Irish Film Review: Horrible Creature

Irene Falvey attended an IFI screening of Horrible Creature, Áine Stapleton’s film based on the life of Lucia Joyce between 1915 and 1950.

Áine Stapleton’s film Horrible Creature featured at the IFI as part of the First Fortnight festival on 8th January.  The feature is the second in Áine’s trilogy of films which depict the life of Lucia Joyce, James Joyce’s daughter who was a talented dancer. Lucia’s life was considerably altered by her time spent in and out of psychiatric care across Europe from the early 1930s onwards. Horrible Creature was a pertinent choice for the festival as it explores both creativity and issues surrounding mental health.

A stunning visual experience, Horrible Creature focuses on Lucia’s life from 1915-1950, providing a glimpse into Lucia’s childhood, her years as a successful dancer and her experiences of mental asylums across Europe. The narrative is told through highly interpretative and experimental dance to evoke an understanding of Lucia’s emotions. Alongside dance sequences, there are snippets of edited extracts from Lucia’s diaries and letters, providing the audience with brief yet illustrative glimpses into Lucia’s life and mental state. The chosen techniques of dance and carefully crafted extracts steers Horrible Creature away from a straightforward recounting; instead it feels as though we are going through Lucia’s experiences alongside her.  

To tell the story of Lucia Joyce’s life through the medium of dance gives us a clearer idea of who Lucia was, the movements manage to fill in the gaps of this important person’s life. The dancing is far more than just dance; it is expression, it is the outpouring of her story. The dance sequences are designed as a dialogue, representing everything Lucia could have possibly been experiencing and wanted to express but couldn’t.  

The location choices play a significant role within this depiction of Lucia’s life. Filmed across various locations in Switzerland, the natures scenes that DOP Will Humphris’ capture are breath-taking. Locations chosen include snow-covered Swiss mountains, clear lakes and hillside chapels. To contrast the natural landscapes a school, a hospital and a library room are also featured. These visually arresting landscapes and buildings/rooms add an extra symbolic quality to the dance performances. The locations switch between wide open spaces and confined spaces. Perhaps this could be interpreted to reveal the contrasts in Lucia’s life. The sprawling and open nature scenes represent how expansive Lucia’s career could potentially have been. To contrast this, the confined spaces, such as schools and hospitals, represent a closing in, a lack of freedom, spaces in which she could not express herself through dance. In particular, there is one shot of one of the dancers wedged into a fireplace. The effect of this makes us think of the talented dancer who wanted to achieve equal creative success to her father; yet her confinement to psychiatric care rendered her unable to perform which was suffocating and entrapping. 

Horrible Creature manages to bring to life the story of person who has been overshadowed. Not only is a very worthy story being told, it is also being done so with a highly creative vision. Horrible Creature acts as a meditation on how we imagine Lucia would have felt. While the film principally consists of dance sequences, the composed snippets of dialogue provide a revelatory window into Lucia’s life. We are provided with insights from her school days, the friendships of her youth, her family, her love life and her career. What Horrible Creature provides is a stylised interpretation of the emotional experiences which may have underpinned the highs and lows of Lucia’s life. The delicately nuanced yet powerfully visceral choreography ensures that this feature respects and represents Lucia’s life, her struggles and her ambitions. Overall the film relies more so on expression than documentation; it reveals the suffering Lucia must have faced while evocatively and effectively employing dance to paint a picture of Lucia’s mental state.  

 

Horrible Creature screened at the Irish Film Institute on 8th January 2020.

 

 

Áine Stapleton, director of ‘Horrible Creature’

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: The Other Lamb

 

Ciara Creedon reviews  an Irish-Belgian co-production adaptation of fantasy author Catherine S McMullen’s  haunting, visionary drama.

The Other Lamb is an Irish-Belgian co-production, written by Catherine S. McMullen and helmed by Polish director Małgorzata Szumowska. Selected for the Closing Night Gala of the 64th Cork Film Festival, it stars Raffey Cassidy as Selah, a teenage girl who has grown-up in a repressive, all-female cult referred to as the Flock. The cult members follow a man known as the Shepherd, their Charles Manson-esque messiah played by Michiel Huisman. As Selah reaches the cusp of womanhood, she begins to question her faith and her future role in the Flock. 

