Review: ‘The Lighthouse’ @ Cork Film Festival

 

Sean O’Rourke was at the Cork Film Festival to watch The Light House, Robert Eggers’ enthralling, evocative follow-up to the chilling period horror The Witch

Robert Egger’s latest spooky period piece is so bizarre, so borderline indescribable, that an attempt to sing its praises in any unified, cogent manner seems as doomed to spiral outward into the realm of incoherence as the lead characters themselves. All the same, I’ll do my best to explain why you should go see it.

From its wordless opening, The Lighthouse drops us right into the harsh reality (or perhaps unreality) its characters must endure for the film’s duration. Much like he and his team did in The Witch, Eggers immerses us in this setting completely – mixing harsh realism with expressionistic qualities in a manner not dissimilar to Jennifer Kent’s excellent work on The Babadook. We experience the difficult, everyday realities faced by the two lead characters, played by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson, as they operate a lighthouse on a 19th century American island. However, we also witness their steady loss of reality painted onto the film’s visuals, creating a complex visual style that is enhanced by a stark, gritty, unromantic, black and white colour scheme that makes the film feel at home in the 19th century in the same way that particular typefaces and styles of illustration might help a reader visually place a novel in a particular time period. Mark Korven’s excellent score helps with this sense of period appropriateness while also feeling fresh and terrifying.

The film’s visceral assault on the senses is helped by Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson who give stunning performances as the two leads. They expertly portray painful transitions between anger, sexual desire, hatred, affection and despair. Often, the only thing that seems to keep them from killing each other is the alcohol that sometimes lulls their angriest impulses and lets them experience something like love for each other. There is a wonderfully strange loathing and fondness between them that is continually compelling.

And all the while, the film skilfully builds an omnipresent sense of doom. Sailor superstitions become horrifyingly present – whether they are real or not. Characters’ suspicions about the nature of their reality and about each other become realized and amplified, creating a sense of mounting terror. Adding to this terror is a sense that time has lost meaning, that logic has become unsatisfactory, that any coherent conception of reality is lost. 

I will stop myself from going into more specifics. This film deserves to be experienced with its many surprises and absurdities intact, and it’s best that I don’t lose the run of myself trying to detail why it’s all so captivating. Suffice to say, the film artfully pulls its audience into its setting and the fragile mental states of its characters. If any of that sounds appealing (or at least morbidly interesting) to you, then a viewing of this film is well worth your time.
 
The Lighthouse is released in cinemas 31st January 2020
 

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Irish Film Review: The Last Right

DIR/WRI: Aoife Crehan • DOP: Shane F. Kelly • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Pippa Cross, Paul Donovan, Casey Herbert • MUS: Gary Lightbody • DES: Neill Treacy • CAST: Brian Cox, Michiel Huisman, Colm Meaney

The Last Right involves two disparate passengers sat beside each other on a flight to Ireland who subsequently become connected by a shared surname and grief. Daniel Murphy is flying home for his mother’s funeral and Padraig Murphy is returning for his brother’s funeral. The latter is his brother’s only next of kin, and when Padraig passes away on the flight, it’s assumed Daniel is of the same Murphy family and the responsibilities for Padraig and his brother’s funerals fall upon Daniel. With his younger autistic brother Louis and his friend Mary in tow, Daniel embarks upon a reluctant road trip to bury Padraig and his brother together, despite a misunderstanding embroiling them in a police chase.

Aoife Crehan’s directorial debut is an impressive study on grief and isolation. Daniel (Michiel Huisman) and Padraig (Jim Norton) cross paths due to their respective losses within their families and their isolation stems from choice and circumstance. Daniel lives abroad whilst Padraig lost contact with his brother. Daniel has a fractured relationship with Louis (Samuel Bottomley) and wants to uproot Louis from Clonakilty to an autistic-focused boarding school in New York. The tension within their new family dynamic is eased with Mary’s (Niamh Algar) presence and in her encouragement of a road trip in bringing Padraig’s budgie-adorned cardboard coffin to the very north of Ireland to his intended resting place.

