Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Bruno

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.

Seán Crosson

Bruno screened 12th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

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Irish Film Review: Naked

 

June Butler takes a look at Naked, Edward Kennedy’s film which documents the collaboration between Irish artist Róisín Cunningham and three life models. The film explores the relationship between sexuality and creativity, the similarities and differences between the male gaze and the female gaze, and body image.

If a group of people were questioned about what would constitute their worst nightmare, standing naked in front of total strangers for hours at a time while those same viewers stare and scrutinise every line of your body must rank at the top of the scale. For three models, this is their daily job – for one model, it is her sole means of income.  

The promotion line for Naked is touted as a ‘life modelling film about life’ narrating the story of three young life models who pose for artists. Director Edward Kennedy has beautifully rendered a most imaginative take on life models who tell their stories – provoking the same questions of each as they are asked the reasons behind embarking on such a career. Two female models and one male model are interviewed individually and it is fascinating to hear how they arrive at the same conclusion albeit using different language. All insist the initial stages were daunting but all equally maintain the ultimate payoff was worth the risk. 

Model Kate Dunne explains once the threshold of fear was crossed, the idea of posing naked was no longer fraught with difficulties. Dunne is emphatic in her new-found sense of empowerment and observes being in such a position has lent increased meaning to her life. The narrator asks of Dunne whether she agrees with the statement that to be naked is to be oneself but to be nude is to be seen naked by others yet not recognised for oneself. Artist Roisin Cunningham, queries of Dunne which she prefers – to be naked for the camera or to be nude for the artist’s drawing. Dunne states she would prefer to be neither but feels in the setting she is both. Dunne brings her own sense of impartiality to the scene – Dunne senses she is an object yet is at peace with this depiction of her body. When Kate is asked if the feeling of being unclothed is one of sensuousness, she is unequivocal in her assertion that it is not but goes on to say that when looking at a naked body, the viewer can either take sexuality from that body or project sexuality onto it.  

Izabella Linuza confesses to being fundamentally shy and claims that entering into the world of life modelling was her key to finding inner stability and peacefulness. Linuza exudes an air of contentedness and it is patent to see she is confident with her choice of metier particularly when artists, in some cases, can be standing as close as one metre away. There is a sense of Linuza accepting she is on a journey but pausing at this stage of emboldening, intent on continuing her travels when the need is sated. Izabella reveals when she is modelling, she can feel slightly numb, distanced from the activity but concludes this experience brings with it serenity and tranquillity – away from the bustle of day-to-day living.  

The only male model of the three is Dylan Jon Matthews and for the most part he emanates a different energy. He discusses the male gaze versus the female one and agrees the female gaze is slowly coming to the fore. Matthews claims the male gaze is more overt whereas that of the female is somewhat hidden. However, Matthews feels this is changing and agrees with the evolutionary process. Dylan is the most extravert of the three – cheekily he suggests everyone should be naked all the time. He feels this is liberating but states it was not always the case. When Matthews first started life modelling, he did so because a friend challenged him to do something that took him out of his comfort zone. Life modelling fitted the bill and Matthews has never looked back. 

Director Edward Kennedy has directed a wonderfully, enlightened documentary. Instead of stopping and starting the narrative, he provides a seamless continuum between watching the life models pose, witnessing the artist (and narrator) sketch, and hearing the testimonies of the three life models themselves. William R. Keane rounds off a most evocative and beautiful rendering with an imaginative and well-placed musical score. In all, Naked is just exquisite and truly worth watching. It is what a documentary should look like when it has grown up.  

 

Naked is available to rent or buy on

 

The distributor for Naked is Journeyman Pictures.
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Irish Film Review: Extra Ordinary

DIR: Mike Ahern, Enda Loughman • WRI: Mike Ahern, Demian Fox, Maeve Higgins, Enda Loughman DOP: James Mather • ED: Gavin Buckley • DES: Joe Fallover • PRO: Ailish Bracken, Yvonne Donohoe, Katie Holly, Mary McCarthy • MUS: George Brennan • CAST: Maeve Higgins, Barry Ward, Will Forte

That rare beast, the funny, Irish, comedy feature film is back again in the form of Extra Ordinary, which follows the supernatural adventures of Rose Dooley (Maeve Higgins), a psychic paranormal expert, who tries to pursue the ordinary life as a driving instructor since having inadvertently caused her father’s death many years before when the two of them tried to save a dog from a haunted pothole. You know how these things go.

