Cork Film Festival Review: Certain Women

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Tom Crowley finds three to be a crowd Kelly Reichardt’s Certain Women, which played as part of the opening weekend of the Cork Film Festival in the Everyman Palace Theatre.

With her new film Kelly Reichardt returns to her feminist oeuvre after a brief foray in filmic activism with the eco-thriller Night Moves (2013). Shot on film, Certain Women has a certain raw quality, a look that is reminiscent of Chantel Akerman’s feminist masterpiece Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles (1975). However, Certain Women is no such masterpiece. Her best film still remains Wendy and Lucy (2008).

Certain Women does in fact share a lot of the same thematic qualities as Wendy and Lucy, especially in the crippling loneliness and stoicism embodied by Lily Gladstone’s character, a ranch hand in search for a meaningful relationship. The film is a triptych. We begin with the story of Laura (Dern), a lawyer who feels unvalued in her field because of her gender. She acts as a surrogate other-half, sister and mother to a disgruntled client Fuller (LaGros) whose marriage is falling apart.

Our second protagonist Gina (Williams) is also underappreciated. She is taken for granted within her family unit consisting of her pushover husband Ryan (LaGros) and bratty teenage daughter Guthrie (Rodier). The problem with the film as a whole is that the first two stories are significantly over-shadowed by the third.

Although feminist in context, it deals with the more universal theme of loneliness as Jamie (Lily Gladstone in a magnificent performance) goes in search of a meaningful relationship. In an attempt to connect with the world she goes to a night class she isn’t even signed up for. There she meets her teacher Beth (Stewart). Beth is a blindly ambitious and self-involved aspiring lawyer who makes a four hour trip twice a week to teach a class about ‘School Law’, a subject she knows nothing about just to please her bosses. Jamie sees a comparable loneliness in Beth and falls into silent infatuation. The ending to this particular panel is devastating.

The three narratives are loosely linked together by geography and ignoble relationships. The fact that the film is split into three stories helps ease Reichardt’s notoriously slow pacing. She is a director that really wants her audience to feel time. She is a committed realist. However, with Certain Women one could argue that Reichardt doesn’t get the dramatic balance right – although this opinion could be purely gender related. It is interesting that the connection that this reviewer felt most deeply with was Jamie. In the original short stories by Maile Melroy from which Reichardt adapted this film, the character of Jamie was a man. Reichardt changed the characters gender to appropriate her feminist agenda.

Certain Women premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in the U.S. in January 2106. It screened as part of 61st Cork Film Festival opening weekend in The Everyman Palace theatre Saturday 12th November and will get a limited release in Ireland on the 3rd March 2017.

The Cork Film Festival 2016 runs 11 – 20 November

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Review: Embrace of the Serpent

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DIR: Ciro Guerra • WRI: Ciro Guerra, Jacques Toulemonde Vidal • PRO: Cristina Gallego • DOP: David Gallego • ED: Etienne Boussac • MUS: Nascuy Linares • DES: Angélica Perea • CAST: Nilbio Torres, Jan Bijvoet, Antonio Bolivar, Brionne Davis, Yauenku Migue, Nicolas Cancino, Luigi Sciamanna, Edward Mayo

 

With his new film, Ciro Guerra intensifies his study of nature and travel, motifs which have pervaded his work thus far. Embrace of the Serpent is essentially a road movie set in the Amazonian jungle. The script is loosely based on the travel logs written by botanists from Sweden and American decades apart, both searching for the elusive and fabled yakruna plant. The explorers seek the plant for medical and spiritual reasons respectively.

The source material forces the split structure of the narrative between Theo’s (Bijvoet) journey in 1909 and Evan’s (Davis) in 1940. The two stories are unified by an Amazonian shaman Karamakate, played by Nilbio Torres in 1909 and Antonio Bolivar in 1940, as he is persuaded by the two travellers to aid them in their journey. In the earlier story, Karamakate is more sceptical and reluctant to help an ailing Theo, while an older Karamakate is more at peace and philosophical in his relationship with Evan.

