Friday, September 16, 2016

Film: "Iona" (2015)

This was the last film I saw in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It set on a Scottish island, but not obviously the island of Iona, with the name of the film coming from the name of the protagonist, played by Ruth Negga. The film begins with her and a teenage boy driving a car, getting a ferry to somewhere, parking the car and setting fire to it, walking on to somewhere else and then getting a boat to the island the film is about. She is returning to the island after leaving it when she was 16 or thereabouts, with her son (who is… about the same age in years as she has been gone from the island dunn dunn dunnnnnn). It is one of those tangled webs and dark secrets revealed films.

I found aspects of the film appealing though I thought some of the roads it chose to go down were a bit distasteful. Ultimately it was only OK but it was great to see Negga in anything as she is one of those actors one could happily watch reading the phone book. Before she went away to seek her fortune in the world of TV and cinema she was the greatest Dublin stage actor of her generation.

Some women sat near me in the cinema tittered all the way through it, like they had been drinking or something.

image source (Up Late At Night Again)

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Film: "Retour de Flamme: The Keaton Project" (1920-1922)

I saw this compilation of remastered Buster Keaton shorts in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It was introduced by Serge Bromberg, who oversaw the restoration. Buster Keaton is a legendary film figure but I had never seen anything of his before (apart from a short art film he did in later life with Samuel Beckett), so I was keen to see these short films.

Sadly I did not find these films that funny but I very much enjoyed seeing them. Keaton's self-mastery is astonishing to bold, the way his face can communicate depths of expression while maintaining an apparent deadpan demeanour. In that regard the more recent actor he most reminded me of was Leslie Nielsen. Anyways, these included The One Where The House Falls Over On Top Of Him and the One Where He FInds Himself Being Chased By Loads Of Cops, and many more. It is a bit sad that he was unable to successfully make the transition to sound films, but life is hard.

image source (Timeless Hollywood)

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Film: "The Lure" (2015)

I saw Polish film in the Dublin film festival earlier this year. It deals with a nightclub band who find two siren-mermaids and then bring them back to add backing vocals to their band. The mermaids also double up as strippers (who can shape-shift into human form when away from water). It is set back in the 1990s (it took me a while to register this) and it is a musical: as well as the scenes of the band playing in the nightclub there are moments when people break into song and dance routines. It is somewhat done for laughs, though I think it would be funnier if you got all the Polish cultural references, but it has its sadface moments on the transient nature of human-mermaid love. And it goes a bit horror from time to time. So thematically and mood-wise it is a bit of a dog's dinner.

I found it a bit sleazy and exploitative. It was noticeable that the two mermaids spend most of the film topless and possess a certain jailbait quality. Yet the director is a woman so maybe this is actually a feminist film, in which the audience are being confronted with their own voyeurism.

image source (Wikipedia)

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Film: "Parabellum" (2015)

This is another odd film I saw in the Dublin Film Festival earlier this year. It has an Austrian director but appears to be set in a future Argentina. It is stylistically interesting in that it features almost no dialogue. It is not a silent film: there is sound and we do hear the human voice. But the scenes where people speak are mostly ones with instructors talking to students who remain mute. There are very few scenes in which Person A says something and Person B says something back.

How can this be? Well the film begins with a man doing a series of things that you realise are him bringing his everyday life to an end. He visits an old man in a home for the elderly. He sits in his apartment while an automated caller invites him to reconsider his decision to cancel his telephone line. He hands his cat in to a cat minder. There are snippets of news reports suggesting that things are going very wrong with the world (riots, natural disasters, social breakdown, etc.). Then the man goes off on a bus to a rural location and is blindfolded and brought on a boat through a river system to a combination holiday camp and training centre. He and the other new arrivals undergo a series of preparations… for what? It seems like a combination of general fitness training and self-defence, then learning to shoot and acquiring some handy survival skills. As they go about their business we see the odd fireball pass through the sky.

The detached tone and the cultishness of the setup reminded me of films by Yorgos Lanthimos, particularly Alps. I was also reminded of that Martha Marcy May Marlene film. The latter comparison seemed particularly apt when the film turns nasty, with the protagonist and a couple of his fellows going to a house in the country and killing all the people there (this portrayed in a detached manner, with most of the killings happening off screen).

The detachment and lack of dialogue in the film is its most appealing prospect but it also can be frustrating. The lack of exposition means it can be a bit unclear as to why things are happening, with the detached style of the acting making it harder to infer from them why they are doing things. In the end it seems like the community breaks down or maybe the protagonist cuts loose and heads off on his own. There is a stunning vista later on when he canoes towards a city that appears to be suffering very badly from a rain of fireballs. The film seemed to be on the point of a transition here but then it just ends.