Niamh Algar is experiencing a stellar 2019 with remarkable performances in Shane Meadows’s The Virtues and Desiree Akhavan’s The Bisexual; displaying multifaceted characterisations in both. In The Last Right, Algar’s Mary is crucial in deflecting tension between Daniel and Louis and in burying Padraig alongside his brother. According to Mary, the relationship between Daniel and Louis “is more Eastenders than Rain Man”, and she offers levity despite her own vulnerabilities masked by her cheery exterior. Huisman is also adept in performing a character maintaining face despite numerous personal challenges. Bottomley impressively manages to portray both the subtleties of Louis’s autism and his emotionally-charged difficulties. 

Colm Meaney also appears as Detective Crowley who attempts to prevent Daniel from burying Padraig due to a mix-up as a result of Louis refusing to inform Daniel he was relieved from his duties as Padraig’s surrogate next of kin. Meaney is essentially reprising his character from Intermission in an alternate universe and he offers lighter tonal elements to the narrative. He’s then involved in an enjoyable sequence with the road trippers via a phone-in to The Joe Duffy Show in an attempt to negotiate with the runaway coffin ‘thieves’.

The lighter tonal moments are necessary but at times the film doesn’t know what film it’s striving to become with them and some sequences are also almost too stage play-esque. It could be an Intermission-type film with its lighter moments but Crehan does, however, manage to create a cohesive tonal blend much like 2014’s Calvary. The cinematography is effective at capturing a rugged coastline/island aesthetic that works in tandem with the theme of isolation and grief. The isolation applies to Louis and his autism but Crehan succeeds in conveying that he is not unique in being an alienated character and he experiences similar emotions to those around him. For Mary, she appears strong and confident, but she’s in a professional and personal rut, much like Daniel, who struggles to involve Louis in his own life.

Overall, The Last Right is a thoughtful approach to grief and isolation with sadness and humour that will ultimately offer hope for its characters. It’s an unexpected road trip full of heartbreak, humour and human kindness. Aoife Crehan has helmed a film that will make you eager to see what she creates next.

Liam Hanlon

@Liam_Hanlon

106′ 39″
15A (see IFCO for details)

The Last Right is released 6th December 2019

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Review: Ordinary Love

DIR: Lisa Barros D’Sa, Glenn Leyburn • WRI: Owen McCafferty • DOP: Piers McGrail • ED: Nick Emerson • DES: Nigel Pollock • PRO: David Holmes, Piers Tempest • MUS: David Holmes, Brian Irvine • CAST: Liam Neeson, Lesley Manville, David Wilmot 

Married for over 30 years, Joan (Lesley Manville) and Tom (Liam Neeson) are enjoying their life together – going on walks by the sea to stay fit and bickering at the shops. But when Joan finds a lump in her breast, the couple have to decide how to manage her diagnosis and move forward. The film examines the quiet perseverance and strength of normal people in extraordinary circumstances. 

Ordinary Love shows every stage of diagnosis, from finding a lump, to receiving a hospital appointment, mammogram, biopsy and upper body scan. I think this will be of a huge comfort to people in years to come. Whether it’s someone close to you or a friend of a friend, breast cancer affects a staggering number of people (1 in 9 according to Breast Cancer Ireland) and having this film as a starting point will serve people well. Choosing to show every part of the diagnosis is authentic and important. It’s worth noting that McCafferty drew inspiration from a personal place, as his wife survived breast cancer treatment.

While undergoing treatment, Joan begins to come out of her shell and talk to other patients. Bringing in minor characters this way is a masterful move by scriptwriter Owen McCafferty, as these moments change Joan’s perspective and present different experiences of chemo and cancer.

It’s great to see a story purely focused on a middle-aged couple on the big screen for a change. Lesley Manville, of Phantom Thread fame, is phenomenal and carries the role with charm and ease. Neeson is fantastic as the supportive husband, his normal accent adding a level of authenticity to the role. 

Cinematographer Piers McGrail constructs careful shots that catch your eye and bring beauty to everyday moments. His shot composition draws attention to difficult moments for the characters. You see the characters deal with these huge concepts of life and death while still managing to get on with the weekly shop. 

