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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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody

Seán Crosson reflects on Aodh Ó Coileáin’s exploration of confluence.

Galway has long been regarded as the cultural capital of Ireland. However, this reputation has rarely been interrogated on film to identify what may make the city and surrounding county distinctive for creative artists, and the more complex story that may lie behind this description. Aodh Ó Coileáin’s Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody addresses these questions through reflections from an array of Galway based artists from varied fields, including musician/composer Máirtín O’Connor; novelist Mike McCormack; poet Rita Ann Higgins; artistic director of Macnas Noeline Kavanagh; singer songwriter Róisín Seoighe; visual artist Pádraic Reaney; and comedian Tommy Tiernan. 

These reflections are accompanied by stunning imagery of Galway city and county that perfectly complements the perspectives offered while confirming the scenic beauty of the area that provides inspiration for many of those featured. Within the documentary, each contributor reflects on their own creative process and the inspiration they have taken from the space around them – these are not always entirely positive recollections; they speak to the complexity of Galway as a space, as well as the challenges of the artistic process itself. The creative work of each contributor is threaded through the documentary, providing musical, visual, and literary accompaniment to their words and the images featured. 

A recurring trope throughout the work is the concept of confluence (one of the many definitions provided for Cumar in the production) – Galway through history has been above all a meeting place, most obviously for the waterways across the city that converge in Galway Bay, but also for the many individuals down the years of varied backgrounds, cultures  and languages that have interacted, and influenced each other while making Galway their home. Ó Coileáin foregrounds this theme of interaction through a conversation between Tommy Tiernan and Mike McCormack, to which the production repeatedly returns.

Given the presence of Ireland’s largest Gaeltacht in the county, Ó Coileáin rightly chooses to take a bilingual approach to the topic and the Irish language itself is a recurring theme, even among writers (such as Rita Anne Higgins) who write primarily in English. However, there is also a tension evident here at times, articulated most clearly by Tiernan who refers to the linguistic divide between the city and Gaeltacht area. 

There is a further critique evident by Mike McCormack of the failure of the city to provide adequate exhibition space for the visual arts in particular. While Galway may pride (and market) itself on the prominence of culture and the arts, there is a strong sense expressed across several of the contributors here that this status is not always supported appropriately in terms of either facilities or support provided for the arts in Galway.

However, overall this is a celebratory work. In advance of Galway taking over as European Capital of Culture next year, Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody is a timely, engaging and at times provocative reflection on Galway (city and county) as a distinctive place from the perspective of some of the city and county’s leading creative figures.

Seán Crosson

 

 Cumar: A Galway Rhapsody screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

2019 | Ireland | 72 mins 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary 

Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah)

Seán Crosson took in a selection of  documentary shorts at this year’s Fleadh, featuring works from both established and debut directors, showcasing the best of Irish talent. 

A key component of the Galway Film Fleadh’s focus on new and emerging talent is the series of short programmes featured across the festival. In total there were nine sessions dedicated to shorts at the Fleadh, covering documentary, fiction, and animation and as always the organisers deserve great credit for the focus and space they allocate to young Irish filmmakers in the programme. 

The films included in the first programme covered a wide range of topics from reflections on Irishness, to profile pieces, and considerations of aspects of the natural world.

El Hor

The programme began with the visually stunning and evocative El Hor directed by Dianne Lucille Campbell. Inspired by the beautiful Saluki dog, the film combines mythology, nature imagery, and dynamic cinematography, with otherworldly musical accompaniment. In the surreal landscapes and images created, the film is reminiscent of Maya Deren’s work, but also in its imagining of the world from the perspective of the animals featured, the work of Stan Brakhage. Overall Campbell has produced an extraordinary cacophony of sound and image, impossible to categorise but rather oddly included in a section dedicated to short documentaries; this was a work much closer in form to experimental film.

Our Land

More in keeping with documentary form was Eoin Harnett’s Our Land, an impressively realised reflection on what makes Ireland distinctive. Featuring seven contributors, each of whom provide engaging, humorous and at times insightful commentary on the topic, the documentary was excellently paced, moving effectively between its contributors and supporting footage from the streets of Galway.

Recommend Rapper

The subsequent films Recommend Rapper (Caoimhin Coffey) and Farmer Michael (The Life and Times of a Social Media Pariah) (Gerard Walsh) each provided profiles of intriguing characters from Galway. Recommend Rapper focuses on would-be rapper Danny Rock from Kinvara in Galway and his efforts to produce his first music video. While generally well produced, there is an uneasy tension (never entirely resolved) evident in this work between the director’s concern to sympathetically portray the subject and Rock becoming himself a figure of fun. Farmer Michael concerns the man (Steven Timothy) behind the comic character in the film’s title who has achieved a considerable following in recent years for his entertaining and idiosyncratic YouTube videos. This is an entertaining and at times moving account of the challenges Timothy has faced in his life. However, it is also a somewhat unbalanced piece that would have benefited from either a longer profile to accommodate the tonal changes apparent or a more focused production. 

Squared Circle

Squared Circle is an interesting chronicle of a group of wrestlers setting up and performing  on Waterford promenade, accompanied by an evocative commentary of the events concerned, written by Dublin-based wrestling promoter Simon Rochford, and recited by actor Ger Carey. In its day-in-a-life structure, the documentary is an informative account of the wrestlers featured and the effort involved in the events they organise and participate in.

Making Tom

Big Tom McBride was a legendary figure in Irish country music, above all for people from his native Castleblayney in Co. Monaghan. Táine King and Lorraine Higgins’ Making Tom is a sensitively produced study of the making of a statue to commemorate the country and Irish legend, and the impact of its unveiling on residents of his home town.

Pigeons of Discontent

The final documentary featured in this programme was Paddy Cahill’s Pigeons of Discontent – this was amongst the strongest works featured in this section, imaginatively engaging with the divided opinions among local residents of Stoneybatter in Dublin city towards the large number of pigeons that gather in the area. Cahill rightly chooses to focus his camera almost entirely on the pigeons themselves and the, at times, striking and beautiful shapes they create in flight, accompanied by comments (both positive and negative) from those who share Stoneybatter with them. 

Seán Crosson

 

The Irish Talent: New Shorts 1: Documentary programme screened 10th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: A Bump Along the Way

Siomha McQuinn gives up her seat for Shelly Love’s A Bump Along the Way.

A Bump Along the Way, a product of an all-female creative team and winner of Best Irish First Feature at the Galway Film Fleadh, is about the tumultuous relationship between happy-go-lucky Pamela and her 15-year-old daughter, Allegra, who does not shy away from scolding her mother’s behaviour. Picture a modern-day Gilmore Girls but the relationship between the Lorelei and Rory is more hostile, Rory is a vegan and Stars Hollow is now a gossipy town in Derry.

After a night of lacklustre romance with a younger man, Pamela is baffled to find herself pregnant. Her situation is far from ideal as the father wants nothing to do with her and she can barely make ends meet in her current situation. The news puts further strains on her relationship with Allegra and the pair must learn to navigate their reality as they prepare for the arrival of their newest family member.

Many of the ideas in this film are already well-trodden paths such as the mother/daughter role-reversal and the absent father. However, both Pamela and Allegra are given narratives that are separate to the central relationship and this makes the world of the film richer.

The role of Allegra is played by Lola Petticrew, who won the Bingham Ray New Talent Award for her performance. She switches seamlessly between being a callous and bitter teenage daughter and a shy, artistic student who falls prey to some of her classmates. Her acting style is very natural as she creates a character who is quietly brave. The way she treats her mother initially seems disproportionately cold and unfair but with the realisation that Allegra is having a difficult time in school, and the knowledge that Pamela’s pregnancy will only act as fuel for her bully’s taunts, it is easier to empathise with a teenager who is doing her best to survive a tough time in her life. 

Bronagh Gallagher, who plays Pamela with big-eyed lovability, is clueless to Allegra’s bullying. She is well-meaning but vulnerable, which makes the growth of her character even more pleasing. A party-girl by nature, she is restless during her pregnancy and it is endearing to watch the pure torture that it is for her stay at home and rest, made worse by Allegra’s increasingly busy social calendar.  

Apart from Pamela’s delightful baker boss and Allegra’s kind teacher, men are painted in an almost entirely negative light; from the father of Pamela’s unborn child, who is fiercely unkind when discovering the pregnancy, to Allegra’s father who kicks up a fuss when asked to contribute financially. Their characters lack much intricacy, but this is easily forgiven as A Bump Along the Way is a film that champions women and delves into their complexities, making a slight dent into the massive backlog of films that represent women through flimsily constructed characters. These typical toxic male characters are there to aid the narrative. Pamela realises that she needs to stand up to the negative men in her life if her daughter is ever to respect her. 

A Bump Along the Way is a sweet and uplifting film about female relationships, the difficulties of life in a small town and the power of standing up for yourself. Despite engaging with difficult topics like bullying and misogyny it remains light and upbeat. It is satisfying and fun and suggests a bright future for the women involved in its production. 

Siomha McQuinn

@SiomhaMcQuinoa

A Bump Along the Way screened 13th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Animals

Siomha McQuinn takes in Sophie Hyde’s film about two long-time friends and party-lovers navigating life and love in Dublin.

 

Animals, starring Holliday Grainger and Alia Shawkat, is a romantic and rebellious adaptation of Emma Jane Unsworth’s book of the same title. Its central characters, Laura and Tyler, are best friends living Sauvignon-Blanc-fuelled lifestyles in Dublin. Laura is an introspective writer who expresses herself privately through her journals, while Tyler is unapologetic and opinionated, the type of person who will condemn the institution of marriage but come wedding dress shopping to avail of the free champagne. They aid each other in avoiding responsibility through a friendship that knows no boundaries. However, once Laura meets Jim, a charming, successful pianist, their friendship begins to experience difficulties.  

The film finds Laura situated precariously between the two lives that she can lead. Her options are a carefree lifestyle of drinking and drug-taking with Tyler or a calmer life with Jim in which she can grow as a writer and perhaps follow in her sister’s footsteps by settling down and starting a family. Laura initially appears to favour the latter. As her relationship with Jim develops, Laura blossoms and his influence spurs her on to develop a consistent work ethic. However, she begins to flirt with her old lifestyle by way of handsome and intellectual poet, Marty, a distraction that Tyler encourages as she sees as the opportunity to reclaim the old Laura. It becomes clear that Laura cannot stretch herself between her two worlds and must find a way to reconcile with her reality.

Partying provides the foundation for Laura and Tyler’s relationship and therefore drinking culture takes centre stage in Animals. The characters are frequently intoxicated and rarely seen without some form of alcohol in hand. They comically circle clubs pouring the dregs from other people’s drinks into their own glasses. The frequency with which they drink can be overwhelming but is indicative of the way people socialise in modern society. 

The backdrop of their boozy nights is Dublin and while this film strives to explore a different kind of woman onscreen it also offers a different cinematic imagining of Dublin. The film avoids focusing on recognisable Dublin landmarks opting to film terrace houses and side streets by night and Georgian interiors as part of Dublin’s literature scene. Director Sophie Hyde remarks on this being a pronounced choice to capture the Dublin of an insider instead of a touristic viewpoint. It is an intimate look at the lives of two young women and the way in which it is shot enhances this. 

