Review of Irish Film @ DIFF 2019: Dirty God

June Butler was at the Dublin International Film Festival for a screening of Sacha Polak’s Irish co-production Dirty God.

 

In her first feature length role, newcomer Vicky Knight elicits a mesmerising performance as Jade in Dirty God, a moving film about inner beauty and societal burdens placed on those who are deemed to fall outside accepted images of physical attractiveness. The initial introduction to Jade is pitiless and unflinching. Jade has been the victim of an acid attack with her controlling ex-boyfriend Eli (Karl Jackson), and father of her daughter, to blame for the assault. Opening scenes are tense with close-up images showing the cauterized landscape of Jade’s face and neck contorted in whorls of brutalised body tissue. A heart-beat tempo accompanies Jade through underground raves with strobe lighting casting shadows on her facial scars as she makes her way through crowds of gyrating dancers. A previous romantic interest is dating Jade’s friend but the attraction between Jade and Naz (Bluey Robinson) is undeniable. Naz is able to see beyond the adage and realises that beauty may be considered skin deep but what lies further beneath is beyond compare.  

Various scenes show Eli prowling through nightclubs within sight of Jade – almost appearing to know her every move. When the case goes to court, Jade appears alone and vulnerable locked into a staring match with the ubiquitous steely-eyed Eli. Jade briefly finds freedom when she dons a burqa and dances her way along the balconies of the housing complex she lives in. Invisibility is the currency Jade craves in her search for acceptance.

Jade attempts to kindle online relationships but soon learns that she is vilified for her disfigurement and slowly starts to withdraw. Her shoplifting mother, Lisa (Katherine Kelly), is unable to fully grasp the mental anguish Jade is experiencing as she is rejected at every turn. Ultimately, Jade’s journey begins when she embraces the love of her young daughter and realises that she alone holds the key to becoming a survivor and living life on her own terms.

Sacha Polack, as director and producer of this truly beautiful film has wrought a stunning piece of cinematic mastery. By exploring the tragedy of those who have suffered a similar fate and who find themselves locked in a world where every witness recoils in horror or stares transfixed, Polack has raised the spectre of an apocalyptic post-acid life. What happens after the burns heal as best they can? How do relentless visual presentations of human perfection hold up against a body that seems to be broken beyond repair? The deliberate dehumanisation of another living being is troubling and disconcerting as Jade encounters casual brutality carelessly doled out by co-workers. Moreover, Polack touches upon a system of barbaric annihilation – one that is endured whilst passively existing as an object of love. When rejection occurs, a visceral all-consuming rage follows suit provoking ultimate obliteration.  

Postscript by the reviewer:

I went to see this film in Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema and encountered Sacha Polack and Vicky Knight at the viewing. Knight briefly related how she, at the age of eight, was the victim of an arson attack and was badly burned as a result. Knight outlined her initial reluctance in becoming involved with the project but was persuaded by the extremely convincing Sacha Polack. For both Polack and Knight, this was a perfect encounter and the relationship has engendered a film that exudes authenticity. This reviewer is very much looking forward to the prospect of future offerings from both.   

 

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

Share

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). 

 

 

Share

Review: Birdbox

 

June Butler takes off the blindfold to have a look at Susanne Bier’s netflix thriller.

As thrillers go, Birdbox is peppered with a slew of truly cunning components yet manages to steer clear of becoming predictable without too much effort. The infamous Boogeyman (or woman in these times of political correctness) is always going to be far more terrifying when intangible and fleeting and in this endeavour, director Susanne Bier has ably succeeded. 

The central premise of the narrative surrounds a group of people aligned against a common enemy. There is a horrifying entity stalking humans and pitting one against the other. When seen by the naked eye, the Being propels the viewer to shocking levels of violence culminating in the observer taking their own life – usually in the most violent and bloody way possible. As chaos and killing ensues, the victims generally claim more lives than just their own. Which clearly speeds up the entire apocalyptic process to an eye-wateringly fast ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ day of reckoning. After the initial blanket annihilation of most human life, a motley crew gather inside a house with a staggering number of rooms. A perfect stage for finding some unpleasant surprises concealed behind doors and in darkened corners. There is an excellent cast comprising Sandra Bullock (The Net (1995), A Time to Kill (1996), Gravity (2013)), and John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons (1988), The Killing Fields (1984), Burn After Reading (2008)). Sandra Bullock is exceedingly well cast as Malorie a ballsy artist who has found herself pregnant and alone after a fleeting relationship. Malorie is steely and vulnerable in equal measure and the success of Birdbox owes much to Susanne Bier’s choice for the central character. Equally John Malkovich brings a tensile fearfulness into the mix as Douglas. Douglas is both petrified and accepting of their predicament and it is difficult not to have a certain grudging respect for a character who is sure they are about to shuffle off this mortal coil in the next two hours but is not willing to pop off without a bang. And a big one at that.

The yarn is a decent one – not being able to fully see the beastie was genius. The imagination of the audience will always fill in the gaps.

And now for some criticism:

John Malkovich should have been put to better use and it was a wasted opportunity not to take full advantage of his acting skills.

Sandra Bullock as Malorie has parent issues. Clearly. Specifically father issues. However, Bier could have chosen to let Malorie not fall quite so far from the platform of being a half decent aul sod. Even the dimmest of people might have reckoned that retribution for a father’s shortcomings should not be visited upon those who are most vulnerable, namely children. I felt that Malorie promised much at the beginning of this film but failed to step up to her responsibilities towards the end.

There was some repetition at key moments which was a shame – the director was worth far more than going over old ground.

Characters started out as archetypal but some finished as stereotypical. Again, a shame. It seemed a little lazy.  

Two thirds of Birdbox was captivating and riveting. The final third lost some lustre and the ending was a tad predictable. I would have much preferred the Beggars Banquet image from the Rolling Stones album of the same name. Instead I felt I was presented with Tinky Winky, Laa-Laa, Dipsy, and Po.

There is one scene in Birdbox where the person responsible for continuity dropped a life’s worth of balls. It was glaringly obvious and once seen, could not be unseen. Up to then, I had bought heavily into the tale. After that, which interestingly came around the two thirds mark of the movie, it all went horribly pear-shaped. It was a pity because when this much effort goes into something and it is let down by a detail so basic, it can be incredibly disheartening both for actors and film crew.  

Having said that, Birdbox is one hell of a good movie and the concept does capture the imagination.

I feel a sequel is on the horizon…….


 

Share

Irish Film Review: Under The Clock

 

DIR: Colm Nicell • WRI: Garry Walsh • DOP: Colm Nicell • PRO: Eilish Kent, Garry Walsh 

 

Clerys was a one-time focal point of O’Connell Street in Dublin – a mainstay of department stores that wove memories and forged connections. It was a little worn around the edges but this served only to highlight its magnificence. Clerys had charm and lots of it.

The business dated from 1853. However, the building that now stands on this spot, was constructed in 1922. The 1916 Easter Rising saw a number of structures on O’Connell Street damaged to the point where they had to be razed to the ground and re-built.

In 2015, Clerys closed its doors for the last time. The cash registers stopped binging. The coins ceased to jingle. Whirs and clicks of clothes rails on castors faded away and dust settled on the countertops. Twelve stalwarts, staff of Clerys, staged a sit-in. Protesting rigorously at its inglorious ending, they held on precariously until enticed into giving up. That, it seemed, was the end of a sentimental chapter in Dublin’s history – a time past and soon forgotten.

Colm Nicell, director of Under the Clock, has taken a second (and third) glance at this statuesque landmark by deciding to tell the story of thousands of people meeting under Clerys clock – the two-sided clock that hung over the main entrance of Clerys. For some, it spelled the beginning of romance, the first giddy steps towards love and possibly marriage. For others, it was a gateway to heartache and sadness. One account cannot be narrated without hearing its counterpart.

Charlie and Beatrice Stewart met under Clerys clock. He was a self-styled ‘man of the world’ and she a shy 15-year-old schoolgirl. Beatrice brought her friend with her on their first date, much to Charlie’s irritation. Beatrice and her friend sat on one side of the cinema and Charlie on the other. This part of the plan not accounted for still rankles with Charlie in his narration of the event. Beatrice, however, gives a different description – according to her, Charlie asked Beatrice’s friend to come too. No doubt in Charlie’s mind, Beatrice would not have come at all given her tender years and he wanted to ensure he would meet with the stunning Beatrice again. Back and forward this story goes – Charlie indignant at the first date ‘interloper’. Beatrice’s insistence that the invite came from Charlie. They interact, rib each other, and sometimes sit in silence. The leather biker trousers Charlie wore for their initial encounter has long been replaced by more casual trousers and comfortable shoes but the fire is still there. Separate in their togetherness – individual yet one, Charlie and Beatrice are joined by their defining first meeting. Beatrice’s parting shot is to say that Charlie is good in bed. Charlie beams with pleasure and Beatrice hastily adds that he told her to say that. No matter – it’s clear that Beatrice is her own woman and would not have issued the accolade unless it was true. The scene fades with Charlie still grinning.

The memories from those heady days still shines bright through the narrative of Peter and Kathleen Cullen. They met under Clerys clock when both were in their teenage years. Throwback images of Peter, tall and handsome, show him with a protective arm wrapped about the elfin Kathleen. Their relationship encountered some resistance from both families who clearly thought Kathleen and Peter were too young to be in such an intense relationship. Kathleen narrates the moments leading up to her planned running away with Peter. How she hid backpack and clothes before descending the stairs in the wee hours only to hear her mother demand where she thought she was going and issue an imperious dictum to return upstairs immediately. Kathleen tells of the hours spent peering out of her bedroom window watching a clearly distressed Peter pacing up and down as she was forced to stay indoors. Peter eventually realised force majeure had interceded and there would be no caution throwing to any winds that particular evening. So the plan to elope was shelved temporarily and replaced with a secret engagement. Kathleen’s mother became aware of the engagement and wisely came to the conclusion that this was a force too great to be thwarted. She grudgingly accepted her daughter’s impending nuptials but asked Kathleen to keep it from her wider family until Kathleen was married. Still starry eyed and very much in love, Kathleen becomes emotional when talking about their first kiss. She says with certainty, that it was the point at which she fell in love with Peter. Peter shyly smiles and holds Kathleen closer.

Each story is told well and without intervention from the director – with the deftest of touches, Nicell entices the best from every interviewee.  Albert Connor claims women are equal but different and goes on bravely to assert that men are the problem. Relationships and human interaction comes under the spotlight. Christina Nicell who seems to have not always seen eye to eye with her husband, states that in those days there was no assistance for women (or men) who found themselves in an unhappy marriage. Meeting under the clock it appears, did not assure life-long harmony and it was up to the individual to stay or go – many chose to stay. Most people endured sadness within a relationship as their lot and simply tolerated rather than striking out and discovering joy with a partner. For Philippa Ryder, not meeting someone under the clock meant that she made the first steps towards being at peace with her gender. Philippa was born a man but in her heart, felt that she was essentially female. Philippa followed her heart.

One common theme among the interviewees is their nostalgia for bygone times – many of them claim the next generation do not understand relationships or how to go about forging one. Tinder and Facebook have made connections between humans transient and fleeting. All of the people who appeared in this film, would not swap the immediacy of life in the present day, with the dance of tender courtship and truly getting to know your life partner before you make a commitment.

Colm Nicell has surpassed himself with this wonderful documentary. There are thousands of others who would have met Under the Clock – not all of them could possibly feature in the film –  but every last person has in truth, been represented. For anyone, young or old, married or single, this is a ‘must see’.

 

June Butler

76 mins
Under the Clock is released 5th October 2018
12A (see IFCO for details)

 

Share

Katrina Costello, Director of ‘The Silver Branch’

June Butler spoke with director Katrina Costello about her documentary The Silver Branch, which tells the story of Patrick McCormack, a farmer and poet whose family have lived in the Burren for generations. The film explores McCormack’s relationship with the Burren; its nature, history and the struggle to preserve it.

In April 1991, the Government announced the establishment of a national park in the Burren and construction of a £2.7 million interpretative centre. The Burren Action Group took a case against the Government to halt proceedings in order to maintain the natural integrity of the landscape and to protect the environment. They viewed the Burren and the area of Mullaghmore as a “sacred site”, a holy ground that needed to be defended – especially in a country whose sites of profound historical importance are rapidly disappearing.

 

The story of the documentary focuses on the Battle of Mullaghmore but at its heart the film is really an ode of praise to our land.

Absolutely. People put different weight on the Battle of Mullaghmore, which we called it when we were creating the storyline. This was woven through the documentary and everything hung off it. But I like to think that this film is really a eulogy to the agrarian culture and to our heritage and the natural world.

 

The battle was a defining event that caused Patrick McCormack to stand up and say we are connected to the land, we have lived here all our lives. This is more than just a building that we’re building, this is a total ruination of something that will resonate negatively in generations to come.

That’s it. I think that The Burren Action group had no problem with the interpretive centre being built in one of the towns but they didn’t want it at the foothills of Mullaghmore mountain. Not just because of the pollution and the 450,000 people coming there; it’s the whole widening of the roads. For 2 buses to pass on that road, it’d be basically making a motorway through a wilderness area and through an area that’s been farmed for generations. The Burren wasn’t developed like other parts of Ireland because it’s so rocky and the small little field system still remains intact – forts, Mesolithic tombs, famine villages and thousands of miles of stone walls that go right back maybe 6,000 years.

 

When Patrick spoke about the ancient warriors and people gathering around the campfire, I felt very much that he is not of this era. I feel that he’s a wiser, older soul.

I think Patrick probably has his legs in both worlds – in the contemporary world and the ancient world. What’s fascinating about him is that he can be so ordinary. He’s a farmer, he’s maintaining stone walls, throwing rocks around. He’s got this fantastic vision, which, I suppose, is the vision of a poet. Like Heaney and Kavanagh he’s just grounded in the earth with a beautiful vision and a very rare gift of being able to articulate his most intimate thoughts. He’s constantly searching for his own defining line, his own unity of being, for harmony, to be free. Basically, when this battle came to him, he had no choice but to take it on because he could foresee that, for future generations, this interpretive centre would’ve actually spoiled the whole wilderness area.

 

I love the opening scenes where the branches intermesh with each other. Patrick talks about the silver branch singing and telling the story of ancient times.

The silver branch in essence was a mythical wand of the ancient druids and was used to bring them to the Tir Na Nog, for example. It was used to go on a journey of enlightenment or to seek truth. This is why I really love the title The Silver Branch because, for me, it is just that – it is inviting people to go on their own sort of hypnotic journey into themselves. It brings them to a place where they haven’t been to for many, many years – the wonder of being a child.

 

The Burren looks amazing in the film. I have to talk about the beautiful cinematography, like the flowers opening and closing, and of birds feeding and being fed. It must have required a lot of patience to capture so much beauty.

For sure, any time that you go out to film something in the natural world it requires a lot of patience. You have to wait for hours for nature to settle around you. Once you go into that environment you could be 4 or 5 hours before you actually see any proper activity. You have to wait to capture the moments of magic. But it never felt like a day’s work. I love the Burren. I think there’s no place like it in the whole world, to be honest with you. It’s as spectacular as any place I’ve ever seen on earth… and I’ve travelled a lot – through Asia, America, Australia South America. It’s an incredible landscape not just for the wildlife, of which there is an abundance. There’s always something fantastic happening. There’s foxes and ravens and hares, peregrine falcons, butterflies and dragonflies, you name it. And then it has all of this cultural significance as well. It’s a very, very rich atmosphere.

 

 

There’s a beautiful scene where he’s telling the blonde child how he me his wife,  Cheryl. He says she was on the back of a fox, and that he tempted the fox out with a bit of cheese. The fox came out with Cheryl on its back and he grabbed her off the fox.

Everyone loves that scene!

 

And the child is incredulous. He tells the story in such a way. I found myself delighting in the fun of it. It was a golden moment. You can see how fun he is.

Absolutely. He’s a seanchaí, he’s a poet, he’s a farmer… but he really comes into himself when he’s with kids or when he is with Jonjo, his dear neighbor. He loves that interaction with children and is in total awe of people like Jonjo and his generation.

 

I could have listened to Patrick for many hours. His poetry and his language is so beautiful. He reminded me of Heaney with his beautiful turn of phrase. I was amazed then when I found out he didn’t complete his schooling.

Isn’t it incredible? He did leave school when he was 14. He hated it. He found it a degrading, demoralizing experience. But he did have a strong love for the great masters, as he would call them himself – for English, poetry and history.

 

Coming away from the film, I felt that we really need to re-connect to this way of life that is so in tune with nature and the land. Something that has great resonance and depth to it and something that many of us have lost.

It’s just about giving yourself time in nature. Even something simple like leaving the phone behind you. Nature is something we can all connect to. I strongly believe that the natural world is part of all of us, whether we live in the city or in the country. I think deeply and instinctively we feel that and although we can become disconnected, it’s important to make that connection. I think that, although this is Patrick’s story and his battle, it resonates with us all because it is a story of all of our struggles in modern-day life. This is a story about love and what he would do for love, and commitment, and family. He is a warrior and thankfully it’s a battle that came to a good end. We still have that fabulous wilderness to enjoy – and there is an interpretive centre in both Corofin and in Kilfenora.

 

The Silver Branch screens at

IFI, Dublin:                               Fri  Oct 5th to Thursday 11th

Moat Theatre, Naas:               Sun Oct 14th 7pm

Glór, Ennis:                              Sat  Oct 20th 8pm

Belltable, Limerick                 Mon Oct 22nd

St. John’s Theatre, Listowel:   Tue Oct 23rd 8pm

Siamsa Tíre, Tralee:                Wed Oct 24th 8pm

Triskel Arts Centre, Cork         Mon Nov 26th for 4 nights

 

 

Review of Irish Film @ Galway Film Fleadh: The Silver Branch

Irish Film Review: The Silver Branch

Share

Review of Irish Film @ ADIFF 2018: The Science of Ghosts

June Butler is haunted by Niall McCann’s observational drama which centres on well-known Irish musician Adrian Crowley.

I was not sure what to expect when attending the IFI for a screening of this film. The director, Niall McCann, stood to say a few words and my expectations mutated into full confusion mode.  McCann thanked Adrian Crowley, the subject of his film ‘for not going mad’. Cue titters from the audience. Quite why Adrian might have gone ‘mad’ was intriguing but worrisome. He went on to express his gratitude to other persons working on the project for also not going ‘mad’. More polite tittering.

It was clear at this point, McCann had a theme going on. He then mentioned a crew member who had decided not to row in with the flat-line levels of remaining calm, instead ratcheting crazy to a new level by actually going ‘mad’, thus throwing the audience into immediate disarray. No more cuddly safety for them – the audience stopped tittering and looked askance at each other. At this juncture, I was out of my seat and scrabbling for the emergency exits when McCann said something that stopped me in my tracks – ‘this is an experimental film’ he averred. I sighed in relief and returned to my seat. From here on, anything that came my way was a delightful excursion into the unknown.

Adrian Crowley, on whom the film is based, is both the perfect topic and an ideal subject for such a film. His soulful countenance, at times expressive and others implacable, is a most suitable canvas for McCann’s vision. There are moments of farce that bring unexpected lightness into the frame – some are timely and others a distraction but each scene brings with it the knowledge that post-mortem impressions are the result of individual wisdom. Each to their own, as the fella says. Crowley and McCann work well together with McCann’s vision coming to the fore and Crowley being game for a laugh. There is humour in parts and in others the wide-eyed innocence of a child, evidenced from Crowley’s playful narrative about his son.

Lyrics to Unhappy Seamstress written by Crowley when he moved, hermit-like, into a bedsit in Rathmines, make for somewhat distressing listening – the tools of a songwriter unfold as by-lines to human despair. But his songs also hold a light to the human condition in its perfect misery. The cinematography holds moments of sobriety against capricious whimsy – changing from moment to moment – becoming manifest as an oft-distant stage-whisperer only to later metamorphose into a second but equally significant subject, one that is figuratively as vital as Crowley himself.

McCann cleverly juxtaposes the sublime with the even more sublime and always manages to carry it off with panache. As experimental films go, I would suggest this has tones of Meshes of the Afternoon (Maya Deran, 1943, USA), with its unpredictable reminiscences – McCann’s wonderful offering allows and encourages viewers to think for themselves – it is what makes his film well worth seeing.

 

The Science of Ghosts screened on Saturday 26th February as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival (21 February – 4th March).

Share

Gerry Gregg, Director of ‘Condemned to Remember’

Tomi Reichental and Condemned to Remember director Gerry Gregg 

 

June Butler talks to director Gerry Gregg about his film Condemned to Remember in which Irish Holocaust Survivor Tomi Reichental celebrates his 80th birthday in a Dublin Mosque and embarks on an epic journey across a Europe in turmoil.

 

 

Condemned to Remember screened at the IFI and is currently screening in Dundrum and will screen at the Cork Film Festival  on Sun 12th at 6.45pm with a post-screening Q&A with Tomi Reichental and Gerry Gregg.

Eclipse Pictures are organising school screenings across the country. Contact siobhan@eclipsepictures.ie for further information.

www.condemnedtoremember.ie

 

 

Film Ireland Podcasts

Share

Irish Short Film Review: Gone

 

June Butler takes a long look at Patrick Maxwell’s short Gone.

Coming in at a little over 15 minutes in length, this short is well worth viewing. Paul (Ryan Andrews) returns to his childhood home following a bereavement. Atmospherically bleak from the onset, opening shots show Paul passing through the yard of a block of flats as he trudges past clothes lines and graffiti daubed walls. Along the way he is greeted by an old friend who empathises with his loss. Paul’s arrival is marked with sadness, becoming further highlighted as he empties the old flat he once lived in.

The story is imbued with meaningful glances between characters – they relate more to what is not spoken than to what is. Dialogue is limited but this only serves to ameliorate the narrative and give greater portend to what is being said.

One thing that sets Gone apart from other short films is its ability to allow viewers come to their own conclusions and audiences will thank director Patrick Maxwell for it. A short film needs to embrace the story and does not have the luxury of character development – rather delving quickly into the narrative is a key component. Maxwell does this deftly and with great skill – almost unnoticeably, audiences are placed centre stage, at the heart of unfolding drama and with careful timing, Maxwell drops small pieces of information into the story as it moves along – there is a sense of loss – betrayal comes to the fore and remains key as the narrative begins to quicken its pace.

In the final act, tragedy strikes with the story coming full circle. Remaining mysterious to the last, Gone elicits questions from viewers long after closing credits.

 

 

Gone is currently available to rent or buy on VOD through Amazon: http://amzn.eu/9mvmLTR and Vimeo On Demand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/goneshortfilm

 

Share