You’ll come out of the cinema with a new sense of how to live. You’ll remember to enjoy the little things: the cup of coffee with a friend, petty arguments, the walk beside the sea. Life is made up of so many of these moments you can enjoy if you decide to. Ordinary Love serves as a reminder to keep living, laughing and enjoying human connection. Co-directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn have created a film that’ll last a lifetime, and any film that encourages people to check for lumps is good in my book.

Aoife O’Ceallachain

92′ 8″
12A (see IFCO for details)

Ordinary Love is released 6th December 2019

Ordinary Love – Official Website

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Review: The Nightingale

 

DIR/WRI: Jennifer Kent • DOP: Radek Ladczuk • ED: Simon Njoo • DES: Alex Holmes • PRO: Kristina Ceyton, Steve Hutensky, Bruna Papandrea • MUS: Jed Kurzel • CAST: Aisling Franciosi, Sam Claflin, Baykali Ganambarr

Watching Jennifer Kent’s The Nightingale is an oppressively confining experience. Nearly every scene seems to almost press in on the film’s protagonist, Clare, a transported Irish convict. Her life in a small Tasmanian settlement is oppressive, appropriate given the near unspeakable trauma she endures there. But even after she leaves for the ostensibly more open Tasmanian wilderness on a revenge mission, that feeling of confinement remains. Walls are replaced with brush that surrounds each scene, making these scenes feel small, cut-off, stifling. There, she meets a guide named Billy, a Tasmanian aboriginal. These two characters are framed by a 1.375:1 aspect ratio (a fancy way of saying that the frame is nearly as tall as it is wide), making it seem as though even the edges of the screen are  pressing inwards on them. And all the while, every random encounter with a colonizer out in the wilderness carries the threat of murder and rape. We are effectively boxed in with these characters, feeling their vulnerability to the British colonial project that surrounds them and constricts, ready to destroy not only their bodies but their identity and any conception they might have of home and belonging. Kent weaponsizes this feeling of confinement expertly, much as she did in her excellent The Babadook, giving us little comfort as we watch this revenge tale unfold. This alone would mark out Kent’s remarkable direction well enough and would give me good reason to recommend the film.

However, there’s more to this tale. There is comfort here. Though both Clare and Billy share English as a common tongue, they both also speak their respective native tongues. Both lead actors are excellent, especially in the moments where they make clear the intensely personal yet expansive cultural significance behind this native speech. In scenes where we witness this, we see a magical confluence between director and actor that suddenly makes these confined scenes feel liberatingingly expansive, not because the scenes become visually more open, but because we can hear and feel the vastness of the cultural identities carried on their voices, indicating something that colonialist violence hasn’t yet been able to completely stifle.

Here, the film displays its remarkable empathetic powers that, when present as they are for the vast majority of the film, make its insights into such heady topics as colonial, social stratification most compelling and its horrific violence most affecting. The scenes that lack this empathy are, therefore, its least effective. The film’s biggest weakness is one of its villains who becomes so evil, so inhuman, that my interest in his scenes waned. Indeed, the most interesting and affecting monstrosities of the film are the ones that are inexcusable, yet feel as though they are being inflicted by people tinged with a horrifying familiarity – who feel human and are thus all the more repulsive for it. In the rare moments when the film lacks this relatability, it loses some of its otherwise tight grip on the senses.

It must also be admitted that the film is quite long and doesn’t maintain the forward momentum it creates for itself in its first half. And yet, I feel that this is not actually a weakness. The film needs some downtime to convincingly expand its central conflict beyond that of a standard revenge thriller. It is as the complex, touching central relationship between Clare and Billy evolves alongside the film’s very plot structure that we might best see just how strong this script really is. As this happens, we get more and more moments of expansive meaning within this stifling, colonially circumscribed world and these moments of expansiveness are every bit as compelling as the nail-biting confinement we experience through most of the film. This dynamic helped me to feel no small amount of love for the two protagonists and what they represent. It made me realize that the film has done something truly special and is worthy of our rapt, horrified attention.

