Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Other Lamb

 

Ciara Creedon reviews  an Irish-Belgian co-production adaptation of fantasy author Catherine S McMullen’s  haunting, visionary drama.

The Other Lamb is an Irish-Belgian co-production, written by Catherine S. McMullen and helmed by Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska. Selected for the Closing Night Gala of the 64th Cork Film Festival, it stars Raffey Cassidy as Selah, a teenage girl who has grown-up in a repressive, all-female cult referred to as the Flock. The cult members follow a man known as the Shepherd, their Charles Manson-esque messiah played by Michiel Huisman. As Selah reaches the cusp of womanhood, she begins to question her faith and her future role in the Flock. 

The cult resides in a remote countryside location, and the depiction of the women’s everyday lives clearly takes inspiration from the world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The Shepherd’s Wives all dress in red while the Daughters dress in royal blue. They are completely subservient to the Shepherd, all vying to be granted his “grace”, with the Wives’ bodies completely at his disposal. The Shepherd warns his followers about the rot of the outside world, full of “broken things” that they must stay away from. At the beginning of the film Selah is his most devoted daughter, one of his favourites due to her beauty as well as the fact that she has yet to get her period, which the Shepherd is disgusted by and describes as punishment for “Eve’s sin”. However, Selah becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Shepherd’s dogmatic regime, spurred on in part by the relationship she forms with the Shepherd’s former favourite and cult-outcast, Sarah (played skilfully by Denise Gough). Sarah reveals that the Shepherd was partly responsible for Selah’s mother’s death, and that he is not all-knowing and all-powerful but a cruel, fickle false prophet. Selah begins to have disturbing, grotesque visions as her doubts grow. When the police pay a visit to the Flock’s settlement, the Shepherd informs his followers that they must find a new home, and the journey proves to test the women’s belief like never before.

The most remarkable aspect of The Other Lamb is its cinematography. The film is visually stunning, shot entirely in Wicklow. The shots of the landscape are breath-taking, featuring sequences at Powerscourt Waterfall as well as Lough Tay, which the Shepherd describes as “paradise on earth”. The royal blue and crimson costumes worn by the cult members are striking against the de-saturated grey-green of the Irish countryside. The performances are strong all-round too. Raffey Cassidy does a stellar job as a teenage girl questioning the world around her and gaining confidence in her own strength – a lot of the shots rely on Cassidy’s ability to convey myriad emotions through facial expression alone. Michiel Huisman does a fine job too as smarmy cult leader, intent on taking advantage of vulnerable women. The film’s score, composed by Paweł Mykietyn, is minimalist but powerful and fitting. The film features many haunting acapella performances of folk songs by the cult members such as “Babes in the Wood” and “Down to the Valley to Pray”, as well as one pop song that fits surprisingly well – ‘The Last Goodbye’ by indie rock band The Kills.

The film has its flaws, particularly its slow and somewhat uneven pace. The symbolism can be quite heavy-handed too. The Flock own a literal flock of sheep from which they take literal sacrificial lambs. In one scene it is made clear that the Shepherd doesn’t want any male members in the Flock, and Sarah emphasises to Selah that there is only room for “one ram”. Driving this point home to the audience, the Flock own one actual ram whom Selah has frequent stares-off with, reflecting her growing distrust of the Shepherd. These points aside however, the film is an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch. Selah’s transformation from devout follower of a patriarch to a leader in her own right is explored very well, as well as the power of embracing female rage rather than shying away from it. The importance of having control over your own narrative is emphasised too; the Shepherd makes it clear that he is the only one allowed to tell stories, but Selah defies this and tells a story of her own. The final shot of the film will stay with you for a long time after viewing. The film is worth seeing for how beautiful the shots are alone, but it also explores Selah’s coming-of-age and the dismantling of a patriarchal community in a captivating way.

 

The Other Lamb screened on Sun, 17th Nov 2019 @ the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

   

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival’s screening of short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes.

