Archives for category: Cinema

This film, by the documentary film maker Marc Isaacs, is an absolute gem, a must-see.

Perhaps I am biased, as someone originally from Ireland who has lived in London for many years. But I believe The Road is essential viewing for anyone living in London, and not only there. It is the story of belonging, of loneliness, of searching for meaning and identity, in essence a depiction of what humanness might be about.

The road Isaacs focuses on is the A5, as it enters London and continues north from Marble Arch, through Kilburn, Cricklewood, and further towards Edgware.

Isaacs focuses on a handful of immigrants, both recent and long-arrived, dotted along the route. Their stories vary, yet converge on a fundamental common issue – leaving one’s homeland (and loved ones) behind. At the outset, Isaacs reflects on the reflective in-between-space such leaving creates, and as we see throughout the film, this questioning never goes away.

Billy, the Irish labourer, who now has too much time to reflect since retirement, which can only be handled through time in the pub, has been in London for more than 40 years. Yet he still feels that he has not fitted in, isolation and loneliness at least partly contributing to his alcohol problem: ‘a day later and a pound shorter’.

This is a poignant, moving, and melancholic film. It is also at times very funny. Isaacs treats the individuals he films with much gentleness, and is always unobtrusive. This is their story, not his, and you get the sense that the film genuinely cares about those portrayed.

Being, belonging, making our mark, is a large part of how we define ourselves. The Road will encourage you to reflect on this, and more, and to perhaps go about your life with a little more generosity and humility.

CQ

I watched this film recently with my daughter, who although Irish in many ways, has never actually lived there, unlike her mother.

For me, watching this film forced me to consider how little I knew about my homeland as I grew up there. Perhaps I did sense something, subconsciously, as I escaped at the first opportunity.

For my daughter, watching the story of the Magdalene girls filled her with horror and disbelief.

Timely viewing as it happens, given Enda Kenny’s apology this week to all those who suffered from such incarceration and cruelty.

The last Magdalene convent closed in the 1990s.
Which isn’t such a long time ago…

CQ

This film was highly rated at the 2012 London Film Festival. I saw it yesterday, in a relatively packed auditorium for a Saturday midday screening.
I was hugely impressed. This is great, and essential, cinema. Shocking? Yes. Distressing? Yes. But some truths need to be told, and told again, and again, until they get the attention they deserve. Tragically, atrocities within the Catholic Church just don’t go away.
Mainly focusing on sex scandals within the Catholic Church in America, much of the film deals with the sexual abuse of deaf boys by Fr. Murphy in a school for deaf children in Wisconsin. Years later, the adult victims began a campaign to have Fr. Murphy removed from the priesthood. While this did not happen, the campaign achieved much to bring the issue of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church into the open. The campaign continues to gain strength.
The reason why priests who abuse children remain not only active as priests, but continue to have open access to children, is beyond comprehension, yet it appears to be how the Catholic Church deals with such heinous crimes (at worst the ‘offenders’ are deemed ‘sinners’, never criminals). The hierarchy within the establishment mostly responds to allegations of sex abuse against its priests with silence. A sad irony indeed, as we learn in Mea Maxima Culpa of the abuse of children who were already vocally silenced and isolated by their deafness.
The intricacies and complexities of the conspiracy within the Catholic Church at the highest level to publicly ignore the suffering of the abused is astounding. As is the money – billions –  the institution pays out annually via ‘fixers’ to ‘settle’ sex scandal cases.
There is an on ongoing movement, led by the human rights lawyer Geoffrey Robinson, to remove the Vatican’s right to exist as an independent state (granted by Mussolini…the Vatican’s position in the war is surely the stuff of another film…), a status that currently gives it diplomatic immunity and puts the Pope outside the jurisdiction of the law. It is truly absurd, and wrong, that such a situation exists. It is also absurd, and personally shocking, to see clips of various Heads of State paying homage to the Pope during their special audience…
Nonetheless, I do have a sense of the Vatican imploding. I hope that I am not being overly optimistic…

CQ

… which I highly recommend.

Released in 2012, I missed Barbara during the recent and short cinema run, and only just caught it some months after its London screening.

I know little about German cinema – Run Lola Run was probably my most recent experience – and it was the storyline that intrigued me most about Barbara. A couple of years ago I read, and was very much taken by, Anna Funder’s book Stasiland. The setting of Barbara in 1980’s East Germany fuelled my interest in the hidden world of that era. I first visited Germany, and Berlin, shortly after the wall came down. It felt then like I had only experienced a fragment of the aftermath, with no perspective on what had gone before.