But the ordinary life is not to be; local widower Martin Martin (Barry Ward) reaches out for help with his abusive dead spouse who won’t move on to the afterlife. Though Rose initially refuses to help him, his second call for help with his levitating, comatose daughter is one she feels she can’t refuse and sure she fancies Martin anyway. What they don’t know is that these coma/levitation shenanigans are the result of satanic dabblings by the local, evil, failed rock star, Christian Winter. Yes, Christian Winter not Chris De Burgh. He plans to sacrifice the virginal girl to Ostrogoth and revive his failed music career; as you do.

Directors Enda Loughman and Mike Ahern have created their own satanic alliance, ignoring the sacred rules of co-directing by not being siblings and it has paid off quite nicely with this clever, funny little film.  With a matter-of-fact attitude, blending the ordinary and banal with cheap shocks and fantastic absurdity, Extra Ordinary builds its humour gently before finally reaching hysterical proportions in its final scenes.

Holding these elements together are a superb cast, playing fun characters, who are as enjoyable in the more down-to-earth scenes before the supernatural shenanigans really kick in. Maeve Higgins’ central performance holds things together quite nicely with her innocent, yet mischievous, Rose Dooley but she is well aided by brilliant performances from all those involved, including some American fella, Will Forte, looking to make it big on the Emerald Isle.

A highly enjoyable romp for children of all ages, except for maybe the squeamish ones under ten.

Paul Farren

94′ 13″
15A (see IFCO for details)

Extra Ordinary is released 13th September 2019

Extra Ordinary – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film at The Dublin Feminist Film Festival 2019: Shorts Programme 

 

The Dublin Feminist Film Festival has established firm roots on Dublin’s cultural calendar, shining a spotlight on women in film. It promotes and celebrates female filmmakers, hoping to inspire and empower others to get involved in filmmaking.

Irene Falvey went along to this year’s Shorts Programme.

On Thursday, 22nd August, the Dublin Feminist Film Festival showcased an impressive and varied collection of short films, all made by female directors. 

The Beekeeper (2019) Ireland (6.29)
Dir. Robyn Conroy

As the only animation feature in the programme, The Beekeeper stood out as the most visually arresting of the shorts. Set in a bamboo forest, the landscape feels blissfully detached from the world. In a short timeframe, The Beekeeper manages to create a bond between the two characters – a young girl called Mae and the bear that protects her; their attachment to each other is undeniable. They live in harmony together, nourishing themselves on honey. Disaster strikes when Mae discovers where this food source comes from, a bee sting attack forces the bear to return Mae to her place amongst her own kind. This short film evokes equal parts sadness and sweetness; the joy and simplicity of their connection and the sadness of their true incompatibility.    

Moon Rabbit (2018) Japan (14.25)
Dir. Kae Ho

Moon Rabbit tells the story of 7-year-old Rio as she returns to Japan with her recently separated Japanese mother Seiko and her older brother. Clearly these kids have grown up in America and this trip launches them back into their Japanese heritage, comically highlighted when their cousin tactlessly proclaims how foreign they look. While the film does deal with cultural differences, many other ideas are threaded throughout; themes such as innocence, the stories we tell ourselves and secrecy all feature. The film takes place principally in Seiko’s parent’s house. This domestic setting is used to effectively illustrate the main motif – what goes on behind closed doors.  While this family unit is closely contained in a physical sense within this house, behind closed doors they can easily block each other out. The children are dismissed as Seiko closes the door and confides in her mother about the breakdown of her marriage. Rio’s older brother and her cousin shut the door so that they don’t have to play with her. This barrier that is created by closed doors is lifted when Seiko enters the bathroom where an upset Rio has shut herself in. The privacy that a closed door provides fades and secrecy falls away. This is an insightful film about the secrets we keep and the stories we need to tell ourselves. 

 

Tra na mban / Ladies Beach (2019) Mexico (6.36)
Dir. Carmen Garcia Gonzalez

This short documentary provides an insightful glimpse into the lives of women that brave the chilly depths of the Irish sea every day. Several of the women that meet regularly are interviewed; explaining honestly why they do this and the effect it has on their lives. In particular Martell speaks of the way this ritual has transformed how she feels about herself and how she carries out her life. We get the sense that we are being let in on a great secret to life; the women are infectious in their enthusiasm. What is interesting about this documentary is that it shows a way that these women have carved out an inclusive and supportive community. It is a practise built on bravery and self-respect. 