Animals is an engaging and enjoyable film. It gives audiences a different perspective on what it means to be a woman represented onscreen. The two leads are impulsive, flawed and messy and this is shown in a way that is neither judgemental or glorified but at times these characters are not fully plausible. For example, a flashback in which Laura’s sister strips naked and climbs on top of a bar counter, only to set fire to her pubic hair, is jarring and seems outrageous even for the world of the film. The characters are extreme subversions of the traditional woman. That being said, it is a rich, thoughtful film with some very funny moments. It is an exciting example of the female-centred, female-made content that is making waves across the film industry.

 

Animals screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July).

Animals is released in Irish cinemas 9th August 2019.

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Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh 2019: Finky

Siomha McQuinn reflects on Dathai Keane’s offbeat, mysterious, fantasy drama, which is the first film to emerge from the Cine4 scheme.

 

Dathai Keane’s Irish language feature, Finky, was warmly received at its world premiere at the Galway Film Fleadh. Set between Galway and Glasgow, the ambitious, arty and action-packed film was brought home for its debut outing. This fever-dream of a film follows Micí Finky, a musician who is haunted by a dark past leading him to look for an escape. He finds himself in increasingly off-the-wall and dangerous situations which ultimately force him to confront his past once and for all.

Finky is a celebration of the Irish language. It catapults the language onto an exciting new terrain, far beyond the traditions of Irish-language filmmaking. 

A puppet show opens the film and this whimsical and unconventional beginning sets the tone for the rest of the film. It is made up of a series of sequences which defy expectations at every turn, leaving the audience clueless about what will happen next.

After a bust-up in Galway, Finky flees to Glasgow with his friend Tom where, after meeting an eclectic mix of characters, he is involved in an accident and becomes wheelchair bound. He seeks refuge in his state of reduced mobility but is not safe from his own memories. In an act of recklessness he finds himself recruited by a sinister circus which causes things to go from bad to worse in a spectacular final sequence. 

The film originated as a character study and this is wholly apparent as it devotes itself to Finky’s viewpoint above all others. At times he is not likable and loses the empathy of the audience with his actions. It is a challenging character and is performed well by Dara Devaney. The erratic nature of Finky’s personality is mirrored in the events of the film.

In addition to Finky, the film has a wide range of colourful characters who bring different energies to the screen. The character of Bang Bang, played by the film’s co-writer Diarmuid De Faoite, provides comic relief with his eccentricities. His character is one of the contributors to the tone of the film shifting frequently; one moment it seems to demand that it is taken seriously while at other times it is farcical and surreal in nature. 

The sensory experience of the film is enhanced with the use of a strong soundtrack. Dreamy, melodic pieces accompany the beautifully shot frames. Above all else, the film creates mood effectively. The visuals provide a dream-like quality to modern-day Galway and Glasgow.  

Overall, Finky is a well-acted, engaging and memorable film. It could have benefited from a less complicated structure as it was at times confusing, however, it is sure to be a provocative film.

Finky screened 11th July as part of the 2019 Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July)

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Irish Film Review: Prisoners of the Moon

DIR: Johnny Gogan • WRI: Johnny Gogan, Nick Snow • DOP: Eoin McLoughlin • DOP: Johnny Gogan, Fionn Rodgers • ED: Patrick O’Rourke • PRO: Johnny Gogan  • MUS: Steve Wickham • CAST: Jim Norton, Cathy Belton, Marian Quinn, Alan Devine

The human and environmental cost of technological progress is a spectre which haunts history, from medical trials without informed consent to conflict minerals in smartphones. It’s a difficult subject to grapple with, especially when a now mainstream technology or an historical feat of technological achievement has a murky past. 

In Johnny Gogan’s Prisoners of the Moon, we hear the words of Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp survivor, Jean Michel: ‘It was at Dora I realised how the pyramids were built’. It was in the underground tunnels of Dora that the German army’s V-1 and V-2 rockets were manufactured using slave labour. The book that Michel would go on to write about his time at Dora would eventually lead by chance to one of the V-1 and V-2’s chief engineers, Arthur Rudolph, being forced to leave the United States despite being given citizenship while working on the American space program.

After World War II, several engineers and rocket scientists who were based at Dora, including Wernher von Braun and Arthur Rudolph, were hired by the US government as part of Operation Paperclip. This docudrama examines this era, when US authorities decided to look the other way when considering the moral implications of recruiting former Nazi party members to work on their project to send a man to the moon. 

It takes as its focus Rudolph, whose work on the V-1 and V-2 rockets contributed to the success of Saturn V and the Apollo 11 launch. Using a mix of archive footage, interviews, and dramatic re-enactment, the film follows Rudolph’s early career in Germany, his time in Dora, his immigration to the US and work on the space program, his return to Germany by ‘mutual agreement’ after questions were raised in the ’80s, to his detention when attempting to enter Canada in the ’90s and the subsequent immigration hearing there. The film explores Rudolph’s culpability, what he may have seen or not seen at Dora, and speculates on the man and his conscience.

The re-enactment segments are where the film wavers. While well cast, there are some scenes that may have been better served by a documentary style rather than a dramatic one. The wealth of detail in the film, from archive footage to written and verbal accounts and expert analysis, suggests there would’ve been ample material to tell this story in documentary mode alone. Those elements of this deftly researched docudrama are its strongest and most engaging, raising challenging questions about the role of Nazi scientists in the achievement of the first human space flight.

Cathy Butler

75′ 29″
12A (see IFCO for details)
Prisoners of the Moon is released 28th June 2019

Prisoners of the Moon – Official Website

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: DIFF Shorts #4

David Deignan takes in a “vibrant shorts programme” at this year’s Dublin International Film Festival.


This vibrant shorts programme, the fourth out of five screened as part of the Dublin International Film Festival, was diverse in terms of theme, tone and form. Programmer Si Edwards deserves props for his keen sense of pacing, with the eclectic selection of films complementing each other well. There were eight shorts screened in total, so here we’ll list some brief notes on each one.

Mother – Director: Natasha Waugh, Producer: Sharon Cronin (Ireland)

 

This absurdist comedy follows hard-working mum Grace, whose perfectly happy home family is suddenly disrupted when her husband arrives home one day with a brand new kitchen appliance – and she slowly starts to realize there may not be room for both of them in the house.

Mother is a wonderfully weird little film, with the strangeness gradually escalating until its hilarious crescendo. Waugh’s direction is subtle but confident, and the film looks great thanks to excellent production design. The central performances are entertaining, with an especially enjoyable turn from Lochlann O’Mearáin as Grace’s husband. Special praise must go to Jonathan Hughes’ offbeat, original script.

This was a real crowd-pleaser, and the perfect way to open the programme.

Inanimate – Director: Lucia Bulgheroni, Producer: Lennard Ortmann (UK)


Inanimate is an accomplished animation produced by the students of NFTS. Its protagonist, Katrine,  is forced to try and piece her previously normal life back together when it starts to fall apart – literally!

The impressive short has done well on the festival circuit so far, even scooping two prizes at the prestigious Annecy Film Festival – Europe’s biggest animation film festival.

It’s wonderfully chaotic and, while it doesn’t do much new in terms of is narrative, it’s technically excellent and an enjoyable journey. Evidently Kaufman inspired, Inanimate is well worth watching.

The Egg and The Thieving Pie – Director: Lola Blanche Higgins, Producer: Reshma Makan (UK)


A smart and engaging short; this tells the story of Community Police Officer Shona, who finds herself battling the call of the ocean when investigating the theft of a precious egg.

This short seemed to have the highest production value of the bunch and it showed on screen. The off-kilter diegesis is full of intrigue and drives this mystery thriller onwards. It takes its time telling it’s story and it works, with a twist ending which will leave audiences asking questions. Features a surprising star turn which I won’t spoil here.

No Place – Director: Laura Kavanagh, Producer: Laura Kavanagh (UK)


No Place is a drama focusing on single mother Angela after she, along with her two young kids, have been evicted from their home. The audience accompanies her as she struggles to maintain a sense of normality as an increasingly desperate situation unfolds.

This is a well put together short for the most part, and props must go to Laura Kavanagh for writing, directing and producing, Michelle McMahon gives a good performance as Grace, in a film which benefits from its subject matter being so pertinent in the midst of the current housing crisis.

That being said, it suffers in comparison to other recent works such as Paddy Breathnach’s drama Rosie, which covers all of the same ground, and short documentaries such as Luke Daly and Nathan Fagan’s Through the Cracks. At just 7 minutes long, this short doesn’t have time to tell the story it wants to tell and, as a result, comes off a little melodramatic.

Child – Director: Joren Molter, Producer: Floor Onrust (Netherlands)


This pensive film follows Ella who, upon visiting a museum with her daughter and the child of a colleague, suddenly becomes aware a hidden side of herself.

The cinematography and production design really stand out in this sleek short, and Sophie van Winden is compelling in the lead role.

That being said, it features a polarising, thoroughly uncomfortable ending which will undoubtedly make or break the film for audiences. It didn’t sit totally well with me, but a significant portion of those in attendance felt differently.

Stigma – Director: Helen Warner, Producer: Marie McDonald (Northern Ireland)


A string of confessions unveil an intense tale of religious guilt, sin and redemption in this experimental drama set against the dramatic and rugged Northern Irish countryside.

Stigma is a poetic, provoking short with an intriguing vision which stood out among the programme. Narratively, I struggled to engage with the film but this was softened by the technical assuredness of the film and an admiration for the team’s alternative style of storytelling.

El Hor – Director: Dianne Lucille Campbell, Producer: Brian J. Falconer (Northern Ireland)


El Hor is a sometimes meditative, other times discombobulating observation of one of the most ancient and highly honoured dog breeds, the Saluki. They guide us in love, prepare us for death and transform us in life.

This is another experimental, boundary-pushing short film. It’s absolutely gorgeous looking, stunningly shot in black and white. This short is the one that has stayed with me weeks after the screening, and director Dianne Lucille Campbell was a worthy winner of the Dublin Film Critics Circle’s Michael Dwyer Discovery Award for her work.

Five Letters to the Stranger Who Will Dissect my Brain – Director: Oonagh Kearney, Producer: Roisín Geraghty (Ireland)


Easily the best titled film of the programme, Five Letters to the Stranger Who Will Dissect my Brain (I couldn’t resist writing that again) is based on the poem of the same name by Doireann Ní Ghríofa. It depicts the journey of first-year medical student Viv, whose first encounter with a cadaver in the anatomy room sends her on a soul-searching quest into the nature of what it means to be alive.

Director Oonagh Kearney was the winner of the Best Irish Short Director at last year’s Cork Film Festival and it’s not hard to see why. This is a beautiful short, refreshingly original and undoubtedly emotional. Venetia Bowe shines as Viv while special praise must be reserved for Irene Buckley’s haunting score and Cara Holmes’ nuanced editing.

 

DIFF Shorts #4 screened on Tuesday,  26th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival. 

 

 

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Irish Film Review: Papi Chulo

DIR/WRI John Butler • DOP: Cathal Watters • ED: John O’Connor • PRO: Rebecca O’Flanagan, Robert Walpole • DES: Susannah Honey • MUS: John McPhillips • CAST: Matt Bomer, Alejandro Patiño, Elena Campbell-Martinez

John Butler, director of Handsome Devil (2016) and The Stag (2013), has proven his ability to explore the poignancy, volatility, and ultimate realness of human connections in his films. Papi Chulo, starring Matt Bomer and Alejandro Patiño, is certainly no exception. The film follows Sean (Bomer), a TV weatherman who finds himself struggling with loneliness and isolation in the sweltering urban landscape of Los Angeles. In an effort to combat this loneliness, Sean hires migrant worker Ernesto (Patiño), under the guise of requiring his labor, but it becomes apparent very quickly that Sean is not looking for an employee so much as he is looking for a friend.