Sean O’Rourke

136′ 16″
18 (see IFCO for details)

The Nightingale is released 29th November 2019

The Nightingale – Official Website

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Review: Blue Story

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Simon Stolland • ED: Mdhamiri Á Nkemi • DES: Gini Godwin • PRO: Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor, Paul Grindey, Damian Jones • MUS: Jonathon Deering • CAST: Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Stephen Odubola, Micheal Ward, Khali Best, Karla-Simone Spence

Blue Story is a compelling commentary on the contemporary postcode wars between London’s youths. It follows two young black males from different areas of London growing up as friends, external to the criminal backdrop and societal issues they live amongst. Timmy (Stephen Odubola) is a young naive romantic from Deptford who attends school in Peckham for a better chance at an education. Timmy becomes best friends with Marco (Michael Ward), who is from Peckham and has ties to local gangs due to his brother. The two are foreshadowed with over-looming conflict throughout, eventually leading to tragedy as both pick sides and indulge in the ongoing postcode war between Peckham and Deptford. 

This crime drama comes at a very relevant time as London gang crime becomes more and more prominent in mainstream media, including the recent release of the widely popular Netflix series Top Boy, in which Michael Ward also plays the lead. Though a grasp of the ‘Roadman’ vernacular is required for both,  Blue Story focuses primarily on the detriment of gang life and first time feature-film director Andrew Onwubolu, also known as ‘Rapman’, allows zero romanticisation of the crime within the narrative. Based on personal experience from Rapman’s childhood, the story does not conform to the good-guy vs bad-guy format but instead produces equally charismatic and likeable characters on opposing sides of the events. There are no winners and the true implications of the rampant hate and peer pressure within these urban melting pots illustrates the harrowing nature of the transition into adulthood young working-class London teens face. However, though the topical issue is that of grave severity Blue Story is not without its light-hearted laughs nor is it void of romance and relatable moments for the majority of the audience. 

Whilst the intention of the film was noble and the plot structure was of sound quality, the execution on screen at times was lacking. The general standard of the film felt very B class and certain avenues the director took were questionable. A primary example of this is the choice of narration Rapman himself decided to orate. Following each pivotal event of the film Rapman would emerge, in an omniscient manner, breaking the fourth wall and conveying the previous or future events through rap form, as a catch-up method. This seemed extremely out of place and completely broke the reality of the story multiple times. It also gave the sense that the production of the film was paced poorly and the plot needed to unfold at an unnatural rate for the story.

The film also begins with real life archival news footage of knife-crime and gang violence sweeping London. This set a level of expectation concerning both aesthetics and what level of realism the director wanted to connote. Unfortunately, in possibly an endeavour to dramatise, the main focus of the crime surrounded gun violence is far less of an issue compared to the knife-crime epidemic London faces today. The acting was not entirely noteworthy and there were many relationships that came across as forced in certain scenes. This being said, all characters performed the colloquial language of the real ‘Mandem’, which must be praised.

Overall, Blue Story stylistically illustrates the gravity of urban crime on English youths through a first-hand source of director Andrew Onwubolu. With many enjoyable and shocking moments there is rarely a dull scene amongst the drama. However, with a budget of 1.3 million this feature felt badly paced and poorly managed not allowing the actors to fully develop their characters to the extent that they could have. Having the potential to be a hard-hitting commentary on societal issues Blue Story instead comes across as a low-budget street-violence drama.

Tiernan Allen

91′ 16″
16 (see IFCO for details)

Blue Story is released 22nd November 2019

 

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Review: Harriet

DIR:  Kasi Lemmons • WRI: Gregory Allen Howard, Kasi Lemmons• DOP: John Toll • ED: Wyatt Smith • DES: Warren Alan Young • PRO: Debra Martin Chase, Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Gregory Allen Howard • MUS: Terence Blanchard • CAST: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., Joe Alwyn, Clarke Peters

When Harriet (Cynthia Envo) realises that she must escape from slavery or suffer getting sold down the river she cannot risk speaking to her mother, Rit (Vanessa Bell Calloway). Instead, she reveals her plan in the form of a spiritual, singing to Rit while she is still toiling in the fields. It’s at moments like this that Kasi Lemmons’s biopic Harriet hits home: showing the collective pain shared by those in slavery, while also demonstrating the strategies the enslaved employed to circumvent daily injustices. 