 

Driving Lessons (2019) Iran (12.48) Winner Best International film
Dir. Marziyeh Riahi

Driving Lessons focuses on an Iranian woman taking driving lessons; it is illegal for her to be alone with her instructor meaning that her traditional and misogynistic husband must tow along for the ride. The film is shot solely in the instructor’s car, taking place over a couple of days of lessons. This keeps the action contained in one place, meaning that the tensions between the two men eventually boil over and erupt. The husband constantly interrupts, is bossy, controlling and makes a lot of chauvinistic statements that sting. However, a twist arrives when we see that perhaps the young instructor is actually worse – he won’t sign his wife’s travel papers preventing her from visiting her sick father. Both the husband’s behaviour and the instructor’s refusal of his wife’s demands demonstrate that even as women in the Middle East are given more rights (driving) progress is still slow. Our female protagonist’s lack of speech throughout the entire feature re-affirms her powerless position. 

 

Clay Project (2017) Ireland (4.50)
Dir. Kathy Raftery

This film examines the work of artist Vanessa Donoso López.  We are brought to a sun-soaked and sleepy part of Spain, bursting with nature and removed from the hustle and bustle of the city. What stands out about this feature, is the fact that it examines the artists approach and ideas/inspiration rooted in her work rather than the outcome. Instead we get a glimpse into the how and the why of a piece of art. The artist makes her art from clay, the camera shows her going through the manual process of turning earth into this material. This means that her art is very much connected to the place it was created. Seeing how this art is made gives us a deeper sense of understanding and appreciation for the artistic process. 

 

Early Days (2018) UK (12.00) Winner Best Film
Dir. Nessa Wrafter

This film highlights the more troubling and traumatic aspects of welcoming a newborn into the world. It examines the internal emotional conflict of becoming a mother. We get a window into Kate’s world as she struggles through the first few trying days. Flashback sequences reveal that it was a painful birth, blood and hospital scenes subvert the typically joyous portrayal of welcoming new life. This film effectively shows the realities that make this transition alienating from the self; shown through Kate examining her inflated post-birth stomach. She feels distaste for her body and estrangement from it when there is no longer life growing inside it. Excluding flashbacks, all of the film takes place within Kate and her partner’s home, creating a sense of entrapment. The only glimpses of the outside world we see comes from Kate looking outside the window and spotting her eccentric and colourfully dressed elderly female neighbour. In the end this woman provides Kate with some solace, concluding the film on a hopeful note. 

 

Mother (2018) Ireland (9.24) Runner-up for best film
Dir. Natasha Waugh

Mother is a bizarrely comical and cleverly creative film. It deals with all the insecurities that a mother may face; depicting all the things she must do to please her family.  The film examines one mother’s attempts to go about caring for her family and husband until she is replaced by a fridge! The fridge can cook better, is more entertaining, can do French plaits and is better in bed. This bizarre and wacky feature is laugh-out-loud funny and smart; making us hope to see more from this director in the near future. 

 

The Shorts Programme took place 22nd August 2019 as part of the Dublin Feminist Film Festival (22—24 August) 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation

The Dream Report

Orla Monaghan was at the Fleadh to celebrate the creative cornerstone of Irish film: the animation industry. 

On Sunday, 14th July the Galway Film Fleadh treated us to sixteen short animations from both new and established talent from all across the country. There was some truly imaginative work on display, and all genres were covered.     

  

Streets of Fury

The standout in comedy was Streets of Fury, directed and produced by Aidan McAteer. The tale follows the violent Max Punchface, an ’80s-styled video-game character, as he punches his way through levels and life. And just like that, Max is suddenly transported into the calm, bloodless world of Sheepland. How will Max now cope without using violence as currency?  Streets of Fury is a fun blend of nostalgia and humour. It definitely has everything you would want from an animation!

THEM

The absolute standout on the day was THEM. Directed by Robin Lochman and produced by Mathias Schwerbrook, it is an original animation with a gritty new look. In an isolated village where everyone bares the same sliver reflection, how will life change when a new, golden, self-proclaimed leader shows up? The story examines the place and power of false idols in our world and follows one characters attempt to fight and overhaul the system. A definite must-see!