The cult resides in a remote countryside location, and the depiction of the women’s everyday lives clearly takes inspiration from the world of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. The Shepherd’s Wives all dress in red while the Daughters dress in royal blue. They are completely subservient to the Shepherd, all vying to be granted his “grace”, with the Wives’ bodies completely at his disposal. The Shepherd warns his followers about the rot of the outside world, full of “broken things” that they must stay away from. At the beginning of the film Selah is his most devoted daughter, one of his favourites due to her beauty as well as the fact that she has yet to get her period, which the Shepherd is disgusted by and describes as punishment for “Eve’s sin”. However, Selah becomes increasingly disillusioned with the Shepherd’s dogmatic regime, spurred on in part by the relationship she forms with the Shepherd’s former favourite and cult-outcast, Sarah (played skilfully by Denise Gough). Sarah reveals that the Shepherd was partly responsible for Selah’s mother’s death, and that he is not all-knowing and all-powerful but a cruel, fickle false prophet. Selah begins to have disturbing, grotesque visions as her doubts grow. When the police pay a visit to the Flock’s settlement, the Shepherd informs his followers that they must find a new home, and the journey proves to test the women’s belief like never before.

The most remarkable aspect of The Other Lamb is its cinematography. The film is visually stunning, shot entirely in Wicklow. The shots of the landscape are breath-taking, featuring sequences at Powerscourt Waterfall as well as Lough Tay, which the Shepherd describes as “paradise on earth”. The royal blue and crimson costumes worn by the cult members are striking against the de-saturated grey-green of the Irish countryside. The performances are strong all-round too. Raffey Cassidy does a stellar job as a teenage girl questioning the world around her and gaining confidence in her own strength – a lot of the shots rely on Cassidy’s ability to convey myriad emotions through facial expression alone. Michiel Huisman does a fine job too as smarmy cult leader, intent on taking advantage of vulnerable women. The film’s score, composed by Paweł Mykietyn, is minimalist but powerful and fitting. The film features many haunting acapella performances of folk songs by the cult members such as “Babes in the Wood” and “Down to the Valley to Pray”, as well as one pop song that fits surprisingly well – ‘The Last Goodbye’ by indie rock band The Kills.

The film has its flaws, particularly its slow and somewhat uneven pace. The symbolism can be quite heavy-handed too. The Flock own a literal flock of sheep from which they take literal sacrificial lambs. In one scene it is made clear that the Shepherd doesn’t want any male members in the Flock, and Sarah emphasises to Selah that there is only room for “one ram”. Driving this point home to the audience, the Flock own one actual ram whom Selah has frequent stares-off with, reflecting her growing distrust of the Shepherd. These points aside however, the film is an enjoyable and thought-provoking watch. Selah’s transformation from devout follower of a patriarch to a leader in her own right is explored very well, as well as the power of embracing female rage rather than shying away from it. The importance of having control over your own narrative is emphasised too; the Shepherd makes it clear that he is the only one allowed to tell stories, but Selah defies this and tells a story of her own. The final shot of the film will stay with you for a long time after viewing. The film is worth seeing for how beautiful the shots are alone, but it also explores Selah’s coming-of-age and the dismantling of a patriarchal community in a captivating way.

 

The Other Lamb screened on Sun, 17th Nov 2019 @ the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

   

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts

 

Loretta Goff was at the Cork Film Festival’s screening of short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes.

Ten short films produced under Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland’s Focus Shorts and Real Shorts schemes had their world premiere at the 64th Cork Film Festival on the 16th of November. Mags O’Sullivan of Screen Ireland introduced the programme of shorts by noting that 60% of them were directed by women and that 50% had female screenwriters, highlighting Screen Ireland’s commitment to diversity and gender equality, which was evident across these shorts. The films ranged in their mode of expression and style—encompassing animation, documentary and live-action—but all engaged with types of community and identity, making for interesting comparisons and showing off Irish talent.

