Short season : Belfast Film Festival 2016

4 sessions of Film Shorts @ QFT Belfast as part of the Belfast Film Festival

There has been a truly great 2016 season of one of the most testing of film making that of what is the short story in film

Film Shorts. Roughly in the order screened.

It is in my view all to to with the story however simple or complex audiences want the sensory experience to be complete by their adding in those absent senses infilling reactively to a cinematic viewing which can be animated, surreal, factual or a fiction historical or contemporary. A story.  The story escapes the screen to be shared.

There are in the first wave some common approaches or location use which seems to be a dominant strand.  The shore and the rugged Irish landscape crop up in several.  Another common element I noticed was a delivery of fourth wall connections.  From dialogue to intermittent apparent logging into engage an audience with facial expression.  Approach and entry too were elongated introductions to a core plot point.  Hands detail etc. lingering atmospheric shots including use of colour and temporary deviation to obtain a visual kick.  Many have a give away, hit me with it title. Here they are.

1. My Bonnie

Time is precious and to separate, pull apart is like abandoning a past, even declaring it a waste of time.  Some of this comes across to a couple who the film imparts early are a coupe in a crisis.  The male is chasing the escaping female but their having a picnic, metaphor here?  The setting is on a coastline and the place they share temporarily the woman making herself knee deep in the sea and engaging in a ritual cleansing.

The Plot – A middle aged couple adrift and sharing through self absorbed insular reflection an island.  Not John Donne in essence.

What’s right with it – It explores unsentimentally by its visual clues and confronting dialogue a shape of a relationship, it’s complex part loving, part hating and an inability to communicate and placing those emotions in their correct places.

What’s wrong with it – The presence on islands is a correct visual context but it is overdrawn and long shots are not intimate as they come back to close up instead of allowing us to lean into the narrative to ‘hear’ through the words crucial parts of dialogue.  It needed more finessing and dangerous and problematic to film with a great touch of lightness on a seaboard resolutely dark it fashioned out the basic problems of drawing faultlines when one or other chooses to force issues.

Verdict – Good dialogue except point fillers (I’m never sure if it’s coming in or going out) daft if it’s the relationship, pointless if it’s tale of the tide and the odd line.  The actors were very committed and the excercises was very unique if a little tied to its own credentials.  It could have done with dumping some lines and relying on the actors whose own connection was already advanced and on key.

2. Awaydays

This is related but not an attached part of the Stephen Fingleton The Survivalist.  The programme word, The Prepper’ is a ghastly cumbersome and unlikely carry forward of the adult male lead.  Brian Graham. As this introduces the two brothers of the aforesaid main feature as children we are to believe the narrative of the father preparing his sons for a catastrophe. 

The Plot – The sons are weekending in a forest location with their estranged Dad.  He makes it clear they are in for a bit of adventure and instruction and he bullies them into accepting his premis. Unluckily it involves gore and violence.  Mental abuse is also a card he plays.  

What’s right with it – The cinematic film making experience is good.  The acting of the kids is good and realistic. The basic truth of some kind of ‘event’ coming is itself one that is prophetic in many arenas.  Not least the brutally effective The Survivalist which is dealt with in another of my blogs in depth.

What’s wrong with it – The script is hit and miss, the ‘present day’ children mistreatment is implausible.  Firearms included.  The red neck Dad is far too one dimensional which Brian Graham expert skills can’t hide and his contributions tend to be over employed shoutiness.  It dragged and does not have a great title never mind the lagging script. I think it’s the directors first attempt at this dark environmental psychological type of narrative and it would work on a less is more basis.

Verdict – A disappointment on many levels.

3. Insulin 

The Plot – This is after a collapse – the Jared Diamond, Stephen Fingleton territory.  A couple, the woman in a wheelchair in need of continued supply of insulin lives in a lock in pharmacy with her male partner.  No exit to the outside world.  They have callers who exchange food for their diminishing supply of drugs.  A visitor has insulin to trade.  A deal is fixed or is it?

What’s right with it? – This is a short at the junction of very good and brilliant.  The story is unique.  The situation prophetic if unreal in present eyes.  The emotional pull and fabulous close controlled camerawork in a very confined space is nothing short of stupendous in its delivery.  It has an interior light only by a battery powered Prescription sign which was a call of imposition chosen by the brother directors.  It has you gripped and waking for more resolution.

What’s wrong with it? – There is little to fault this film. It length and quick fix delivery is sharp and exacting in detail and emotional heft.  In fact this paragraph is an extension of the previous.

Verdict – Best short Film in this Festival?  See end for a one two three.

4. The Great Wide Open

The Plot – Set on the Glengarrif Co. Cork coastline we met a Granfather living in a boat he is restoring at th bottom of his families garden.  His niece provides the narration and helps to reinstate The Great Wide Open.

What’s right with it?  This is over in ten minutes and has an uncomplicated family story of connections across generations.  It does not produce any surprises and is simply an easy watch. The acting is homely and sweet.

What’s wrong with it?  The story is barely constructed. Painting a boat and putting out to sea has a limited tableau.

Verdict – An excursion which is never moving, merely pedestrian and normal interaction.

5. Prison door.

This did none of the above being a recluse hermit in a prison system refusing to leave his cell.  Familiar tropes of skinny inmate, dirty disheveled surroundings, along Kesh fitted the bill, almost behaved to type.  It avoided being a missed opportunity but was only just cinematically instinctive being able to show the sameness of the environment, the walls stick up photos, and the long corridor as static forms which people entered, left or never moved.  It had a facial closeup nearly fourth wall but out of it I got – never trust a man who wears a hat indoors.

The Plot – A prisoner confines himself to a world of his cell and washroom.

What’s right with it. – It makes a lasting impression of the old Long Kesh and the fact humans lock up humans.

What’s wrong with it. – Slighlty too detached in period as conditions ought to be less dirty in UK jails and the plot is one dimensional.  It contains a bird confined no doubt by the filmaker behind a sheet of glass which doesn’t convince me as the expression of freedom.  A very tiered trope.

. Good production neatly and claustrophobic sense of improsonment. Still shots of corridor good green/red reflect the day and control.

6. Death of a Projectionist

This I am sorry to say was a poorly, predictably scripted walk up for the actors involved.  Some mechanics of the reel projection Ian McIhenney portrayed was not exactly a sweat filled angst ridden role.  None of the joy of Cinema Paradiso.  The interior hardly engaged.  The Strand Cinema was utilised but had not much of its unusual decor or ambience entering.  There was a big slab of a dog, an old persons home, a ever asleep wife? made up in bed as if in open coffin mode. Roma Tomelty trying not to stir. Small parts were never a sub-plot even though shorts can do sideline text. It was barely mood altering and had the effect an alkaline-seltzer might have had to the pretend corpse.  The slab dog disappears.  Left at another Sea shore.  Your never ten meters from a screen showing a shot of the Sea here in Ireland.

The Plot. – The local cinema (Strand) projectionist who spends his way time visiting his unconscious wife in a grand health care home and lugs a large dog around.  He meets a change as the cinema staff do of moderisation. Going digital.  It disturbs him and his mental health and he becomes less cheery and sees death around his corner.

What’s right with it. – The fate of a suburb cinema is tested and the reinvigorated picture house shows a hybrid cinema with multi use entertainment mostly, (political meetings not so) with a retro feel.  Well acted though it is cumbersome in places.