Where Harriet is perhaps not so successful is in its portrayal of its central figure, slave-turned-liberator Harriet Tubman, who single-handedly rescued 70 others from slavery and lead armed expeditions in the Civil war. While Envo endows her protagonist with a quiet certainty, the narrative feels less comfortable giving Harriet too much agency too early. Instead, after fleeing her plantation in Maryland, leaving her family and husband, she must go on an overly conventional hero’s journey in which a mix of historical and fictional characters instruct her on how to escape slavery and become an abolitionist. The historical Tubman’s belief in her direct interactions with God is played down: this sadly ends up feeling like a watering down of Harriet’s personality.

Harriet explores some interesting new ground in the slave narrative genre, highlighting some of the diverging opinions in the abolitionist experience as seen in Harriet’s relationship with real-life Underground Railroad conductor and historian William Still (Leslie Odom Jr.) and a strong female relationship between Harriet and fictional wealthy freewoman Marie Buchanon (Janelle Monáe). However, in other ways, Harriet is hampered by an over-reliance on the genre. In particular, too much time is taken up following a personal enmity between Harriet and her former slave owner Gideon Brodess (Joe Alwyn). While Harriet undeniably risked danger at every step at the hands of bloodthirsty slavers who would stop at nothing to take down the mythical slave-liberator “Moses,” one suspects that filmmakers could figure out a way to highlight the plight of African American individuals without foregrounding white characters and actors.

Much of Harriet’s escape is portrayed as a sprint through the rural South as she narrowly avoids slave catchers and their hounds. This certainly lends the film an exciting, adventurous quality to it: however, it begins to strain credulity when every fugitive appears to have the lung capacity and muscular strength of an Olympic track athlete. And indeed, Harriet in general has something of a speeded-up quality to it, as certain fascinating aspects of Tubman’s life are glossed over.

If this review appears to be overly nit-picky that’s because it is. Harriet brings a lot of good to the table and more should be done to remember the extraordinary women who fought and continue to fight for Black civil rights in America. Tubman may in some ways just be too extraordinary a figure to fully capture in the form of a biopic. Ultimately, Harriet is an admirable and thought-provoking look at a pivotal figure in American history, and well worth the watch.

Sarah Cullen

125′ 34″

12A see IFCO

Harriet is released 22nd November 2019

Harriet –  Official Web Site 

 

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Irish Film Review: A Dog Called Money

 

DIR/WRI: Seamus Murphy

The opening scenes of A Dog Called Money brings into focus a scruffy, impish boy with button nose pressed against the window of a car as it stalls along a chaotic, noise-filled street. Viewers are locked inside that same car, witnessing the playful mischievousness of the child as his gaze fixes on the watchers. A sequence of emotions plays out across the boy’s face ranging from curiosity to marvel to a wider concept of inquisitiveness. So begins the stunning ode to director Seamus Murphy’s métier and PJ Harvey’s collaborative genius. 

Seamus Murphy is an award-winning photographer and director with an acute sense of observation – one that is intensely and sensitively connected to the wonders of the human condition. It is no accident that Murphy’s alliance with PJ Harvey became such a serendipitous perfect storm.  PJ Harvey in turn, is an artist who is not afraid of pushing change in order to effect creative growth. This made for an ideal partnership between the two.  

The model was conceived in order to lend PJ Harvey an apt conduit with which to record her 2016 album, The Hope Six Demolition Project. A room within a room was constructed inside Somerset House (styled on its website as ‘an experimental workspace for artists, makers and thinkers’). The interior room was soundproofed and had windows facing into the space, through which invited members of the public could look through but Harvey and her band could neither see nor hear the people watching them. It allowed the creative process to unfold at its own pace and on a level where Harvey overlooked the fact that she was being scrutinised. One of the conditions for those observing the installation, was that they relinquished recording equipment, phones and cameras and simply subsumed the experience. 

