Tag Archives: Irish cinema

Byzantium – All boob and no bite

"Eh, my eyes are up here": Clara (Gemma Arterton) is interviewed as a vampire

“Eh, my eyes are up here”: Clara (Gemma Arterton) is interviewed as a vampire

Neil Jordan returns to cinemas for the first time in four years with this neo-gothic vampire tale, just as that particular genre begins to sink below the zeitgeist waves. We are now post-Twilight, with True Blood and The Vampire Diaries in their second death throes.
But there’s life in the undead dog yet. Jim Jarmusch’s revisionist vampire art-house romcom Only Lovers Left Alive just received deserved praise at Cannes, and while Jordan’s work is flawed, it’s an admirable piece of cinema nevertheless. And why shouldn’t Jordan latch on at the last moment? – his 1994 take on the myth, Interview with the Vampire, is as much responsible for the vampire boom that flowed from Buffy to Twilight as any film.The film stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan as a wandering mother/daughter vampire team, Clara and Eleanor, constantly on the move to evade those who would uncover their true identities, and those who already know it. A moral pair, they work as sort of Angels of Death, only feeding on the terminally ill or the extremely elderly – a form of vampiric euthanasia. Clara, eternally voluptuous, trades on her body to keep the duo in housing and out of trouble. Eleanor, eternally 16, searches for meaning in her never-ending life, tortured internally by the things she has seen and done.

Their wanderings bring them full circle to the sleepy English seaside town where their story began some 150 years earlier, prompting a series of fractured flashbacks that give us a glimpse into their pasts. Clara’s being condemned to imprisonment in a brothel in her earlier life is echoed as she turns a run-down hotel in the present, named Byzantium, into a whorehouse with herself as madam. Eleanor starts at a new school where her creative writing assignments draw suspicious glances and her relationship with sickly classmate Frank (Caleb Landry Jones) causes her cursed heart to skip a beat.

A gorgeous production, shot in some curious locations, Byzantium looks as good as anything Neil Jordan has made before. Ever-reliable cinematographer Sean Bobbitt (Hunger, Shame) excels in lighting the dark and murky streets of modern Britain, while sadly bringing little life to its nineteenth century counterpart. Perhaps the most in-your-face achievement of Byzantium is the remarkable varieties of ways the crew have found to light and shoot Gemma Arterton’s cleavage. Jordan has never been one to shy away from sexuality, but here the obsession with Arterton’s bosom is beyond distracting, the centre point of far too many frames. In one of the film’s most dramatic sequences, a vampire’s birth is heralded by a Shining-like cascade of blood, in which Arterton bathes, her cleavage overflowing with blood. Her cups literally runneth over. In spite of scene-stealing competition from her cleavage, Arterton holds much of the film together with an impressively committed performance. Ronan is ever reliable as a disenfranchised youth, and her sighs and longing glances carry her character’s tragedy. Sadly, she remains utterly unconvincing in romantic roles, and paired with the zombified Jones, sporting a Danish (?) accent that is baffling to the ears, makes for some very awkward drama. Johnny Lee Miller minces amusingly as the Victorian villain, while Control’s Sam Riley is horrendously underutilised in a supporting role.

Child of the night: Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor

Child of the night: Saoirse Ronan as Eleanor

One of Byzantium’s great saving graces is its lightly sketched mythology, introducing its vampires as an underground cabal of male vampires who do not approve of females amongst their ranks, and forbid them to be makers. The idea of an ancient sect of fundamentalist chauvinists throws up cute allusions to the Catholic Church, although despite their intimidating presence it is hard to suppress a guffaw when they introduce themselves as ‘The Pointed Nails of Justice’.

Lovely to look at for the most part, adequately acted and with an impressive score by Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth), Byzantium will not be one of Jordan’s best remembered films, but it is a welcome return to the gothic for the Irish filmmaker. While the ending feels rushed and features one excessively under-explained character reversal, there is enough in the film to keep the attention throughout.

A mobile phone vibrating in a puddle of blood, for example. There’s something we haven’t seen before.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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Pilgrim Hill – Letting the days go by

Putting the “grim” in “Pilgrim”: Joe Mullins and Muiris Crowley collect the turf

There’s a part of Ireland still untouched by the 21st Century, where the Celtic Tiger’s roar was only a distant echo. So Gerard Barrett’s feature debut Pilgrim Hill shows us. We follow the daily life of rural farmer Jimmy (Joe Mullins) as he goes about his pastoral chores – if it weren’t for the Oreos stacked on the local shop’s shelves or his unemployed young friend Tommy’s (Muiris Crowley) shiny Beamer, Pilgrim Hill could almost be set in the 1950s.

