June Butler enjoys a selection of exciting shorts celebrating the cinematic convergence of individual art forms and containing unique artistic narrative structures.
Bugaloo (DIR: Peter McCarthy/Ben Conway • WRI: Ben Conway)
Theo (Ruairi Heading) is on the run from the police. He dodges into the front garden of a large house and thinks he has evaded his pursuers. On the steps to the house sits Arthur (Moe Dunford), who ushers Theo into the house and makes him feel welcome. Tension slowly starts to mount however, when Theo realises that his seeming rescuer is not what he appears. Directors Peter McCarthy and Ben Conway have produced 14 perfect minutes of high tension juxtaposed over an incredibly distressed soundtrack that is flawlessly synchronised with the action. Moe Dunford is aptly cast as the sinister Arthur. So too is the hapless Theo played by Ruairi Heading. Bugaloo is well worth a second and third viewing.
Cave (DIR/WRI: Dermot Malone)
Jordan (Alan Mahon) joins his workmates for a long-awaited night out immediately after having welcomed his first child. During the pregnancy, Jordan vowed to stay sober but on this occasion, his workmates have different ideas placing serious pressure on him to drink alcohol. Jordan rebuffs all entreaties but eventually gives in, thus setting in motion a series of catastrophic events. A strangely omnipresent girl, Charlie (Theodora Ciuta), enters the drama and begins to play an increasingly ill-omened part in Jordan’s life much to his utter dismay.
Director and Screenwriter Dermot Malone has written an absolute zinger. From the moment Jordan appears on screen, audiences are drawn into the drama and Cave never loses pace as it proceeds. Top notch casting and excellent performances from the group of actors make for riveting viewing.
Calving (DIR/WRI: Louis Bhose)
A trio of weather-beaten farmers in the rugged landscape of Donegal await the birth of a calf. There seems to be no portentous foresight into the lead-up of the occurrence, but when the calf is born, the farmers recoil in revulsion and contact the local police who in turn phone the Veterinary Association for the area. English veterinary surgeon Gordon is called by the association and is interviewed, appearing to be a suspect in the event. Gordon is somehow being blamed for the horrific mutilations in the calf as it screams and howls with demonic intensity. Barry (Philip O Sullivan), one of the interviewers, says that the calf is without legs and is bleeding yet will not die. Local farmers make much of the fact that Gordon is English and effectively an outsider. It is not explained to Gordon why he is considered to be at fault in the monstrous event, but farmers shun him and he becomes aware of his own vulnerability in a land of barren isolation. The denouement is shocking and tragic in this cautionary tale of Irish hospitality in their salutation ‘Land of a Thousand Welcomes’. Excellent directing by Louis Bhose captivates audiences from the very start. A unique screenplay and visual metaphors make Bhose one to watch.
Gloaming (DIR: Sean Clancy • WRI: David Fennelly)
Jim (David Fennelly) wanders across Dublin city in those fanciful moments caught between dusk and twilight. Drifting pollen coats the paths and crossways. The streets are completely empty – birds fly upwards as they retreat to their nests or sojourn to stand sentinel along building ledges and in alcoves. Jim angrily converses with himself with responses coming thick and fast. Suddenly he sees someone he knows. Tom (John Morton) is hailed. Tom initially appears pleased to see Jim but it becomes apparent that Jim must keep his distance. This is a perfect marriage of cast and director with Sean Clancy getting the absolute best from his troupe of players. A third person, Aoife (Annette O Shea), is introduced to the story. All are sterling performers – believable, engaged in the dialogue, completely committed to the tale. There are overtones of the CoVid 19 pandemic with the element of distancing but it remains to be seen if the lure of human contact will withstand the test of time.
Saul & I (DIR/WRI: Jon Beer)
Saul & I tells the story of a performance artist Nina Regan (Toni O’Rourke) who is jailed for over a decade in the manslaughter death of her partner, Saul Olufsen (Tom Greenhalgh). Nina is about to stage her first exhibition since being released from prison and agrees to be interviewed in relation to Saul’s death. The exchange between Nina and the interviewer (Paul Mallon) is fractious and accusatory. ‘Why did Nina plead guilty?’ the interviewer demands. Nina counters the claim by maintaining she was angry and in a dark place.