Barbara, directed by Christian Petzhold, tells the story of a female doctor (played by Nina Hoss) in East Germany in 1980, who has been banished to a hospital in the provinces from Berlin as a result of her attempts to escape to the West. Barbara finds herself in a world where she does not know who she can trust, or love, including herself.

This is not a hugely action-packed film but a deeply compassionate and redemptive one. Watching it, for me, was a restorative experience.

CQ

The timing of this release, which deals with the awfulness of alcohol excess and alcoholism, is perhaps no accident.

It is a great film, shocking and tragic at times, but also moving and ultimately uplifting.

The story revolves around a young married couple, Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, fabulous, and such a challenging role) and Charlie (Aaron Paul), who appear to have a great and fun time together, albeit mostly in a state of drunkenness.

Drinking too much ceases to be fun, and becomes scary and destructive for Kate, a primary school teacher, who starts vomiting in front of her pupils post binge. She also wets the bed. A kindly colleague introduces her to AA, and a road, of sorts, to recovery.

Getting rid of alcohol from Kate’s life throws other issues into sharp focus, particularly her marriage, which she had never before experienced sober.

The rest you will find out for yourself, when you experience this must-see film…

What I particularly admired was the film’s (and director James Ponsoldt’s) refusal to shirk away from portraying the shocking reality of the drunk alcoholic. At times it was difficult to watch Kate’s excruciating behaviour when drunk. This is not a pretty, or funny, or remotely endearing depiction. Just, almost unbearably, tragic.

Smashed makes no attempt to soften the reality of alcoholism. At the same time, it is neither maudlin nor overly sentimental. An almost perfect balance. It is a gem of an authentic, honest, thoughtful and considered movie on a very difficult condition that affects so many, both directly and indirectly.

As a work of art, it unifies humanness and suffering, while at the same time embracing the optimism and hope that drives us to make our lives honest and true and meaningful.

CQ

Continuing the Irish theme… this symposium takes place in Cork this coming weekend, and I am very excited to be attending, and contributing…

http://www.ucc.ie/research/apc/content/experienceofillness/

http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/health/2012/1127/1224327139923.html

It promises to be eclectic, provocative, and thought provoking.

See you there…

CQ

The Pier was the second film I saw at this weekend’s Irish Film Fest. [Actually, it was the third, as this screening also included the short film, Pentecost, which was a gem].

I am not sure even now what I thought of The Pier, but nonetheless, there are some things that may be worth noting.

The first is a personal one. I had no idea that the film was located in and around Schull, my ‘spiritual home’. Thus, recognising the area, and the locals, was a wonderful and warm surprise.

The film itself, written, directed and starring Gerard Murphy, was a more mixed experience. It tells the somewhat familiar Irish story of the ‘prodigal’ son (Gerard Murphy) returning home. He is summoned back from the US with the news that his father (Karl Johnson) is dying. He duly returns, only to find that his father is not dying, after all. He appears hale and hearty, and as cantankerous as ever.

Although he is dying, actually and imminently. We later discover that he has lung cancer, a diagnosis he eventually shares with his son. This prompts a grudging reconciliation of sorts between the pair, which is at times touching and moving. However, the father’s role is too much of a type, a caricature of sorts, that of a truculent, difficult and bitter man, who mostly engenders little in the way of sympathy or empathy. Murphy’s character is more likeable, and understated. A confused and dour sort, his moments of kindness, particularly towards the local pair of children who seem practically orphaned, are endearing.

Religion, and atheism, get a nod too. It is Ireland, after all…

The realisation of imminent death brings out the best in the old man, perhaps too predictably, and at times slightly maudlinish.

But this is not a tear jerker. I am not sure one connects enough with the protagonists to go that far.

CQ

The Irish Film Festival is on this weekend at The Tricycle cinema, and I was at the screening of Ballymun Lullaby last night.

The film had its premiere at the Dublin Film Festival last March, and has been released in Ireland. This was its first screening in London, and appropriately it happened in Kilburn. We were also treated to a flute duet by Ron and Tara (both in the film) beforehand, and a Q&A afterwards that also included the director Frank Berry.

The film opens with archive footage from RTE on the history of the Ballymun estate. The estate, ‘Ballymun flats’, was built in Dublin’s Northside as a solution to the acute housing shortage of the 1960s. The area suffered many social problems, particularly drug-related in the 1980s, and, as Ireland’s only high rise flats, became synonymous with deprivation, a label that it has never shaken off. Today, it is an area of regeneration, with most of the tower blocks demolished and replaced by houses.