Its odd nature may mark this out as the best film I saw in the film festival, though I think it may be one I like more in retrospect.

image source (Film Society Lincoln Center)

Monday, September 12, 2016

Film: "100 Yen Love" (2014)

Earlier this year I went to see a film in the film festival and actually saw the film. Jurassic Park! The film I saw was 100 Yen Love, about this waster Japanese woman who is kicked out by her parents and gets a job in a convenience store working the night shift. After doing this for a while she starts taking an interest in boxing, initially because she fancies this guy who keeps training in the local boxing club. Then she takes up boxing herself and it kind of turns her life around. It was an interesting film, providing an insight into a Japanese world of slackers a world away from the salarymen, gangsters or samurai who normally show up in the Japanese films that make it to the West. I'm not sure I liked it that much, though. It seemed a bit unsure of its tone, as to whether it was a funny film about the main character and her funny slacker world or a serious film about her overcoming her demons and getting back on the straight and narrow. I suppose films can be both.

There is one scene in the film that was a bit difficult for me to watch but has had me thinking afterwards. When the woman goes to work in the convenience store she has this co-worker who is also a bit of a loser (hence working in convenience store) but also a bit of dickhead. He is racist and also sleazy, continuously hitting on the protagonist in an unappealing manner. But this is all kind of presented as being a bit funny, in the way that sleazy characters often are in fiction. Then on a night out where they go for drinks after a boxing match he takes the protagonist to a cheap hotel and rapes her. This is clearly not funny, but it did make me think about how sleazy characters (in real life and fiction) may only be a step away from this kind of assault but still are treated in somewhat comedic terms until they actually go that far. These people are only funny if you are not the one worrying about being stuck in a lift with them.

image source (Wikipedia)

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Film: "Spotlight" (2015)

In the Dublin film festival earlier this year I bought a ticket to see Why Me?, a Romanian film about political corruption in the post-Communist era. I printed out my online ticket, went to the Lighthouse Cinema, showed it to the attendants and was directed into a one of their screens. I sat and watched ads and trailers, but then disaster struck. Instead of the opening credits for Why Me? coming up on screen, I was greeted by a film censor's certificate for another film entirely, one that was already on general release and which was not being shown in the film festival. This was a terrible psychic blow, which left me feeling that some kind of cosmic joke was being played at my expense. I thought of running out to try and find the film I was meant to be seeing, but feared that it would already have started. Inertia also suggested that staying in place would be the wisest course of action, a view supported by the film being one that I had heard something positive about.

The film I was seeing was of course Spotlight, the Tom McCarthy directed film about journalists investigating a systematic Catholic Church cover up of kiddy-fiddling priests in Boston. It is based on real events and features actors playing real investigative journalists who worked for the Boston Globe. I liked that it dealt with a difficult and distasteful issue like kiddy-fiddling in a manner that was neither voyeuristic nor sensational (readers will be pleased to hear that the film features no depictions of actual kiddy-fiddling).

In the film, the existence of paedophile priests is already a known thing, but the journalists uncover that their number is far greater than previously suspected, something that could only have happened if senior figures in the Church were working to hush up the extent to which these crimes were taking place; this coverup is revealed as going all the way up to Cardinal Law, archbishop of Boston.

Aside from the sensitivity with which it handles a difficult subject, the film has a number of great strengths. One is the depiction of journalists at work, piecing together the story not by meeting silhouetted informants in car parks but through research and cross-referencing of published documents. The other thing that impressed me is its sense of moral ambiguity. Although we are left with no doubt that kiddy-fiddler priests and the people who shelter them are bad, other characters are revealed as more morally grey than initial impressions might suggest. The most striking example of this is the shyster lawyer who turns out to be arguably working to obtain the best deal he can for his unfortunate clients, someone who tried to blow the whistle on the scale of the paedophile priest problem but who gave up when no one was interested in hearing about it. And then there are the journalists themselves. Journalists in this kind of film are usually shining white knights, forces of unambiguous moral righteousness bringing the bad guys to book. And in this film they are like that, to an extent,but as the film goes on they (and we) become more aware of the older journalists' role in the cover-up of the paedophile priest scandal. They did not do so thanks to corruption or a desire to protect the Church, but because their prior biases could not support the idea that there really was a systemic problem with clerical paedophilia. People who asserted the true scale of the problem are dismissed as cranks, their claims buried on the inside pages of the paper if covered at all.

Aside from the fact that this terrible abuse of minors was allowed to happen, there are things that made me sad about this film. One was the fact that although set in the relatively recent past (late 1990s, early 2000s), it is like a relic of an age that is increasingly vanishing, one where newspapers were important institutions and serious investigative journalism still a thing. Overall though this is a powerful and well-made film with strong performances from various topnotch actors that I encourage people to see.

image source (Wikipedia)