What’s wrong with it. – It is a see what it says on the reel tin.  Not enough digging and entry to the reel technical difference. The flash stick USBs shown contain trailers and it is a bit of a memory loss. Also not an acting role for Roma Tomelty who could have been slightly more animated

Verdict – Too safe and slow.

7. Introducing Brian

This was the most loudly engaging film for the audience with one joke to kick off a collapse of a man living his past in a rear lane covered by apprentice graffiti. Standing there for godness knows what reason except it is a colorful backdrop.  Not to hang a scenario on in normal cinema parlance.  More fourth wall, even after the joke turns up.  The personality of Brian is of a mentally disturbed elderly man grabbing in flashback to his past.  More engagement via. Colorful inserts of his past and then.  Well the past is the past and the present round another corner.  The Lawrence Street Workshops are a participant and it is from the Colin Reid stable of music which lifts the mood.  The place itself not on screen except perhaps as portional set?

The Plot. – The homebound pensioner Brian is low on spirit and talks to who or whatever looks back at him including the pigeons and seagulls in the back entry.  He recalls his youthful exuberance and childhood wonders.  His outdoor life is lonesome and carries us on as Brian never gives up hope.

What’s right with it. – The fate of the elderly is to be buried anonymously in neighborhoods of change and separated at times from their loved ones.  It is a bit of a struggle Brian copes with, without vices, drink etc. and has a survivors mould.

What’s wrong with it. – It is a case of mixed successful unsuccessful scenes and too navel gazing at times.  Even Brian doesn’t get and even break.  Only the humour is a lift often.

Verdict – Too low key and dependent on, granted, good laughs, so wobbles often.

8. Mama Hen

This is a film documentary of a side of Belfast which you seldom come across.  Mama Hen is a North Belfast lady who rears birds.  Rhode Island Reds mostly and not often for the cooking pot but for people to keep and obtain their eggs.  Egos are few and this lady leans over her half kitchen door surveying the ones roaming around her yard.  There is one bird in particular who is bonded to this lady as she has no beak (the hen) and relies on her to be fed more than her poor one beak scavenging musters.  Now a plan comes into being which might explain the metal unicorn thing poking out of the forehead of ‘Cornflake’as she’s known. Ye know the Kellogs bird is a model likeness (not) and things, tensions build to this perilous operation.  

The Plot. – Being a homemade documentary it is a tale of live and fowl deeds.

What’s right with it. – Unfortunately chickens are not as dumb as they look and Rhode Island Reds aren’t camera shy.  Cornflake has character a bit like a female Mel Gibson – all strides and panicky trying to hide a soft as putty heart. Cornflake does a Braveheart and pecks away at the dust menacingly yes and attitude beyond the call. She has a survivors mould. The tension – yolk – builds and children wonder after visiting whether they should eat chicken. Maybe they stop at the KFC to think about it.  It is a glorious and multi faceted little tale of endurance.

What’s wrong with it. – The winter times are absent and the hard work of surviving the Belfast of winter probably causes a few fatalities. Nothing really grates in this film and it is user friendly.

Verdict – Isacch Pearlman once while playing; he wore calipers and put them aside to play, broke a string and carried on playing with three.  Asked why he did not stop and repair it and start again he said, ‘I know how much music you can make with what your left with.’  This is a testament to struggle in a little film which you are not expecting life lessons from as great as Pearlmans.

9. The Drive  

The Plot – A woman driving, baby in the baby seat behind, pulls over to talk to the Doctor on her mobile.  After the call and getting out of the car she has a mishap which has her in a panic.

What’s right with it?  – It is a salutary tale of keeping your nerve and not being distracted.  A choice is made with not catastrophic results but it is a bit concerning for a little while.

What’s wrong with it? – If you dislike car journeys and sorting out problems on the move this might be a lesson.  Otherwise it simply a small tale reasonably well told.

Verdict – it may have seemed a good idea at some stage but it shows a woman in a fit of pique and disorientated. Not a film treatment of value or extended thought.

10. Displaced

The Plot – This is a documentary on the displaced in Ireland.  Coming from a variety of nations it firstly bizarrely starts in Germany, and then introduces a comparison with Arabic culture there and here.  Another displaced person is a creative young South African woman with positive attitudes and a varied and wise view of her displaced situation.  A traveller describes his displacement with great effect and it describes partly the reconfigured state.

What’s good about it? – These people offer without motive their view on the word displacement and how it affects them.  Some provide obvious but nearly always overlooked, the differences such as the young South African woman describing brilliantly how in her homeland she could once pick fruit from the trees and that is now gone.  The traveller man is equally illuminating about living in houses after a lifetime of traveling.  A young Irishman worker in London shows us how the Ruislip GAA ground provides a useful backstop and focus for some of the diaspora.  It is very well shot and is an intimate look into the simple needs and large outcomes such connections make.

What’s not to like? – In some ways the variety and interviews are themselves displaced and a cross over happens and recovers later as a sort of resolution.  It pops about too much and a steadier more calm approach would have been more effective and provided a coherent message.  It had a common touch but that would have developed a bit better if for example the young South Africans story had been woven together better.

Verdict – it is a while since such a good diaspora film was available given the new climate ‘after the fall’.  The generosity of spirit and Irish people welcoming and recognizing their own nations movement is part of the message though it could have been much stronger and sometimes the obvious needs to be stated.  It would have been useful to hear it expressed by different nationalities in new words.  Words of the present time.

11. Doting
The Plot – This is a fairytale Lady from the Sea (non Ibsen) or a search which is made by a young man drawn to a seashore to find his dreamt vision of a beautiful woman.   A fantasy becoming a reality and realised partially.

What’s to like about it? – Probably its ambition at telling a mythical tale with little but the seashore devilish good constrained actress, actor and use of mystery and controlled watery atmosphere. Some very good engaging camerawork.

What’s not to like? – The juddering and poor ‘special effects’ are painterly, affected, but little of visual impact being of old school drama type tools and it takes away from the balletic touches provided by both players.  There are ponderous meaningless shots of entrance, hands, long walk and after found again a following which goes no where.  The opening scene of the marsh grass and entering stranger is sufficient and a good start.

Verdict– A general disappointment given the alluring potential and balletic movements and scenery.

12. Unhappy Endings

The Plot – This is a bizarre barely coherent short story adapted for the screen featuring a writer.  His story as a young man – we encounter him as a aspirant with a tale to tell of finding the best looking woman in the world and .. what could he possibly want?  We meet him again as a grey ponytailed writer with a American accent telling a similar tale to Theresa Russell on great form. Will it end badly?  How else?

What’s to like about it? – Scalanis restaurant has never looked so decadent.  It is faux glamour as is the tale.  A poor Tales of the Unexpected, dressed up with triumphal humping, (over ponderous rear images hard to displace unfortunately – ugh) scattered bedclothes and a bit of unremitting … X Y ++ Z.

What not to like? – It is a hammy story of the aforesaid series type but with technicolour distasteful cockamamie wise guy antics and blatantly misoginist and demeaning.

Verdict – Filler material for a late night obscur TV network with subtitles.  The Spanish are masters of this kind of film and are leagues ahead.