Ten short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes had their world premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival on the 16th of November. Mags O’Sullivan of Screen Ireland introduced the programme of shorts by noting that 60% of them were directed by women and that 50% had female screenwriters, highlighting Screen Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality, which was evident across these shorts. The films ranged in their mode of expression and style—encompassing animation, documentary and live-action—but all engaged with types of community and identity, making for interesting comparisons and showing off Irish talent.

Lorraine Lordan’s A Cat Called Jam opened the programme with the humorous tale of a cat who sees himself as a dog and just wants to be part of the pack. Despite reactions suggesting he doesn’t quite fit in, Jam is persistent in his mission, lightheartedly singing about meat and chasing his tale like the other dogs. A beautifully drawn and well-crafted animation, this short has an uplifting message about finding the place you belong for yourself and being who you want to be. This message carried across several of the other films, with A Cat Called Jam offering an excellent start to the group.

The second film of the selection, Bryony Dunne’s Above the Law, explored communities in transit, cleverly drawing comparisons between paths of migratory birds and the, usually fraught, journeys of refugees and migrants. While the birds move freely, as they wish, between locations, closely examined only by birdwatchers, the refugees are instead seen by surveillance cameras patrolling borders, or those who must be ready to rescue them from overflowing boats. Moving between Cairo, Lesvos and Donegal, with narration from both migrants and those looking out for them, the film lets us literally fly along with the birds (with cameras attached) as we are grounded by the words spoken by these individuals. Above the Law faces difficult realities in a poetic and hopeful way, drawing to a close with a Syrian refugee in Ireland commenting that his “Irish passport is now [his] wings”.

A Better You, written and directed by Eamonn Murphy, brings us to a well-designed modern steampunk world with the advanced technology of programmable carbon clones alongside computers that are cranked to scroll through pages as you would archival material. In this setting, a shy man, Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) finally decides to purchase a “better version” of himself to go on a date with a girl he likes. Ó Meallaigh’s performance and the production design are both very strong and, after some light-hearted scenes setting up the clone, we are left with a similar message to that in A Cat Called Jam—that it is best to be yourself.

Ruari Robinson’s Corporate Monster takes a turn toward horror as an overworked and recently laid-off man in NYC takes some untested pills to help with his exhaustion. These further unravel him, causing him to see monsters all around him who pose as humans—from policemen to his former boss. Are the pills making him unstable, causing him to go on a rampage, or are they exposing the truth of the creatures living amongst us? The fast-paced Corporate Monster keeps you guessing with its impressive looking creatures, and makes you consider the perils of losing oneself in work and greed. It also offers some well-placed political commentary as the first appearances of these creatures are surrounding Trump on the stage during a televised speech.

Welcome to a Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, documents the creative process of dancer and choreographer of Oona Doherty. As Doherty explains that she had moved to Belfast from London, didn’t feel she fit in, and found a way to express herself through movement, we see her practicing her choreography in the street of a housing estate, as well as in an auditorium. This movement embodies not only herself, but the local identity. Welcome to a Bright White Limbo is artistically shot, capturing the arresting and emotive movements of Doherty, and offering insight into the thoughtful construction of her award-winning show, Hope Hunt.

In Claire Byrne’s Sister This, a simple phone conversation between two sisters reveals a depth of emotion and shines a light on the struggle to get by, and what is sometimes sacrificed to do it. With one sister abroad for work, and the other taking care of her son, they argue over the mother missing the boy’s birthday and about the safety of her line of work. Charlie Bailey and Jordanne Jones deliver strong performances as the sisters, packing this short with an emotional punch.