The film centres on a music project, led by Ron Cooney, which has been active in the area for over 15 years. Ron’s mission has been to bring music into the schools and lives of the children of Ballymun. Passionate and charismatic, Ron tempts them into a world they would not otherwise experience. We follow Ron and the children as they prepare for and perform music specially composed for them (subsequently released as the CD Ballymun Lullaby) by Daragh O’Toole, who incorporated lyrics written by the children themselves.

Amazingly, just the director Frank Berry and a single cameraman shot the documentary, the making of the CD and its aftermath, without any funding initially, which only came through when filming had finished. The entire project comes across as a labour of love by all those involved.

As Ron commented afterwards, ‘Art is’. In many ways, the documentary highlights the fact that the music project is not just about the music itself, but more about the possibilities of what music can do, how it can add something, often indescribable but certainly meaningful, to lives. It is also about the people, the community of Ballymun who supported and encouraged their children to enter a world they never experienced themselves. Most notably, it is about Ron Cooney, who is extraordinarily committed and kind and funny. The kids love him, and now we do too.

Magic.

 

CQ

I have seen all of Michael Haneke’s films to date, and so, unsurprisingly, I very much looked forward to his latest creation, Amour, which I saw tonight.

I am not sure I fully understand my fascination with Haneke’s work. It probably results from a combination of factors, from its ability to simultaneously surprise, seduce, shock, distress, and disturb.

Amour has been much hyped, particularly since its Palme D’Or accolade at Cannes in May. There have been many reviews, and 5-star ratings, and a further, albeit much more pedestrian, review would be superfluous. What I can share, is how the film made me feel. Or, I should qualify, how it made me feel during the screening and immediately afterwards. I suspect that over the next days, much more will evolve personally from my experience of seeing Amour.

I found it extraordinary. But in a different way to his other work. I found it extraordinary in how it moved me, and also in the extent to which it disturbed me, much more than Benny’s video or The Seventh Continent. I suspect this results from the fact that the subject matter for Amour is so ‘ordinary’ and real and human, that this, perhaps perversely makes the work feel so important, and critical. Essentially, it is the potential story of you or me, and our frailties and vulnerabilities. Perhaps life doesn’t get more scary than that.

I wondered whether, having seen the film in a pretty packed cinema on a Friday night, such a topic would have been so welcome in mainstream cinema 10, even 5 years ago…

Progress, of sorts.

Go see.

CQ

On the closing day of the festival, I caught this French film (director Stephane Brize) at Screen on the Green. I was drawn to it mainly due to its thematic content, but also by the fact that it featured Vincent Lindon in the lead role, an actor I rate, and who I last saw in the sublime Madomoiselle Chambon, which was also directed by Stephane Brize.

Lindon, as Alain Evrard in Quelques Heures de Printemps, plays a role that he excels at, the dour, melancholic, and often silent, loner. Recently released from prison having served 18 months for smuggling goods while a long-distance truck driver, Evrard finds himself jobless, homeless, and forced to live with his widowed mother. The relationship is fraught, fuelled by the tension of decades of the unsaid. It seems too late for reconciliation between mother and son, too much history exists and now, apart from jibes and shouting, they are unable to communicate with each other.

But then… the plot widens, to that of the widowed mother with a terminal illness, who has booked herself into a clinic in Switzerland for assisted suicide. Inevitably, this leads to a re-involvement with her son, who accompanies her to said clinic. At the end, there is a reconciliation of sorts.

I did like this film, and both mother (Helene Vincent) and son enact beautiful and often understated roles. They are believable, at least initially. The mother’s oncologist is also impressive, honest, empathic and supportive. But the plot felt contrived. Assisted suicide is a very tricky subject, and here it felt like a (tragic) tool to push other agendas forward, most especially that of the unresolved mother, and of her unexpressed feelings for her son. The superb film, The Sea, came to mind, where assisted suicide was the only agenda, and benefitted from this exclusivity.

And other little things irked, like the jigsaw the mother completed in the weeks before her death resembling the view from the Swiss clinic…

I am glad I saw it. It has made me consider the many issues it raised. But the film also suffers from a lack of focus on these issues, none of which were truly addressed.

Yet, perhaps this confusion most accurately reflects that which we call life…

CQ