13. Testimony Based on a true story.

The Plot – The legal fight in the Family Court involves in the centre a young girl barely ten years old whose Testimony is setting parents in conflict and making her too a damaged party.

What’s to like about it? – It points up the adversarial construct of a Court system necessarily delving into the core problems at the heart of a family in breakdown.  It points out the centrality – among all the adults – of the core hurt child.  Disowning or telling stories against one or both parents uncertain of the outcomes. The child’s face was full of expression and this was a key focus of direction for the importance to the narrative and the implied consequences.

What’s not to like? –  I found it at times formulaic and some of the answers given by the child were illuminating but it is very invasive not only in reality but as a film project it shows what most know is a badly constructed environment.

Verdict – Intrusive and not dissimilar from a vast range of cases no doubt.

14. Fallen Bird

The Plot – A prisoner make use of his time to create using paints and writing his story through the images.  He is connected therefore to his motivations and his harmed prior life.  This enables his work to become visionary and a recognition of the problems and difficulties that have brought him here.

What’s to like about it? – This is a very mature reflective picture of a prisoner able to combat his depressive and negative feelings through examining his thoughts through art.  His work is inventive and includes the narrative of the fallen bird close to friends but falling.  It also shows in flashback his days or nights out in Temple Bar and in the city with all its potential problems if mixing in bad company.

What’s not to like? – The story is only due to its short profile a snapshot where deeper and more questions arise than this is able to answer.  The past present and future are all pulled into this short with good insightful work but it is self limiting. The prisoner is himself a great example of people having the strength to move on and any damage thankfully he has coped with and drugs or other injuries have not I hope damaged him.  That’s the impression given.

Verdict– A very thoughtful film unearthing a Prisoner of talent previously compromised by a lack of opportunity or lack of educational institutional awareness.  A well made and told story worth showing to other Prisoners I would think as a positive source of hope.

15. The Captors

The Plot – A tiger kidnapping goes horribly wrong.

What’s to like about it? – It packs into a short time span half a dozen or so twists and turns with a cast and direction fully fit and on score.  The settings and construct start out as believable but it courses into mayhem as betrayal after betrayal interweave with gruesome effect.  A good plot worth going along with and well scripted.  Not a masterpiece but I was relied Brian Graham’s character was deep enough to bring that actors skills to the forefront.  He acted with constraint while he mulled over the way out of his predicament. A well shot scene in a bathroom was dificult to shoot but expertly handled.

What’s not to like? – It is a bit of escapist entertainment and though filling all its desires.  It was dark realism but had some unresolved moments. “I’ll go to the police if you play up!”  ?

Verdict – A good film for followers of crime fiction shorts. Not a series or pilot but a one off.  Well executed.

16. Blight 

The Plot – Father Brown this is not.  It involves a young priest sent to perform an Exorcism on an island when summoned.  The child bearing woman at its centre is a manically possessed demon.  Things take several twists unforeseen.

What’s to like about it? – Visually captive and thoroughly atmospheric.  Dense colours and shot in genre stylised way making it enthralling and horrific at the same time. The actors are all well versed in the demands of this drama and it unfolds with a very well controlled pace.  It doesn’t linger or exit scenes too soon.  A bold and brilliant entry to the genre with an original script.

What’s not to like? – Disturbing as it is it petered out towards the end as extra characters turn up and the story comes to its conclusion.  The misty moments in the boat were good but moderately false in appearance.

Verdict – It was a very imaginative take on a spiritual world fixated with demonic unknown enemies visiting the unwary.  It should appeal across many levels, even those not interested in horror or poltergeists etc. and things that have your children ( don’t allow them near it) hiding behind the sofa.  Would give your granny nightmares also.

17. Spacer 

The Plot – A young homeless man berfiends a lost dog and they strike a deal.  Feed me and I’ll help you out of your rut.

What’s to like about it – On Dublin Quays and throughout the city there are far too many ( ones too many ) homeless. This is a story of one who is up against it surviving and a dog turns up.  He gets the name Spacer as (not) they both sleep under the stars.  One is betrayed but needs must.  This is well crafted and makes you think of how little it would take to lift the barriers to a ‘normal’ existence of such selfish regard did not permeate society under the state missives and malfunctioning greed it pays homage to. 

What’s not to like – The canal side life is almost everyday but the separations are not raw enough and the ignorance distance rejection not given abrupt focus.  The 20€ scene is close but pure fantasy and unreal.  The work is put in by all and Dublin is a Fair City but not for some.

Verdict – very decent well scripted and expected film in not easy conditions.  Not hectoring but also slightly twee in its approach. An undoubted clear choice as it is only a short and it gets across a lot of the message. Them and us is us.

18. Recorded Absence

The Plot – Billed as experimental this is confined to a rilict cottage of a bachelor farmers final home.   

What’s to like about it? – This despite the billing is of a simple presently unloved house which is a time capsule memorialising the former occupants life.  Inserts of radio dialogue and the voiceover of a neighbour paint a colour ful tapestry of a life fled in rural Ireland.  It is done with awareness and clear vision and delivers on its small promise.  

What’s not to like? – The cottage is part of a parcel of community disconnected and retreating back to the land it came out of. More imaginative investigation could have uncovered places more far gone or those about to follow an established pattern.  Compare and contrast perhaps with the narrators own home and his equally significant memories and similar ices or otherwise to contemplate modern life. Holding onto a mobile phone talking to dispora for instance.

Verdict – it’s a miniturised world and familiar to many whose own past encloses such memories.  It is possible it may penetrate other ‘jurisdictions’ and provide a small portrait but is slightly limited though beautifully done in its approach.

19. Breathe 

The Plot – The phenomenalily effective actor John Conners appears centrally as an Irosh traveller.  He has a son whose troubled and does not fit in as he has other unusual perceptions of who he is.  It is deeply troubling for those around as hey recognise his inner struggle.  The father comes from a tradition to man up and his peers bring this to the forefront.

What’s to like about it? – This is a taut complex story with some challenging confrontational interactions.  Conners is able to deliver the unfamiliarity with the things presented to him and his struggle to love his son.  It is completely immersive and delivers a story of love and pain on the hinterland of modern society and its reconciliation with itself for difference and the help and understanding to overcome that difference.

What’s not to like? – Absolutely short on any failure of dynamic, courage, complexity and clearly knowledgeable of the pressures of tradition.  The tribal instincts must prevail but do they?

Verdict – Excellent in an educative positive insight.  Proof of love existing all around us.

20. Pockets

The Plot – At a lake on a parkland bench a woman, Mary McAvoy sits observing the water.  Also observing is a young (cynical wit and wise cracker) man whose troubled and separately in his own bad place.  He joins her on the bench in search of a smoke.

What’s to like about it? – The presence of mind to take on problems in a different way and provide a plausible construct woth twists and comedic inserts.  The value of life’s and each person being alone in their travels bring to the fore the John Donne – no ‘man is an island’ philosophy with a modern take.  Like fellow guards on the battlement they dismiss a few interlopers summarily.  It has some great lines.  Why a Cork man would be at Powerscourt, or Blessington or wherever it is located is beyond me but a rebel turns up and his line is “I’ll be leaving Ye at it so.”  Magical and spot on line like a lot before and after.

What’s not to like? – There is no reason to critique this on any level really as it delivers for its modest ambitions. The tourist is awkward though.