Eschewing the high drama of John B. Keane’s The Field, Barrett’s story takes a more real and reserved approach, as it slowly but steadily reveals the wearying effect the world takes of Jimmy. He cares for his cows like family, even though in his own words they are barely pets. He looks after his stroke-addled father – never seen but ever present – but wishes he didn’t have to. Even his rare trip to the pub is a miserable one; a single pint sipped alone so as not to go over the legal limit. The only real energy in Jimmy’s life comes from the rhythmic pulsing of the milking machine; the rest is silence.

The film is punctuated by a series of almost-to-camera interviews with Jimmy, whose shyly averted gaze says as much as his words. These are great insights into the character, who has never truly bloomed as a person, and they allow Mullins to really get into Jimmy’s skin, but one can’t help but wish there was a more inventive way Barrett might have opened up this character to us.

The steady pacing of the story is accompanied by tidy, withdrawn framing that keenly demonstrates the isolation of the character, marred by some unfortunate lapses of focal depth. Jimmy’s house is littered with items from the life he might have lived – a Rod Stewart mug and a pair of polka-dot purple underwear reveal a side to the man that we will never hear from his lips.

As life takes increasingly cruel tolls on Jimmy, Barrett’s film becomes a study of how much a man can take before he breaks down and cries. Does healing come with tears?

Unambitious but well executed, Barrett reveals himself a filmmaker to keep an eye on, while Mullins, a sometime theatre actor with no prior features under his belt, carries the weight of the film with a sincere, world-weary performance, taut with closeted emotion.

Pilgrim Hill is an honest portrayal of a fragment of Ireland we all too eagerly like to pretend we have left behind us.

2/5

(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)

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2012 in review – The year of archery and French wheelchairs

As the credits begin to roll on another year of film (don’t bother sticking around to the end, the bonus scene after the credits is just a hangover), it’s time to look back on what the world of film offered up in 2012. There were highs and lows, unexpected joys and underwhelming potential wonders. Hollywood provided its most entertaining popcorn blockbuster in a generation. French cinema shattered our hearts over and over and over.

Early on The Artist won out at the Oscars, but rather than reignite interest in silent cinema, it became a Netflix-condemned anomaly unto itself. Thanks to 3D, The Avengers won out over The Dark Knight Rises and its IMAX presentation, but the launch of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit series caused the real fuss with its introduction of HFR (higher frame rate, 48 frames per second), which has caused more division amongst audiences than Prometheus. Films such as Berberian Sound Studio and Cloud Atlas aspired to greatness, but fell at the all-important last hurdle, having an ending. Michael Haneke returned to Cannes, made everyone and their mothers cry, then went home victorious to launch a parody Twitter account.

Archery!

It was once again a mediocre year for animation. Pixar clawed their way out of the wreckage of Cars 2 with the unfairly disliked Brave, though it remained a step down from their sensational output in the last decade. Frankenweenie and Rise of the Guardians charmed but did not wow. ParaNorman sadly escaped my gaze.

It would be unfair to say it was a poor year for documentary, but I was left disappointed by many of the most praised docs this year; Samsara, The Imposter and Bill Cunningham – New York were all strong works that did not fully succeed in their ambitions. Disappointingly, Waiting for Sugarman, 5 Broken Cameras and Tabu were all missed by me – I suspect my top 20 might have looked very different had I caught them.

On a personal note 2012 was not the year career-wise I had hoped it to be, but my writing, both here and for Film Ireland Magazine continued and I like to think improved – this blog expanded two-fold over the last 12 months, something to be proud of. I continued to trawl through the greatest of film cinema, most notably binging on the Rocky movies, The Bourne Trilogy, The Apu Trilogy and The Godfather Trilogy – each of those in single, incredible sittings. On the big screen I revisited classics such as The Apartment, A Night to Remember, RoboCop, Baraka, Bambi, The Shining, Fantastic Planet, Haxan and the 4K restoration of Lawrence of Arabia. My major goal for the year was to finally delve into horror cinema, a genre I had avoided for much of my life, with first-time viewings of Carrie, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Omen, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and George Romero’s original Living Dead Trilogy. More specifically, I delved into Italian horror, seeing some of the best films of Dario Argento and Lucio Fulci, as well as Lamberto Bava’s Demons films, and also gave myself a light education in the rockumentary, finally watching The Last Waltz, Stop Making Sense, Buena Vista Social Club and the director’s cut of Woodstock. Elsewhere, I finally completed the IMDB Top 250 list, an achievement that would be so much greater if not for the fact that, due to its constant shifting, I now find myself back at 249 (and not caring).