A Quack Too Far

For younger viewers, A Quack Too Far and Far Isle are both superb options. Directed and written by Melissa Culhane, A Quack too Far tells a simple tale about a sleepy fox and a noisy duck. What does a fox have to do to get some peace? A Far Isle, directed by Laura Robinson and produced by Gavin Halpin, is enjoyable for both adults and children. The story of one girl’s enchanting boat journey is beautifully told with an impressive, colourful visual. 

     

Dorothy

In terms of horror, Dorothy offered up a truly spooky piece about a child being tormented in the witching Salem Massachusetts in 1687 and Offering showed us what happens when a mysterious quest goes awry. 

   

Legend Has It

A few of the animations focused on Irish subject matter. Legend Has It told the tale of a young girl’s struggle with a dark secret in an ancient Celtic community. Whereas The Bogman was an interesting take on the transition between old Ireland and new. In reaction to the recent sustainability announcement from Bord Na Móna, the story follows a man from the midlands who has harvested peat his whole life. How will he, his community and more like him cope with this news?

Wear and Tear

Also worth a mention is Wear and Tear, a sort of psychological thriller about nightmare-born creations following you into your waking day.  Cliona Noonan’s humorous Tuna about a woman’s odd obsession.  And I’m sure any student can relate to Ctrl + Alt + Z, which tells the classic, stress-inducing story of the student who forgot to hit save. Visually, The Dream, directed by Jack O’Shea, really merits a mention. The positively unique style of this animation was stunning and certainly made it unforgettable. Finally there were strong debuts from Shannon Egan (Archie’s Bat) Kayleigh Gibbons (Featherweight), Rachel Fitzgerald (Bubbles) and Janet Grainger (Outside the Box) completing an impressive programme of Irish animation.

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 9: Animation programme screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

        

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Extra Ordinary

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.

Stephen Burke

 

Extra Ordinary screened 13th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

Extra Ordinary is released in Irish cinemas 13th September 2019.

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction

Stephen Burke checks in on Galway’s programme of live action shorts which explores the parallel problems of escapism from a variety of settings: judgement, troubled pasts and unhappy status quos. 

It’s a great credit to the Fleadh that the range of shorts on offer is so incredibly diverse. Half of the shorts in this line-up were directorial debuts and all were being screened for the first time. Aside from a brief synopsis, there’s very little information to be found on such films before seeing them. That’s what makes screenings at the Fleadh so exciting though. You’re not quite sure what you’re about to see. This is refreshing in an age where marketing is quite often so over the top to the point where it’s not a rarity for a trailer to spoil the entire plot of a movie. 

Before the screening, the short film co-ordinator, Eibh Collins, emphasized that some of the films were quite heavy. She certainly wasn’t just saying this for effect. The first three shorts on show featured some of the darkest themes you’re likely to see in any film programme outside of a Lars Von Trier retrospective. Of course, when tackled properly the darkest of themes can make for the most interesting pieces of cinema and such was the case here with the two strongest films coming from this first half.

Limbo

Darkness is firmly established in the first scene of this debut film from 21-year old Matthew McGuigan when we’re presented with the image of a man walking across an abandoned landscape. This is cleverly juxtaposed alongside scenes of the central character Brendan interacting with his elderly mother Eilis in her nursing-home room. You just know that there will be some connection between the two images, but what is it? This gives the audience something to think about from the beginning.

Eilis’ death is clearly imminent. She is as aware of this as anyone and so finally feels comfortable enough to reveal a long-held secret to Brendan… A fellow resident of the nursing home overhears and insists that some man on a particular island will be able to solve “the mystery” for them. Brendan is skeptical, feeling the resident’s suggestion is all a bit fairytale like. The reality of what’s happening with his mother though is far from a fairytale of course and wanting to honour her wishes, Brendan agrees to follow up the source.

The acting in this film is strong and the relationship between Brendan and his mother is completely believable with top-notch performances coming from Patrick O’Kane and Roma Tomelty. For such a harrowing subject matter the script also manages to inject some humour without unbalancing the overall sombre tone. Despite its short running time, Limbo boasts more character development than it perhaps has any right to. The pacing is also spot on with the film taking its time to reach what seems like an inevitable conclusion. However, in not rushing things, the emotional impact of this conclusion is greater when it does arrive with audience members likely to be all the more devastated when their suspicions prove to be founded. This is a very impressive debut from Matthew McGuigan with much credit also going to his cinematographer Mark Garrett for capturing the required mood and tone. 