Verdict – Another life lesson mode of movie and life affirming despite the subjects and problems at its heart.

21. The Way Back

The Plot – A woman scientist revisits her past and a loos some twenty years before.  Her anxiety never leaves until an opportunity – scientifically challenging – comes to hand.  Will it resolve her pent up continuing distress?

What to like about it? – It is an ethereal stretch  taking us on a redemptive exploratory journey. As the visual and effective flashbacks and present merge the empyrean steps are posing problems and a resolution is dangerous territory.  The playing is excellent within a confined script.  Would a side issue help?

What’s not to like? – It’s absurdity mostly and locked miniscule premise.  It hard to relate without spoilers but that is not the filmmakers fault, hence the brevity of this retro look at it.  It is timorous and stealthy but not enlivening.

Verdict – A limited look at an event without its resolution in the beginning and without resolution in the present vision.

22. The Boy Murderer

The Plot – In a community coming to terms with child suicide there is a compass of thought closing down on the why and how to come to terms with you gloss and how to prevent it being ‘imitated’.

What’s to like about it? – For unknown reasons I put this film way back in my memory and remember little about it except through referring to my notes.  It is a shocking film which in my view I’ve put away its impact as it is a subject around us if not the outcome delivered here.  It is very well conceived and delivered.  Notes have these elements.                                             Beautifully paced – Implied transference – Dream hallucination – Correct casting – Great script – Well edited – Born wrong – Every segment has a link to the next. Rare. – Consumately handled family encounter wished on no one – Object lesson on care and insight.

What’s not to like? – The central conceit of the reveal. It lowers the films penetrative reach if not an incumbent demeaning approach.

Verdict – Troubling to watch. Untruthful by the plot reveal despite the heft it manages to deliver.  A thinking story.

23. Good Boy

The Plot – Another foreshore another emotional edgy story to encounter. Isolation in a small cottage.Three feet thick walls. A woman lives alone and has a loss which she seeks time to repair the emptyness. A dog again is a bonding agent.

What’s to like about it? – The trusting character is present, their goodness and in contrast the problems of family life, the pressures and perilous relationships which have a problem which neither partner are aware of a solution to.  It is crass of mr to say a dog is a bonding element but as a short it provides a connective link across very different characters and it does it well.  A smart film in several ways.

What’s not to like about it? – The unexplained or lack or proper clues in the beginning are a bit confounding.  The later stages are excellently conveyed but some props are unnecessary story indicators and its conclusion is a happy ending however benign and resolved it fits awkwardly I thought.  It’s me being cynical and too demanding.

Verdict – A well crafted emotionally connecting film well worth seeing. 

24. Hurt

The Plot – Very short date gone pear and apple shaped.

What’s to like about it? – it has a deliver on a short twist and is effective as a beware of your expectations and choices. Has an accomplished feel to it and is unhurried.

What’s not to like? – Plainly creepy.  Unsustainable Tales of the Unexpected type twists. U busy Scalanis restaurant is always busy.  Is this a misoginist dated film?  You decide.  I disliked the fourth wall as it is a formulaic short trope. Effective, needed sometimes but not here.

Verdict -It’s over in a trice.  It’s a roll of the dice and a three and a four making it lucky seven.  Things like that just don’t happen.

25. The Hiding

The Plot – A story of implausible loss and unconsiable retreat from reality.  Damaged parties all round.

What’s to like about it? – There is a warm feeling at the beginning and we are taken on a peregrination to interior of grief and landscape.  Very provoking although barely believable or sustainable. 

What’s not to like? – There is no relief in this grim story.  The actors do make it plausible but it is dark and indulgent of a weak story. 
Verdict – my review is short as it tries not to reveal anything other than it is a story of grief and unrelenting sorrow.

26. Doting

The Plot – Balancing new life with old and a wake at which reconnection happens is a struggle across the generations.

What’s to like about it? – This is a good idea for contrasting ages, times modern and old.  The family allows a division through generations. Each belonging in a section of siblings, parents, grandparent mode.  Therefore the disjunction is more evident. The flow of this is very neat and pace deftly handled as are most of the technical issues.

What’s not to like? – It sounds like an overdub is in use and little atmospheric addition is employed. This is a major role distraction for me as it is distracting as it may be for most expecting ‘realism’ or a construct to justify it. Some cuts are also poor but this is only my view.

Verdict – A good film slightly spoiled by the cooking and small things hurt the bigger picture. It’s unfortunate but only part of the process of learning crafting story in difficult circumstances.

27. The Current

The Plot – A buddy movie with local identity and usual compromises and choices.  It’s all about what life has for a catch on the end of your fishing line.

What to like about this? – The acting and entry to this film is convincing and assured. Despite some not so buddy inflicted dialogue it moves along quickly delivering plenty to digest.  The story unfolds and the opposite male viewpoints collide and draw out universal things.  The comfort and friendship outside of home both male and female are strands of everyday life.  The escapism shared and explored is there. There 

What’s not to like? – Some of the tests each gives the other are a bit contrived and unconvincing.  The film may even been a bit better if certain things were left out and the audience making their own construct on things.  It’s extremely difficult to master that in the art of the short film but this is close to achieving it making that annoying.  An annoying if only. There are interpretations of it having a homoerotic aspect but that is not the intention is took from it.

Verdict – A generally good and fairly unique take on the way people, men and women depend on friends outside the stronger relationship of partnership and marriage to give them and their friends perspective on things. It is a necessary outside assistance enabling countless people hold onto things.  So I see it beyond the easy tag of homoerotic given it plays across the sexes in its accomplished insightful story.

28. Leave

The Plot – Ireland has visited upon it in many a county and town seemingly inexplicable murder and crime not known up to say the eighties.  The consequences on communities is horrendous and bring up children in these environments are constantly a battle with resources. This is a crime completely unexpected in its source and outcome.

What’s to like about it? – The moody slow pace of rural life is as quiet as a sheep on Sunday.  The depiction of a community shop and passers through is gently handled.  The people within it entirely believable.  About 3/4 stories interweave eloquently and to deliver a tragic twist with many unexpected, some in flashback, neat touch well chosen, to a conclusion which is full on.

What’s not to like? – Probably little as I have little concept of life in rural Ireland but am aware of its connection to similar places all across the island in incidences of crime.

Verdict – An imaginative compelling story deftly delivered not lacking in skills in any area.

29. Today

The Plot – The multi faceted superbly adept at understatement John Connor turns up in a car awakening there in a Connemara landscape.  His phone on mute.  Why is he ther?  It becomes clear very quickly and he is facing a new reality. It is one he must face up to and help comes to hand.

What’s to like about it? – For a story opening in a bleak landscape and us not full of expectations it takes us on a very deep emotional journey and into the male fragilities faced in modern Ireland.  Into the immediate clarity comes assistance and another very fine actor gives an awesome performance as if he was born into his character. Lalor Roody at his finest.  I would say this is the besting he’s got his hands on in years.  Their exchange is full of unsaid so and knowing glances.  It is a brilliant deliver of simple connection with masterly delicacy and finely tuned, courtesy of the real cinematic nucleus of Irish identity in film as light and vigorous in intention throughout. 

What’s nor to like? – Far from having faults it shines as beacon for Irish film making of any generation.