Lorraine Lordan’s A Cat Called Jam opened the programme with the humorous tale of a cat who sees himself as a dog and just wants to be part of the pack. Despite reactions suggesting he doesn’t quite fit in, Jam is persistent in his mission, lightheartedly singing about meat and chasing his tale like the other dogs. A beautifully drawn and well-crafted animation, this short has an uplifting message about finding the place you belong for yourself and being who you want to be. This message carried across several of the other films, with A Cat Called Jam offering an excellent start to the group.

The second film of the selection, Bryony Dunne’s Above the Law, explored communities in transit, cleverly drawing comparisons between paths of migratory birds and the, usually fraught, journeys of refugees and migrants. While the birds move freely, as they wish, between locations, closely examined only by birdwatchers, the refugees are instead seen by surveillance cameras patrolling borders, or those who must be ready to rescue them from overflowing boats. Moving between Cairo, Lesvos and Donegal, with narration from both migrants and those looking out for them, the film lets us literally fly along with the birds (with cameras attached) as we are grounded by the words spoken by these individuals. Above the Law faces difficult realities in a poetic and hopeful way, drawing to a close with a Syrian refugee in Ireland commenting that his “Irish passport is now [his] wings”.

A Better You, written and directed by Eamonn Murphy, brings us to a well-designed modern steampunk world with the advanced technology of programmable carbon clones alongside computers that are cranked to scroll through pages as you would archival material. In this setting, a shy man, Douglas (Seán T. Ó Meallaigh) finally decides to purchase a “better version” of himself to go on a date with a girl he likes. Ó Meallaigh’s performance and the production design are both very strong and, after some light-hearted scenes setting up the clone, we are left with a similar message to that in A Cat Called Jam—that it is best to be yourself.

Ruari Robinson’s Corporate Monster takes a turn toward horror as an overworked and recently laid-off man in NYC takes some untested pills to help with his exhaustion. These further unravel him, causing him to see monsters all around him who pose as humans—from policemen to his former boss. Are the pills making him unstable, causing him to go on a rampage, or are they exposing the truth of the creatures living amongst us? The fast-paced Corporate Monster keeps you guessing with its impressive looking creatures, and makes you consider the perils of losing oneself in work and greed. It also offers some well-placed political commentary as the first appearances of these creatures are surrounding Trump on the stage during a televised speech.

Welcome to a Bright White Limbo, directed by Cara Holmes, documents the creative process of dancer and choreographer of Oona Doherty. As Doherty explains that she had moved to Belfast from London, didn’t feel she fit in, and found a way to express herself through movement, we see her practicing her choreography in the street of a housing estate, as well as in an auditorium. This movement embodies not only herself, but the local identity. Welcome to a Bright White Limbo is artistically shot, capturing the arresting and emotive movements of Doherty, and offering insight into the thoughtful construction of her award-winning show, Hope Hunt.

In Claire Byrne’s Sister This, a simple phone conversation between two sisters reveals a depth of emotion and shines a light on the struggle to get by, and what is sometimes sacrificed to do it. With one sister abroad for work, and the other taking care of her son, they argue over the mother missing the boy’s birthday and about the safety of her line of work. Charlie Bailey and Jordanne Jones deliver strong performances as the sisters, packing this short with an emotional punch.

Based on Ryan’s essay “The Fear of Winning”, Iseult Howlett’s cleverly named The Grass Ceiling is a short documentary in which three of Ireland successful female athletes—Rianna Jarrett, Elise O’Byrne White and Ryan herself—relate what sport means to them. Through this a portrait is spun of powerful, inspiring women who resist constrictive and conservative gender expectations. Finding their place and their confidence through their athleticism, these women serve as strong role models. The Grass Ceiling rightfully showcases their talents and perspectives, which are often overlooked in favour of the male athletes who are more frequently in the spotlight, and is itself a powerful and inspiring film.

Sophia Tamburrini’s Maya stars Pat Shortt as Ken, who lives happily connected to a machine that simulates his reality using his memories. However, as his payments for this run out, he will soon be confronted by reality. Maya sensitively explores loss and what grief can do to a person—replaying memories and subtly overwriting them through time until we are faced with a new reality. Tamburrini smartly uses elements of sci-fi in this film as a way to confront what are equally natural processes. 