Run

Caroline Grace Cassidy and Róisín Kearney have each written and directed several short films before but Run is their first collaboration. It was created following the introduction of a new legal framework on domestic abuse, to include coercive control in Ireland. 

Right from the off it’s clear that the lead character, Sarah is married to a pig of a man. Physical violence isn’t the issue here however. The point of the film is, of course, rather to show how a spouse can wield emotional control over a partner. In Run Sarah’s husband is so much of a pig though that you initially wonder how she hasn’t left him a long time ago. What’s interesting is that in a strange way, as the film progresses, the viewer does become acclimated and accustomed to the husband’s boorish behaviour, revealing just how easily people can end up trapped in such toxic relationships.


Void

Ger Duffy’s Void is a visceral experience boasting a tour-de-force performance from Laurence O’ Fuarain. At the outset, the audience is presented with some interesting images, all of them begging a similar question – “Where the hell are we?” Are we in the future? Is it the present world?’ One thing is clear. The nameless character onscreen is a man who is being tortured by a whole range of agonizing yet mostly indecipherable thoughts. 

The man sets off into the night in search of something. It might be judgment. It might be an escape from the demons within. If it’s the latter they soon confront him instead. Before long, he arrives outside a nightclub. After making an aggressive but unsuccessful attempt to gain admission, he manages to sneak inside. Once in, he engages in full-on debauchery, including pill popping and having sex in a bathroom cubicle. All the while the mental anguish continues. 

The interesting thing is that apart from O’ Fuarain nobody else actually appears on screen throughout. Instead of using supporting actors, Duffy employs an extremely imaginative narrative technique to evoke the memories of the character. He uses lighting and audio effects in particular to tell the story. In other words, while we see the man dancing or fighting or going through the motions of interacting with people, these other people are never onscreen. We hear them but don’t see them. Sound has long been considered to perhaps be the most undervalued aspect of filmmaking and it is used here to brilliant effect. Much credit must go to sound mixer Andrew Fenton and sound editor Damian Chennell.

From a visual point of view, the nightclub itself is actually an empty house with strobe lighting and similar effects portraying otherwise. Duffy’s methods work very well in unsettling viewers and bringing them into the seedy world that O Fuarain’s character is desperately navigating. The consideration of film being a form of voyeurism comes to mind as the audience is watching some very personal and intimate memories and as such they are forced to not only observe the character’s actions but also to be somewhat complicit in them. It feels like the definition of a bad trip but more importantly it’s a very powerful piece of cinema.

As the sole performer O’Fuarain is quite simply terrific. He possesses a very strong screen presence and at times in this film he physically resembles a feral Paul Galvin. His character is a ticking time bomb detonating at regular intervals before resetting to soon do the same again. O’Fuarain is a skilled enough actor though to wrench empathy from his audience. The character is explosive but in his hands and in Duffy’s there is always the sense that an unfortunately misguided individual lays beneath all the rage. This is why a late hint at redemption doesn’t feel like it’s stretching the bounds of credibility. O’Fuarain’s performance in Void is far removed from his equally impressive leading turn in Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, which was released in cinemas this past April. In the latter film his character may have been burning up on the inside but he constantly projected an outward appearance of stoic calm. The fact O’ Fuarain can portray both roles so convincingly marks him down as a talent to watch. The same can be said for Duffy. Void is a great follow-up to his very impressive debut short film Little Bear (which he co-directed with Daire Glynn) and he is now 2 for 2.


Halo

Halo is the directorial debut from Michael-David McKernan, who also plays the lead role of taxi driver Dara in this 16-minute one-take film. Ever since the 1970s when Travis Bickle first got behind the wheel in Taxi Driver, onscreen drivers of this ilk have usually fallen into one of two categories – the comical chatterbox or the lonely crusader. Dara belongs to the latter category though at the beginning of Halo, he doesn’t seem to be on any particular mission.