The two certainly make an unlikely pair. Sean is young, white, gay, and apparently wealthy. Ernesto is middle-aged, Mexican, married with a wife and children, and doing everything he can to make ends meet. Through these characters, human differences and their ultimate limitations becomes one of the film’s main points of exploration. Sean and Ernesto clearly have very little in common, and their relationship is even more strained by the distinct language barrier between them. However, the two men manage to find ways around it, and the film reveals through its progression that what is truly important is the act of communication itself, the connection that forms between two people simply from being heard and acknowledged.

Barriers between people undoubtedly exist; barriers of race, class, age, and language. Butler skillfully demonstrates these barriers not only through the characters’ dialogue, but also through a clever motif of glass doors and windows. An early scene in the film, for instance, has Sean taking refuge behind the window of his car door in an effort to avoid a conversation with his coworker Susan (D’Arcy Carden). This motif also serves to initially separate Sean and Ernesto, as Sean is frequently shown viewing the older man through his car window or the glass door of his deck. These separations create tensions between characters, which in turn create opportunities for the film’s wry sense of humor. Butler perfectly captures the universal human experience of awkwardness, whether it comes from stretches of silence between two characters that lasts just a little too long for comfort, or from a character trying, and failing, to keep his composure under the scrutiny of his peers.

Papi Chulo is ultimately a film about human connections, about the shared experiences of loneliness, loss, and unlikely friendships. It is brilliantly acted, with wonderfully astute and down-to-earth performances by Bomer and Patiño, backed by Wendi McLendon-Covey, D’Arcy Carden, and Elena Campbell-Martinez. The urban setting of Los Angeles is particularly well-suited to the narrative, as Sean and Ernesto form an unlikely friendship in a city where genuine human connections can prove shallow more often than not, and where time can seem to stand still under an always-shining sun.

 Dakota Heveron

98 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Papi Chulo is released 7th June 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Shooting the Mafia

Sarah Cullen takes a look at Kim Longinotto’s powerful documentary which strips back the glamorous image of the Sicilian Mafia, showing the harsh reality of life, death and business at the hands of those who wield it.

After being bowled over last year by Sicilian Ghost Story, Fabio Grassadonia and Antonio Piazza’s haunting fictional rendering of the real-life mafia kidnapping and murder of Giuseppe di Matteo, the son of a mafia informant, my interest was piqued when I heard about the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival’s showing of Shooting the Mafia. Kim Longinotto’s documentary examines the work of photographer Letizia Battaglia who has spent decades capturing the crimes of the Sicilian mafia. Guiseppe’s unimaginable ordeal is not mentioned, which says far more about the bloody history of the notorious crime syndicate than it does about the documentary: as demonstrated by Battaglia’s haunting photography, there have been countless Giuseppes since she began recording their violence since the 1970s.

The first female photographer to be employed by an Italian newspaper as well as the first Italian photojournalist to document the mafia’s violence, Battaglia’s life and work are both explored throughout. At the age of only sixteen she entered into a constricting marriage to escape from her controlling father. After her divorce she took up photojournalism. Using her camera she took over 600,000 photos recording the death and destruction wrought across Sicily by mob violence. Shooting the mafia, in Battaglia’s case, frequently meant recording the aftermath of their actions: inert bodies in their own blood, funerals, the destruction of vehicles. Inevitably, her life is part of the wider fabric of Sicily: she became a target of threats from the mafia and relates her own grief at the deaths of other resistors against the regime. Through it all the photographs she never took, she observes, are the ones that haunt her the most.

Longinotto’s ambitions to push at the boundaries of the documentary form are highlighted early on: as she highlighted in the Q&A afterwards, alongside photography and other archived recordings, Battaglia’s life is illustrated with footage from early Italian cinema. Drawing comparison between the men who attempted to prevent Battaglia’s creative freedom as a young woman and the mafia which circumscribed the freedoms of Sicily, Longinotto draws a line between the importance of personal creativity and the self-determination of an entire community. In its many uses of multimedia, Shooting the Mafia explores the possibilities of art as a tool for challenging violence.

Coming out of Shooting the Mafia, I felt like I had more questions than answers. In a certain sense, it’s difficult to know for sure what the focus of Longinotto’s chronicle is: Battaglia’s life, her photography, or the struggles of Sicily. But then again, this may be appropriate considering the multiple meanings of focus in a filmed recording of a rumination on the possibilities of photography. Like Battaglia’s own photography, which approaches its subject matter in an oblique manner, Shooting the Mafia approaches Battaglia in an oblique manner, through her romantic relationships, her photography, and her political career. One suspects there is much that Battaglia is keeping from the viewer: moreover, one suspects that is the intention of an individual who approaches the world from behind the camera.

 

Shooting the Mafia screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Land Without God

David Deignan takes a look at Land Without God,  an intimate portrait of a family coming to terms with decades of institutional abuse and the impact it has had and is still having on their lives.


Land Without God is a raw, emotional and unflinching investigation into the effect that decades of repeated institutional abuse has had, and continues to have, on Gerard Mannix Flynn and his family. Flynn, who co-directs alongside Maedhbh McMahon and Lotta Petronella, bravely steps in front of the camera to act as our guide through his own harrowing story.

He is our narrator, speaking to the audience in voice-over monologues, and our protagonist. While the film is framed around his family’s experiences (he conducts a host of raw, visceral interviews a host of them on camera – apparently the first time that they’ve truly opened up to each other about their shared childhood experiences), this is Flynn’s story first and foremost. We learn in great detail of the injustices inflicted upon him as he revisits the decaying sites of the reformatory schools and juvenile detention centres where he suffered in his youth. He remains staunch as he recounts his visceral stories for us, but there is a fierce emotion – a mix of sorrow, frustration and sheer anger – which underpins his every bitter word.

The documentary is broken into chapters, each one detailing a different, difficult period of Flynn’s upbringing and, through his and his family’s stories, it accounts to a shocking exposition of the extent to which Irish children have been grossly mistreated in institutions throughout the years.

The atmosphere at the film’s Dublin International Film Festival was noticeably charged, with many of Flynn’s family in attendance, which really highlighted the film’s nuanced balance of tone. It’s understandably heavy going for the most part, but it injects humour at smart intervals to break the tension.

Land Without God is no-frills, and pulls no punches. Flynn and his extended family have been torn about, both individually and collectively by cruelty, but they come across as intensely steadfast – and acutely aware that they’re far from the only ones to have been mistreated in similar circumstances. Their admissions are intensely moving, and their sheer honesty must be admired. They display such fragility onscreen, and deserve immense credit for their bravery.

The film isn’t without its issues, mind At 65 minutes it’s relatively short but the pacing is still uneven while it can be repetitive, especially at points during Flynn’s long monologues. But these are small complaints. This is powerful cinema, which tells a story which needs to be heard and deserves to find an audience.

The message at the centre is that, for the abused, justice has proved to be little more than a word in a dictionary. It would be foolish to think that forms of institutional abuse are consigned to Ireland’s history and in this sense, with an eye on contemporary prisons, care homes and the addiction and homeless sectors, Land Without God is an important attack on past injustices which still feel tragically and painfully present.

 

Land Without God screened on 28th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Irish Film Review: Float Like a Butterfly 

DIR/WRI: Carmel Winters • DOP: Michael Lavelle • ED: Julian Ulrichs • PRO: David Collins, Martina Niland • CAST: Hazel Doupe, Dara Devaney, Johnny Collins

Frances is a girl with aspirations larger than her family, and a temper hotter than the fires that they warm themselves around in the evenings, entertaining each other by singing haunting renditions of traditional Irish songs. Her universe is small, contained, and safe, until one fateful afternoon when local law enforcement delivers a sharp uppercut to her childhood, shaking Frances’ life to the core.

Written and directed by Carmel Winters (Snap, 2011), Float Like a Butterfly packs a punch with an emotional sting more potent than a killer bee. Set in 1960’s Ireland, Frances is just about the most unlikely protagonist imaginable, being at a societal disadvantage as a woman, let alone a young traveller woman. Gender roles are entirely inflexible, and the worst insult given to young men is “Don’t be acting like a girl”, forcing them to fight their way through life, as well as to recognise women as the inferior sex, therefore breeding toxic masculinity into the fibers of their community.

Struggling to establish her domain in this world that already has pre-established domesticated plans for her, Frances finds a kindred spirit in the stories of Mohammed Ali, as her father Michael would wax lyrical about him before his incarceration.  Emulating Ali, she knows that she’s the greatest, even before she actually is. Unfortunately, her father returns home from prison a changed man. He no longer shows her how to box, and teaches her little brother that it’s not tolerable for women to hit, but instead acceptable for them to be on the receiving end of a punch. But Frances has an indomitable spirit in comparison to the layabouts that live in the village and the drunks in her family, one that only a beating from a husband will tame. And with this reason in mind, Michael takes her and her younger brother, Patrick, on the road, but as their travels progress and she leaves the relative safety of her extended family behind, her world becomes desaturated, a shadow of its former vibrancy.

Hazel Doupe shines in her performance as Frances. Her steely blue gaze, laden with emotional narrative is accompanied by Dara Devaney’s portrayal of Michael Joyce. With a brash charm that wears thinner with the correlation of whiskey sunk down the hatch; he’s conflicted between admiration for Frances, and the inverse positions of authority established in his absence between his children, one which he often chooses to resolve with a quick hand and a sharp word. The music and score are evocative, joyful, and empowering; female dominated in both presence and lyrics, and the haunting lilt of the tin instruments is synonymous with both Ireland and its travelling community.

Float Like a Butterfly has a rare fervour, whereby it emotes both gut-wrenching sadness and a fighting spirit in one fell swoop. She’s about to choose the path not taken, but “there’s no wrong way when you’re on the right road.” Even if Frances wins this round, the fight is still far from over. Her boxing ring is one of sand, and pride is the prize.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com

100 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Float Like a Butterfly is released 10th May 2019

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: What Time is Death?

David Deignan approaches the People’s Pyramid.


Paul Duane’s What Time is Death? was funded under the Arts Council Reel Art Scheme, which is designed to provide filmmakers with a unique opportunity to make highly creative, imaginative and experimental documentaries on an artistic. Duane’s film, which certainly delivers in all three areas, focuses on Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty, formerly known as British electronic band The KLF, whose last famous act was in 1994, when they burned one million pounds of their earnings in a disused Scottish warehouse – an act which courted much controversy.

Bill and Jimmy have returned to the public eye after 23 years of radio silence but they’re no longer a pop group. They’re now undertakers, bizarrely planning to build the ‘People’s Pyramid’ – constructed out of 34,192 bricks made from the remains of the dead. Duane follows the pair in the weeks and months leading up to the first brick of their pyramid being laid, starting a construction process which they predict could take 200 years to complete.

Charming from the first sequence, the bulk of the film is candidly shot hand-held, by Duane himself, cultivating an intimate feeling which perfectly suits the relaxed nature of its subjects. The filmmaker is a constant throughout the work; he appears on camera once or twice, but we’re always aware of his wry presence just offscreen. The film also makes use of archive footage with pulsating songs from the KLF’s era, as well as discombobulating animated sequences and humorous title card inserts.