Kalchalka, directed by Gar O’Rourke, documents “the world’s most hardcore gym”—Kiev’s outdoor Soviet scrap metal gym, offering a snapshot of the day-to-day running of this unique place and the variety of individuals that use it. Well put-together shots tell the story of this space as its caretaker brings us through it, providing several humorous moments. The gym equipment and construction is interesting in itself, but the glimpses we are given of the characters that populate it leave an even bigger impression. Personalities are well-captured here, often simply through gesture.

Finally, rounding off the programme was Brendan Canty’s Cork-based Christy, which received quite a few cheers from the home crowd. This short follows a 16-year-old as he goes on a disappointing job interview and is brought back to good spirits by his friends. Showing off plenty of Cork charm, in a similar vein to The Young Offenders, the film deftly moved between heartfelt moments and humour, ending the Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts with plenty of laughs.

 

The Screen Ireland World Premiere Shorts programme screened on 16th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road

Caleb Cotter experiences twists and turns on life’s highway at the Irish Shorts 5 programme at the 2019 Cork Film Festival. 

 

It is an exhilarating experience going into a short film compilation having no idea what any of the films are. It’s made even better when the reel’s title indicates that you are to be shown a number of films with a vast range of styles, genres, tones and premises. This is what I wanted from Irish Shorts: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road, and I was satisfied with what I got; having been shown a brilliant showcase of weird, unique and creative films, from live action to animation.

Starting and ending the showcase were two strange and fantastic comedies: Eli Dolliver’s Lovestruck, in which an eccentric older woman is unlucky at finding love and Something Doesn’t Feel Right by Fergal Costello, where we see the trouble a classic slasher villain faces in setting up his perfect kills.

Lovestruck set the showcase’s tone perfectly, blending  almost creepy surreal tone with witty dialogue and an idiosyncratic lead performance by Eithne Horgan that leaves you laughing almost as much as you are baffled. On the other hand, Something Doesn’t Feel Right brilliantly gives us a brilliant subversion of the classic horror tropes as we see the time and effort it takes Zipface to set up his kills and the problems he endures when things don’t go as planned. It’s funny and surprisingly endearing as it is gory, ending the showcase with a standout film.

In between these comedies, there played some surprisingly riveting dramas. The first of these was Liam O’Neill’s Kathleen, in which a struggling writer finds inspiration in a dispossessed woman he invites into his home in a sad yet beautiful film with great lead performances. Then came Daniel Butler’s Leave the Road Behind You, in which a young man tries to wrestle control during a massive shift in his life. It was nice to see a film in Irish during the film, and the film itself had some great performances and editing, while its grim, gritty atmosphere perfectly encapsulated the turmoil the main character was going through. The last of these dramas was Michael-David McKernan’s HALO, a superb drama about a lonely taxi driver trying to protect his passenger from heartbreak. Shot completely from the passenger seat of the taxi, HALO tells an engaging and heart-wrenching story with captivating, believable performances from all involved. Top that with a brilliant screenplay and beautiful lighting, the film uses the limited space of the taxi to its advantage in order to convey exactly what it wants to, which earned it’s director a well-deserved award at the Festival’s Award Ceremony.

Finally, the short film reel showcased a trio of fantastic animated films that brought unique art styles to the forefront. The first was Streets of Fury a charming five-minute film in which the muscular protagonist of an ’80s ‘beat em up’ arcade game gets transported to the world of a much calmer game. Switching between a retro ’80s feel and a children’s book aesthetic, the film is captivating with fantastic animation, a sincere amount of heart and fantastic music (including an classic arcade game remix of the Rocky training theme) and is a simple joy to watch. Meanwhile, The Dream Report gave a stylised red-and-black airbrush art style to its strange, eerie interweaving moments of a man’s daily life and abstruse messages from out of space. The film beautifully induces a calming mind-numbing sensation, pulling you into its world and simply carrying you along its journey with its deadpan voiceover. However, the standout of the animated films was John Don’t Know Nothin’! where a successful star of a family sitcom gets into a heated conversation with his taxi driver. Trippy, eerie and sometimes downright terrifying, the film uses every trick in the book to portray its tale of sorrow and despair, from its beautifully contrasting colours and an art style that transitions back and forth between the simplicity of a children’s book and that if a surrealist painting to its fantastic writing and changing aspect ratio. After watching it, I couldn’t help but give a deep breath at what I had seen; its visuals and profoundness swirling around my brain long after I had left the cinema.