There were a handful of films I was eager to see this year but missed; Sightseers, Monsieur Lazhar, The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Seven Psychopaths and Silver Linings Playbook. Due to my continued transatlantic travelling, my list is assembled of films released in Ireland or the US anywhere from 2011-2013, and films such as Django Unchained, Les Misérables and Wreck-It Ralph remain viewing for next year’s list.

French wheelchairs!

Films that nearly made the grade this year include Le Havre, Coriolanus, The Dark Knight Rises, Ted, Moonrise Kingdom, Killer Joe, The Kid With a Bike and Laurence Anyways. These and many others remain worthy viewing. But the following should all be seen and appreciated; they are my top 20 of 2012.

20. The Grey

Featuring an immensely committed, world-weary performance by Liam Neeson, what should have been a standard action/horror about plane crash survivors fending off a wolf pack turned out to be a treatise on the nature of faith and the human will to survive. With characterisation of a quality far beyond what this story called and some truly tense adventuring, The Grey hit harder than Liam Neeson punching a wolf in the face.

19. What Richard Did

It’s easy to forget some times that I am actually Irish; I know I often do. And despite my role in promoting film culture in Ireland, few Irish critics are harsher to Irish filmmakers when they drop the ball than I am. But when they get it right, they can get it so very right. Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did, based on a true story about an accidental killing by privileged schoolboys of one of their own, delved deep into the issues of when uncontrollable testosterone and youthful arrogance collide. Beautifully capturing the light grey tones of Dublin city, What Richard Did is at its best tracking the distress of Richard (notable newcomer Jack Reynor) through intense, unrelenting camera movements.

18. Anna Karenina

As much an exercise in cinematic stagecraft as an adaptation of Tolstoy’s romantic novel, Joe Wright brought out all the visual big guns to set his film apart from its forebears. Theatres become palaces and diamonds become more emotive than the faces of the actors wearing them in this ultra-stylised drama. Keira Knightley gives it her best in the lead role, but it is the supporting players, most notably Jude Law and Domhnall Gleeson, who really steal the show, along with Tom Stoppard’s oft-inventive screenplay. Nothing else this year looked quite like it.

Full review

17. Argo

After years of lamentable acting and increasingly promising directing, Ben Affleck has finally won the love of all Hollywood with this tense, witty espionage drama. A spy thriller in which not a gun is fired or a woman seduced, Affleck recreates, with some liberties, the exodus of American civilians trapped in Tehran during the Iranian Revolution, while also poking fun at the Hollywood studio system, which was manipulated to help win the day. Superb attention to historical detail is what really sets this film apart. The tension is carried through to the very end, at the unfortunate expense of believability, but it remains a thrilling ride, with several exceptional supporting performances.

Full review

16. Looper

The first truly entertaining time-travel adventure since Marty McFly settled down for good in Hill Valley, Rian Johnson’s Looper looked at the consequences of actions through two versions of the same character, played by Bruce Willis and a Bruce Willised-up Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Exciting and playful with its impossible premise, Looper stood out for its wit and audacity. It faltered hugely in its third act, but it was too late to do the film any real damage – and the final 20 minutes proved an unexpected rollercoaster. As clever as popcorn cinema can get.

Full review

15. The Hunt

More than a decade after his magnificent Festen, Thomas Vinterberg returns to form with the dramatic thriller. A magnificently pained and frustrated Mads Mikkelsen stars as a kindergarten teacher falsely accused of child abuse. Rather than create a mystery around the events, Vinterberg and co-writer Tobias Lindholm allow the audience to be the only ones aware of how this dreadful confusion arose. This omniscience on the viewer’s behalf becomes tormenting as the town turns against the teacher. Superbly acted, it is given extra power by the brown and grey autumnal look of the Danish landscape, full of a slowly fading beauty.

14. Lincoln

Showing uncharacteristic restraint, Steven Spielberg directed a Civil War “epic” with almost no war. Playing like an extended season finale of The West Wing, Spielberg’s beautifully detailed period drama is entirely focused on scrambling for votes in the U.S. Congress. Milking the political clash over the abolition of slavery for all the drama and excitement it’s worth, Tony Kushner’s screenplay made the esteemed president a Machiavellian political mastermind, while Janusz Kamiński’s camera shot him like a former superhero returning for one last heroic act. Daniel Day-Lewis captured the president’s spirit, but it was Tommy Lee Jones who stole the film as the devoutly anti-slavery congressman Thaddeus Stevens.

13. The Raid

A bolt out of the blue that hit so hard the audience’s collective heads shattered several wall tiles, Gareth Evans’s Indonesian cop thriller/martial arts extravaganza was one of the year’s most unexpected critical darlings. Lethal human whirligig Iko Uwais played the cop trapped in a tower full of machete-wielding drug dealers, forced to fight his way out using every weapon and muscle at his disposal. The results were electrifying and often hilarious. Editing troubles aside, The Raid was one of the tightest action movies released all year.

Full review

12. The Intouchables (Untouchable)

The first of three French films on this list to feature the tragedy of a person confined to a wheelchair, and the film in which the wheelchair is most at the fore, this undeniably charming dramedy, based loosely on a true story, tells of a wealthy quadriplegic and his unlikely friendship with a street-smart layabout turned caregiver. Predictable and light, it is also superbly acted and told with boundless heart and (often dark) humour. Shamelessly uplifting without being slight, it is adeptly shot and edited.

11. Skyfall

Choking on the poison that was Quantum of Nonsense, James Bond brought himself back to life with a defibrillator shock once more, and this time that shock was Skyfall. Exceptionally written and paced, Skyfall had the audacity to focus more on the character of Bond than any other film in the series to date, while giving ample room to develop his relationship with the ever-excellent Judi Dench as M. Javier Bardem’s villain was left with a poor evil scheme, but was himself memorable as a vengeful ex-agent with mincing homoerotic undertones. Light on action, when it hit it came with a wallop. Sam Mendes’s direction was solid but came second always to Roger Deakins exceptional camerawork.

Full review

10. Life of Pi

Adapting a spiritual novel into a personal epic with countless remarkable special effects shots, Ang Lee continues his quest to be the most diverse filmmaker in the business. Weaving the wonderful tall tale of Piscine ‘Pi’ Patel into a visually astounding oceanic adventure took remarkable skill, which bursts forth from the screen in every shot – literally in the case of the impressive 3D presentation. Suraj Sharma plays the devout theist castaway on a lifeboat with a vicious tiger. The metaphor at the film’s centre lands powerfully, but it is the clever dialogue and mesmerising visuals that make this film stand out.

9. Holy Motors

Leos Carax’s veritable clusterfuck of madness is at some level a statement about the falsehood of (digital) cinema. At another level it is just plain bonkers. Chameleonic Denis Lavant plays everyone you could think of, as a performer doomed (it would seem) to forever play the strangest of roles; from romantic lead to frustrated father, beggar woman to subterranean troll, his own killer to husband to a chimpanzee. It lapses in many of its instalments (installations?), but as a whole it is an astoundingly odd and wonderful piece of filmmaking.

8. The Avengers (Avengers Assemble)

Against all the odds and an army of alien beasties, this superhero mash-up succeeded on almost every level. Four years of films leading up to this one, introducing some of the leading players and the universe’s themes, paid off as the egos of Iron Man, Thor, Captain America and Bruce ‘The Hulk’ Banner collided. The result was unexpectedly tremendous, with Joss Whedon’s wildly entertaining script bouncing the characters’ personalities off one another beautifully, and with plenty of laughs. Everyone played to their strengths, the minor characters were given moments to shine and the action redefined explosive. Here’s to Phase 2, eh?

Full review

7. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia

This pastoral police procedural drama, set over a night and the day that followed, gave a haunting insight into modern Turkey. Exceptionally well acted and with more than its fair share of beautiful, memorable shots (the mini adventure of a tumbling apple cannot be forgotten), Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s wonderful film was let down by a tragically sluggish third act that clashed with the astounding first two thirds of the film. Still, as a whole Once Upon a Time in Anatolia remains far more impressive than any American crime drama of the same year.

6. The Master

Barely passing under the bar set by There Will Be Blood, P.T. Anderson’s The Master cannot be underestimated. The incomparable story of two men who need each other for contradicting reasons, The Master would still be a great film without the powerhouse performances of Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. With them, and with remarkable assistance from Amy Adams, this is a drama that must be experienced before you can believe it. Occasional lapses in pacing and a visual aesthetic that rarely lives up to the power of the drama do it a disservice, but the mastery of filmmaking on display here cannot be denied.

Full review

5. The Pirates! in an Adventure with Scientists!

The finest animated feature released this year, this daft comic gem from Aardman Animations brought more laughs than any other two films released this year could muster between them. Rattling out sight gags and wordplay like the spiritual successor to Airplane!, The Pirates! also featured some superb voicework (especially from animation virgin Hugh Grant as the pirate captain, named the Pirate Captain) and took Aardman’s animation style to new limits. The incredibly detailed stop-motion sets (photographed in 3D) boggle the eyes as you try to take in everything you can see – there are more sight gags per image than the human brain can process. It may not have the same heart as some of Aardman’s earlier offerings, but there is a sweetness to be found here. It doesn’t matter though, the outstanding quality of the Gatling-gun comedy and the craft on display are what make this the work of brilliance it is.

Full review

As a bonus, here’s a picture of me with the model Pirate Ship from The Pirates! taken during a studio tour of Aardman Animations back in 2011.

The Pirate Ship

4. Amour

Michael Haneke’s heartbreaking tale of an elderly husband caring for his stroke-addled wife could not be more perfectly handled or acted. The camera is confined to the apartment like Anne herself, but gently roams its rooms and corridors capturing flashes of the dying days of this unspectacular couple. Punctuated with comedy (a rogue pigeon invades the house) and horror (a nightmare of floodwater and disembodied, strangling hands), Amour’s power is inescapable. ’60s romantic movie stars Jean-Louis Trintignant and Emmanuelle Riva excel, the former capturing a pained patience, the latter the agony of natural imprisonment; within a wheelchair, within a bed, within her own body.

Full review

3. Beasts of the Southern Wild

This majestic imagining of a Louisiana community struggling against the elements, told through the eyes of a wondrous, haunted young girl, is the breakthrough movie of 2012. First-time director Benh Zeitlin crafts a world drifting on the border of reality. Shot on 16mm, Beasts succeeds in finding a unique beauty in the overgrown damp of the bayou. The narration by six-year-old Hushpuppy (the revelation that is Quvenzhané Wallis) is perhaps overwrought, but it is delivered with astounding honesty and passion. As the world around her is literally and metaphorically washed away, her imagination of the end times allows for a powerful reclamation of human spirit and dignity. The score alone, all plucky Southern instruments, is enough to make this film a triumph. Thanks to its other successes, it is a minor masterpiece.

Full review

2. Rust and Bone

The follow-up to his phenomenal A Prophet, Jacques Audiard turns to a more humanistic tale in adapting Craig Davidson’s short story collection from an assemblage of broken lives into a remarkable drama of shattered dreams and people repairing one another. Matthias Schoenaerts and Marion Cotillard each give career-defining performances as, respectively, a bare-knuckle boxer-cum-struggling father and a sexually defined whale trainer left powerless and paralysed in a gruesome accident. The tenderness and frustration of this odd couple’s relationship rings amazingly true, while Stéphane Fontaine’s near-divine handheld camerawork circles them effortlessly, stopping from time to time to capture remarkable stand-alone images. Over-powering stuff, altogether.

Full review

1. The Turin Horse

Far from the most entertaining film of 2012, no film released this year deserves immortality quite like Béla Tarr’s intended swan song. Imagining the daily life of a beleaguered workhorse, whose plight is fabled to have caused the mental breakdown of Friedrich Nietzsche, The Turin Horse is shot in hypnotic, terrifying black and white. Capturing the monstrous monotony of rural life at the turn of the last century, Tarr takes us through several interchangeable days as a brutish farmer and his weary daughter go about their chores. The repeated imagery as man and woman eat their daily potato, each time shot from a different, intense angle, each time robbed of civility by the farmer’s slurpy gorging, makes for painful, powerful viewing/listening. The outstanding black and white cinematography, the phenomenal use of music and the set design and wind-battered landscapes create a cinematic experience unlike any other. It is difficult viewing, but the craft involved in it cannot be rivalled.

A Turin-out for the books

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And now, my top 5 worst films of the year. I managed to miss a few apparent clunkers; Project XThe WatchBattleship or Piranha 3DD. But I still managed to catch some pretty awful stuff. Some lamented films, such as John Carter and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, were actually pretty harmless. Films that nearly made the list include The Bourne LegacyGhost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and This Means War. Despite hating more than almost any film I can think, there was no denying that Ruby Sparks is too adequately made to reduce it to this waste bin of cinema. Instead I’ll condemn it to the waste bin of human decency.

5. Snow White & the Huntsman

This uninspired, or rather thievishly over-inspired, adolescent fantasy threw everything it had at the screen and none of it stuck. An evil queen far more radiant than the Snow White. Kristen Stewart wearing armour. And leading an army after giving a dramatic speech. A love triangle in which none of the corners seemed particularly interested in one another. Actually, this film did feature one pretty awesome feat of archery (theme!), but it was of course pilfered from the infinitely superior Princess Mononoke. Thank goodness for the amazing sequence with giant deer god in the forest that was oh no wait stolen from Princess Mononoke. I love Princess Mononoke. I hated this.

4. Haywire

Despite the lamentable acting of MMA fighter Gina Carano, your film is in trouble when she’s the best thing in it. Several fine actors (most notably Michael Douglas) phone in their performances so hard they even reversed the charges. Michael Fassbender forgets his accent in the last scene again. The decent fight choreography and the surprisingly good sense of Dublin geography could not prevent this formulaic purported pastiche from being one of the most excruciating viewing experiences of the year. Steven Soderbergh has directed a movie so badly edited The Asylum would look down on it. Oh, and the jazz score? No.

3. Taken 2

Liam Neeson beats up anyone with darker skin than him, this time without any of the urgency or fun of the original. Grenades get thrown recklessly at civilians. Mosques are shown with deafening boom sounds on the soundtrack, just to remind you that foreign things are evil. They’re not really, but pumping this much cash into a movie and ending up with this surely is.

Full review

2. Charlie Casanova

What was that I was saying about Irish movies? This hardly seen Irish indie does its best to deconstruct the worst excesses of the Celtic Tiger generation, but creates a character so ludicrously cartoonish in his villainy that he fails to represent anything at all. Shot on grim low-grade digital in not one but two of the ugliest hotels in the world, this was an almighty mess of editing and dialogue. Lead actor Emmett Scanlan gives it so much socks that he and his improbable moustache swallow the movie whole.

1. The Campaign

But at least the makers of Charlie Casanova tried! In a year when political satire was a much needed relief, this Congressional comedy ran for the safety of the silly hills. No attempt was made to properly address the preposterous (and potentially hilarious) contradictions of the American two-party system. Instead The Campaign opted to have Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis do their best to out-swear and out-stupid one another. The results were hardly funny. It was the film audiences deserved, but not the one they got. An utter waste of several talents.

Here’s hoping for 2012!

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Further Festival Frolics

So the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival has been over a week now but it’s worth recapping what I saw in the days following my marathon Sunday viewing.

On the Tuesday of the Festival I caught the entertaining oddity Were the World Mine. A camp indulging in gay teen wish fulfilment, the film combines traditional teen angst drama with musical fantasy to create a bizarre yet recognisable fusion.

Loosely autobiographical, according to director Tom Gustafson, the story follows a troubled gay teen dealing with his attractions at an all-boys school in a somewhat conservative American town.

First escaping into daydreams about his rugby star crush – the film’s portrayal of a daydreaming adolescent is commendable – framed in the context of a school performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the film takes an interesting and utterly unexpected turn when the youth, Timothy, successfully fabricates the love potion from that play, and uses it to help the world see through his eyes, by literally making the whole town gay.

It’s a little juvenile, but it’ all performed with a nod and a wink, and it pretty much works fine as an indie comedy. Whether it truly has anything to say about gender relations and sexuality is debatable, but through the use of dance and music, all lyrics by Bill Shakespeare, it certainly sets itself apart from any similar films.

Certainly it’s the freshest the love potion film has seemed in decades.

Right after that, though thankfully in the same cinema, was a gala presentation of the sensational Il Divo. A political biopic like none I have ever seen, the latter days of the rule of Giulio Andreotti are played out in manner that could be called part drama, part gangster movie, part music video.

Indeed, the impressive young director Paolo Sorrentino said in discussion after the film that his intention had been to create a “rock opera” about Andreotti, and it very much comes off that way.

Surreal flourishes permeate the otherwise sensible walls of power in Rome: a cat with David Bowie eyes engages Andreotti in a staring contest; blood red subtitles introducing characters shift within the frame to contest with camera movements; even the music from the soundtrack is utterly eccentric.

As Andreotti, Tony Servillo creates a caricature that feels too strange to not be real. There is an inhumanity to him, as he rings his hands, hunched like Count Orlok, and yet when we see his relationship with his wife, and when we see the pressure that is on him and the sleeplessness power creates for him, we realise that it is far more than a caricature that is on display here.

In perhaps the film’s most startling image (and there are several in contention), Andreotti walks off his sleeplessness up and down a corridor for what feels like minutes on end, the camera swinging to keep up with movement as he darts in and out of focus. There is a potential master behind this camera, but like many of the masters he is clearly really having fun.

A complete antithesis to the realism of Italy’s other Cannes success last year, Gomorrah, Il Divo similarly asks questions without answers and leaves an incredible amount of ambiguity, while pointing towards Andreotti’s guilt.

It’s a bizarre experience, but one that you can’t shake off afterwards as you still picture Andreotti shuffling along the midnight streets of Rome with an armed cavalcade of police at his side.

The next evening was the Irish premiere of Religulous, another feature long out in the US, which I had been waiting for for some time. I’ve never made much secret of my staunch atheism so this was always going to be a case of preaching to the choir (if you’ll forgive that specious turn of phrase in this instance).

I’d be lying so if I did not admit I was slightly disappointed. The film took what I consider to be too flippant an approach in its observances of the faults in adhering to outdated religious doctrines. To finally turn around as Bill Maher does in the final reel and put forth what amounts to a call to arms for atheists and agnostics is quite a step that one feels a whole TV series would have required rather than 100 minutes of witty analysis.

In fairness, as comedy goes, making fun of religion is like shooting Jesus fish in a barrel.

But that’s not to say it isn’t funny, it has some great moments, mostly supplied by witty subtitles and bizarre interviewees. The discussion with an eccentric priest outside the Vatican contains many of the highlights, as does the interview with an Arkansas senator.

But good fun and occasional insights do not make it the must-see event it really should have been.

The surface has been scratched, but who will start hacking away now that Bill Maher and Larry Charles have retreated?

An exhausting dash from Cineworld to the Screen (again) made me very on time for a delayed screening of Tokyo!, coupled with Il Divo my highlight of he Festival.

This three-pronged assault on logic through surrealism and whimsy is one of the best collections of short films I have ever come across.

The first film, Interior Design, has left me forgiving the bitter taste Michel Gondry left in my mouth with the dire Be Kind Rewind. It is an expertly crafted story that begins as a generic but pleasant “country girl in the big city” story before mutating into a Kafkaesque nightmare with a happy ending.

The story of Hiroko’s (Ayako Fujitani) struggle to feel useful and her despair in realising the truth about herself is captured wonderfully through the film’s pacing and Fujitami’s introverted performance. When all surrealist hell breaks loose, Gondry uses his trademark “wait, how did he do that?” special effects so brilliantly that it sweeps you up and takes you away with it. The ending hovers in a void between meaningless and insightful that all you can do is smile.

Merde is the weakest of the three vignettes, but that is hardly a criticism. Directed by little-known French filmmaker Leos Carax, it tells the story of a horrible French troll (Denis Lavant) who lives beneath Tokyo, venturing forth only to terrorise through sheer unpleasantness.

The first elongated take following Merde along his path of terror, on what feels like a never-ending or endlessly repeating shopping street – stealing money (to eat) and licking helpless passersby.

When eventually captured and put on trial, his lawyer appears to also be a similar troll creature, albeit one who has become a respected member of French society. Pythonesque comedy ensues as the two communicate through gibberish; it nearly gets old but always remains funny, even through the lengthy courtroom scene, which is kept fresh by the use of – for no discernable reason – 24-style split screens.

It’s all very silly but very fun, with brilliant fake news coverage adding to the nonsense. The final gag is truly inspired, although one fears Carax could follow up on the offer it contains.

Finally, Shaking Tokyo is Tokyo!’s triumph. From Bong Joon-ho, the Korean genius behind the genre-bending The Host, it tells the story of a hikikomori, a sort of homebound hermit, who only orders in food and refuses to make eye contact with visitors, and designs his dwelling with used-up toilet rolls and empty pizza boxes.

After a chance encounter with a beautiful woman and a subsequent earthquake, the nameless shut-in begins to rethink his life, and the story ventures from comedy into the worlds of romance and science fiction.

It is an utter delight with more than enough quirky gags to keep it constantly fresh, as well as one of the most charming voiceovers in recent memory.

On Thursday night I took a friend to see Two For the Road, playing as one of the many classic films on show. As an extra treat it was on at the Lighthouse cinema, which I had not been to since its reopening last year. It must be the comfiest and most aesthetically pleasing cinema in Dublin.

The film was more of a treat than I expected, detailing the romantic ups and downs of an English couple over 12 years as their various holidays in France criss-cross one another in time.

The back-and-forthing feels remarkably novel for 1967, it’s the sort of stylistic device we like to think belongs solely to the likes of Christopher Nolan. But really this is all about the magnificent script (by Frederic Raphael) and the impressive chemistry between Albert Finney (utterly charming) and Audrey Hepburn (who goes from pretty pixie to bitchy madam).

Some of the sequences work better than others. The youngest pairing are so full of promise (that we see simultaneously blighted) that it’s hard not to love them, and their dialogue is so laced with double entendre that it is always hysterical. Another pairing sees them travelling with an infuriating American couple, who you wish to both laugh and strangle they are so totally true-to-life.

But the eldest, successful and bitter sequences are so nasty, and Hepburn’s outfits so gruesomely over the top, that they never quite work properly. Especially toward the end, where the film loses its sense of rhythm and extends each scene needlessly, that by the finale you feel utterly exhausted.

It is still a film years ahead of its time however.

So after what felt like an almost faultless run at the Film Festival I took my chance on an Irish film for my last night, the Saturday, when the director of Song For a Raggy Boy, Aisling Walsh, presented her new film, The Daisy Chain.

A horror (sort of), in the vein of Rosemary’s Baby, the film defiantly chose not to work.

Beginning promisingly with the journey of a young couple, played by the usually reliable Samantha Morton and Steven Mackintosh, to his former home in Co. Mayo as they expect their second child, following the death of their firstborn, the film quickly misses its footing with an overindulgence in twee Oirishness and hammy acting.

A local girl, Daisy, whose face is inexplicably always dirty, is cruel and odd, though friendly towards Martha (Morton).

When her entire family ends up dead, no one suspects a thing and the newcomers to town take her in. Despite her being really creepy.

Suddenly people start to whisper that she might not be human, and might actually be a “fairy changeling” (watch in horror as the cast clearly hold back giggles while saying those words – you might not be so lucky).

The defence comes from Martha that she is probably autistic, but that just raises further questions as to why on earth this couple are left looking after her.

There are a few good sequences: Daisy – who, played by newcomer Mhairi Anderson, is genuinely impressive in her creepiness – nearly pushes some local children off a cliff as she violently demands they “Play with me!”; a crazed local attempts to do away with the girl in a rather fiendish Wile E Coyote-style pit trap, but even that whole scene is spoiled by a slow motion shot that looks as if it was created with the free software that comes with a new MacBook.

The film is riddled with errors. Continuity errors, editing mishaps, hapless dialogue. When Daisy’s parents die, a garda says that the locals wouldn’t be so scared if it hadn’t happened on Halloween, which is the first we’ve heard of this!

At an earlier point, Martha finds a drowned child in the water; when his mother sees her with him she cries “Jack! Jack!” and continues to sob his name. The following scene, down the Garda station, has Martha ask a garda: “What was the boys name?”

A number of subplots pop up without purpose, including a sequence of marital infidelity that comes from nowhere interesting and goes nowhere at all.

It’s sloppy work, which is a shame because it has merit – it is wonderfully shot in some impressive Irish countryside locations, Morton and Anderson both pull off their roles, and Daisy is genuinely unsettling. But it all builds up to an open-ended climax that reveals that even the writer had no idea how to end this.

There isn’t even a theme, in two charming early sequences a crucifix is referenced (bringing to mind if nothing else The Exorcist), implying that there might be a theme of old beliefs versus new, but this never fully materialises. By the end of the film the only moral on show is that autistic children should be culled before they kill us all!

It was a dreadful end to what had otherwise been a terrific week of solid film viewing. Here’s looking forward to next year, when hopefully I’ll be able to take a more active role. And perhaps I can take in a few more festivals in the interim.

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