When we first meet him, Dara seems to be having a fairly standard night on the road, dealing with a fairly obnoxious couple of passengers before picking up a female customer (Toni O’Rourke). While driving her to her boyfriend’s house, he tries and somewhat succeeds in striking up a conversation. What happens next affects them both. Dara is clearly a lonely guy and McKernan’s portrayal is good, veering between awkwardness and sincerity. He brings a charming likeability to Dara. His acting is restrained which is impressive considering McKernan is directing himself. 

The nighttime setting of Halo creates a suitably dark and detached mood, the latter matching the likely mindset of the lead character. McKernan must be commended for his creativity and ingenuity in using some royalty free Beethoven music too, which works in terms of plot as well as serving the atmosphere. The one-take style actually suits this type of story quite well and there isn’t really any occasion where it feels unnecessary. Burschi Wojnar’s cinematography is un-showy and he keeps a largely steady hand throughout.

One issue though is that as Halo moves on, the direction that the story is heading begins to feel predictable. As such, a slight left turn at the end is more than welcome. While not perfect, this is a solid first effort from Michael-David McKernan and it will be interesting to see what he does next, both as an actor and as a director.


Starry Night

Starry Night is a graduate film from students of the Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dun Laoghaire with Emma Smith directing from a script by Rachel Moloney. The first scene opens on an estate in Dublin city as Cara (played by Hazel Clifford) leaves her house and gets into a taxi with her best friend Jeanie. A voiceover narration from Cara explains that she’s finally leaving the place she grew up in, something she never felt she’d have an opportunity to do. Up to this point she’s had to put her own future on hold to take care of her young sisters.

The film then flashes back, showing the events leading up to this moment juxtaposing scenes from the recent past alongside scenes from this day of departure for Cara. Starry Night follows Cara’s attempts to get somebody to take care of the children for her, under the false pretense that she’ll be collecting them again later that night. In reality she is about to abandon the girls to pursue her own dreams. Throughout the piece, titles are repeatedly superimposed on screen displaying how long it is before Cara and Jeanie’s flight leaves. The use of these titles does get a bit tiresome after a while. 

While the stakes are unquestionably high for Cara, there’s just not as much tension in the film as there could be. Following her great performance as Sharon Curley in the stage version of the Snapper last year, Hazel Clifford gives another likeable turn and she has a bright future ahead.  At the end of the film, Cara faces a huge decision but there’s never really any doubt which way she will go with it and it all becomes a bit obvious. It wouldn’t be quite fair to say that the voiceover is overdone but Clifford is a good enough actor that perhaps the film didn’t need it. It’s likely that a greater emotional effect would have resulted if the audience weren’t told Cara’s feelings at certain points but were just allowed to concentrate on the performance instead. 

The production design is worth praise and the cinematography is strong. Without meaning to be condescending the film does look and feel like a professional production, which is not always the case with student pieces. The use of a single location for the majority also brings across a feeling of claustrophobia, which effectively mirrors Cara’s constricted existence. 


The Blizzards – Behind the Music

Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band? This is the question that is playfully explored in Jeff Doyle’s lighthearted mockumentary about Irish band The Blizzards. It’s a relevant enough question too in this modern world where guitar-based music seems to be drifting further and further from the mainstream scene. 

The plot of the film consists of The Blizzards attempting to make a comeback and being led in their quest to do so by hapless manager Duncan Browne. In an attempt to get with the times they actually record a non-guitar inspired song called “Who Would Want To Be In A Guitar Band?” (“your music is just too guitary” moans Browne at one stage), which is met with widespread derision. This spells catastrophe for Browne and for the band members, with each of them dealing with the fallout in their own individual way.

Johnny Elliot gives a good performance as Browne. The band is also game for proceedings too and they do well at sending both themselves and the music industry itself up. This kind of film has been done many times before though and although humorous, Behind The Music is just not laugh-out-loud enough to compensate for the lack of originality. Mockumentaries have burned themselves out over the past decade or so and the humour in such films needs to constantly be razor-sharp if they are to stand a chance at being noticed from amongst the pack.

There is a constant stream of celebrity cameos throughout with Mattress Mick and John Connors probably being the most memorable. These guest appearances are fun at first but soon begin to grate when hardly a minute passes by without one occurring (though kudos to Doyle for getting Stormy Daniels to appear in his film!).