It’s a light-hearted film, with a razor-sharp sense of humour which stems from Drummond and Cauty as well as their legion of family and friends. There is a small but tight-knit community that has built up around the pair and their strange project, and Duane acutely captures the feeling of family and absurd humour that are shared amongst these people. For example, at one point Drummond and Cauty host the “Toxteth Day of the Dead” in Toxteth, Liverpool, where people can sign up to have their remains be part of the pyramid. This event involves a crowded reception at the town hall and local residents receive free admission. All other visitors, however, will only be admitted by presenting a supermarket shopping trolley to the bouncer at the door.

This sort of idiosyncratic humour lends Duane’s film a great deal of charm. For his part he’s very careful not to deprecate his subjects – we laugh with them, not at them – and, although the idea of volunteering one’s remains for a pyramid may seem ridiculous to most of us, there is a sincerity and sweetness to the process which really comes across in the film.

What Time is Death? is a thoroughly entertaining, and at times emotional, investigation into an utterly unique passion project. It’s a celebration of life, of artistry and of staying true to oneself as well as a meditation on death. The resulting film is typically eccentric, sharply funny and, quite surprisingly, life-affirming. 

What Time is Death? screened on 26th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

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Irish Film Review: The Dig

DIR: Andy Tohill, Ryan Tohill • WRI: Stuart Drennan • DOP: Angus Mitchell • ED: Helen Sheridan • PRO: Brian J. Falconer • DES: Ashleigh Jeffers • MUS: James Everett • CAST: Francis Magee, Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Emily Taaffe

Northern Irish directors, Ryan and Andy Tohill, invite us to delve deep into the mire that is The Dig, as a small community is ravaged by an unresolved murder, a family is torn apart, and the truth is attempting to climb out of its water logged grave.

Ronan Callaghan (Moe Dunford), a stain on the local community has come home, and judging from the dilapidated house that he returns to, coupled with James Everett’s effectively somber score, his homecoming is not a joyous one. We learn early on that he has recently been released from jail for the murder of a local girl, Niamh, a night that he was too black out drunk to remember. Despite having served his time, Ronan’s sentence is far from over, as Niamh’s father, Séan (Lorcan Cranitch), and sister, Roberta (Emily Taaffe), are mining for the truth on the bog that his family owns. Persecuted from every angle, he attempts to solve the mystery of the holes in his memory, as well as the guilt that filters through him like silt, and so he picks up the spade to help Séan and begins to dig deeper.

With more shades of grey than an E.L. James novel, but with actual depth, The Dig avoids straightforward character development like a pothole in the road. The narrative is gradually excavated as the film progresses, moving from almost pure visual storytelling, into unveiling strategies such as solely using the protagonist’s surname in an attempt to dehumanise him, evolving into the ponderous enigma that is the night in question. Stuart Drennan’s writing elegantly weaves Irish mythology into this murder mystery, as well as ties in a reference to the Old Croghan Man, a remarkably well-preserved Iron Age bog body found in Offaly in 2003. The use of earth tones and natural light mirror the land in which it is set, contrasting with the abnormality of the murderous act itself, as Angus Mitchell’s cinematography employs sparse, wide shots of the landscape, allowing us to bear witness to the magnitude of the job that Séan and Ronan have ahead of them.

Metaphor is integral to the plot, insisting that the viewer recognise clues and personality traits through the use of analogies and colour. Ronan is clearly the house to which he returns to, abandoned, decimated by locals, and previously coming apart at the seams with alcohol. The bog in which they search for Niamh’s body is peppered with holes, marked with red and blue flags, which cleverly hint to the conclusion. Except for the first one that Ronan encounters; a single white flag, a surrender, and an acceptance to whatever fate awaits him as he shovels his own war trench.

Although The Dig may not fulfil the plot-heavy murder mystery category that some people may hope for, the premise is both novel and consuming, as a murderer helps a grieving father search for that which he took from him. There is substance to be found in the pursuit as the Tohill’s have purposely devised a bleak visceral experience. Yet perhaps they should have stayed more in the realms of Seamus Heaney than Agatha Christie, as when they veer more towards the latter the plot becomes increasingly conventional and more shallow than their earlier narrative. Nevertheless, what they have created is a striated and near tangible experience rather than an affected whodunit.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

97 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Dig is released 26th April 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: When Hitchcock Met O’Casey

 

David Deignan checks out  Brian O’ Flaherty’s documentary When Hitchcock Met O’Casey,  which tells the fascinating story of Irish playwright Sean O’Casey and English filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock’s 1930 collaboration on one of the early British ‘talkies’ – an adaptation of O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock.


It’s not often that Sean O’Casey and Alfred Hitchcock are mentioned in the same sentence, let alone thought of as close collaborators. The latter, oft hailed as the ‘Master of Suspense’, is a household name; renowned as one of the most significant and influential filmmakers to have ever lived. The former was, and still is, a widely celebrated writer and memoirist whose work is synonymous with Dublin’s Abbey Theatre. The Abbey produced the three plays collectively recognized as O’Casey’s crowning achievement: The Shadow of a Gunman (1923), Juno and the Paycock (1924) and The Plough and the Stars (1926).

O’Casey emerged from Dublin’s poorest people; he was the first playwright of note to write about the experiences of the city’s working class, electrifying the Abbey stage – which was sustained in its early years by his work. By the end of the 1920s, with his art receiving international acclaim, O’Casey had moved to London where Alfred Hitchcock had already directed ten films, the majority of which were silent.

It was the London premiere of Juno and the Paycock, in 1925, which brought the pair together for an unlikely project. Hitchcock adored the play and approached O’Casey with a view to adapting it for the silver screen. The Dubliner gave the filmmaker his blessing and the resulting film, released in 1930, turned out be something of an anomaly; an oft-forgotten and rarely talked about footnote in the outstanding careers of the two men. This documentary by director Brian O’Flaherty sets out to tell the story behind this altogether strange production and assess its place in the canon of each artist’s work.

O’Flaherty’s film opens by contrasting the dichotomous backgrounds and upbringings of the two men. Through examining their early lives and careers, we learn about their totally different personalities and the documentary begins to hint that maybe – just maybe – the pair aren’t going to see eye to eye on every issue  that arises during the production of Juno. The documentary decides to act as a study of these two characters just as much as it focuses on the making of the film. Structurally, this approach works well. It serves to ground the audience in the lives of both Hitchcock and O’Casey, while contextualising the world to which the screen adaptation of Juno arrived.

The medium of cinema was still in its relative infancy, and Juno – which the doc states Hitchcock originally envisioned as a silent film – was produced during a period of great change, as sound-on-film was fast becoming the standard for motion pictures. As a result, Juno inadvertently became one of Britain’s first “talkies”. What’s so fascinating about this from a contemporary point of view is seeing Hitchcock who was still unfamiliar with this unheralded form of cinema and, like everyone else, had to learn the ropes.

O’Flaherty’s documentary does a brilliant job of depicting this side of the production, showing the great director getting to grips with the new technology and exploring how this presented inevitable problems for his shoot. The documentary has managed to obtain a great deal of archive footage as well as clips from the film and snippets of interviews with Hitchcock himself, which imbue these stories with an immediacy and intimacy, making them feel contemporary despite being almost a century old.

The stories of Juno’s production are really interesting, and the documentary is smart to intersperse the clips of Hitchcock – with his droll demeanour and wry sense of humour – throughout the film, with the director almost guiding us through the story of his project. The documentary also features a host of other engaging interviewees, the majority of whom are associated with O’Casey. These include Joe Mooney of the East Wall Historical Group and the writer’s daughter Shivaun, both of whom give valuable insight into the Dubliner’s life and, in the case of the latter especially, provide a sense about how he felt personally about Hitchcock and the eventual final version of Juno. Alongside the talking-head interviews and found footage, the documentary is punctuated by inserts of still drawings by Peter Marry.

As a fan of Juno, as well as both artists’ work, I can’t help but wonder whether the documentary would need an audience to be familiar with the play to fully appreciate this documentary. It wouldn’t be strictly necessary, but some of the production stories are undoubtedly helped by a knowledge of the source material.

The fact that Alfred Hitchcock and Sean O’Casey are so different, both as artists and as people, is what makes this story enticing. The documentary is at its strongest when it focuses on the interaction between the pair, as their lives and careers dovetailed momentarily, and there is part of me that wishes O’Flaherty had been able to focus more on their relationship and deliver a more personal account of their brief partnership.

Nevertheless, When Hitchcock Met O’Casey is a well researched and executed historical study of a truly enigmatic film and a fascinating examining of an oft-forgotten collaboration.




When Hitchcock Met O’Casey screened on 21st February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

 

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Irish Film Review: Greta

DIR: Neil Jordan WRI: Ray Wright, Neil Jordan PRO: Lawrence Bender, James Flynn, Sidney Kimmel, John Penotti DOP: Seamus McGarvey ED: Nick Emerson PRO: Anna Rackard CAST: Isabelle Huppert, Chloë Grace Moretz, Maika Monroe, Stephen Rea

Boston native Frances (Moretz) is newly moved to New York and working as a waitress in an upmarket restaurant. Still grieving the death of her mother, she is warned by her housemate Erica (Monroe) that her good-natured ways could be taken advantage of in the Big Apple and that she needs to become more streetwise. Frances doesn’t heed Erica’s advice when she finds a designer bag left on the subway and tracks down its owner, Greta (Huppert), a lonely, widowed pianist. Frances and Greta immediately strike up a bond, Greta becoming the mother-figure Frances yearns for. However, it soon becomes apparent that there may be more malevolent elements to Greta’s character than first appeared.

Neil Jordan returns to our screens with this entertaining, daft thriller which calls to mind 90’s stalker films such as Single White Female. Unquestionably the highlight of the film is the peerless Isabelle Huppert, who you can sense is having an enormous amount of fun in such a scenery-chewing role. Huppert has evidenced time and again her capacity to author a film through her performance. While her role here does not allow for the same level of complexity as she had in the recent Elle, the material and role are unquestionably elevated by her imagination and charisma. Of the other actors, Moretz gives solid support as the naive Frances. Monroe works hard in a somewhat thankless role that could have done with further development. Stephen Rea’s appearance in a cameo role confirms that we are indeed watching a Neil Jordan film.

There’s a breeziness to Jordan’s direction here which suits the material well. He’s well aware of the film’s silliness and milks it for as much fun as he can. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography is lush and seductive in a very classical sense, while Dublin does a good job of standing in for New York. There are some fairly gaping plot-holes and the film’s script is often quite predictable, particularly one final twist, which feels utterly signposted. Flaws such as these, however, don’t seem out of place in the heightened, winking world of the film.

Beyond another masterclass from Huppert, this not a film that will likely linger long in the memory, but it remains a polished, self-aware and highly diverting piece.  

David Prendeville

99 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
Greta is released 19th April 2019

 

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Irish Film Review: The Limit Of

 

DIR/WRI: Alan Mulligan • PRO: Taine King, Alan Mulligan, Anthony Mulligan, Tim Palmer • DOP: Daniel Sorin Balteanu • ED: Alan Mulligan, Tim Palmer, Daniel Sorin Balteanu • DES: Lilla Nurie • CAST: Laurence O’Fuarain, Joanne Brennan, Des Carney

 

In Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, we are introduced to our lead character James, a distant, meticulous figure, as he runs through Dublin at night, headphones in, ignoring all around him. Immediately, the film’s visuals work hard and effectively to situate James within the wider context of 21st century, modernizing Dublin as we see him run along the Samuel Beckett Bridge and by other recognizable modern landmarks and architecture. And soon, as we cut to the next day when James’ day job is revealed to us, we can see why. James is a banker and the film is, to a certain extent, a kind of state of the nation (or at least state of the city) piece.