Verdict – Just as fine a short as your ever likely to see.

30. Cruelty  based on a short story by Anna Blanford

The Plot – A young couple having a heart to heart walking at night by the canalside come across an badly injured dog.  It becomes a test of will and then they have their own problems to sort out.  Staying or parting?

What’s to like about it? – The titles! Excellent.  The fact they have the foresight to use a short story they like, even though I disliked it, it shows they visually imagined it in its entirety before pursuing it.  It looks good and is handled well in its problematic night setting.  No stretching things for the medium. It just flows and tells a story of commitment.

What’s not to like? – Unfortunately the trope includes another dog! Can we have an endangered swan neck in a splint! Savage and manic while getting help! Then the black swan white swan love story interwoven? Or something like that instead of a soppy (not so soppy here) dog story.

Verdict – A tight story with good pace and twists which continue and show ability to handle very different environments without making thenm appear disconnected.  So,Erinyes that’s needed but they have an awareness here what is required.

31. The Mountain 

The Plot – The sense of a Mountain controlling your life is the premise in that it, in your growing up must be acknowledged as nature being a form of protection.  You need to respect the spirits of the mountain and the boy growing up encounters through his grandfather stories, his Doctors warning about health a consolidation of self and identity.

What’s to like about it? – For a 10 min film to tackle and deliver a message of a complex spiritual existence which touchs people at some point in their lives has to be something of a miracle and I have to say it delivers though I didn’t realize this at the time of watching it as critical nerves were set to absorption rather than the spaces in films where you can do nothing but set the dial to ‘is this effective, affecting?’. So that’s an unusual thing in itself I hope others experience.

What’s not to like? – Given the scope the domestic parts are only just on the edge of parity with the outer world.  They lack an atmosphere regardless of the fine chaacterisatoons of all the actors.  I can’t suggest those particular points but they might be found if the director takes another look at that lack of link.  Maybe I’m totally wrong.

Verdict – An excellent wide scoping film bigger than the sum of its parts.  Excellently cut, slightly wrasping sound, unnecessary cadences in them used, good song though The Emerald Armada played. A very good film and all round perfect expression of the form.

32. Dust

The Plot – This is a story of abortion with the ex only learning afterwards, the young couple apart might reconcile.

What’s to like about it? – Able to convey young people struggling with choices and their relationships this is a hard film to get across the mixed tangeledemotions in such a short timescale. With workshopped and some improvisation it comes with no easy answers and has hits of current themes and questions who has the right to decide except the parent(s) of a potential life.

What’s not to like? – There is nothing to disregard or have you reject as the subjects are themselves experimental fictionalised for those involved in the making of it and they carry of the subject with commitment.

Verdict – See it for what it is. A question outside everyone’s reach except those at the centre.

33. Brenda

The Plot – A young woman addicted to heroin has a daughter who she tries to keep way from her dark world by the thinnest of viels.  Brenda the daughter is the central focus as the observer of this tragic circumstance? Methadone is used and the streets and lanes of Dublin traversed for failed connections and fellow users.

What’s to like about it? – It’s the fact a story is realised which is acutely realistic and opens eyes to the damage of compartmentisastion of users whose manner of dealing with their addictions and the circumstances they have to live in, some destitute, without a home, dependent on charity and fringe stretched charity instead of welfare centre and health access of the road to recovery absent.  It is a mastery piece of depicting addiction through the device of an innocent, perpetually challenged young child.  All handling their roles superbly.

What’s not to like? – Some of the lane shots and side talk is loose and underdeveloped or awkward.  The cuts between scenes need not have the gap they have. All is plainly minor.

Verdict – Who are we to judge is one clear message.  There are several and foremost is the presence if we could but see it, it were not treated as a them and us, the state is looking after it attitudes which would take little to alter were we big enough to demand it.  “Because their sick and your not?”  Instead of playing to the manipulating governance making issues out of water and borders.

34. Orchard Road

The Plot – There appears to be a world shortage of apples.  There also appears to be an insatiable appetite for apples in a young boy who loves nature and has an indulgent loving Dad, no problem there, who has a mischievous mate.  There is one in every Ulster street or townland.

What’s to like about this? – The crew of two responsible for this are a very young pair, completely adept at story telling.  The writer, Olaf I’ll call him, didn’t catch his na,e has constructed in the Ulster landscape a universal little comedic and satirical sweep of benign friendly folk in a place facing possible shortages.  Made comic the delivery is astuteLy shot and the writing wonderfully acute given its from an outsider it capture Ulster folk and their humour very well.  On top of that is a director Ida-Maria Olva who has a neat hand and excellent eye.  The Knockagh Monument appears in an early shot, (early shots in a 7 min film!) as a dynamic signature geometry of the frame, and deftly throughout, nature is absorbed close and from a distance as well as in transit in the jallopy of a car; I can say that because it’s old enough to have a cassette player.

What’s not to like? – Apart from a cod sign on a community farm there’s nothing else.

Verdict – This is likely to herald deeper more affirmative serious work from a pair of young old hands and it was a very pleasurable watch given it caught our zeitgeist pretty well, just for one thing of many attributes it discovered. I was also envious of their excellent original titles giving it a great closing look.  How did they manage it!  More power to them.

35. Violet    an animation.

The Plot – In a fairytale setting of high refined costumer you and period palaces a bit of the Hogwarts fee scale we meet a girl growing up afraid and dismayed at her reflection with all the surrounding opulence a fiendish countervailing goal.

What’s to like about it? – Around the meter of a poem excellently orated by Aiden Gillen an amazing delightfully, vivacious, flouncy, elaborately decorative story of the societal contest of finery, used historically as an expression of wealth and the lack of a need to dress for mundane tasks of labour conflict with this young girls perception of herself.  It is a brilliantly executed piece of observational filmaking bigger through its poetic sensibility and deft weave.

What’s not to like? – it could hardly be faulted with no false notes.

Verdict – This standard of animation takes on the big moguls with their assured graceful approach and not reruns of familiar tropes and already visited stories.  Much for children and adults to enjoy in an assured fairytale.

36A Sign

The Plot – Une Signe Un Gest. Holy worship is a struggle for a woman at a bewildering point in her life.  She is an aging prostitute whose life has been ever this.  The streets of Paris at night are a harsh unsentimental apparently Godless place. Rosaline then becomes a muse of a kind for a special type of artist who she literally stumbles across as he tends his basement steps in the dark.  He dances to a different tune to the rest of the lonely punters. 

What’s to like about it? – This film of 18 mins duration is allowed to develop and for us to discover its heart.  The contrasts of her co-workers ways of shutting out their reality is given a brio and a polish through coarse street dialogue.  The ‘punters’ are feared and befriended in a sentence or two with the potential charge of violence ever on the screen. From this is the message of discomfort, routine, abuse, marginalization, fractured existence, loneliness in company and survival. With hope a sign is needed.  Will she be let into the world without healing without God? Will she listen to noises off?
What’s not to like? – the period it’s set is unclear but maybe that’s a concious decision as the dress, the clarity and flow of the story does not need, in fact probably benefits from some suspension of the realism a ‘period’ signature might dispose.

Verdict – Not an easy or comfortable film and it has undercurrents requiring the attention it may not receive in casual viewing.  Well worth seeing several times a it has without doubt many layers and shifting ideas.