Aside from fans of The Blizzards, it’s hard to know who the film is aimed at. Ironically a serious documentary about the same subject matter may have broader appeal. There are plenty of music fans out there that would find the notion of the guitar as an instrument of the past to be a very unappetizing one indeed. It would be interesting to see just how a thirty-something band like the Blizzards manage to navigate this current world of sanitized pop. At one point in the film Louis Walsh shows up to give lead singer Bressie a pep talk. Aiming to convince him that there is still a place for guitar in the music business, Walsh stresses that: “Ed Sheeran plays guitar”. Regardless of whether that line is intentional or not, it might just be the funniest joke in the entire film.

 

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary Irish Talent: New Shorts 3, Fiction programme screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Never Grow Old

Ruth McNally reviews Ivan Kavanagh’s Western starring John Cusack, Emile Hirsch and Déborah François.

The sold-out closing film of this year’s Film Fleadh was Never Grow Old, a dark and gritty Western, written and directed by Ivan Kavanagh. Kavanagh and some of the Irish cast and crew were in attendance on the night. Kavanagh described the film as the “Western he wanted to make”. He had begun writing it almost ten years previously but noted that it felt like the right time to make the film now as many of the themes feel very relevant to current times. 

The film centres around Irish immigrant Patrick Tate (Emile Hirsch), the local undertaker in a small American frontier town. The town is a pious community, a “holy town” effectively run by the Preacher (Danny Webb). Alcohol, gambling and prostitution have been prohibited and judgement is rife should you step out of line with the town’s imposed morals. Patrick Tate and his French wife, Audrey (Déborah François), consider setting off towards California as they struggle both to fit in and make ends meet.

The quiet existence of the town is unreservedly changed upon the arrival of the outlaw Dutch Albert (John Cusack) and his two cronies. Arriving to the town in search of a wanted man, they decide to stick around and set up shop. They forcibly reopen the saloon, recruit some reluctant prostitutes and with that, the Wild West is back. Dutch Albert takes a special interest in Tate, asking him to facilitate a “private burial”. The threat of the gang and the fact that his family are struggling forces Tate to take this opportunity and henceforth they form an uncomfortable business relationship.  

John Cusack is almost unrecognisable in his manner as Dutch Albert – he fills his scenes with a quiet but palpable menace. The character is both erratic and strangely moralistic in his way, appearing to be taking Patrick Tate under his wing as an immigrant – and therefore an outsider – in the community.  The hypocrisy of this “holy” community is referenced throughout the film, particularly as people rejected by the church start desperately turning to Dutch Albert for work. The law does not wield much power in this town – the sheriff is an ineffective character who bends to the will of the preacher. The two extremes of religious purity and hedonism are the forces at odds with each other and the only sources of power in the town.

Patrick Tate is an almost passive character, adapting to situations as they arise and only acting when something forces his hand. He appeases Dutch Albert while holding him in contempt. His fluctuating motivations in the story mean that he is not a clear hero. As he gets more deeply involved in Dutch Albert’s dirty work, the voice of reason comes from his wife Audrey, played by Déborah François. She is a sympathetic and endearing character and while Tate becomes more dubious in his morality, Audrey becomes the character that you root for. One of the more uncomfortable aspects of the film comes from the threat against Audrey from Dutch Albert’s tongueless henchman Dumb-Dumb (Sam Louwyck), who leers at her a cold, quiet, violence throughout. The anticipation created around this violence adds a sense of dread that permeates the story.

The film is visually very impressive. Much of the outdoor scenes were shot in Connemara – an American frontier town was effectively created somewhere near Oughterard, Galway. The attention to detail in the production design, costume and set design means that everything feels authentic in terms of place and time. The Irish weather conditions do make an appearance in the form of the copious amount of mud visible in the film. These conditions are used to the filmmaker’s advantage as everything is built into showing the hardship of life in this town. The grey skies, rain and seas of mud are all part of the struggle of daily life and reflect the characters’ experience. 

Never Grow Old is an immersive film – once you are in, you are in, for better or for worse. It shows frontier life at its most fantastically harsh, with characters that showcase the darker extremes of humanity. At the screening Kavanagh described it as an allusion to how America was “founded in violence”; the result is a convincing Western, with a good dose of grim and grit.

 

Never Grow Old screened 14th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

 

Never Grow Old is released in Irish cinemas 23rd August 2019


2019 | Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France | 100 mins

 

 

 

 

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