Overall, It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road was a fantastic showcase of a myriad of creative, unique films, any of which I’d highly recommend seeking out.

 

The Irish Shorts 5: It’s No Longer A Journey Down The Road programme screened on Fri., 15th Nov 2019  as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November 2019).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Evening Redness of the South

Emma Keyes takes in Colin Hickey’s dialogue-free, poetic feature.

The Evening Redness of the South, written, directed, and edited by Colin Hickey, follows a working-class father and son in County Cork from building site to building site, intercut with stunning imagery of the landscape. The film contains no dialogue, making it a twenty-first century kind of silent film, albeit one that also lacks titles cards. As an exercise in avant-garde filmmaking, the film can be compelling and confusing at the same time. The narrative has a hard time revealing itself and so often we’re left with what feels like decontextualized visuals.

Hickey has a visual preoccupation with the male body at work. The camera lingers on images of a man’s bare back, his hands, his feet, and the tools he uses and Hickey returns again and again to these images. Since the narrative aspect of the film lacks clarity, the visuals come to the forefront of the viewing experience, especially because so many of the images in this film feel akin to paintings in their vividness and in their stillness. Hands touch in close-up visually calling to mind the way that God and Adam’s hands meet in Michelangelo’s fresco in the Sistine Chapel. Later we get crucifixion imagery when the man rests a shovel across his bare shoulders. And with no dialogue, people’s gazes take on a particular significance. The film holds the thought that none of us can ever stop touching or looking, even if we don’t have anything figured out.

Everything is set against the sky in this film. Buildings and structures jut up into the sky, filling the frame. The low-camera angle dominates throughout, such that the sky takes up the majority of many shots. The Heavens press down on men at work and men at rest. The soundscape lulls you into a rhythm. The film feels like a hymnal, even if it’s not sure to what exactly it is praying. The sacred and the profane come together in a life.

According to Hickey during the audience Q&A after the screening, the story came together in the post-production process. Much of the acting was improvised on camera and Hickey said, “I didn’t direct them. Their performances are their own.” Perhaps the story would have felt more cohesive with a clearer sense of direction going into the production process. Still, Hickey made clear that his film was “driven by images, sound, colour, light” in the tradition of pure cinema and it very much fits into that tradition.

The Evening Redness of the South screened on 13th November as part of the 2019 Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Floating Structures

Emma Keyes takes a look at Adrian Duncan and Feargal Ward’s  Floating Structures, a flâneur-like quest to consider the gravity-defying mysteries of structural engineering.

The screening for Floating Structures, directed by Feargal Ward and Adrian Duncan, opened with the duo’s short film Memory Room, an otherworldly disorienting film plunged deep in a snowy expanse. Sisyphus probably would have recognized his own situation in the actions of the unnamed protagonist who drags a sled through the snow for twenty-two minutes. Since the film has little plot to speak of outside of that, the aesthetics become all the more notable. Visually, the film sets up a monochromatic dichotomy: white and black, light and shadow, night and day. The soundtrack adds a cerebral element that helps the film keep its audience’s attention. Memory Room is a striking avant-garde piece.

Floating Structures follows a man on a quest to find a bridge in Germany. He’s an engineer by training and his view of the world around him is funneled through the skillset and set of experiences; he has the mind of an analyst. The bridge at the centre of the initial quest no longer exists, but that sends the protagonist (a fictional construction) veering off in different directions as he travels around Europe putting his engineer’s brain to use.

The most frustrating aspect of Floating Structures is the monotonous voice of the narrator character. He never modulates his tone, pitch, or speed at all, which makes it hard to focus on what he’s saying. Fundamentally, a meditative personal essay about engineering has trouble sustaining itself for the entirety of a feature-length film. I am not an engineer and maybe if I were I would disagree, but at times I found the film somewhat self-indulgent and too slow. The voiceover certainly played a part in that as did the fact that much of the forage was slightly slowed down so that we weren’t watching in real time. Additionally, the camera movement and the score also moved at just about the same pace for the whole film. Those compounding monotonous elements lulled me into a near stupor and so I did not retain as much information from the film as I might have hoped.