James witnesses first-hand the cruelty of his employers to a stranger and then to a loved one. He sits through meetings whose participants could have been side characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, except that their seediness and vile intentions would have overshadowed that film’s main cast.

Indeed, characterization in this film can be somewhat lacking. The bankers in this film, with two exceptions, are just evil. Aside from James himself, characters are generally one-note and their motivations simplistic. In the case of the bankers though, their uncomplicated evil does make it clear the stance this film is taking on the state of 21st century Ireland: banks exert an inordinate amount of control on the lives of Irish people, especially on the sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable, and the manner in which control is exerted is entirely avaricious. It is not a nuanced take on the state of modern Ireland, but an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions, though it is perhaps a bit undercut by the cartoony, villainous dialogue of characters who run those institutions.

Dialogue and the relationships among the film’s small cast of characters in general are often an issue in this film, which does not aid in the believability of these characters or their plight.  In particular, a sexual subplot involving James which features awkward dialogue with a co-worker and lingering shots of him staring at her groin feels stilted at best and a bit exploitative at worst. That’s not to say that these actors don’t give strong performances. Special praise must go to Sonya O’Donoghue who gives a wonderful performance in the brief time she is in the film. The issue is just that the relationships between characters are not compelling or heartfelt enough to carry the film.

To uncover the real strength of the film we must turn back to its visuals. There’s a coldness to them. We do not often see the Georgian centre of Dublin, but instead see rectangular architecture and cold fluorescent lights. Inside James’ work place, there’s a bleak impersonality to everything around him. Characters are framed against quasi-symmetrical backdrops, often with vertical lines and barriers like thin doorways or bland posters hanging between them, implying a forced distance between people as demanded by institutions that value impersonal control. Interestingly though, these barriers are almost never centred just right. Mulligan seems to subtly emphasize the “quasi” in “quasi-symmetrical” when it comes to his compositions. In these slightly off-kilter visuals, the movie at first appears to be displaying a clear narrative about control, and then appears, upon closer inspection, to subtly resist it. Even as we see overhead shots outside the office building, where we follow the Liffey past rows of impersonal, rectangular buildings, the staid sameness of these buildings actually serves to emphasize the subtle curvature of the river, which resists that sameness. It’s almost as if there is something inherently chaotic here that upsets this narrative of impersonality and control.

These visuals work well to elucidate the film’s themes. As the events of the film progress and James begins to viscerally encounter and resist the injustice of his employer, such visuals remain the most powerful weapon in Mulligan’s arsenal to make his examination of the limits of cold calculation and, eventually, the seeming impossibility of clear narratives of control and justice strike home. I’ll be thrilled to see when Mulligan’s keen visual eye gets married to a script and characters that complement this skill.

Sean O’Rourke

92 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Limit of is released 5th April 2019

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Greta

Anthony Kirby gets trapped in Neil Jordan’s latest film, Greta, which screened at this year’s Dublin Film Festival.

After a six year hiatus auteur/director Neil Jordan makes a brilliant return to cinema with this suspenseful gothic chiller.

Boston-born Frances McCullen (Chloë Grace Moretz)  finds a designer handbag on the subway while returning from work as a waitress in a five-star restaurant. She’s anxious to return it and tracks down the owner, Greta Hideg, (Isabelle Huppert). Greta is a French-born piano teacher who lives in a beautiful brownstone apartment and  loves Liszt, especially his haunting Liebestraum . Visiting her for afternoon tea, Frances is troubled by a loud banging which even Greta’s piano virtuosity can’t drown out. “ Oh they’re remodelling the next apartment,” says Greta offhandedly.

Frances is mourning the recent death of her mother and immersing herself in work. Greta still mourns the death of her daughter some years earlier. The younger and older women seem to find succour in each other.

Frances shares a sumptuous apartment with streetwise New York native Erica ( Malika Monroe , Widows).  Erica is cautious about Frances’s new friendship and says so . Then on a subsequent visit while looking for condiments while about to enjoy dinner with Greta, Frances opens a wrong drawer and finds ten bags identical to the designer bag she returned to Greta. Alarmed, she makes a lame excuse and a quick exit. It is then that things take a turn for the worse as Frances realises she has been lured into Greta’s web.

Great actors such as Christopher Plummer in All the Money in the World , Fay Dunaway in  Mommie Dearest  and Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction enjoy the challenge of playing demented characters.  Isabelle Huppert is no exception and relishes giving a no holds barred performance. Kudos again to Jordan for his encouragement. What follows is a masterful tale of obsession and suspense, co-written by Jordan alongside Ray Wright.

It’s hard to say who’s having more fun Hubbert or Jordan . Of course neither have anything to prove at this point in their careers. Seamus McGarvey’s camera work is excellent without being obtrusive especially in the final scenes. The only sad thing about this thriller is that Jordan stalwart Stephen Rea and Irish Canadian Colm Fiore are so underused.

Ultimately the film is a triumph on the part of Jordan and Huppert and certainly a feather in young Chloe Grace Morentz’s cap.  Perhaps like Fatal Attraction  it will become something of a classic.

Greta screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March).

 

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Irish Film Review: Out of Innocence

DIR/WRI: Danny Hiller • PRO: Paul Cummins • DOP: Seamus Deasy • ED: Geraint Huw Reynolds • DES: Ray Ball • MUS: Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Gary Lightbody • CAST: Fiona Shaw, Alun Armstrong, Judith Roddy, Nick Dunning. Fiona Shaw

 

Sometimes a film will require suspension of disbelief because the fiction is too fantastical, but in this case the truth is undoubtedly more bizarre. Out of Innocence focuses on preconceptions, prejudices, and misogyny, as one woman is about to become infamous throughout the nation when both Church and State combine forces to pillory a family in crisis, forcing an elastic band around your diaphragm as you struggle to draw a breath due to the heavy tension.

Written and directed by Danny Hiller, Out of Innocence is the dramatised story of The Kerry Babies Case in 1984, and therefore understandably emotive viewing. The opening images are of a beach so picturesque that it could only be the West of Ireland, as the waves loll in, laden with tranquility. But everything is about to change, as the body of a newborn baby washes up in a fertilizer bag. Such an unnatural event, powerfully juxtaposed against the beauty of the scenery. This kind of incident simply doesn’t happen in these parts of Ireland, and the local Gardaí are flummoxed by the arrival of the Murder Squad from Dublin. Meanwhile, 80 kilometers away, Sarah, our protagonist, is having an affair with a married man, Paudi, a vacillating excuse for a boyfriend or husband. They already have one child as a result of their affair, and unknown to anyone but him, another is on the way. Blood will simmer as the plot evolves into a case of vilification, when Detective Callaghan (Alun Armstrong) goes above and beyond rational measures in order to prove Sarah Flynn guilty, but instead, all he demonstrates is his unfettered misogyny to the audience. Unshakeable in his resolve and distaste for what he deems to be iniquitous women, his face turns acetous at even the suggestion of women and premarital sex. He not only casts a blind eye to blood evidence, but he manufactures the most unlikely versions of a possible truth, as he’s as fond of fabricating theories as Tom Walsh is of tagging furniture.

In contrast to Callaghan’s bullish-ness, we have the meekness of Catherine Flynn, Sarah’s mother. Fiona Shaw was perfectly cast in the role and provides a measured and terse performance. As a god-fearing countrywoman, she lives for religion and family in the wake of her husband’s death, and all that she believes in is crumbling around her shoulders as she struggles to keep a stiff upper lip. Her desire to return to normality is effectively shown as she persists in routinely tucking hot water bottles into absent beds, despite having just confessed to being a conspirator to murder. But the standout performance is Fionnuala Flaherty (Sarah Flynn), who in her tribulation represents all the women of Ireland in an emotional and reflective manner. Hillen captures a moment of genuine poignancy as the camera focuses deliberately on the Harp that presides over the courtroom. Being synonymous with Ireland, due in part to The Society of United Irishmen, the irony here is that the society’s seal depicts a harp with the mottos “It is now strung and shall be heard”, as well as “Equality”, both of which were completely flouted in Sarah Flynn’s case. Recognition must also be given to Colm Mac Con Iomaire’s score, which pensively and effectively encapsulates the beauty and sorrow of this country, as its history is so inextricably entrenched within the duality of these descriptives.

In this age of documentaries about confessions made under police duress, Out of Innocence puts its own harrowing spin on false truths. Women are persecuted from all aspects; from when Sarah was termed to have an “empty womb” (a negative perspective on simply not being pregnant), to the witch hunt for a woman with a child out of wedlock, and god forbid, one that was involved in an affair with a recreant married man, and eventually to evolve into a murder trial without parameters. Yet there are moments of hope, as the trial gathers an indomitable crowd of both female and male supporters, infuriating the prosecuting side, but also unfortunately the judge. As Detective Armstrong combs the strand in the hopes of finding another dead baby at the hands of our protagonist, we realise that although progression has been made, it doesn’t necessarily mean that we are completely through the other side. There is a long road ahead of us yet, one for which the foundations have been laid, but we must also continue to persevere with forging the path. Otherwise there but for the grace of Church and State go we.

Jemma Strain

www.ruledlines.com 

108 minutes

15A 

Out of Innocence is released 12th April 2019

 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Floating Structures

June Butler takes a look at Fearghal Ward and Adrian Duncan’s Reel Art film, Floating Structures, which shines a light on buildings and structures that seem as though they have emerged from another world. 

Floating Structures is an ambient architectural feast that focuses mainly on edifices where glass is considered an essential part of the project.

It follows a narrator as he travels to investigate the creation of German civil engineer Heinrich Gottfried Gerber. Gerber conceived of, and designed cantilevered bridges over the Regnitz at Bamberg and traversing the Main at Hassfurt. Elements of both conduits were then ably used by Peter Rice, an Irish structural engineer in the construction of a number of notable landmarks.

The audience is brought through the assembly of such buildings as the Pompidou Centre (1971), and La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie, Villette (1986) – both in Paris. However Rice can also lay claim to working on construction of the Sydney Opera House roof (1957), the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield (1967), and Pabellón del Futuro, Seville, Spain (1992). Rice integrated Gerber’s structural concepts and incorporated them seamlessly into the buildings he worked on. La Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie featured three greenhouse spaces in the façade which were deemed to be the first glass walls positioned without a frame or supporting fins. Footage from the time of assembly shows Peter Rice putting the glass in place.

What follows is a beautiful journey into the marvels of creation narrated easily in lay-person’s terms – a passage to unfettered imagination. The documentary encourages an interest in maps of the mind and lends visual meaning to the concrete landscape surrounding city dwellers. Both the old and the new are investigated – parallels are drawn between Chartres Cathedral and more modern buildings, concluding that while materials used on recent constructs differ, the overall supposition is that the law of physics remains the same.

Floating Structures is a quiet and unassuming foray into celebrating the genius of Peter Rice and well worth viewing.

 

Floating Structures screened on 25th February 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March). 

 

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Gaza

Irene Falvey reflects on Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s documentary, set among the communities who live in Gaza.

 

Gaza, a documentary portraying the reality of people’s lives in Gaza, was introduced at its screening during the Dublin International Film Festival by Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell who worked on this documentary together. It is clear from their introduction that this joint project required commitment as the production spanned from 2015-2018. The filmmakers’ perseverance was not in vain as this documentary provides an eye-opening insight into the world of everyday people living in Gaza.