37. Children and Animals

The Plot – Set in a film school workshop the Course Ttor has invited a young, ‘name’ actor to shake up his class and learn about the art of the professional participant with certain unique perspective. They meet something more than they are asked to take inspiration from. The title will resonate soon enough.  Might have been Don’t trust Actors.

What’s to like about it? – Martin Lynch, local playwright (so rich he had a record player Ibrahim his bedroom in late sixties/seventies) said there’s no such thing as black comedy.  I agree as a recent poem of mine contended. So this is about a bonkers unhinged actor playing a knowing tutor when he hasn’t a clue about himself or anything else.  Putting himself (the actor) in this role takes a bit of nerve.  The young Wicklow Film School class take all as instantly dismiss able and the hydraulics of this film are racked up with blistering wit and skill by the pupils.

What’s not to like? – It is a film with many types of approach in it.  ‘Reality’ interviews, harassed script writer, fourth wall confessions, moderate scene play and a mixture of all things.  Ireland’s got Talent feel.  Wildlings Ahead warning. A bit David Brent likey likey.

Verdict – Despite some hiccups and being,all things, all knowing, not meant to be funny shtick,  it travels well entertaining all through. 

38. Afterwards   B/W

The Plot – Kevin is a time nourished young drifter round the modern movingIrish town he is still attached to.  He has escape routes but they are pharmaceutical, sexual, impulse driven.  He has a mass of ideas and is troubled into reflection as awareness is about the what next?  The teenager questions, the young adult questions arising as What happens next? The time referred to as Afterwards.  About escaping the experience and wanting to graft onto another.

What’s to like about it? – It is a good story well crafted and ideal territory for a short film.  It doesn’t do big things on the surface but has the heft to project them through very good acting in believable situations.  The belief comes from the truism of the journeys between slow interludes themselves incident and not asides. A functional almost dystopian vision. Good promising work.

What’s not to like? -Some characterisations are stereotypical.  The places are at times underused and dialogue though sparse enough had the promise of more even though it was visceral and coherent.  

Verdict – The confidence to shoot it as black and white making it require you to listen (the soundscape wasn’t adventurous enough) while the contrasts are cinematic and atmospheric as the techniques promise and deliver.

39. Love is a Sting

The Plot – This is literally a headhop containing a malignant lonesome needy mosquito.  It arrives in through an open attic window of a reclusive writer artist with a degree of creative block.  A bearded youthful thirty something his life is of being a recluse never interacting striving to arrive at the solution to all things and bypassing his extensive Dublin lofty library; it seems to gather dust he is uninspired now interuppted.  Only the mosquito is animated and its quest is not to swept away.

What’s to like about it? – Set as an hors d’oeuvre or a main course of finale this story hangs together as a narrated by Ciaran Hinds feeling this tale of one of Dublins finest unknowns, Harold Finch.  It is an attic of careworn studious mark previously occupied by a procession of artists.  The scene is replete with invective as Ciaran Hinds delivers acid drops of the needy insects desires contrasting them with the unwitting and unconcerned emotional balance of Harold lack of muse mainly due to the prevailing disconnect he inhabits and love never abjures. Very finely crafted and engaging throughout.

What’s not to like? – Sometimes repetitive, a tad solemn despite the splendidly into aged textural expressive narration the contrast occurs of too much ‘normalcy’ and a buzzing insect can only do so much.  Despite that it carries through without hesitation.  So I’ve just contradicted myself!

Verdict – A well developed beautifully choregraphed surreal tale with a cross over of animation and real film dynamics it’s hard to tell, never a problem what’s CGI what’s animation and what’s filmed in loco is subltely blended.vSpeaks of the breadth of skills employed and giving us a thoroughly intelligently handled screen entertainment. 
That’s about it.  My views are not nailed on views and relate to one viewing in a stream of screenings so if your not mentioned, (Directors Writers Actors and Funders, Supporters are not listed as they can be found following the own links and other avenues) it does not mean you were not brilliant.  The whole act of making a short is awesome in itself and you should be encouraged to do more or if you haven’t done one try and you’ll find out perhaps something magical may happen.  I was truly thankful and appreciative of seeing these and good luck with your future film making and viewing.

My favorite films  were as follows –

1. Insulin (no. 3)

2. Today (no. 29)

3. Breathe (no. 19)

Others to commend are Pockets (no. 20) Mama Hen (no. 8) The Current (no. 27) and obviously more that could be added.
John Graham

1 May 2016     ‘Up the Workers!’ ‘Keep Left!’


Son of Saul : A Film Review

Son of Saul.  A haunting compelling, utterly unflinching embarkation into the Hungarian and Jewish experiences of the Holocaust told by a debut Director and profoundly affecting delivery from the collective ensemble.
Writer Director: László Nemes. Starring: Géza Röhrig, Levente Molnár, Urs Rechn, Sándor Zsótér. 107 mins. 15 cert.
This a bewildering audaciously confronting examination of the complex trail of events taking those involved into a zombie like zone which cannot be imagined except through desperate experience. It opens a door onto needed understanding in its intention.

It’s beyond comparison

The day I saw this film the report on Hillsborough when the Liverpool fans died of asphyxiation and crushing included a reaction from Bruce Grobbelaar. It was an FA Cup semi final against Nottingham Forest. Asked if he had seen anything like it, after witnessing the dead being brought onto the pitch and him using and directing those carrying bodies to use advertising boards he said it was probably the worst way to die. There was no blood, no shrapnel, no outward sign of death he recalled. There were around fifteen dead bodies he saw straight away being carried onto the pitch. It is as close we can get to imagining the horrific testimony of the Holocaust this film goes into in a telling, partially of the story of those conscripted to act as labourers to carry out the actions surrounding and including the extermination of many thousands in their camp.

1944 bordering on the invisible

The scale is the first striking thing you notice. The invisibility of this so far into the war is incredible.  The almost industrial organisation and manipulation through fear and merciless enforcement put to work to carry out the Holocaust within the forests of Germany and here in South West Poland.  
Sonnerkommando Auschwitz 

Saul is one of many Sonnerkommando whose job it is to perform the tasks of in the Auschwitz Concentration camp. He is seen firstly shepherding large numbers of people off trains rounded up by the Nazis and transported here. For this film I noticed that children were not asked to take part in these re-enactments though many thousands of children were among those who stepped of these very same trains. It was obviously too horrific a concept to inflict upon children for them to be involved.
Saul is marked by a red X on the rear of his overcoat and he continually wears a cap as it also enables him to be identified. He as a Hungarian is among many fellow men and women from that country who are ‘appropriated’ to carry out the most vile and dehumanising tasks such as disposal of the ‘pieces’ as a human body is known. They are separated in camps by gender also and he in his work is able to, or required to adapt to the work going on in different places. It may be in the gas chambers cleaning out the detritus of left over body waste. Or in the coal house where boilers are stoked to burn to ash the ‘pieces’. He is also able to visit through tasks given, the room where autopsies are performed. The living amongst the dead feel the dead speak to them somehow.
Intricate and intimate following Saul.

