelings for him, but it is only to Tilly he returns such affections. Meanwhile, the Black and Tan soldiers are terrorising the village, searching for Irish rebels, as well as their missing captain.

Daly and McGlynn deliver a fine film which focuses on the effect of a nationwide crisis on one particularl family. Breathnach gives a fine performance as the older and more authoritative May, while Bird is equally impressive as the younger, more excitable Tilly, whom the audience get to see mature before their eyes. The most effective scenes are early on when the sisters are slyly vying for Jack’s affections, without any direct confrontation on the matter apart from the looks they exchange when one catches the other alone with him. The feeling of danger is also very imminent with the ruthless Black and Tans never too far away, added by the fact that many of the farm labourers who work for the sisters are themselves IRA members. The film also doesn’t shy away from the tragic loss of life in this era, as well as the desperate actions of those trying to get away unscathed. Towards the end of the film there comes a twist that will throw even the most experienced filmgoer.

Beautifully directed and brilliantly acted, A Nightingale Falling is a moving, authentic piece of cinema about a turbulent period in Irish history where loyalty and trust were for many the only means of protection.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)
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One Million Dubliners – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Stephen Totterdall reviews One Million Dubliners, Aoife Kelleher’s documentary about Glasnevin Cemetery, the final resting place of 1.5 million souls. One Million Dubliners screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

For a society that thinks so much about death, we say remarkably little about it. For every mystical platitude we spout, we subtract from our knowledge of death’s mundanities and practicalities. These details become the spine of One Million Dubliners, and offer us a far more profound analysis than any poet-philosopher’s approach could.

The film focuses on the inner workings of Glasnevin Cemetery. Its managerial process, methods of attaining revenue, grave planning, cremation clean-up. Then we watch how the cemetery’s narrative is produced. The guided tour, combined with an approach to publicity that takes into account the Michael Collins film amongst other things. There really is nothing romantic about it when you get close up. Yet at the same time it is these mundanities that produce something beautiful.

Like the opening pages of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle, it is the mundane details that make up a death; and the life lived before it. The success of Knausgaard as a novelist comes largely from his insistence that he, a middle-class father living in a regional town, lives a life worth documenting. He doesn’t need to be a hero like Michael Collins. Simply by living his unsatisfying life, he is a part of the human experience; arguably moreso than those who, like Collins, have become mythologised.

While One Million Dubliners appears to initiate this approach to life, it is actually an early adopter of a wider society-wide shift in the way we perceive the world. New Sincerity and Authenticity rule. David Foster Wallace got there even earlier with his tale of bureaucratic meaning in The Pale King. Long seen as the mark of an unlived life, these small details in life; the new thinking argues; are the places where we live. Although many visitors come for the grave of Michael Collins, these visits provide revenue so that the cemetery can house its other 1.5 million residents.

When we first hear that the cemetery is designed to maximise the number of graves, we react with revulsion. It makes sense, obviously. But we tend to think of death in such mystical terms that to be confronted with such an ugly and capitalistic fact brings us a little too close. As the film goes on, we come to appreciate this closeness. It takes the pressure off. By confronting the physical reality rather than fobbing it off with platitudes, we come to see the connectedness of everyone. 1.5 million Dubliners, connected to each other through muck. “We’re just caretakers,” say the cemetery’s staff, “One day [We’ll] end up in Glasnevin Cemetery, too.”

Rarely has a film outperformed expectations to this degree. Its description is hardly enticing. But, like the small details of the cemetery, it catches you off guard and provides you with all you need in a film.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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An Bronntanas – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Cathy Butler attended the screening of An Bronntanas, which closed this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Despite the World Cup final running concurrently, the main auditorium of the Town Hall Theatre was packed out for the closing screening of the 26th Galway Film Fleadh, Tom Collins’ An Bronntanas, a crime thriller set in Connemara.

 

The opening credit sequence gives off a very televisual style, and upon further investigation it seems that this is a feature film incarnation of what will also be a television mini-series. This correlates with the tone of the film, which does veer more towards the televisual than cinematic.

 

JJ (Dara Devaney), an Irish engineer working in Canada, receives a call from home concerning his father’s death. Upon returning to Connemara, he is burdened with his father’s failing business and the wrath of the local employees whose jobs are in danger. When a call comes in about a boat in distress, JJ, his brother Macdara (Pól Ó Gríofa), and another lifeboat volunteer Jakub (Janusz Sheagall) venture out to assist. What they find is a boat with a murdered woman and a million euro worth of cannabis on board. The three men are then faced with the choice of contacting the police or keeping the drugs and selling them themselves. There is a complex scheme at work, however, as the brothers discover.

 

This is a well-scripted thriller, with some nice twists and misdirection, especially in relation to perceived suspicious outsider Jakub. A Polish man living locally, Jakub becomes one of the most engaging characters as the film goes on, moving between shades of threatening and empathetic with great ease. As the lead, JJ is somewhat lacking in characterisation, and the moral dilemma presented by the boat full of drugs lacks the dramatic tension such a scenario would promise. He is very easily swayed to wrong-doing by his hapless brother Macdara, despite being presented as the more upstanding of the two. Charlotte Bradley is intriguing as the cool-headed, resourceful mother to the two men, though the source of her hardened pragmatism is unclear.

 

The film is described as being as Gaeilge, which it predominantly is, but it could also be described as a trilingual film, given its use of Irish, English and Polish, almost symbolic of Ireland’s contemporary linguistic landscape.

 

This is a well-plotted narrative, which situates itself well in contemporary rural Ireland, managing to hit the right notes of a thriller without it seeming incongruous to the location. The film also makes great use of the variety of the Connemara landscape, in both the violence of the choppy seas and the sweeping valleys. And as noted by Gar O’Brien, the festival programmer, in his introduction of the film, it is certainly fitting to have a Galway film close the Galway Film Fleadh.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Darkness on the Edge of Town – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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Oisin Hanlon takes aim at Darkness on the Edge of Town, Patrick Ryan’s thriller about a teenage sharpshooter hunting her sister’s killer. The film premiered at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

Darkness on the Edge of Town follows Emma Eliza Regan’s character, Cleo Callahan, an expert marksman, as she is out for blood over the murder of her beloved estranged sister, played by Olwen Catherine Kelly. Cleo is accompanied by her so-called friend Robin O’Riley, played by  newcomer actress Emma Willis. Cleo’s journey for vengeance forces her to commit morally questionable acts at times, resulting in a tension-filled, eerie thriller with more than a hint of a Western.

Brian Gleeson is in a league of his own in terms of performance, playing the conflicted Virgil O’Riley. Gleeson has many powerful scenes in this movie that really stretch an actor’s emotional range. Another stand-out of the film is the beautiful photography – immaculate shots that simultaneously capture both beauty and tension that are transfixing. Tommy Fitzgerald, the cinematographer, has done a marvellous job at showing the tranquillity of the Kerry countryside but somehow stocks it with a sinister undertone.

The individual performances of Emma Willis and Emma Eliza Regan are strong but it’s difficult to buy into the idea that these two characters are childhood best friends as there is a lacking of sincerity in their relationship.

Overall, Darkness on the Edge of Town is an enjoyable thriller rooted in a very creative and unique idea. Whether you buy into a revenge thriller with shoot-outs with an Irish background or not, director Patrick Ryan really delivers an original authentic Irish westernesque piece of cinema.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

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Glassland – Review of Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh

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David Gorman checks out Glassland, Gerard Barrett’s highly anticipated follow up to Pilgrim Hill. Glassland screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

The atmosphere in the Town Hall Theatre, the epicentre of the Galway Film Fleadh, had an air of eagerness and excitement about it on Friday night. Two years ago, in the same venue, a young unknown filmmaker was about to emerge on to the Irish film scene with his debut feature, Pilgrim Hill.

Pilgrim Hill (2012) evoked critical acclaim from Ireland and abroad was the most talked about film of that year, resulting in writer/director Gerard Barrett winning Rising Star Award at the IFTAs.  So the excitement and anticipation at this year’s Fleadh for Barrett’s second feature, Glassland, was justified. Barrett, who also wrote both films, is a self-proclaimed proud Kerry man, who was compared to the great Irish playwright John. B Keane when the film was being introduced by the former Minister of Arts.  The irony of both of his films premiering in a theatre and not a cinema was not lost on me.

Barrett says about his second feature, “I come from a close family and I have never known anything else, but the reality is that there are plenty of broken families in Ireland and I wanted to explore that.” It is never easy to follow a successful debut and the pressure that goes with that can distract the best of filmmakers. However, there is an air of confidence about Barrett and it is refreshing to see a young man (Barrett is still only 27) with such passion about storytelling and I am glad that he chose the medium of cinema to convey those stories and not the stage like the comparative Keane.

Glassland progresses at a slow pace and there is a certain amount of patience required, but it is well worth it. Jean (Toni Collette) is slowing killing herself with alcohol and John (Jack Reynor), her son, is her only hope of survival but he is on the verge of a breakdown himself. Reynor’s character is obviously under strain and his family situation is making him sacrifice not only living his life, but possibly putting it at risk also. Reynor has a strong screen presence and can hold the attention of the viewer in long scenes without dialogue or a manipulating score. Toni Collette is unflinchingly raw, almost unrecognisable from the glamour of Hollywood that some might relate her to. She is 100% believable in the role. The strong, believable performances from the lead characters engage the viewer and there is an honesty and sincerity that pervades the film. The writing/dialogue is at times brutally frank but then this frankness is juxtaposed with moments of comedy that resulted in laugh-out-loud moments in the packed theatre.

There are certainly similarities with Pilgrim Hill, the sense of ‘anywhere’ shows why these films are so relatable, the only indication that both films are based in Ireland are the accents, brilliantly pulled off in Glassland by Australian Toni Collette and Will Poulter from England who plays John’s friend. Poulter is responsible for the comedic elements that ease the palpable tension among the audience at times. There is an honesty about Glassland and, again, like Pilgrim Hill, Barrett is certainly not afraid to depict the harsh truth of life in modern Ireland. Another clear similarity between the two films is that the viewer is completely immersed in the main character’s world, which in both cases are claustrophobic, repetitive and mundane.

This film is the type that grows on you as time passes; it dominated the conversation over breakfast the next morning. We need more films like this that explore the prevalent issues in contemporary Irish life –  addiction, emigration, and a sense of isolation from mainstream society. It is fair to say that not everyone might enjoy the pace or visual style over a dialogue-driven narrative. Nevertheless, these are stories that need to be told in Ireland by Irish filmmakers and Barrett is telling them with compassion, subtlety and refreshing honesty. A well-made mature second feature.

Click here for our coverage of Irish Film at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh  (8 – 13 July, 2014)

 

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