Based on Ryan’s essay “The Fear of Winning”, Iseult Howlett’s cleverly named The Grass Ceiling is a short documentary in which three of Ireland successful female athletes—Rianna Jarrett, Elise O’Byrne White and Ryan herself—relate what sport means to them. Through this a portrait is spun of powerful, inspiring women who resist constrictive and conservative gender expectations. Finding their place and their confidence through their athleticism, these women serve as strong role models. The Grass Ceiling rightfully showcases their talents and perspectives, which are often overlooked in favour of the male athletes who are more frequently in the spotlight, and is itself a powerful and inspiring film.

Sophia Tamburrini’s Maya stars Pat Shortt as Ken, who lives happily connected to a machine that simulates his reality using his memories. However, as his payments for this run out, he will soon be confronted by reality. Maya sensitively explores loss and what grief can do to a person—replaying memories and subtly overwriting them through time until we are faced with a new reality. Tamburrini smartly uses elements of sci-fi in this film as a way to confront what are equally natural processes. 

Kalchalka, directed by Gar O’Rourke, documents “the world’s most hardcore gym”—Kiev’s outdoor Soviet scrap metal gym, offering a snapshot of the day-to-day running of this unique place and the variety of individuals that use it. Well put-together shots tell the story of this space as its caretaker brings us through it, providing several humorous moments. The gym equipment and construction is interesting in itself, but the glimpses we are given of the characters that populate it leave an even bigger impression. Personalities are well-captured here, often simply through gesture.

Finally, rounding off the programme was Brendan Canty’s Cork-based Christy, which received quite a few cheers from the home crowd. This short follows a 16-year-old as he goes on a disappointing job interview and is brought back to good spirits by his friends. Showing off plenty of Cork charm, in a similar vein to The Young Offenders, the film deftly moved between heartfelt moments and humour, ending the Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts with plenty of laughs.

 

The Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts programme screened on 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Cork on Camera

Emma Keyes checks out a programme of Cork-themed films from collections at the IFI Irish Film Archive. 

The Cork on Camera programme, put together by the Irish Film Institute, consisted of short films made in and about Cork between, with the earliest from 1902 and the latest from 1978.  The sound section included a short documentary about the sculptor Seamus Murphy, “The Silent Art” from 1959, directed by Louis Marcus, a half-travelogue, half-advertisement commissioned by the DuPont Chemical Company in 1978, “Travels Through Erin”, and a short film directed by Colin Hill in 1972 called “Dark Moon Hollow”. The silent section included three very short films by the Kenyon and Mitchell Film Company from 1902 and an un-finished travelogue, “Car Touring,” directed by Jim Mullerns in 1965. Paul Smith provided improvised piano accompaniment to the silent portion of the program.

“The Silent Art” looks at Cork through the lens of Murphy’s work there. The narration states, “These are people of character in a city of contrasts,” but the twelve-minute film does not much delve into what exactly makes Cork a city of contrasts. Still, the film lingers over Murphy’s work all over Cork, including the Church of Annunciation and sculptures and carvings at University College Cork and the Cork City Hospital. The bells of Shandon Tower serve as a auditory through line as the film returns to them again and again. We get an inside look at Murphy’s studio and Murphy and his young daughter as he works on a bust of her. The film ends with some musings on Cork and art. The film is a worthwhile historical glimpse of a city and one of its storied residents. “The Silent Art” can be viewed on the IFI Player online.

“Travels Through Erin” shows Ireland through the eyes of outsiders. (“Beauty abounds in the land of the leprechaun” is a real line that is said in this short.) The film could be compared to cotton candy for its airy quality and lack of substance, but it was an enjoyable watch nonetheless. More than a film, this piece is an advertisement for the sweaters made out of the acrylic yarn created by the DuPont Chemical Company, but the models are charming and beautiful and they pose in all kinds of picturesque locations around County Cork. Sometimes there’s no need for more.