Through this film the camera, hand held and giving mostly head and upper body shots, follows Saul everywhere he goes making the story his exposure and link to all the various things that go on in this Concentration camp. To say it is replicated elsewhere is now known to magnify what we are viewing here. It is the piecing together of the pieces and those people who were alongside the destroyed people. The potency of the images are continually immersive and bring forward a view of the unimaginable. No senses except sight and sound are with us on this viewing encounter. No contact by touch, by smell, by taste is possible so the amplification through those present circumstances are portrayed through elements of imagery such as scarfs, masks in parts of the camp. By following Saul there is a contention being made of the redemptive journey of Saul to Paul in the biblical reading. How is that depicted? It is possibly through the wasteland depicted of life destroyed and treated meaning less and worthless. It is also conceivable that the redemptive journey the film takes is showing how whatever adversity faced Saul is on the journey to become Paul.
Sweeping along with God

Of all the prisoners in the camp around one hundred are deemed fit to carry out the arduous tasks. They have in effect a stay of execution by co-operating by carrying out assigned work. Otherwise they would be dead and join the others. What is taking place among them is the fulfillment on behalf of the many thousands that pass through this camp; there are one one day around three thousand sent to be massacred. The act is itself one of betrayal once they arrive. The fulfillment of the duties carried out is a defiance of will by the ones left to live in that they all believe in the creator and see this is the work of those who defy Gods word. The judgement on them not the prisoners sweeping up the remains and following instructions.
Despite this retention of belief which is fixed here on Saul and his journey, there come frequently others practicing in secret and discreetly their religion giving memorial those thos e just perished. There are Rabbi celebrants with distinctive appearances both Hungarian and Arabic Hebrew priests. They are a conduit through which this persevering faith is held and exemplified. It is entirely misunderstood by the German Command as baseless worthless and based on sentimental tokenistic beliefs. It is not seen as a vision or life force given and held by these disparate people whose Destiny is defined by their faith and Religion which has brought about their purge. Saul is not a Messiah but a prophet of a kind who has through one act which is central and the purpose of the journey undertaken that of giving a young boy a Jewish burial.

Boy remembered 

The young boy not yet a man, and be is the only child depicted, is the Son of Saul of the title. He has come across him in an extraordinary way as a boy left behind and dead to the world, seeing him as his own son. We learn he is the father but not from his wife who is in a separate part of the camp carrying out storage and domestic duties in the units were clothes valuables and the like are processed. 
To achieve his aim which is commenced in the earlier part of the film he has to obtain the corpse of his son and to find a Rabbi to perform the burial. Both these tasks are seemingly impossible but he puts himself in jeopardy many times to carry out his wishes.
Principles and hope unextinguished

I thought during the early parts of the film each act taking him away or exposing hi,self bybnot acting as expected or normally he would be spotted very easily but for reasons unclear he navigated virtually ever occasion where it seems he is about to be caught carrying out something which does not fit in with his supposed assigned tasks he escapes the moment to move onto another act of courageous and seemingly foolish risks.
Conclusion #####5 

This film cuts into your psyche asking phenomenally difficult and prescient questions.  Covering so many aspects of humanity we are stil struggling with the writer director, 38 year old Laszlo Nemes whose first feature film this is.  For a relatively young man he has seen the necessity of putting uncomfortable to say the least of it an on screen examination real dialogue and politically hamstrung forums cannot go or have no possible common embrace, this film gives us a fully extentialist means to embrace the problems and narratives it again unfolds.  It gives them uncompromising stature and directs the viewer into asking themselves to ask more and to confront their hidden constructs and dismantle barriers and walls they have and all have erected to keep these issues – here giving a contrasting compelling reflection on present visited miseries to the necessary wider forums we engage on.

The youth of Laszlo Nemes and his Hungarish nature have compelled him to use his inherently observation editorial and concious skills to provide this directly immersive viewpoint.  We can only thank him for his foresight and insight and hope as he undoubtedly hopes it provides shape and form to current interpretations and avoiding the perils of reductive analysis.  Such is the value of Cinema as an outlet to vent and confront unspeakable things.
John Graham

28 April 2016


Son of Saul opens at QFT Belfast on Friday 29 April until Thursday 12 May 2016.

Check above site and other information outlet’s for details of opening times.

Dheepan : A Film Review

Director Jacques Audiard, Dheepan (Antonythasan Jesuthasan) Yalini (Kalieaswari Srinivasan) Illayaal (Claudine Vinasithamby) Brahim (Vincent Rottiers) Languages, Tamil, French, English. Cert. 15. France. Duration. 1hr 55mins.

Liberté, Fraternité, Egalité or Persiflage, Anarchy, Brutality.                                                                                                     Former Sri Lankan Civil War fighter Sivadhasan (Jesuthasan Antonythasan) has little chance of survival staying with Government forces seeking out those rebels who try to merge back into the ordinary lives they left behind.  She realises the only option is to flee and become one of the worlds refugees and seek asylum somewhere abroad.


 In order to make this possible and plausible he must adopt a false identity and with it adopt a woman and child to form three to seek asylum abroad.  The woman has made her own steps towards adopting a new identity and has in tow her would be daughter making the trio a unit matching false identity papers provided in the state the all wish to leave.  It is a then a bargain is struck between them to accomplish their escape.

In keeping with the style adopted with the 2010 film of Jacques Audiard’s “A Prophet” we are given a story which we see and cannot fathom or say too much about because we, few of us will have encountered such circumstances. All we see is to him real is my way of looking at it.  This is only a fictionalising version of the truth.  We have to see violence.  We have to see utter despair.  We have to see uncontrolled resignation.  This is our current world.

We have been to stranger places.                                                                                                                                                                              It is not about the detention camps, those daily pictures of refugees crossing continents to reach barbed wire and hopelessly caught between two states of mind.  The one per-cent versus the remainder.  All consciousness is set aside.  This instead is about a detention of another kind.  The stasis of being not in your own place unable to make your own choices and at the mercy of an alien culture if indeed it could be disposed to call itself one.

Dheepan is a film about him leaving one quagmire and finding yourself in another. All three get to what they think is a relatively safe place but it turns out to be a compound of criminality.  Society, be it Belguim, France, Germany is in crisis as far as immigration and welfare of immigrants and refugees is concerned.  There is in each; and unlike the United Kingdom which has fashioned slowly but surely a much steadier and fruitful diversity and racial assimilation making it one of the underlying reasons for its popularity in obtaining leave to remain, very great divisiveness.  Even in ares where tourists go in on of those countries white people are told to go back home.  The divisiveness is racist and poverty related.  In Dheepan in its resolution or final closure there is an element which will show this which is probably the reason it is included and which some reviewers mistakenly pronounce as an implausible ending.  I disagree entirely as it is part of the whole vision of he director whose job it is to highlight the complete picture as HE sees it.

Nothing can be revealed, see with your own eyes.                                                                                                                                                I cannot describe how the narrative carries forward for fear of disclosing key points.  However one virtual evidentiary moment is itself indicative.  It is a moment one of the characters observes ‘It is just like the movies’.  Very true and the real world seen through their eyes appears fantasy yet real at the same time.  It is profoundly so. The vicious world of neglected parts of society, of marginalised people is so evident so raw and their integral world as of now is shocking and appealing.  The crisis is among us and the European model is broken through the disparity and this is partularly clear economically that a cascading destruction of people worldwide is happening through the inflicted poverty and the nihilitic greed prevalent and produced in the UK and Germany with the countervailing Chinese rush to westernization at any cost and via. Panama.  The bedrock of one David Cameron’s own precocity. I believe Dads company Panmure never paid a penny in UK taxes. What can anyone possibly make of that except greed prevails.