I found the Q&A with Adrian Duncan after the screening to be more interesting than the film itself. His thoughts on he and co-director’s practice were enlightening and helped to flesh out the film. Duncan and Ward “weren’t interested in showing them [buildings] in a beautiful architectural sense” but rather in an analytical sense. They were also interested in blurring the lines between documentary and fiction filmmaking: hence the fictional protagonist in the real world offering up a factual narration of that world. Although the character is not real, “in none of the buildings or history of the buildings was anything sexed up.” The protagonist “never goes beyond a cypher” just like the unnamed protagonist of Memory Room. Ward and Duncan have interesting ideas and I just wish they had managed to convey them more effectively on screen. Still, any architects or structural engineers should at least get a kick out of Floating Structures even if I didn’t.

 

Floating Structures screened on 14th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

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Review of Irish Film @ Cork Film Festival 2019: Lost Lives

 

 

Emma Keyes was at the Cork Film Festival to see Lost Lives, Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt’s film adapted from the book that aims to document the stories of the men, women and children who have died as a result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland. 

William Kinney. Stephen Keating. Malcolm and Peter Orr. Philip Rafferty. William Gordon Gallagher. Danielle Carter. John, Anna, Jacqueline, and Anne Marie O’Brien. Julie Statham. James Joseph Connolly. Julie Livingstone. James Kennedy.

These are just some of the civilians, soldiers, and paramilitary fighters who died as a direct result of the Troubles in Northern Ireland and that the film Lost Lives, co-directed by Dermot Lavery and Michael Hewitt, attempts to illustrate. The film adapts the book of the same name that chronicles every one of the more than 3700 people who lost their lives during the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Each of the nearly twenty stories is narrated by a different actor from the island of Ireland (Liam Neeson, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Rea, Roma Downey, and Kenneth Branagh, to name just a few). Every story helps to illustrate the way in which, as stated by the mother of the murdered Orr brothers, “It’s like sitting back and watching a nation commit suicide…and there’s nothing you can do about it.” No one story rises above any other as more powerful, rather each story builds upon the ones that came before it, rising to a crescendo that cannot be looked away from. 

This film does not interest itself in the political, social, religious, or economic realities and machinations of the Troubles. Other books and documentaries have done thorough jobs pinning down just how the Troubles came to be, so for a viewer who knows nothing about the twentieth century history of Northern Ireland, Lost Lives is not the best starting point for learning that context. Hewitt and Lavery focus on showcasing a cross-section of stories of people who died by gunfire, bombings, and suicide during the Troubles and after the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998. This approach emphasizes the human element of the conflict which makes for hard but necessary viewing.

While every story the film highlights devastates, the film’s aesthetics undercut the power of its narrative. In various moments throughout the film, the score overpowers the narration and visuals, telling us how to feel instead of letting the stories stand for themselves. The visuals also often left something to be desired. Visually, the strongest moments of the film occurred when the filmmakers showed archival footage from the time period: bombings, funerals, and daily life. Had the whole film consisted of archival footage with voiceover narration on top, the film would have been visually tight and arresting. Instead, Lavery and Hewitt intercut random footage of various scenes of landscapes, animals, and decaying buildings.

In the Q&A after the screening, Hewitt, with regards to the footage, said, “We didn’t want to go and film somewhere that directly related to what we were reading in the book,” and, “It was about creating space for the words.” That justification is understandable, but nonetheless, the random footage creates a distance between the narrative and the audience when the film would have been better served by trying to create an immediacy between the two. The natural aesthetics imbue the film with a sense of the mystical and epic and unknowable when really the tragedy of the situation in Northern Ireland is in how utterly mundanely human it all is. The natural world has little to do with humans killing one another.

Although the aesthetics undermine the power of Lost Lives, the film still stands as an important testament to a traumatic time period whose repercussions resonate in Northern Ireland today. The film bears witness to the more than 3700 people dead in this conflict and so must we.

 

Lost Lives screened on 8th November 2019 as part of the Cork Film Festival (7 – 17 November).

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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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