In place of documenting the relentless political turmoil in this location, Keane and McConnell’s documentary looks at Gaza from a personal rather than a political point of view. It successfully encapsulates the human response to living in this conflicted space, revealing both defiance and uncrushable human will alongside frustration and fear. Throughout the documentary, the filmmakers record a collection of people from different walks of life, all sharing the same land and the same seemingly hopeless situation. The viewer witnesses a mixture of responses and coping mechanisms that the civilians assume, with an emphasis on humanity and understanding.

To commence the documentary we are given a synopsis of the situation in Gaza, a densely populated strip of land, with closed borders on either side. While there is a long and tense history to be examined here, the film focuses instead on those that are really affected by these events – the people. With this context in mind the documentary can be viewed as an examination of survival, both physically and mentally. How can a community carry on when their basic human needs aren’t being met? How can a community live in a space that is constantly inflicted by war? While the documentary doesn’t shy away from these subjects, it concentrates more closely on the coping mechanisms of the people themselves living in Gaza; it is clear that this is all the civilians can do, to aspire to cope rather than to live.

One of the main themes threaded throughout the documentary is the sea. Initially the sea is depicted as a symbol of freedom. One participant in the film, an educated fourteen-year-old girl called Karma, sees the hopelessness of her situation but says that the sea provides some solace. The sea in the context of this documentary can be seen as a horizon, that there exists a more free life outside of this trapped state. However, the horizon here is a conflicted one; it is an unreachable horizon, a horizon that is off limits. This unattainable border is both symbolic and real – there is a 3 mile border limitation on this sea front.

One of the first people we are introduced to in the film is a young fourteen-year- old boy whose greatest dream is to one day own a fishing boat and be the captain. His life expectations demonstrate that the sea is a barrier rather than a symbol of freedom. Growing up in the context of Gaza, how is an uneducated boy to imagine anything greater on his horizon than captaining a ship that can go no further than three miles?

In the face of adversity one of the most common human reactions is to take action. In the context of Gaza, however, the film portrays this being an unwise choice. Young frustrated men make violent attempts to bring about change with gunshots and stone-throwing, only to end up injured and feeling even more ineffectual.

For several people in the film they fight against the adversity by expressing their emotions through music instead of violence. Karma, a fourteen-year-old girl who dreams of winning a scholarship, finds escapism through playing the cello. While music won’t lift the barriers or stop the difficulties of life in Gaza, it manages to bring some peace and harmony to those that must endure their lives there. We witness an injured young man who becomes a rap artist,  to ensure that he isn’t “a burden to society”. A taxi driver, whose life we follow, sings with many of his passengers, using music as a universal language to strengthen the spirits no matter what strife they must struggle through.

In a place where a community can’t freely come and go as they please, the idea of Gaza as a prison is clearly established within the documentary. The people within Gaza could be viewed as innocent prisoners sentenced and confined, despite not being guilty of any crimes. In a place where education, jobs, electricity and food are in short supply there is a sense of a frustrated acceptance – while the people are resilient, they are also  aware that their situation isn’t going to change any time soon.

While the documentary successfully reveals the strength of these people in the face of hardship, the desperation of the situation they are going through remains constantly present.

The film creatively switches the context of the current situation in Gaza from the political to the personal to show the real effects of the relentless conflict. We witness a people and place that are trapped and frustrated yet ever on the verge of turmoil. Despite the severity of the situation, the documentary shines a light on the pervasive sense of humanity of those that are striving to survive in Gaza. With understanding and sympathy the filmmakers have managed to capture how the toils of war shape the lives of people who are trapped by it.

Irene Falvey
93 “
Gaza is released in Irish cinemas 10th August 2019

 
Gaza screened on 2nd March 2019 as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March)

 

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Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dark Lies the Island

Stephen Porzio takes on the Mannions in Dark Lies the Island.

Martin and John Michael McDonagh better watch out. Another Irish literary figure has made the jump to the silver screen, bringing something fresh to the country’s trademark dark comedies.

Dark Lies the Island sees author Kevin Barry (City of Bohane, Beatlebone) team up with Irish directing old pro Ian Fitzgibbon (Moone Boy, Perrier’s Bounty) for a pitch-black comedy drama based on characters which appeared in various of the writer’s short stories. Charlie Murphy’s Sarah narrates. She is a bored, checked-out housewife to the much older and rich Daddy Mannion (Pat Shortt). Through a chain of businesses, he pretty much runs the sleepy town of Dromord in which the action takes place.

Daddy has two kids from his first marriage. There’s Martin (Moe Dunford), a weak womaniser filling the Fredo role and Doggy (Peter Coonan), someone who went from having a bright future to being an agoraphobe running a dating service from a caravan in the woods. Throughout the drama, these characters – along with Tommy Tiernan’s mysterious newcomer to Drumord and a pair of cousins in debt to Doggy – all converge in a climax where past histories and repressed trauma come to light.

At first, Dark Lies the Island feels like another Perrier’s Bounty, an enjoyable if forgettable sub-Tarantino comedy noir given an Irish flavour. After all, the ingredients for such are in place – pulpy narration, a seemingly scary psychopath in Doggy, eccentric locals.

Yet, as the movie continues and the plot gets increasingly bizarre and dark, one realises that Barry is doing something truly different. He is taking fantastical, heightened tropes that film fans like but is using them to explore contemporary themes like mental health and how patterns of emotional abuse develop within families.

Shot dreamily by terrific cinematographer Cathal Watters, the fictional town of Dromord (its palindromic spelling reflective of its purgatorial nature) is not meant to be interpreted as a real place. Neighbouring a lake – in which we often see ominous fog rolling alongside – it’s symbolic of Doggy, Martin and Sarah’s mental state. These are people living under the dark cloud of the sinister tyrannical Daddy, a nasty weak man who gets his kicks making others feel small.

While these characters all seemed like clichés at the beginning of the film, Barry’s script thoughtfully, as it continues, explores why these people have taken to these almost assigned roles, touching, at the same time, upon sins of Ireland’s past. While the climactic event is somewhat inevitable and all the characters outside the Mannion’s immediate circle feel slightly extraneous, it’s to Barry’s credit that by the end of Dark Lies the Island, the movie feels far less Grindhouse than it does Gothic. This reviewer wouldn’t be surprised if the writer eventually makes the transition to director.

 

Dark Lies the Island screened on Wednesday, 27th February as part of the Dublin International Film Festival (20th February – 3rd March 2019).

 

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Irish Film Review: The Hole in the Ground

Dir: Lee Cronin  Wri:Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, Geneva Robertson-Dworet  Pro: Conor Barry, John Keville, Benoit Roland, Ulla Simonen  DOP: Tom Comerford. Prod Des: Conor Dennison  Ed: Colin Campbell  CAST: Seána Kerslake, James Quinn Markey, Kati Outinen, James Cosmo, Simone Kirby

 

Sarah (Kerslake) moves to rural Ireland with her young son Chris (James Quinn Markey). Through conversations between mother and son, we get hints at Sarah’s past abuse at the hands of Chris’ father with oblique references to an “accident” which left Sarah with a scar on her forehead. One night when Chris runs off into the forest and near a bizarre, somewhat otherworldly sinkhole, Sarah starts to notice strange changes in his behaviour. Her anxieties aren’t helped by a mysterious neighbour, considered crazy by the locals, Noreen (Outinen), who screams at Sarah that Chris is “not your boy”. It is revealed that Noreen rejected and possibly even murdered her own child decades before, under a similar idea that he had been replaced by an evil force.

Having received rave notices at its premiere in Sundance and having been picked up for US distribution by the mammoth A24, Lee Cronin’s supernatural horror and feature debut arrives for its homecoming with much fanfare and is unlikely to disappoint fans of the genre. It draws on horror tropes of creepy children and the fears of parenthood to consistently entertaining effect. It’s a film that touches on some dark ideas and resonant themes but is also keen to deliver a rollercoaster ride for the audience. Cronin and his editor Colin Campbell ensure there’s not an ounce of flab on this taut, decidedly effective genre-piece.

Seána Kerslake reaffirms her status as one of Ireland’s biggest acting talents with a performance of complexity, subtlety, charisma and no shortage of physicality. This looks like another step on her way to inevitable international stardom. She is ably supported by Markey who strikes just the right note of sinister unreadability. There are also fine, nuanced supporting turns by Outinen, who makes something more of the creepy neighbour character, and Cosmo, who essays a lifetime of confliction and tragedy in tremendously naturalistic terms.

Tom Comerford’s murky cinematography perfectly captures a sense of the alienation of rural isolation. There’s also terrific use of music. Indeed, the superb opening credits sequence, with a neat nod to The Shining, set up an overwhelming sense of dread from the get-go through the superb camerawork and Stephen McKeon’s deafening score. Cronin also bravely refuses to unwrap all the films mysteries, retaining an ambiguity that allows the audience to draw their own conclusions.

A superbly acted, lean and highly entertaining horror film, and a fine feature debut by Cronin.

 

David Prendeville

89 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Hole in the Ground is released 1st March 2019

 

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Short Film Review: Low Tide

Dakota Heveron gets on board Ian Hunt Duffy’s short horror Low Tide, which premiered at last year’s Cork Film Festival in November.

Ian Hunt Duffy’s chilling short horror film Low Tide centres on a fishing trip taken by a father (Steve Wall) and his son Jack (Luke Lally). But what seems on the surface to be an enjoyable day out on the water soon devolves into something far more sinister.

The film is driven by the compelling, naturalistic performances of its two leads, and Wall is especially haunting in the role of a brusque, impenitent father who soon reveals himself to be anything but paternalistic. Through the cinematography of Narayan Van Maele, the water itself becomes a character of its own, revealed through shots of its glassy expanse and black depths to be cold, dark, and unforgiving. Only adding to the film’s ominous aesthetics are scenes filled with shadow and moments of visceral imagery, including a shot of a fish being indifferently gutted.

The film’s score lends itself well to the precarity of the situation, where Jack’s fate at his father’s side is deeply unsure. Swells of triumphant music as the fishing boat glides across the water suggest an adventurous voyage, an age-old tradition between father and son. When the swells drop into silence, the characters are left alone against the backdrop of dark water and a slate sky, stark and foreboding. This sense of foreboding only grows when an eerie underscore creeps into being as the figure of the father becomes increasingly darker.

The narrative is filled with uncertainty, but only to the film’s advantage. While the final outcome for Jack may not be precisely clear, it doesn’t need to be. Instead of closure, the viewer is left with an appropriate sense of dread as Duffy explores and subverts the relationship between father and son, as well as themes of familial legacy and inherited violence.

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Irish Film Review: The Favourite

DIR: Yorgos Lanthimos • WRI: Deborah Davis, Tony McNamara • PRO: Ceci Dempsey, Ed Guiney, Yorgos Lanthimos, Lee Magiday • DOP: Robbie Ryan • ED: Yorgos Mavropsaridis • DES: Fiona Crombie •  CAST: Olivia Colman, Emma Stone, Rachel Weisz

The Favourite just might be Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos’ crowning achievement. Lanthimos initially garnered recognition for his acclaimed film Dogtooth, and has successfully built on this with follow-ups  Alps, The Lobster and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

The Favourite is a monstrous regal satire set during early 18th-century England. And like any Lanthimos film, The Favourite is a strange creature, yet in many ways, it’s probably his most accessible and endearing. We’re immediately brought into a world built on a foundation of royal pomp and carnivorous manners, which lend to the presiding absurdist comic tone. But underneath the veneer of aristocratic fashion and elaborate dances is a world of barbarous cruelty, betrayal, cunning, and cunnilingus. In short, very quickly everything we think we know about the period film is subverted through the brutal absurdity of Lanthimos’ deranged vision.

So it’s the 18th century, and while England is at war with France, Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) is bedbound, and her closest friend and council the Duchess of Malborough Sarah Churchill (Rachel Weisz) governs on her behalf. But this loyalty and love is a subterfuge for the Duchesses’ own quest for power. The Duchess is intent on continuing the war if it guarantees her personal advancement, and will even go as far as to tax the Queen’s people. But the Duchesses’ desire is at odds with esteemed trailblazing Tory and landowner Lord Harley (Nicholas Hoult), who is disgruntled by the proposed land tax and tries to persuade the Queen of this. Of course, then along comes Abigail Hill (Emma Stone), a disgraced relative of the Duchess, whom she begs for work.  Abigail impresses the Duchess and rises quickly up the ranks. But when Abigail’s desire earns the favour of the Queen too, this brings the Duchesses’ ambitions into doubt and puts her at odds with Abigail.

 

The script was crafted by writers Deborah Davis and Tony Mcnamara. It’s a  crazed work of royal madness that seems to strike straight to the heart of the zeitgeist. The script is toxically comic, the comedy is opulent yet fiercely dark, but there’s a richness to the absurdity which keeps it grounded in a clear emotional reality, even when logic seems to go out the window.

The savagery of Lanthimos’ vision is served honourably by his confidant in arms, Irish cinematographer Robbie Ryan. Ryan’s cinematography injects a distinct sense of chaos and disorder into the aesthetic decorum and pomp of the 1700s. Together Lanthimos and Ryan boldly shape a perspective of the past that’s grossly distorted, both literally and metaphorically, and the film towers because of it.

The performances are staggering and endearingly comic. Rachel Weisz brings an intoxicating wickedness to her role as the Duchess, and Olivia Colman radiates a triumphant ignorance and warmth as Queen Anne. And then there’s Emma Stone, who just kills it, and brings a fierce sense of charm and duplicity to Abigail. Lanthimos really seems to have struck gold with The Favorite; it’s a terse tale fit for the chaos of the times that’s unrepentant in its originality, it’s like a cross breed of Barry Lyndon meets Doctor Strangelove with perhaps a bit of David Lynch thrown into the mix for good measure, go check it out.

Michael Lee

119 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Favourite is released 1st January 2019

 

 

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Irish Film Review: The Devil’s Doorway

DIR: Aislinn Clarke • WRI: Aislinn Clarke, Martin Brennan, Michael B. Jackson • PRO: Martin Brennan, Katy Jackson, Michael B. Jackson • DOP: Ryan Kernaghan • ED: Brian Philip Davis • DES: John Leslie • CAST: Lalor Roddy, Ciaran Flynn, Helena Bereen, Lauren Coe

In 1960, seasoned, jaded priest, Fr. Thomas Riley (Roddy), and his understudy, Fr. John Thornton (Flynn), are sent by the church to investigate a supposed weeping statue in a Magdalene laundry. They are to document their findings on film. The Mother Superior (Bereen) is dismissive of the claims, suggesting the whole thing is a hoax. However the more the priests investigate matters, the more they begin to realise the extent of both the horrors being inflicted on to the women in the laundry by the sisters, and also horrors that may not be of this world.

This found-footage film follows in the recent tradition of horror films that act as metaphorical representations of serious social and psychological issues such as Get Out, which satirized liberal white America’s insidious racism through horror-comedy, and Hereditary, which examined the theme of familial grief in an occult setting. Here, in her feature debut, Aislinn Clarke tackles Ireland and the Catholic Church’s dark history with the Magdalene laundries. The presentation of this being a documentary film from 1960 adds a further layer of clever genre deconstruction. The decision to shoot on 16mm film rather than replicating the era digitally creates an evocative and eerie aesthetic, as well as adding a further layer of authenticity to the picture.

Clarke utilises the found footage element often creatively and extremely effectively. The film features a haunting birthing sequence that focuses solely on a characters’ face as she stares into camera. Clarke has cited Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc in how troubling and dramatically effective sustained focus on the human face can be. The film’s frequently stark approach to horror, allowing certain scenes to play out without cuts, often also calls to mind the uncompromising style of filmmakers such as Michael Haneke more than it does other found-footage horrors. This style contrasts nicely with scenes in which Ryan Kernaghan’s camerawork is more frenetic, such as in the frantic last act. It is consistently a film, however, that plays on the power of the audience’s imagination, making them think they have seen more than they have. Clarke finds interesting and diverse ways of suggesting rather than showing and the film is all the more powerful because of that.

The form of the film also allows her to develop her characters in interesting ways, with direct-camera monologues providing effective and concise insights into their background. Clarke is aided by a superb cast. Roddy exudes wearied decency as Fr. Thomas struggles to comprehend both the supernatural goings-on in the laundry and, even more so, the shocking cruelty on display from the nuns in the laundry. It marks another superb turn from Roddy this year following his outstanding work in Michael Inside. The Mother Superior, at the forefront of the cruelty, is brilliantly essayed by Bereen. It’s a chilling and wholly believable performance. An early scene in which she viciously slaps a girl who makes flirtatious remarks to the priests is as shocking and stomach-churning as any jump scare. The Mother Superior’s continued arrogance in the face of being found out by the priests is a wonderfully drawn microcosm of the evils of the Catholic Church’s abuses and cover-ups. Flynn and Coe are also utterly convincing in their respective roles.

Smart in both form and content, this is an innovative, effective and necessary Irish horror film. It marks Clarke out as a distinctive talent to watch.

 

 

 

Aislinn Clarke, Director of ‘The Devil’s Doorway’

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: One Million American Dreams

Loretta Goff discovers the secrets of New York’s mass graves in Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams.

Brendan Byrne’s One Million American Dreams brings into focus the often unnoticed Hart Island, a small New York City island that is used as a burial ground for the city’s unclaimed dead, and for those whose families cannot afford burial expenses. Byrne’s documentary takes a personal approach to the subject matter, following the stories of four families with members buried here. In doing so, he removes the anonymity of the Hart Island cemetery, reinscribing it with the narratives of these individuals and providing a sort of commemoration for them that is not fully offered on the island itself.

Introducing the film at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, Byrne commented on his own relationship with New York City, from his first visit at age 17, when he was in complete awe, to his multiple returns that have also revealed the city’s tougher edge. When he was made aware of a two-minute recorded news piece on Hart Island he realised it deserved more attention and that he could make a whole film about it. This led to One Million American Dreams, which he describes as “a difficult love letter to the place I’ve had a longstanding love affair with” that takes a “deeper look into the soul” of the city.

Several animated segments in the documentary, along with narration by Sam Rockwell, provide viewers with the necessary historical details of Hart Island, which are expanded upon in interviews with scholars, journalists and politicians. We learn that burials began there in 1869, with over one million individuals laid to rest on the island to date, that it was also used as a Union Civil War camp (amongst other things) and that it is currently run by the Department of Correction, with inmates employed to bury the bodies and no access to the general public. These details are made more visceral with the striking animations that accompany them. One of these, in particular, stands out; it shows layers upon layers of nameless coffins piling up below the island, forming it, but also giving shape to a human head, reminding us that each coffin contains an individual that had a part to play in the story of New York City, and that those who are marginalised should not be forgotten or cast away.

Our attention is turned to some of these marginalised individuals through the stories of the families affected by loved ones’ burials on Hart Island. We meet an African-American Vietnam War Vet whose baby daughter was buried there while he was away, a Cuban family whose father died alone with dementia in the city, a Puerto Rican woman whose stillborn child was due to be buried on Hart Island and the family of a man suffering from drug and alcohol addiction who ultimately ended up there without his family’s knowledge. Through their stories, not only is Hart Island personalised, but we are confronted with the deeper underlying issues affecting New York City and contemporary American culture more broadly—racism, immigration, substance abuse and poverty.

Commenting on his film in a Q&A after the screening, Byrne noted that he used the cemetery on Hart Island, and the stories that emerged from it, as a “frame to confront issues that still face America”, which are threaded throughout the film. We see this in the stories of the individuals that the documentary follows, but also through the film’s carefully crafted cinematography. This captures the beauty of New York City—in the bright lights of Time’s Square, the skyline and diverse groups of people—but also its struggles and darker sides, focusing attention on the homeless sitting overlooked on busy streets and those that exist in the fringes. A particularly striking image follows the ferry travelling out to Hart Island as it, and the island are engulfed in fog. This offers a skillful visual depiction of the islands shrouded nature, cast into the shadows of the dazzling city.

Discussing the process of making the film, Byrne noted that the project as a whole took between three and four years (with 18 months of filming). He commented that it was a process to get the stories of the individuals, but that “without their stories we wouldn’t have the film”. It is the honesty of these that resonates with the audience, offering the documentary’s powerful social commentary.

One Million American Dreams is a timely, well-crafted, poignantly shot and animated documentary that speaks to a number of contemporary social issues neatly encapsulated by Hart Island—the story of which is remarkable in itself.

 

One Million American Dreams screened on Saturday, 17th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival   (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: The Belly of the Whale

Cian Griffin enters The Belly of the Whale which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

The Belly of the Whale is the debut film from Irish director Morgan Bushe and stars veteran Irish comedy star Pat Shortt and up-and-coming Scottish actor Lewis McDougall. The film tells the story of recovering alcoholic Ronald (Shortt) and his relationship with young misfit Joe Moody (McDougall) as they plot to steal from local politician Gits Hegarty.

The main strengths of the film are its characters and the performances. The two main characters are extremely relatable but tragically flawed at the same time. Both Shortt and McDougall turn in great performances that make you laugh out loud while also pulling at your heartstrings. Shortt’s performance is especially moving as he departs from his typical over-the-top comedic roots and delivers a surprisingly nuanced and layered performance as a man struggling to come to terms with the blows that life has dealt him. Michael Smiley (known for his work in Luther, The Lobster and Rogue One) also turns in a memorable performance as local politician Gits Hegarty. He is extremely menacing and threatening while also chewing the scenery in every single scene, providing most of the laughs in the film. The cast as a whole are great with strong supporting performances from Game of Thrones star Art Parkinson and young Irish actress Lauren Kinsella as Moody’s friends Lanks and Sinead.

However, the film suffers a bit from some pacing issues. The film takes too long to get to the actual plot, spending the majority of the runtime setting up the characters and their circumstances and at times drags, spending a lot of time wallowing in the misery of the characters. In contrast then, the ending of the film is a bit rushed and clumsy, culminating in a finale that lacks the emotional payoff we have been building up to throughout the film.

In saying that, for a first-time director, Bushe (who also co-wrote the script) manages to find a great balance between humour and tragedy to make a film that is bursting with heart. On top of this, he makes some great artistic choices and the film is quite beautiful, creating a vivid and realistic picture of rural Ireland. Based on his first film, I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Overall, The Belly of the Whale is a charming and endearing film that tells a poignant and at times, heartbreaking story of two flawed characters coming to terms with the challenges in their lives. It’s a touching story of love, loss and friendship bolstered by a great director and strong performances and while it’s not perfect, it is sure to delight audiences while also making them cry.

 

The Belly of the Whale screened on Friday, 16th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival    (9 – 18 November)

Opens in Irish cinemas 7th December 2018.

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Maeve

Jack O’Dwyer gets caught up in the fractured narrative of Pat Murphy’s seminal Irish film Maeve, which screened at this year’s Cork Film Festival.

 

In an attempt to describe her state of mind as an artist during the appalling years of the Irish troubles, feminist filmmaker Pat Murphy has posited that the North suffered primarily from everyone trying to shoehorn it to fit snugly into their own system of beliefs. This is a clear starting point in an analysis of her seminal 1981 film Maeve, co-directed with John Davies, which depicts the problematic ways in which personal and political beliefs can coexist within a troubled nation, often leading to layers of conflict which act as further barriers to peaceful resolution. At its core the film portrays a sort of uprising through inaction, a tentative method by which an individual may behave if they feel that they are excluded from the promised land which lays at the end of the revolutionary road. Through its radical aesthetics and characterisation, the film offers a unique perspective on one of the darkest periods in the island’s turbulent history.

The driving force of Murphy’s film is the titular Maeve, seen in both present day 1981 and also in recurring flashbacks to unspecified times in the past. In the present day, she returns home to Belfast from bohemian London, fully embodying the stringent lifestyle of a feminist ideologue. In the past, with these nascent ideals starting to take shape in her mind, she is seen as a young adult who vows to escape from the hostile community which stifles her. Maeve, played with skilful restraint by Mary Jackson, is often a difficult character for the audience to relate to, likely a reflection of Murphy’s acknowledged debt to Bertolt Brecht and the so-called ‘’distancing effect’’ which he utilized in his theatre. Much of her dialogue is heady and intellectual, delivered as a series of feminist mantras which refer to metaphysical ‘’Woman’’ rather than earthly, anecdotal ‘’women’’. Traditional womanhood, devout Catholicism, revolutionary insurrection; Maeve chooses to shun all of these potential paths in an effort to gain her own autonomy and identity. In one scene, Maeve and her schoolmates are being forced to rote-learn a religious commemoration to the victims of the local conflict. Maeve instead stares out the window, demonstrating a conscious decision to shun the milieu in which her peers are enmeshed.

Acting as a traditional counterpoint to Maeve’s personal protest is her sister, Roisin, played by Brid Brennan. One masterful aspect of Murphy’s screenplay is the heightened importance placed upon storytelling, particularly in relation to how it enlightens the characters who take up the role of storyteller. Roisin tells a number of stories throughout the film, usually depicting some form of tyranny inflicted upon the population by the armed British guards who patrol the streets. One such story implies that Roisin and her friend were the victims of an attempted rape by an intruding soldier, but the nonchalance and humour with which it is told does little to convey the potential severity of the situation. Moments such as these subtly paint Roisin as a character who is caught in the flux, unwilling to critically examine her role as a traditional, oppressed, catholic woman. Despite her sister’s warning that marriage ‘’only keeps woman down’’, there is never the suggestion that she will follow in Maeve’s non-committal footsteps. Even further alienated from Maeve is their mother, Eileen, played by Trudy Kelly. A quiet well of frustration with little dialogue in the film, she is a helpless bystander to the rampaging tide of patriarchal nationalism in her nation, serving as the outdated archetype to which Maeve internally revolts. Perhaps the film’s most emotional scene takes place in a room filled with religious relics, designed by Eileen as a place devoted to her daughter’s future courting. Such a traditional fantasy comes off as absurd given the nature of Maeve’s character, with the scene soon devolving into a heart-breaking monologue from mother to daughter recounting the first time that Maeve boarded the plane as she left to London – ‘’You never looked back once to say goodbye’’. Tragically, this marks the only point in the film at which Eileen is given an extended opportunity to speak, with each word driving a further nail into the coffin that is their incompatible relationship.

The most articulate challenger to Maeve’s unique vision of nationalism comes in the form of her boyfriend/ex-boyfriend, Liam, played by John Keegan. Murphy has expressed the importance within feminist fiction of creating authentic, coherent male characters so as to create an equal playing field of debate. In this regard, the character of Liam is a triumph. A committed republican, he matches Maeve both in the strength of his personal convictions and the fierceness of his debate. The film’s philosophical assertions are founded upon a masterful series of scenes in which the two debate each other in various locations, their rival viewpoints clashing together in a captivating stream of insights and insults. Murphy’s idea for these scenes was that the two would cease to be characters for the duration of these debates, instead transforming into unfiltered mouthpieces for their espoused ideologies; a clear admission of her Brechtian and Godardian influences. The first of their debates happens upon Cave Hill, as they gaze upon a deceptively serene-looking Belfast in the distance. Maeve is first triggered into stating her defiant viewpoint as a response to Liam’s praise of lifelong nationalists, those passionate men who have ‘’been able to keep that image together through all the madness’’. Her issue lies in the fact that the romantic image of Ireland which has guided nationalism thus far excludes her as a woman, it leaves no space for her, she is ‘’remembered out of existence’’ as part of its clause. Next, in her rented apartment in London, Maeve speaks of her decision to ‘’withdraw from it’’, to distance herself from the ‘’country’s neuroses’’. To this, an apoplectic Liam castigates the cowardliness of her actions, pointing to the fact that those who have fought and died for the cause have not had the luxury of her aloofness and free speech, warning that ‘’you’re going to have to come back’’. Virtually every line of their gripping debates could and should be isolated and unpacked by viewers of the film; rarely has such a testament to the efficacy of the Socratic method appeared on screen.  Their intellectual sparring culminates near the film’s end as they saunter gloomily through Clifton Street Cemetery, mutually accusing each other of copping out of their ideals. At the argument’s climax, Maeve compares Britain’s treatment of Ireland to man’s treatment of woman, warning that, if Liam and his counterparts should someday be successful in their struggles, then women will ‘’recognize you as the next stage in their struggle’’. In a film which thrives upon exploring the intersection between nationalism and feminism, this stands as perhaps its most radical political expression.

The film’s challenging subject matter is reflected in the austere visual style which Murphy and director of photography Robert Smith choose to adopt. Considering that the film is set in an environment which features constant, often unexpected intrusions into the daily life of Belfast’s citizens, the cagey 4:3 aspect ratio feels suitably oppressive when viewed on a large screen, as if the characters must struggle in order to escape beyond the borders of the frame. This is further enhanced by the usage of a number of internal framing devices, often doorways, which further squash the characters in to fit their surroundings.  During the tense night-time scenes, the camera creeps behind characters or flits about from left to right, suggestive of the widespread paranoia which haunts the streets. Maeve’s increasingly disillusioned father, Martin, played by Mark Mulholland, returns in a series of scenes throughout the film during which he generally tells a story involving the local population, and these are among the film’s most intriguing moments from a visual perspective. In the first such instance, the camera suddenly wheels around to Martin as he interrupts his wife during a story, and frames him in the middle of the boxy screen staring directly into the camera as he completes a long, thickly-accented monologue. These scenes which feature Martin staring into the camera increasingly come to feel as if he is breaking the fourth wall and addressing the audience directly. The subtle increase in intensity each time this occurs reinforces a sense of desperation and fear which has creeped into his character, culminating in the heart-breaking, quietly fearful words which he tells himself at the film’s closure. The film therefore arises from the lineage of European modernist cinema not only in its bold subject matter, but also in the way it creatively manipulates the filmic tools to give rise to new modes of artistic expression.

Maeve is comparable to Seamus Heaney’s famous ‘’bog poems’’ in the sense that it holds an abstract mirror up to this unspeakable Irish tragedy in a way which seems to shed cognitive and emotional light upon the subject without offering any form of trite solution to what is an endlessly thorny situation. The film is a whirlpool of ideas, of narratives, of memories, described by Murphy as a ‘’political document rather than a film’’. It feels like a political document not only during the war of words and ideologies at its core, but also in its harrowing evocation of a city where children play in the presence of armed soldiers, and searchlights cut through the dark streets like knives. One of the nation’s finest films, Maeve is a brave, important film, whose intellectual honesty and defiant spirit ought to inspire generations of Irish filmmakers.

 

 

Maeve screened on Thursday, 15th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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Irish Film Review @ Cork Film Festival: Town of Strangers

 

Loretta Goff meet the locals in the County Galway town of Gort, in Treasa O’Brien’s Town of Strangers, with a diverse cast, including young Irish Travellers, English New Age hippies, Brazilian factory workers and Syrian refugees.

 

Before the screening of Treasa O’Brien’s new documentary, Town of Strangers, at the 63rd Cork Film Festival, her short The Blow-In (2016) was played. Both feature the town of Gort in County Galway, and those newer residents to the town, considered “blow-ins” or “strangers”. The Blow In is narrated by a French woman who we meet at the start of the film, cleverly framed with an uprooted tree by O’Brien. This woman’s voiceover explains that, as a result of moving around a lot during her youth, she often felt like an outsider and developed a habit of observing people through her windows. This is used as a thread throughout this short documentary as she “looks in” on the lives of several of Gort’s residents.

A narrative thread similarly runs through Town of Strangers, but this time it is the director herself, who interweaves elements of her own life with those of the individuals she interviews in the film, notably drawing together similarities between them. The premise behind this documentary was an open-call film audition O’Brien held in Gort, from which emerged several stories that she felt compelled to follow. In the Q&A following the film, the director explained that she initially had the idea of making an experimental film based off of a script she was working on located in Gort, tackling the subject of changing Ireland and what that meant to a small town. However, she was “very surprised and really moved” by the stories people shared and her experimental film turned into a documentary.

In Town of Strangers we meet individuals from around the world—Afghanistan, Brazil, England, Ireland and Syria—who have all come to call Gort home. As these individuals open up about their lives we are invited to learn about their different backgrounds and unique stories, but what stands out are the commonalities between them (and ourselves) at basic emotional levels. Answering questions about what “home” means to them, about their families and about their dreams, the participants in this documentary reveal their fears, insecurities, hopes and strengths both through what they say and what they don’t. O’Brien subtly catches the whole range of emotions in quiet moments where the camera lingers on individuals’ faces, allowing the audience to read, and connect with, them. Discussing the film, O’Brien said that she was “trying to show empathy in a cinematic way”, and she certainly does.

All of the individuals are presented as different types of “outsiders”—with immigrants, hippies and Travellers among them. However, what emerges throughout the film more than a sense of living between two cultures, though that is evident, is what O’Brien notes as “displacement from the family”. It is through O’Brien’s exploration of this, along with its associated loneliness, that she is able to connect her audience with these “strangers”. Portraying them with empathy and understanding, rather than looking away from difficult stories, reveals just how familiar these individuals really are.

Speaking after the screening, O’Brien said that she “wanted to make a film for our times”. She went on to note the rise in right-wing politics and the fear that is developed by not fully understanding large events, explaining that, with this film, she wanted to bring things back to the personal and focus on connection. Ultimately, she hopes that this documentary contributes to a “shift in your consciousness [in terms of] how you might perceive people”.

Town of Strangers visually challenges perceptions—juxtaposing shots of the Gort Show (agricultural, baking and animal events) with rappers and dancers and Brazilian shops—in order to open up our understanding of rural Ireland, and reinforces this with its interwoven narrative of deeply moving, personal stories. All in all, the documentary offers a sensitive and engaging depiction of human connection, with all its fragilities, and, in doing so, beautifully reflects on contemporary rural Ireland.

 

Town of Strangers screened on Tuesday, 13th November 2018 as part of the Cork Film Festival (9 – 18 November)

 

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