The aesthetic of the film is quite dreamlike, which is intensified by the crisp black and white cinematography and the unconventional intercutting between the two stories. Guerra manages to capture the vast freedom and morbid fear of going into the great unknown. The director achieves this by using contrasting imagery of nature, from the beautiful to the vile. The film’s editing and the characters our travellers meet creates an almost psychedelic vibe not unlike Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England (2013). Both films also share a common theme of searching for the unknown.

The film’s subject matter harkens back to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979) in its depiction of a strange and reclusive cult, and the work of Werner Herzog in the overriding theme of the relationship between man and nature. Embrace of the Serpent is certainly a unique cinematic experience, however, the film’s relationship with itself stops it from becoming wholly immersive, juggling between the strikingly real nature of the setting and the mythical aspects that such great untouched beauty inevitably creates.

The film has garnered critical acclaim from critics and earned Columbia its first ever Oscar nomination for Foreign Language film. While the naturalistic storytelling and imagery is fantastic on a surface level, the finer points of the narrative require a fearless and deeply inquisitive traveller to fully appreciate, something which this reviewer cannot claim to be.

 

Tom Crowley

124 minutes
12A (See IFCO for details)

Embrace of the Serpent is released 10th June 2016

Embrace of the Serpent – Official Website

 

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Review: Victoria

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DIR: Sebastian Schipper • WRI: Olivia Neergaard-Holm, Sebastian Schipper, Eike Frederik Schulz • PRO: Sarah Green, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones • DOP: Sturla Brandth Grovlen • ED: Olivia Neergaard-Holm • DES: Uli Friedrichs • MUS: Nils Frahm • CAST: Laia Costa, Frederick Lau, Franz Rogowski

 

 

Victoria is a film with no breaking point, yet it somehow manages to have a three-act structure and a profound character arc. Susan Sontag in her seminal essay ‘Against Interpretation’ posits that the ability to see, hear and feel should surpass interpretation in terms of cinematic experience. Sebastian Schipper and his cinematographer Surla Brandth Grovlen come close to achieving this ideal in their new film which is made up of one 138-minute long continuous take. The film follows its titular character (Costa) during the small hours of a life-altering night. Her fate is changed by an encounter with a group of men in an underground Berlin night-club.

Victoria is a breath-taking technical feat, matched with thrilling narrative content. Andre Bazin theorised that the long take is a superior mode of filmmaking because it recognises that space and time exists. Victoria accomplishes extraordinary verisimilitude. At first it captures the madness and freedom of a crazy night-out. Following on Victoria manages seamless yet striking tonal shifts in real time. It demands audience involvement. We are not especially led to focus on anything as we would in a conventionally edited production. Although in some circumstances Grovlen’s camera does persuade and in some instances seems to take the perspective of Victoria.

In some ways Victoria looks to be influenced by Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void (2009). However, where Noe’s intent is metaphysical, Schipper’s raison d’etre is purely phenomenological. Long-take filmmaking is held in high regard, with many of cinemas greatest filmmakers including it as an aspect of their films. Most recently Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu created the illusion of such in his surrealist Oscar-winner Birdman, or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) (2014). The same goes for master filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock. Technology prevented him from making Rope (1948) a continuous take. Hitchcock used hidden cuts to give the appearance of real time. Victoria is not the first film to be made in one continuous shot, Alexander Sokurov’s Russian Ark (2002), made as almost a counterpoint to Sergi Eisenstein’s October (1927), will forever hold that title. However, in terms of this type of filmmaking and its relationship with narrative, Victoria seems like a significant landmark in cinema history.

Tom Crowley

138 minutes
15A (See IFCO for details)

Victoria is released 1st April 2016

 

 

 

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Review: Zootropolis

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DIR: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush • WRI: Byron Howard, Rich Moore, Jared Bush, Josie Trinidad, Jim Reardon, Phil Johnston, Jennifer Lee, Dan Fogelman • PRO: Clark Spencer • ED: Jeremy Milton, Fabienne Rawley • DES: David Goetz • MUS: Michael Giacchino • CAST: Ginnifer Goodwin, Jason Bateman, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Nate Torrence, Bonnie Hunt, Don Lake, Tommy Chong, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer, Alan Tudyk and Shakira

 

Before I get into my views on this film I must make clear that I am fully aware that this is a tonally light animation film. However, hidden within this ‘tonally light animation film’ is an elegantly told crime/mystery. It is also a fable about system failures and political corruption. In this anthropomorphic world a seal named Bunk Morland and a badger named Jimmy McNulty wouldn’t be out of place. There is (kind of) a Stringer Bell in the character Chief of Police Bogo who is voiced by Idris Elba, a water buffalo, who must report to Mayor Lionheart (Simmons) a lion.

There is a chain of command in Zootropolis, our hero rookie cop Bunny Hops (Goodwin) is at the bottom of it. Zootropolis is set in a world where the animal kingdom can get along civilly. Predator and prey can live side by side in the name of commerce. How this came to be is unexplained (as is the question as to what the carnivores eat). Our idealistic hero enters Zootropolis fresh from the police academy and ready to make a difference. She is swiftly brought down to earth by Chief Bogo who puts her on parking ticket duty. There is something amiss in Zootropolis however. Predatory animals are mysteriously reverting to their wild ways. It is up to Bunny and a fox named Nick Wilde (Bateman) (an odd couple situation) to crack the case against the odds and the pressure from superiors and society.

Not only does Zootropolis have a strong plot but also a fantastic message of tolerance and inclusion for audiences of all ages. Especially in the world climate we have found ourselves in today with the likes of Donald Trump and Isis attempting to poison our minds and outlooks on the world we live in. Zootropolis’ message is to treat everyone as an individual and don’t be too quick to judge.

Grievances lie in the film’s third act which is a little bit stretched, giving the feeling that it has two parts. This is a minor structural problem. Zootropolis ,while entertaining, is not consistently funny. Pop culture gags and parodies of The Godfather (1972) and Breaking Bad (2008-13) seem tired and unoriginal. Admirably, Zootropolis shares the same positive message as Fitz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), a silent film made 89 years previous. We as individuals have the authority to make our world a better place.

Tom Crowley

108 minutes

PG (See IFCO for details)

Zootropolis is released 18th March 2016

Zootropolis – Official Website

 

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ADIFF Review: Anomalisa

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Tom Crowley checks into Charlie Kaufman and Duke Johnson’s Anomalisa, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

Anomaly- ‘Something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected’

An anomaly is something that our protagonist Michael Stone (David Thewlis) is desperately searching for in Charlie Kaufman’s fantastic new stop-motion animation. Anomalisa is co-directed by stop-motion expert Duke Johnson and is an existential tale of depression, alienation and mundanity.

Michael Stone is a renowned customer-service specialist who flies to Cincinnati to give a speech at a convention. He stays at the Fregoli Hotel. ‘Fregoli’ does sound like the name of a posh hotel, but it is also a rare monothematic delusion. The Fregoli delusion is a rare disorder in which a person believes that multiple people are in fact the same person in disguise. Michael Stone has a variation of this disorder, and in turn while experiencing the film, so does the audience. Everyone’s voice is the same (voiced by Noonan in monotone) and everyone has the same blank face.

This represents Stone’s severe depression. Nothing excites him, people are boring to him. To talk on the phone to his wife and child is a chore for him. He doesn’t seem to like himself or what he has become. He lights up cigarettes almost ceaselessly to accentuate the pointlessness. During his one-night stay at the hotel he chases the past in desperation which only brings him to realise why it is the past.

Then he suddenly finds his anomaly, Lisa (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Hearing her voice down the hotel corridor he frantically chases her down. Lisa, although quite insecure, is the opposite of Stone. She finds beauty in the small things that life has to offer. She is fascinated by things that Stone finds melancholy. Lisa is a customer service team leader and is instantly infatuated with Stone, a supposed rock star in such a circle. Stone falls in love with her because she is different. He can’t get enough of hearing her voice.

However, for Kaufman, it is clear that this is a tale of depression. Stone’s mental illness becomes readily apparent. This is much to the confusion of Lisa, a breath of fresh air in this deeply existential and at times truly depressing narrative. With these two characters Kaufman endeavours to dissect a fragment of the human condition. When they are together the romance between Stone and Lisa is potent. As individuals, sadly, it could never work.

The humanity within this stop-motion animation is amazing. It is interesting to gauge this aesthetic with our connection to these characters’ unreal human bodies. It reminds one of the audience affiliation with the Operating System Samantha (voiced by Scarlett Johansson) in Spike Jonze’s Her (2013). In cinema when the body is taken out of the equation audiences have a different understanding and perception of character. Anomalisa certainly wouldn’t have had the same impact if the characters where played by Thewlis and Leigh in the flesh. To take leave from the real provokes unbiased metaphysical thought.

Anomalisa and Her share the same idea of a lonely man searching for the ideal. Kaufman’s long anticipated follow-up to Synecdoche, New York (2008) has been worth the wait as he continues to fuel self-reflection and existential thought in his audiences.

 

Anomalisa screened on 23rd February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (18 – 28 February)

 

 

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ADIFF Review: Mustang

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Tom Crowley checked out Mustang, which screened at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.

 

‘She will not laugh in public. She will not be inviting in her attitudes and will protect her chasteness’, a comment made by the former Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey during a speech on ‘moral corruption’ in 2014. When watching this Turkish coming-of-age drama one gets the feeling that it is an artistic rebellion against these misogynistic views. Mustang begins like so many Americanised coming-of-age dramas, on the last day of school. Six sisters, ages ranging from early to late teens, celebrate their freedom by diving into the ocean (fully clothed) with boys of similar age.

This innocent expression of budding sexuality is witnessed by a busy-body and soon becomes a scandal in the small Turkish village. The act sees the sisters held prisoner in their own home. An allegory for female sexual oppression in modern-day Turkey is readily apparent. The more the sisters rebel the more extreme the exclusion from society by their Grandmother (Koldas) and Uncle (Pekcan) becomes. Their vibrancy is slowly chipped away. Stripped of their individuality they are made to wear plain ‘shit coloured’ clothes.

Mustang points at the generation gap between the female villagers. The young, wild and free is juxtaposed with middle-aged women conditioned by a misogynist society. The film is seen very much through the eyes of the youngest sister Lale (Sensoy). She is the most rebellious. Her innocence and ungovernable nature sets her free from conservative views. However, she slowly sees her older sisters get swallowed up by their culture and the system of arranged marriages. We witness her trying to get her head around all of it, which makes the action even more poignant.

There is a brilliant sequence of liberation when the sisters escape to Istanbul to watch a soccer game in an all-female crowd. Men have been banned from the stadium on account of hooliganism. The sequence of joy and excitement is reminiscent of Jafar Panahi’s Offside (2006) about female oppression in modern day Iran. Offside, like all of Panahi’s films is banned in Iran. Mustang is edited by Panahi. The sister’s night-out comes at a price as their home quickly transforms into something more resembling a prison.

This has all the hallmarks of a passion project for first time director Erguven. Cinematographers Rami Agami and Mahmound Kalari lovingly shoot the sisters, evoking a heart-warming togetherness. Their bodies are usually basking in the Turkish sunlight, angels and nymphets. Comparisons can be made with Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides (1999), both aesthetically and thematically. Coppola framed her sisters in the same way. The Virgin Suicides was a condemnation of conservative views and the repression of young women in society. Like The Virgin Suicides, Mustang captures the farce of male hysteria surrounding female sexual awakening.

Mustang is far from perfect. The dialogue in the film can be heavy-handed where subtly should be key. Erguven at times resorts to trying to spoon feed us. The film’s antagonists could also be developed to create a further sense of realism surrounding the story.