An elderly man (played by James Dempsey with voiceover narration by Dan Donovan) goes on a journey “walking the River Lee to its source in Gouganne Barra” in “Dark Moon Hollow.” This lovely little film takes its time following this man from one end of County Cork to the other and listening to his musings about life as he goes. As the man says at one point, “London is a long way off from this place.” The bells of Shandon feature again, of course, as one of County Cork’s most distinctive sounds and views. Although mostly in English, the man includes some Irish, some of which he translates and some of which he leaves untranslated: a small prize for those in the know. And Gouganne Barra looks much the same now as it does in the images in this film from 1972. 

The three Kenyon and Mitchell films are examples of early “actuality films”. Each short is only a minute or two long and shows Cork City people going about their lives. “Tram Ride from King’s Street to St. Patrick’s Bridge, Cork” and “Views of the Grand Parade, Cork” both show the streetscape, complete with streetcars with open double-decker tops, horses pulling carts, and people of all stripes walking the streets. “Cork Fire Brigade Turning Out” showcases the Cork Fire Brigade as they go through various fire-fighting exercises. These three shorts are entertaining as a small anthropological glimpse into Cork City of more than a century ago.

Finally, the last film in the programme, the unfinished travelogue, “Car Touring” exudes 1960s vibrancy. The clothing, the hairstyles, the cars, the furniture, and just about everything else speak to such a specific historical moment. The unnamed people/characters eat and drink their way around County Cork, seeing Ireland in the way that most people say you should: just driving around and stopping when you feel like it. They kiss the Blarney Stone, they go to Kinsale, they stroll the streets of Cork City. Life unfolds around them in both color and black and white footage. The film match cuts scenes of a young woman driving one car with a young man in the passenger seat with another young woman driving a second car. That film also cuts to various gorgeous shots of the Cork landscape. It’s just a shame this film was never finished, but I found it delightful to watch nonetheless and the piano accompaniment here was particularly good.

 

The Cork on Camera programme screened on Fri., 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Evening Redness of the South

Emma Keyes takes in Colin Hickey’s dialogue-free, poetic feature.

The Evening Redness of the South, written, directed, and edited by Colin Hickey, follows a working-class father and son in County Cork from building site to building site, intercut with stunning imagery of the landscape. The film contains no dialogue, making it a twenty-first century kind of silent film, albeit one that also lacks titles cards. As an exercise in avant-garde filmmaking, the film can be compelling and confusing at the same time. The narrative has a hard time revealing itself and so often we’re left with what feels like decontextualized visuals.

Hickey has a visual preoccupation with the male body at work. The camera lingers on images of a man’s bare back, his hands, his feet, and the tools he uses and Hickey returns again and again to these images. Since the narrative aspect of the film lacks clarity, the visuals come to the forefront of the viewing experience, especially because so many of the images in this film feel akin to paintings in their vividness and in their stillness. Hands touch in close-up visually calling to mind the way that God and Adam’s hands meet in Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Later we get crucifixion imagery when the man rests a shovel across his bare shoulders. And with no dialogue, people’s gazes take on a particular significance. The film holds the thought that none of us can ever stop touching or looking, even if we don’t have anything figured out.

Everything is set against the sky in this film. Buildings and structures jut up into the sky, filling the frame. The low-camera angle dominates throughout, such that the sky takes up the majority of many shots. The Heavens press down on men at work and men at rest. The soundscape lulls you into a rhythm. The film feels like a hymnal, even if it’s not sure to what exactly it is praying. The sacred and the profane come together in a life.

According to Hickey during the audience Q&A after the screening, the story came together in the post-production process. Much of the acting was improvised on camera and Hickey said, “I didn’t direct them. Their performances are their own.” Perhaps the story would have felt more cohesive with a clearer sense of direction going into the production process. Still, Hickey made clear that his film was “driven by images, sound, colour, light” in the tradition of pure cinema and it very much fits into that tradition.

The Evening Redness of the South screened on 13th November as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Floating Structures

Emma Keyes takes a look at Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward’s  Floating Structures, a flâneur-like quest to consider the gravity-defying mysteries of structural engineering.

The screening for Floating Structures, directed by Feargal Ward and Adrian Duncan, opened with the duo’s short film Memory Room, an otherworldly disorienting film plunged deep in a snowy expanse. Sisyphus probably would have recognized his own situation in the actions of the unnamed protagonist who drags a sled through the snow for twenty-two minutes. Since the film has little plot to speak of outside of that, the aesthetics become all the more notable. Visually, the film sets up a monochromatic dichotomy: white and black, light and shadow, night and day. The soundtrack adds a cerebral element that helps the film keep its audience’s attention. Memory Room is a striking avant-garde piece.

Floating Structures follows a man on a quest to find a bridge in Germany. He’s an engineer by training and his view of the world around him is funneled through the skillset and set of experiences; he has the mind of an analyst. The bridge at the centre of the initial quest no longer exists, but that sends the protagonist (a fictional construction) veering off in different directions as he travels around Europe putting his engineer’s brain to use.

The most frustrating aspect of Floating Structures is the monotonous voice of the narrator character. He never modulates his tone, pitch, or speed at all, which makes it hard to focus on what he’s saying. Fundamentally, a meditative personal essay about engineering has trouble sustaining itself for the entirety of a feature-length film. I am not an engineer and maybe if I were I would disagree, but at times I found the film somewhat self-indulgent and too slow. The voiceover certainly played a part in that as did the fact that much of the forage was slightly slowed down so that we weren’t watching in real time. Additionally, the camera movement and the score also moved at just about the same pace for the whole film. Those compounding monotonous elements lulled me into a near stupor and so I did not retain as much information from the film as I might have hoped.

I found the Q&A with Adrian Duncan after the screening to be more interesting than the film itself. His thoughts on he and co-director’s practice were enlightening and helped to flesh out the film. Duncan and Ward “weren’t interested in showing them [buildings] in a beautiful architectural sense” but rather in an analytical sense. They were also interested in blurring the lines between documentary and fiction filmmaking: hence the fictional protagonist in the real world offering up a factual narration of that world. Although the character is not real, “in none of the buildings or history of the buildings was anything sexed up.” The protagonist “never goes beyond a cypher” just like the unnamed protagonist of Memory Room. Ward and Duncan have interesting ideas and I just wish they had managed to convey them more effectively on screen. Still, any architects or structural engineers should at least get a kick out of Floating Structures even if I didn’t.

 

Floating Structures screened on 14th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Lost Lives

 

 

Emma Keyes was at the Cork Film Festival to see Lost Lives, Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt’s film adapted from the book that aims to document the stories of the men, women and children who have died as a result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

William Kinney. Stephen Keating. Malcolm and Peter Orr. Philip Rafferty. William Gordon Gallagher. Danielle Carter. John, Anna, Jacqueline, and Anne Marie O’Brien. Julie Statham. James Joseph Connolly. Julie Livingstone. James Kennedy.

These are just some of the civilians, soldiers, and paramilitary fighters who died as a direct result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and that the film Lost Lives, co-directed by Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt, attempts to illustrate. The film adapts the book of the same name that chronicles every one of the more than 3700 people who lost their lives during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Each of the nearly twenty stories is narrated by a different actor from the island of Ireland (Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Rea, Roma Downey, and Kenneth Branagh, to name just a few). Every story helps to illustrate the way in which, as stated by the mother of the murdered Orr brothers, “It’s like sitting back and watching a nation commit suicide…and there’s nothing you can do about it.” No one story rises above any other as more powerful, rather each story builds upon the ones that came before it, rising to a crescendo that cannot be looked away from. 

This film does not interest itself in the political, social, religious, or economic realities and machinations of the Troubles. Other books and documentaries have done thorough jobs pinning down just how the Troubles came to be, so for a viewer who knows nothing about the twentieth century history of Northern Ireland, Lost Lives is not the best starting point for learning that context. Hewitt and Lavery focus on showcasing a cross-section of stories of people who died by gunfire, bombings, and suicide during the Troubles and after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This approach emphasizes the human element of the conflict which makes for hard but necessary viewing.

While every story the film highlights devastates, the film’s aesthetics undercut the power of its narrative. In various moments throughout the film, the score overpowers the narration and visuals, telling us how to feel instead of letting the stories stand for themselves. The visuals also often left something to be desired. Visually, the strongest moments of the film occurred when the filmmakers showed archival footage from the time period: bombings, funerals, and daily life. Had the whole film consisted of archival footage with voiceover narration on top, the film would have been visually tight and arresting. Instead, Lavery and Hewitt intercut random footage of various scenes of landscapes, animals, and decaying buildings.

In the Q&A after the screening, Hewitt, with regards to the footage, said, “We didn’t want to go and film somewhere that directly related to what we were reading in the book,” and, “It was about creating space for the words.” That justification is understandable, but nonetheless, the random footage creates a distance between the narrative and the audience when the film would have been better served by trying to create an immediacy between the two. The natural aesthetics imbue the film with a sense of the mystical and epic and unknowable when really the tragedy of the situation in Northern Ireland is in how utterly mundanely human it all is. The natural world has little to do with humans killing one another.

Although the aesthetics undermine the power of Lost Lives, the film still stands as an important testament to a traumatic time period whose repercussions resonate in Northern Ireland today. The film bears witness to the more than 3700 people dead in this conflict and so must we.

 

Lost Lives screened on 8th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Yellow Bittern

Julie Crowley was at the Cork Film Festival to see Alan Gilsenan’s documentary biopic of Liam Clancy, which celebrates its  tenth anniversary this year.

The Yellow Bittern is a 2009 music documentary about Liam Clancy, of the influential folk music group The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem. Directed by Alan Gilsenan, the current Film Artist in Residence at UCC, it tells the fascinating story of Clancy’s life and musical career. I was lucky enough to attend the screening at Cork Film Festival in the Gate Cinema, which was followed by a question-and-answer session with director Alan Gilsenan and Carrie Crowley. 

The documentary chronicles Liam Clancy’s life, from his childhood in Carrick-on-Suir to his successful career in America. It combines studio interviews with Clancy, archival concert footage, newsreels, home videos, and personal photographs from the Clancy family. It’s an intimate biopic that gives insights into one of Ireland’s best-loved balladeers.

The group, comprising Paddy, Liam and Tom Clancy, and their friend Tommy Makem, went on to achieve international success that paved the way for other folk artists and played a vital part in the revival of folk music in New York City. The group performed at Greenwich Village and earned a favourable reputation.

Their trademark Aran sweaters were originally a gift from the Clancy siblings’ mother for the cold American winters. Liam Clancy became friendly with Diane Guggenheim, an heiress who developed feelings for him. The documentary team and Clancy returned to the Guggenheim House where he recalled his time there.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem performed on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1961, which brought them to an audience of millions and performing sold out concerts in Carnegie Hall and playing for John F. Kennedy at the White House. They collaborated with famous musicians such as Pete Seeger, Odetta, and Josh White. Bob Dylan was influenced by the group, describing Liam Clancy as the best ballad singer he had ever heard. In a then-controversial move, they supported the American Civil Rights Movement by performing concerts to raise money for the cause. Clancy also spoke out against the Vietnam War, having witnessed the tragic return of soldiers’ body bags in New York during the war. 

The band released many successful folk songs and ballads over their long, illustrious career, including The Parting Glass, Will Ye Go Lassie Go, Finnegan’s Wake and The Irish Rover. They broke up due to interpersonal conflicts, later reforming successfully in the ’80s. Liam Clancy pursued a solo career and later re-joined Tommy Makem for a series of successful albums and won a Canadian Emmy for his television show.

Clancy speaks about his struggles with alcoholism and panic attacks at the height of their touring success. He became reliant on alcohol to quell nerves, eventually giving it up for his family’s sake. 

The documentary is poignant at times. Many of the people involved in Liam Clancy’s life story have since died. Clancy was the last surviving member of the group at the time the documentary was made. He feels the loss of his comrades and family members, and is conscious of his own mortality. Clancy passed away in 2009 in a Cork hospital, leaving a rich legacy of musical tradition. 

After the Film Festival screening, Gilsenan spoke about his friendship with the late Liam Clancy. They got to know each other well while making the film. He became forthcoming about his life while being interviewed. Gilsenan described the ‘wellspring of two folk traditions’ North and South of the Border, from the mothers of the Clancy Brothers and of Tommy Makem. He spoke about the rediscovery of important footage for the documentary, which they were fortunate to find. Clancy possessed rusty cans of old 16mm film which had never been developed. The film was brought to the Irish Film Institute and developed to reveal never-before-seen footage, including the video of Liam and Kim’s wedding ceremony and the after-party. 

Gilsenan also answered questions about his other features, including his current Ulysses project inspired by Molly Bloom, and his early documentary The Road to God Knows Where. A new edition of The Yellow Bittern is soon to be released. It contains extra footage, including Greenwich Village, interviews with Tommy Makem and a concert with Odetta. I was glad to get the opportunity to see this fantastic film again in a new context. Liam Clancy was a talented singer and musician who is sorely missed. The Yellow Bittern is an important Irish film that chronicles an icon of folk music. 

 

The Yellow Bittern screened on 14th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Last Right

Kimberly Reyes checks in on new Irish comedy-drama The Last Right, Aoife Crehan’s feature debut, which premiered at the Cork Film Festival.

 

There are many reasons why one should not strike up a conversation with a nosey stranger on a long-haul flight. One of them would be ending up with an unwanted corpse to unload. This is the premise of newcomer Aoife Crehan’s comedy drama The Last Right. The film, written and directed by Crehan, plays on the tragedies of each of its character to create a humorous and absurd journey. 

Dutch actor Michiel Huisman has a fresh and alluring onscreen presence as Daniel Murphy, the film’s protagonist, an American who must come back ‘home,’ to Ireland, to deal with some unfinished business. Samuel Bottomley’s performance as the autistic teen Lois (Daniel’s main business) is even more affecting. 

But if you’ve seen Weekend at Bernie’sRain Man and The Legend of Billie Jean, you’ve kind of seen this film already, sans Irish accents and countryside. At points The Last Right is derivative enough to be parody: there’s a scene in which Daniel chases Lois in the rain as Lois runs out of the moving vehicle because he doesn’t feel safe. I sure hope Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman signed off on the tribute. But this scripting of autism doesn’t feel as tight and nuanced as it did in 1988 when Rainman was released, even if Hoffman’s character only represented a small percentage of autistics, as Lois oddly mentions in this film. 

And then there is the tired rom-com trope of a bad boy who keeps messing up after he reveals his dirty secret, which would lead many women to flee, but not his loyal, good-girl, manic pixie dream girl Mary (played by Niamh Algar). This setup is as old as the aforementioned movies the film “borrows” from, and it’s difficult to watch a woman earn a spot in a complicated man’s heart through enduring his meanness in this political climate. Having said that, the onscreen chemistry between Huisman and Algar is palpable. 

The movie shines when it centres on its characters’ lives in Ireland that could only take place in Ireland: a hilarious scene in a chipper, and relatable stories of Irish angst and youth (told as plot-tying reflection that could have been better served as flashback), and of course the stunning scenery of their journey from Clonakilty to Rathlin Island. And the journey’s pacing is entertaining most of the way through but making comedy out of tragedy is an Irish specialty that shouldn’t need to borrow any Americanness.

The Last Right screened on Thursday, 14th November as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

The Last Right is released in Irish cinemas on 6th December 2019.

 

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