Throughout the film, Nina and Saul’s filmic efforts are seen in short bursts – each film demonstrates a willingness to dig deep, through to the bone and beyond. The first is titled Breathe (1997) and demonstrates Saul wrapping clingfilm around Nina’s head and mouth. It looks like the action is on rewind – thin clear plastic envelops Regan’s face. She rips off the lower part and Saul starts again. It makes the viewer wonder at what juncture anyone said ‘stop’. Following this, Burn (1997) sees Saul forcing Nina’s hand onto a hot lightbulb. Again and again. Then Bleed (1997) where Nina is pumping her own blood out through a tourniquet which is dripping onto her head. Nina eventually collapses.
The final film is Burial (1998) which is the direct cause of Saul’s demise. Nina is asked if art should have restrictions – she posits that the artist should be limited but not the art. The interviewer presses on with the question; ‘How far can you go before you’re in danger of demeaning the work or before you’re sensationalising violence?’
The heart of Saul & I amounts to a jaded look at the value of life. The question is implied over and over – as in what happens when performance ends and existence is no more? When do artists evolve from a visual metaphor to killing someone outright? Is there a stay of execution or must the action continue to the bitter end in order to garner existentialist commentary over an action that directly causes a conclusion of life? Who gets to arbitrate the end of something or the beginning of another?
Director Jon Beer poses some thorny problems – issues that cannot be easily responded to. A searing observation on limits and boundaries.
Harvest (DIR/WRI: Tristan Heanue)
Elderly farmer Joe Gibbons (Lalor Roddy) is recovering from a near fatal heart attack. His loving wife Maggie (Marie Mullen) frets and worries continuously about her husband. Joe is aggressively dismissive of her concerns and carries on trying to live his life as he did before. Joe attends a cattle mart where the last of his herd are sold off. Afterwards he retires to the pub with Aidan (Gary Lydon), persuading Aidan to drink multiple pints of beer and shots of brandy. He ignores phone calls from Maggie. Martin (Brendan Conroy), an unpopular local man invites himself to sit down with Aidan and Joe. He slyly suggests to Joe that he might consider selling his farm equipment and comments that it would be a shame to allow the tractors fall apart from rust.
Lalor Roddy exhibits just the right amount of pathos in Harvest. It could have descended into schmaltz but Heanue held onto the reins with a firm hand and steered the narrative in the right direction. The pace of the film is absolutely perfect. Beautifully made, with a flawless cast and cinematography, this reviewer looks forward to seeing further filmic offerings from Tristan Heanue.
Ship of Souls (DIR/WRI: Jean Pasley)
The opening scenes of this poignant short film, show Michael (Lorcan Cranitch), a grieving father still reeling after the car crash death of his only son Patrick (Mark De Carreau) while Patrick was living in Japan. Patrick’s Japanese partner Hana (Clare Uchima) was driving the car in which they had the accident. She was in a coma, Patrick was killed outright and his body was repatriated to Ireland where he was buried. Hana has now come from Japan to pay her respects to her partner by dancing at the side of Patrick’s grave. This is a cultural norm and according to Hana, consoles the living family as the deceased is recalled in the fondest of terms. Michael however, is not happy with the prospects of Hana dancing and is deeply offended by the suggestion. He wrongly concludes that Hana’s actions are sacrilegious and tells her under no circumstances will he allow her perform any ceremony at Patrick’s graveside. Fran (Cathy Belton), Michael’s wife and daughter Carol (Emma Willis), fully support Hana and in the dead of night, the trio sneak off to the graveyard to carry out the ritual. Michael follows them and bears witness to a sensitive, compassionate, deeply moving rite of passage, changing his perception of Japanese culture and allowing him to join Hana, his wife and daughter, in the celebration of Patrick’s life rather than dwelling on his death.
There are some fine performances in this wonderful short film. Director Jean Pasley has an expert eye for scene-setting and the wild Irish landscape plays its own part in contrasting two cultures so that they seamlessly join together in beauty.
Broken: A Lockdown Story (DIR: TJ O’Grady Peyton • WRI: John Craine)
This film may be short but it sure packs a punch. Brim full with idiom after idiom, TJ O’Grady Peyton has created an absolutely hilarious comment on things that break, run and fall. I laughed out loud from beginning to end and wanted more. Having said that, the length of the film plays a role in its helter-skelter perfection. A flawless gem of a film.
The Irish Talent: New Shorts Five: Fiction programme screened as part of the Galway Film Fleadh 2021.