In psychology, there is a phenomenon known as the Observer Effect whereby changes in the behaviour of subjects comes about when they become aware they are being watched. Performers amend their actions when in front of an audience. At the onset, this could be said of the ‘viewed’ recording – however, as time passes, Harvey and her band lose sight of being observed – their behaviour becomes steadily more creative and achieves greater heights as they truly enter into maximum flow. 

Seamus Murphy and PJ Harvey travelled to Kosovo, Afghanistan, and Washington D.C., where Harvey interacted with the people she met and Murphy filmed the process. What ensues is a mesh of originality and imagination – from the exuberant rappers in Washington D.C., narrating their story with wit and humour, to the people of Kosovo and musicians from Afghanistan – seeing and communicating as they weave their tales through music and words. Beginning with opening scenes during which viewers are witnessed and perceived, the journey of A Dog Called Money is that of a dazzling tangible manifestation – a type of chimeric blending as differences and processes fuse together in a genesis of beauty. 

Harvey and Murphy are the fasteners that suture and sew this beautiful construct. One with words, the other with images – carving an alliance that benefits and unifies, ultimately bringing forth its own potent and unique creation.  

This is a documentary well worth viewing. 

 

June Butler

93′ 46″
15A (see IFCO for details)

A Dog Called Money is released 22nd November 2019

A Dog Called Money– Official Website

 


  

 

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Review: La Belle Époque

DIR/WRI: Nicolas Bedos • DOP: Nicolas Bolduc • ED: Anny Danché, Stéphane Garnier, Florent Vassault • DES: Stéphane Rozenbaum • PRO: Martin Metz • MUS: Nicolas Bedos, Anne-Sophie Versnaeyen• CAST: Daniel Auteuil, Guillaume Canet, Doria Tillier, Fanny Ardant

Poor Victor Drummond (Daniel Auteuil). He lost his job as a comic-book illustrator because of the horrible modern world in which everyone worships the internet all the time. These days he has to suffer through life as a kept man while his wife and son make pots of money and try to convince him to accept well-paid work on their streaming service. 

Forgive me my skepticism, but for some reason I’m just finding it harder to buy into the dilemma of the poor little well-off white guy as found in Nicolas Bedos’ La Belle Époque these days. Maybe it’s simply a moral failing of mine. Hmm. 

Anyhow, Victor’s son Maxime (Michaël Cohen) is luckily not entirely devoid of use when he gifts Victor a voucher for an innovative re-enactment entertainment package, in which he gets to pick the time period. Think of the packages as escape rooms, except instead of escaping a room of puzzles there’s, um, history. Victor picks the date in 1974 when he first met his recently estranged wife Marianne (Fanny Ardant) and soon finds himself on a carefully recreated life-size set of the street and bar in which they first locked eyes. Cue much romantic comedy as Antoine, the producer and director of Victor’s time-travelling experience, repeatedly bullies his employee Margot, the actor playing the younger Marriane (Doria Tiller). Don’t worry though, he’s troubled and loves her so it’s apparently fine.

Comparisons have been made between La Belle Époque and the work of Charlie Kaufmann. However, what came to the fore for this reviewer was more similar to Peter Weir’s The Truman Show. While Victor may have signed up for this immersive recreation of reality, the lengths to which Antoine and his crew go in order to control and observe Victor certainly cross the line into unacceptable. However, disappointingly, and in contrast to The Truman Show, despite being ostensibly critical of the problems of technology, La Belle Époque has curiously little to say about the dangers of surveillance in the modern era. 

To give the film some light praise, La Belle Époque sets out to be provocative as demonstrated in the film’s frenetic opening regency-era sequence, replete with raunchiness and sudden shocks. It does succeed. The fast-paced, at times exhausting editing slows down as the film travels back to Victor’s more simple, idealised era. This was preferable but only just, considering that providing certain characters with more nuance did not necessarily improve events. 

Who knows? Maybe I would have been more entertained by Victor’s exploits if it didn’t take the world literally being turned into a playground for his own desires and a huge cast of characters provided to accede to his every whim in order for him to learn some surprisingly banal and rudimentary lessons about life. But that’s the plight of the poor little well-off white guy these days and I will prepare my tiny violin accordingly. 

Sarah Cullen

115″

La Belle Époque is released 22nd November 2019

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