The relationship between Dheepan and Yalini is hanging by a thread of common need.  It is in Dheepans mind something possibly to benefit them both.  Both have suffered horrendous losses revealed during the film.  They are both encountering a wholly different world.  In the middle and closest to normality by way of the extended help she receives in this foreign country as she is a mere child, is Illayaal.  She’s has a gift of restraint.  A gift of language and the detachment of a child whose understanding of the world is that is nothing less than a mess though the extremes reach to her also and she is rightfully often fearful.  She notices things the adults do not and the strains between her surrogate father and mother.


Death and division.                                                                                                                                                                                          This film is beautifully shot and is a vivid picture of the reality some face.  The sectionalisation is prominent in this location, it’s complete loss of prospect or aspect for the youth whose lives are corrupted by mass unemployment and little cohesion in the economy of the state.  Hence all the riots we often see.  The 1969 style protests.  The widening racial hatred and calling back to nascent fascism and the social project undertalen by Hitler. It is as bad as that.

The undercurrent in Europe is scary to say the least.  The future is becoming bankrupted as environmental and competing trading nations vie for resources and the sequestration of assets is rampant.  The Chinese particularly making inroads by buying up sections of foreign countries and those countries making a market in their sell off/out aided by corporate machines and banking with no accountability.  The current of the film is in the underworld such – and this is a poor extrapolation perhaps – the consolidation is taking place and being replaced by non governmental states.  States that are purely a commercial entity.  It is a deconolisation of sorts but bypasses the previous right to independence which has been fought and struggled for throughout Africa, throughout the Middle East and the wars are untenably destructive.

Conclusion #####5

This film is like a depth charging missile into the heart of our worlds concious future.  As it moves into terrain and territory hnone or few of us are directly familiar with it produces raw and visceral emotions. It speaks loudly and boldly.  It confronts through actual realised, depicted confrontations the savage core deeply damaging effects of oppression and the sporadic movement of people used to other societies.  Dheepan is very disturbed mentally and it the film on some flashbacks portray the warring ‘crusade’ lost and he is fleeing from.  Those moments are shown infrequently but are powerfully direct and open a new realm to the watcher.  The Director Jacques Audiard, in common with past practice is rarely shy in showing the violence and the close up context within this story.  It produces blow after blow mentally and physically in which few can escape the prevai game message.  It asks why and shows the effect of outrageous misfortune and the dehumanizing world of many.

Without giving too much away hopefully I can only commend this film to you as an explicit piece of almost journalistic drama featuring elements which cross our everyday lives without having the recourse to dissect or define what is happening and to address the problems now.  Many things are moving towards helping people find resolutions but until the realisation is is not what we are put here on earth to do, we are not here to obliterate all we disagree with but seek common humanity as instinctively present in all.

John Graham

13 April 2016


See at QFT from 22 to 28th April 2016

Couple in a Hole

Written and Directed by Tom Geens, Cast. Paul Higgins, Kate Dickie, Jéróme Kircher, Rated 12a, Belgian, French, UK. English with occasional subtitles. Duration 1hr 45mins. 2015.
Sense of place
In the French mid-Pyrennes a Scottish couple, Karen (Kate Dickie) and John (Paul Dickie) have retreated to a hovel, the hole of the title which is no more than a large fallen tree they have enclosed and live in the void underneath.  There is little dialogue to begin with and it is sparse throughout the film so making the discovery of a backstory key to the ‘reveal’ of the reason such a seemingly mature couple, in their thirties, have this as a life’s domain.  The forest provides the first scenes as John is hunting, gathering food and some brutal animal gathering is involved though not of a boar.  They inhabit the forest too and each keep their distance.  The foraging is primitive and Karen is left alone and in shabby despair in the hole. Her mind is we can see, fractured and she is the vulnerable one and perhaps the one whose choice it was to live this way.
Visual enclosure
Belgian Director Tom Geens is able to deliver a taut and wringing story, having you guessing and confused while testing your nerves as to the limits of human existence physically and emotionally. A case of maybe – What would you do?
The time is the present and the place is a scenic valley with the forest skirting green pasture land and the hole is near a town which John sometimes visits for necessary provisions and the odd bit of pilfer you from people’s gardens.

The presence of nature and its contrasts with how we live, some able and adjusted to living off the land, and urban people whose vision of nature is one of escape. A small holding type existence the mid point survival Accomodation with the managed life providing things the land does not provide. Usually diversions of some kind and if not skilled in the rural arts of potions and cures, medicine.
Inevitably perhaps one off them falls ill. Karen has a very bad phobia of the outside world and it is with every idea at his disposal will she be encouraged to venture out. This is a theme in the film which is taut and claustrophobic in every sense making you wonder what it is that has both living this way. It is both unnecessary and as with their lack of skills, or moderate means of survival can they be safe and totally unable to make this ‘escape’ work for them, whatever they think it will achieve. The scenes of excruciating lack of of responsiveness from Karen are played intensely and the bridge is present in the portrayal of both for us to engage with, albeit from a position of comfort and far from their reality.
It seems closure of some sort is needed and there is a ghost which is present throughout and John who visits a burnout farmhouse and claws through the interior debris with recall of what might have been the way people live in such a fine giving part of the countryside. Of how life can be if it shaped out at another time. He is reflective and when it is necessary he engages with the adjoining community to seek help. It is Karen who has taken ill and he goes to obtain medicine but recoils and into the gap comes André who is a villager and farm owner with a volatile wife. Excellently played by Jéromé Kircher. He gets hold of the medicine and it is taken with thanks by John. André suggests to him the villagers want to help them but with the nature of the hermit existence Karen has imprisoned herself in it if both implausible and impossible. John begins through a period to engage more frequently with André in a semi harmonious way and little Bon mots are given, exchanged. Karen continues to be full of fear and has wild imaginings and bad dreams which make her containment ever worse and restricting.
The format of the film stretches reality and it is the backstory which is the most vivid and absent part of the story but it becomes slowly revealed with it has to be said our engagement and emotional sympathy playing a part in the story.

Conclusion ####4

It is enveloping after a very slow and bewildering first half. All acted and given strength and vitality by the manner of descriptive framing and visual close up imagery making us from early on able not to regard this as a surreal or post ‘apocalyptic’ time. It recalls Wild (Reece Witherspoon) more than the darker more intense and wider plotted The Survivalist (Martin McCann) but does little to examine the way people choose to live in any real sense. This is a very singular tale told well with a crescendo of and ending no one would be expecting in their wildest imaginings but Tom Geens has us believe this very edgy, very provocative, insular movie and he manages to, as movies of this kind do confine us to within his horizons.

John Graham

5 April 2016


It is on at QFT Belfast from Friday 8 April, this Friday, to Thursday 14 April 2015. It’s not a bundle of laughs and is at times very disturbing and though it has a 12a ratings it is likely to cause some a few nightmares which you would not wish on anyone!

High Rise : A Film Review


A film by Ben Wheatley, starring Tom Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Sienna Miller, Jeremy Irons, