Seán Crosson takes in Karl Golden’s Bruno, which follows an Irish homeless man who has drifted into a life on the streets of London.
Homelessness has been among the most prominent social challenges in recent years in Ireland, an issue the current administration has singularly failed to respond to effectively with the number of people classified as homeless crossing the 10,000 mark in recent months. This topic has already been addressed in Irish cinema, including Darragh Byrne’s Parked (2011) and more recently Paddy Breathnach’s and Roddy Doyle’s damning indictment of Irish society and the government’s response to homelessness, Rosie (2018). Karl Golden’s Bruno provides a further development to this theme by focusing on an Irish homeless man living in London, a city to which tens of thousands of Irish people have emigrated (with a considerable number there also ending on the streets). In his post screening Q&A, Golden talked about the background to Bruno as being inspired from his time living in London and encountering homeless people. The production provides a fictionalised and imaginative exploration of what might have happened in the life of one individual he witnessed to lead to their homelessness, as told through the story of Daniel, the central protagonist, brilliantly played by Diarmaid Murtagh.
We encounter Daniel first living with his dog Bruno in a garage lock-up from which he is evicted shortly thereafter. While seeking other accommodation, he witnesses a group of men trashing a local playground, with which we discover later he has a traumatic connection. When Daniel intervenes, he suffers a severe beating and ends up in hospital, losing his dog Bruno along the way. When he returns to the playground in an attempt to find Bruno, he encounters a young run-away boy called Izzy sleeping there. When Izzy insists on following Daniel around the city and helping him find Bruno, Daniel is forced to come to terms with a horrific moment of personal loss in his life.
Woody Norman as Izzy provides the heart of the film and Norman’s revelatory and complex performance belies his young years – he was only nine when the film was shot. Izzy offers a focus for Daniel in coming to terms with his own deep trauma and eventually a way to reconnect with society and his family.
The film is impressively shot by Jalaludin Trautmann, whose mostly handheld cinematography perfectly complements Daniel’s inner turmoil. As one audience member at the Galway premiere remarked, London, in all its greyness and glory, has rarely been captured as effectively on film. Golden reflected on the filming process following the Galway screening and described the process as almost guerrilla in nature – given the shoe-string budget available and the lack of permissions for some sequences (shot clandestinely).
Bruno is marked often by a lack of dialogue or communication; indeed Daniel hardly speaks throughout the entire film (until forced to do so), but yet in his gait and expression he communicates a deeper trauma, only revealed much later in the work. While homelessness may be prominently featured here, Bruno is above all a moving and sensitively told excavation of personal loss.
Stephen Burke was in Galway to witness firsthand Rose Dooley’s supernatural abilities that allow her to communicate with spirits.
Over the course of six days, 95 films were screened at the Galway Film Fleadh from a total of 36 different countries yet Irish comedy-horror Extra Ordinary may well have been the most anticipated of them all. It was one of the films announced early at the start of June and tickets sold out several weeks in advance. On the Saturday evening of the festival a very large crowd gathered outside the Town Hall Theatre before the domestic premiere with co-directors Mike Ahern and Enda Loughman present alongside leading performers Maeve Higgins and Will Forte. The marketing team even went the extra mile by offering free shots of an alcoholic drink referred to as “ectoplasm” (as you will learn below, ectoplasm plays a key part in Extra Ordinary).
Once inside, I found myself seated next to one of the country’s most esteemed producers and to this person’s left was one of Ireland’s best-known and highly regarded actresses. When an audience member (and fellow reviewer) decided to exit the row a time too many, the producer wryly declared that she wouldn’t be letting the offender back in upon his return and that he’d have to sit on the floor. While the threat was tongue in cheek, the idea of patrons being reduced to standing or sitting on steps started to look like a real possibility as the crowd continued to stream through the door. Eventually, every seat in the auditorium was filled and the lights dimmed.
In Extra Ordinary Maeve Higgins stars as Rose Dooley, a lonely woman working as a driving instructor somewhere in small town Ireland. This uneventful existence is in direct contrast to her childhood days, a time when Rose used her paranormal abilities to assist her father (Risteard Cooper, mainly seen in flashbacks but funny), a spiritualist and TV personality. One day a terrible accident left Rose without a father but with a great feeling of guilt instead due to her perceived part in the tragedy (an incident Rose refers to as dad-slaughter). From that day on Rose shunned her psychic gifts.
Martin is a widower living with his teenage daughter Sarah (Emma Coleman). This is no normal household though as the spirit of Martin’s deceased wife Bonnie continues to linger (quite literally), bringing extreme nuisance to their lives rather than any fear. Martin is regularly the victim of minor acts of violence at Bonnie’s expense. “Catastrophes” such as choosing the wrong shirt or placing a bowl into a plate spot of the dishwasher result in swift reprehension for him (for example cabinet doors are regularly slammed against Martin’s head by his not quite late spouse). He enlists Rose’s services, initially under the false pretense of requiring driving lessons. The truth soon emerges though with Martin admitting that he needs Rose to bring her spiritual talents out of retirement so she can help rid him of Bonnie’s meddlesome presence. That’s not even the half of it though. What’s more pressing is the fact that lately Martin has found Sarah levitating above her bed. Christian Winter (Will Forte) is the man behind this. Winter, a once-famous for fifteen minutes rock-star, now living in Ireland (for tax purposes no less) has somehow become convinced that the demonic sacrifice of a virgin will reignite his long since evaporated musical talents (if they ever existed at all). Sarah fits the bill perfectly for this purpose as far as Winter is concerned.
In most cases Rose would have flat out refused to get involved in something like this. However, as she’s quite smitten with Martin she agrees to assist him, explaining that the only way to prevent Winter’s dastardly wishes from coming to fruition is to collect enough ectoplasm (told you it plays a key part) to be able to cast a specific spell. To obtain this ectoplasm they have to partner up and carry out a series of exorcisms all over town. In these instances Martin is required to inhabit the spirit of the deceased so Rose can expunge it.
The script plays to Maeve Higgins’ strengths (she has a writing credit) and her charming awkwardness brings about many of the laughs. In the post screening Q&A, Ahern and Loughman explained that from day one the part was written with Higgins in mind. Higgins joked that the character is not based on her in real life.
Over the past few years, strong central performances in films such as Jimmy’s Hall and Maze have cemented Barry Ward’s reputation as an actor of real pedigree. Those were dramatic turns however and comedy is a whole other discipline. Apparently Ward turned down the role in Extra Ordinary at the first time of asking. Luckily for him so that he reconsidered, as he has now added the bow of comedy to his string of talents. He gives a very funny performance, especially in the scenes where Martin is forced to inhabit spirits and operate as multiple personalities at once, showing a real flair for physical comedy.
As antagonist Christian Winter, Will Forte sports a ridiculous moustache and carries a large magical wooden staff (referred to at one point as a “willy stick”), which directs him in his evil underworld dealings. The character doesn’t feel new but more like the kind of villain we’ve become accustomed to seeing in comedy-horrors like Extra Ordinary. Forte can do this kind of thing in his sleep and although he hams it up suitably, I have to admit that his shtick got repetitive quickly (more a script issue than an actor issue), save for some very funny moments during the final act. His involvement will likely help the film to find a foreign audience though. Claudia O’ Doherty, so very funny in last year’s The Festival, is a rather irritating presence this time around. She plays Winter’s wife and her character’s response to every problem seems to be to “kill the bitch”, a statement that becomes a catchphrase very quickly and loses steam even quicker. Extra Ordinary works best when focusing on the relationship between Martin and Rose. Both of them are sympathetic characters and it’s not hard for the audience to root for them to end up together.
One area that the film certainly succeeds in is tone. In an early scene Rose stands at her father’s roadside grave and dolefully says: “I’m very sorry for murdering you daddy.” Maeve Higgins’ innocent and deadpan delivery makes this line genuinely funny. Add to this the fact that Barry Ward’s character’s full name is Martin Martin and you know what you’re in for. Ahern and Loughman are in no doubt about the kind of movie they want Extra Ordinary to be – a funny one. The film is a comedy above all else and while there are of course some touching moments, at no point does the humour play second fiddle. The absurd mood remains consistent from the opening title (a Fargoesque “Based On A True Story”) right through to the final piece of dialogue, a gloriously savage condemnation. Although paranormal activity is the theme, Extra Ordinary is never really scary at all. It’s not clear when the film is set. It could easily be the present day but there are glimpses of VHS tapes and cassettes on occasion. Regardless, there is a retro look to Extra Ordinary that is reminiscent of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace in terms of atmosphere and it serves the comedy well.
The storyline itself is not exactly the most original. To be fair though, one promo did advertise the film as “Father Ted meets Ghostbusters” which is pretty much on the nose. There are many little witty details specific to Ireland that will be appreciated by the domestic audience. Credit to the filmmakers too for avoiding some of the obvious Irish tropes. In the post screening Q&A they explained that in writing the script, they only had three rules – “No priests. No drinking. No IRA”. Extra Ordinary has secured North American distribution and it will be interesting to see how it travels. For example, the Americans are unlikely to appreciate the cameos from Mary McEvoy and Eamon Morrissey as much as us locals!
It’s no secret that Extra Ordinary scooped the Fleadh Award for Best Film. The audience at the screening certainly appreciated it too with many people in hysterics throughout. However, it has to be said that at a film festival (especially on home soil), the laughter will always be louder and the plaudits always greater. The thing most people will want to know is if the film is actually funny. The answer is that Extra Ordinary is fun and has plenty going for it but I don’t feel it’s the hilarious work of originality that many might proclaim it to be. Not every gag hits home and in parts the script is a bit flabby. However, the jokes do come at a breakneck pace and are so frequent in fact that there are probably more laughs in this film than the average comedy. On the other hand though, this also means there’s quite a number of misses too.
George Brennan’s score is fantastic and the parts of Extra Ordinary that are funny are very funny indeed. There is some great use of dialogue in the script with certain lines likely to be quoted years from now, e.g, Martin fears his daughter will become a “homeless sex maniac on the streets snorting hash”. At another point Christian Winter’s laments: “Can one not just sacrifice a virgin in peace?” The finale is also a completely bizarre and off the wall spectacle with the film boasting one of the most imaginative and least gratuitous threesomes you are ever likely to see on screen.
In general, there is much to like about Extra Ordinary but be warned… It’s not a comedy to suit everyone and viewers will likely need to be in the right mood for it. Extra Ordinary feels like a cult film in the making. However, if future audiences like it as much as those at the Fleadh did, then it might become more than that.
Seán Crosson reflects on Aodh Ó Coileáin’s exploration of confluence.
Galway has long been regarded as the cultural capital of Ireland. However, this reputation has rarely been interrogated on film to identify what may make the city and surrounding county distinctive for creative artists, and the more complex story that may lie behind this description. Aodh Ó Coileáin’s Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody addresses these questions through reflections from an array of Galway based artists from varied fields, including musician/composer Máirtín O’Connor; novelist Mike McCormack; poet Rita Ann Higgins; artistic director of Macnas Noeline Kavanagh; singer songwriter Róisín Seoighe; visual artist Pádraic Reaney; and comedian Tommy Tiernan.
These reflections are accompanied by stunning imagery of Galway city and county that perfectly complements the perspectives offered while confirming the scenic beauty of the area that provides inspiration for many of those featured. Within the documentary, each contributor reflects on their own creative process and the inspiration they have taken from the space around them – these are not always entirely positive recollections; they speak to the complexity of Galway as a space, as well as the challenges of the artistic process itself. The creative work of each contributor is threaded through the documentary, providing musical, visual, and literary accompaniment to their words and the images featured.
A recurring trope throughout the work is the concept of confluence (one of the many definitions provided for Cumar in the production) – Galway through history has been above all a meeting place, most obviously for the waterways across the city that converge in Galway Bay, but also for the many individuals down the years of varied backgrounds, cultures and languages that have interacted, and influenced each other while making Galway their home. Ó Coileáin foregrounds this theme of interaction through a conversation between Tommy Tiernan and Mike McCormack, to which the production repeatedly returns.
Given the presence of Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht in the county, Ó Coileáin rightly chooses to take a bilingual approach to the topic and the Irish language itself is a recurring theme, even among writers (such as Rita Anne Higgins) who write primarily in English. However, there is also a tension evident here at times, articulated most clearly by Tiernan who refers to the linguistic divide between the city and Gaeltacht area.
There is a further critique evident by Mike McCormack of the failure of the city to provide adequate exhibition space for the visual arts in particular. While Galway may pride (and market) itself on the prominence of culture and the arts, there is a strong sense expressed across several of the contributors here that this status is not always supported appropriately in terms of either facilities or support provided for the arts in Galway.
However, overall this is a celebratory work. In advance of Galway taking over as European Capital of Culture next year, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody is a timely, engaging and at times provocative reflection on Galway (city and county) as a distinctive place from the perspective of some of the city and county’s leading creative figures.
Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)
Seán Crosson took in a selection of documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent.
A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme.
The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.
The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.
More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.
The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production.
Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.
Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.
Pigeons of Discontent
The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them.
Siomha McQuinn gives up her seat for Shelly Love’s A Bump Along the Way.
A Bump Along the Way, a product of an all-female creative team and winner of Best Irish First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, is about the tumultuous relationship between happy-go-lucky Pamela and her 15-year-old daughter, Allegra, who does not shy away from scolding her mother’s behaviour. Picture a modern-day Gilmore Girls but the relationship between the Lorelei and Rory is more hostile, Rory is a vegan and Stars Hollow is now a gossipy town in Derry.
After a night of lacklustre romance with a younger man, Pamela is baffled to find herself pregnant. Her situation is far from ideal as the father wants nothing to do with her and she can barely make ends meet in her current situation. The news puts further strains on her relationship with Allegra and the pair must learn to navigate their reality as they prepare for the arrival of their newest family member.
Many of the ideas in this film are already well-trodden paths such as the mother/daughter role-reversal and the absent father. However, both Pamela and Allegra are given narratives that are separate to the central relationship and this makes the world of the film richer.
The role of Allegra is played by Lola Petticrew, who won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for her performance. She switches seamlessly between being a callous and bitter teenage daughter and a shy, artistic student who falls prey to some of her classmates. Her acting style is very natural as she creates a character who is quietly brave. The way she treats her mother initially seems disproportionately cold and unfair but with the realisation that Allegra is having a difficult time in school, and the knowledge that Pamela’s pregnancy will only act as fuel for her bully’s taunts, it is easier to empathise with a teenager who is doing her best to survive a tough time in her life.
Bronagh Gallagher, who plays Pamela with big-eyed lovability, is clueless to Allegra’s bullying. She is well-meaning but vulnerable, which makes the growth of her character even more pleasing. A party-girl by nature, she is restless during her pregnancy and it is endearing to watch the pure torture that it is for her stay at home and rest, made worse by Allegra’s increasingly busy social calendar.
Apart from Pamela’s delightful baker boss and Allegra’s kind teacher, men are painted in an almost entirely negative light; from the father of Pamela’s unborn child, who is fiercely unkind when discovering the pregnancy, to Allegra’s father who kicks up a fuss when asked to contribute financially. Their characters lack much intricacy, but this is easily forgiven as A Bump Along the Way is a film that champions women and delves into their complexities, making a slight dent into the massive backlog of films that represent women through flimsily constructed characters. These typical toxic male characters are there to aid the narrative. Pamela realises that she needs to stand up to the negative men in her life if her daughter is ever to respect her.
A Bump Along the Way is a sweet and uplifting film about female relationships, the difficulties of life in a small town and the power of standing up for yourself. Despite engaging with difficult topics like bullying and misogyny it remains light and upbeat. It is satisfying and fun and suggests a bright future for the women involved in its production.
Siomha McQuinn takes in Sophie Hyde’s film about two long-time friends and party-lovers navigating life and love in Dublin.
Animals, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, is a romantic and rebellious adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s book of the same title. Its central characters, Laura and Tyler, are best friends living Sauvignon-Blanc-fuelled lifestyles in Dublin. Laura is an introspective writer who expresses herself privately through her journals, while Tyler is unapologetic and opinionated, the type of person who will condemn the institution of marriage but come wedding dress shopping to avail of the free champagne. They aid each other in avoiding responsibility through a friendship that knows no boundaries. However, once Laura meets Jim, a charming, successful pianist, their friendship begins to experience difficulties.
The film finds Laura situated precariously between the two lives that she can lead. Her options are a carefree lifestyle of drinking and drug-taking with Tyler or a calmer life with Jim in which she can grow as a writer and perhaps follow in her sister’s footsteps by settling down and starting a family. Laura initially appears to favour the latter. As her relationship with Jim develops, Laura blossoms and his influence spurs her on to develop a consistent work ethic. However, she begins to flirt with her old lifestyle by way of handsome and intellectual poet, Marty, a distraction that Tyler encourages as she sees as the opportunity to reclaim the old Laura. It becomes clear that Laura cannot stretch herself between her two worlds and must find a way to reconcile with her reality.
Partying provides the foundation for Laura and Tyler’s relationship and therefore drinking culture takes centre stage in Animals. The characters are frequently intoxicated and rarely seen without some form of alcohol in hand. They comically circle clubs pouring the dregs from other people’s drinks into their own glasses. The frequency with which they drink can be overwhelming but is indicative of the way people socialise in modern society.
The backdrop of their boozy nights is Dublin and while this film strives to explore a different kind of woman onscreen it also offers a different cinematic imagining of Dublin. The film avoids focusing on recognisable Dublin landmarks opting to film terrace houses and side streets by night and Georgian interiors as part of Dublin’s literature scene. Director Sophie Hyde remarks on this being a pronounced choice to capture the Dublin of an insider instead of a touristic viewpoint. It is an intimate look at the lives of two young women and the way in which it is shot enhances this.
Animals is an engaging and enjoyable film. It gives audiences a different perspective on what it means to be a woman represented onscreen. The two leads are impulsive, flawed and messy and this is shown in a way that is neither judgemental or glorified but at times these characters are not fully plausible. For example, a flashback in which Laura’s sister strips naked and climbs on top of a bar counter, only to set fire to her pubic hair, is jarring and seems outrageous even for the world of the film. The characters are extreme subversions of the traditional woman. That being said, it is a rich, thoughtful film with some very funny moments. It is an exciting example of the female-centred, female-made content that is making waves across the film industry.
Siomha McQuinn reflects onDathai Keane’s offbeat, mysterious, fantasy drama, which is the first film to emerge from the Cine4 scheme.
Dathai Keane’s Irish language feature, Finky, was warmly received at its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh. Set between Galway and Glasgow, the ambitious, arty and action-packed film was brought home for its debut outing. This fever-dream of a film follows Micí Finky, a musician who is haunted by a dark past leading him to look for an escape. He finds himself in increasingly off-the-wall and dangerous situations which ultimately force him to confront his past once and for all.
Finky is a celebration of the Irish language. It catapults the language onto an exciting new terrain, far beyond the traditions of Irish-language filmmaking.
A puppet show opens the film and this whimsical and unconventional beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is made up of a series of sequences which defy expectations at every turn, leaving the audience clueless about what will happen next.
After a bust-up in Galway, Finky flees to Glasgow with his friend Tom where, after meeting an eclectic mix of characters, he is involved in an accident and becomes wheelchair bound. He seeks refuge in his state of reduced mobility but is not safe from his own memories. In an act of recklessness he finds himself recruited by a sinister circus which causes things to go from bad to worse in a spectacular final sequence.
The film originated as a character study and this is wholly apparent as it devotes itself to Finky’s viewpoint above all others. At times he is not likable and loses the empathy of the audience with his actions. It is a challenging character and is performed well by Dara Devaney. The erratic nature of Finky’s personality is mirrored in the events of the film.
In addition to Finky, the film has a wide range of colourful characters who bring different energies to the screen. The character of Bang Bang, played by the film’s co-writer Diarmuid De Faoite, provides comic relief with his eccentricities. His character is one of the contributors to the tone of the film shifting frequently; one moment it seems to demand that it is taken seriously while at other times it is farcical and surreal in nature.
The sensory experience of the film is enhanced with the use of a strong soundtrack. Dreamy, melodic pieces accompany the beautifully shot frames. Above all else, the film creates mood effectively. The visuals provide a dream-like quality to modern-day Galway and Glasgow.
Overall, Finky is a well-acted, engaging and memorable film. It could have benefited from a less complicated structure as it was at times confusing, however, it is sure to be a provocative film.
Finky screened11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)