However, Mustang is thematically and politically relevant. World cinema has an exciting new female voice.

 

Mustang screened on 19th February 2016 as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 18 -28 February) 

 

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Review: Southpaw

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DIR: Antoine Fuqua • WRI: Kurt Sutter • PRO: Todd Black, Jason Blumenthal, Antoine Fuqua, David Ranes, Alan Riche, Peter Riche, Ning Ye • DOP: Mauro Fiore • ED: Derek R. Hill • MUS: James Horner • DES: James D. Bissell • CAST: Jake Gyllenhaal, Forest Whitaker, Rachel McAdams, Naomie Harris, Curtis ’50 Cent’ Jackson, Oona Laurence, Rita Ora

 

Antoine Fuqua’s recent entry into the boxing canon Southpaw is visceral yet manipulative. It is a generic rags-to-riches story which includes a little girl (Laurence) whose sole purpose in the narrative is to try her best to make the audience weep. The film is steeped in melodrama.

Southpaw originated as vehicle for rapper Eminem who instead just provides the soundtrack. The lead role of Billy Hope (that’s no joke) was taken on by Jake Gyllenhaal. This proves a blessing for the film. Gyllenhaal’s performance as Billy Hope seems like Jake La Motta light. However, he adds a bumbling pathos to an innately clichéd character with an already well-worn path to follow down the film’s over-familiar plot.

Not only does Gyllenhaal borrow from Robert De Niro’s classic performance, Southpaw and its director borrows from almost every boxing film ever made, most glaringly from Raging Bull (1980). Fuqua lifts shots from a film which was so uniquely conceived 35 years previously. Genre tropes are hard to avoid in this kind of film but Southpaw indulges in them without a glimmer of self-consciousness.

Some fine acting by Gyllenhaal, McAdams as his wife and Forest Whitaker as his coach make this film watchable, but such is Fuqua’s appetite for the mundane, none of them can flourish. Gyllenhaal’s transformation is something to behold. The male body is something that has recently come to the forefront of Irish culture as the vast majority gaze toward the form of Conor McGregor in sexualised awe and appreciation. Gyllenhaal’s transformation from night crawler to buff brawler is commendable and raises more comparisons with De Niro’s ‘method’ acting in Raging Bull.

Fuqua not only sexualises his lead but also his counterpart McAdams. He does so for the sake of it. McAdams’ performance already oozes sexual confidence and social awareness. She is the brains of the operation. Fuqua ruins the elegance of her performance by exploiting her with his camera, like she is starring in a 50 Cent or Eminem music video. It is a misguided attempt at gender politics, another staple of the boxing genre.

Leger Grindon posits in his seminal essay Body and Soul: The Structure of the Boxing Genre ‘The boxer’s career unfolds in an exclusively male world which retards the fighter’s emotional development and intensifies his difference from women’. He goes on to say ‘In the romance, the female protagonist is associated with mainstream culture and the family’. All Billy knows is how to box. The distance from women is not as intense because of his relationship with his wife and daughter. However, it is them that teach him everything else he needs to know about life. McAdam’s character repeats the importance of home and family like it is a mantra, her philosophies are echoed by her daughter towards the end of the narrative.

 Grindon continues ‘Whereas the society of the boxer is defined not simply as male, but also as undeveloped and apart’. Billy Hope cannot conform to the rules of society. It is a tragic flaw for him, but especially for those closest to him. He constantly questions societal boundaries, lashing out in anger if he cannot transcend him, flipping tables if he cannot find the words he needs to express his feelings.

Causal filmgoers will probably enjoy this film. However, there are much better examples of this genre. Anyone who has seen the best ones will not enjoy such a clichéd affair. What must be stressed is do not, under any circumstances, watch the trailer for this film. It gives away too much plot points.

Tom Crowley

 

15A (See IFCO for details)
123 minutes

Southpaw is released 31st July 2015

 

 

 

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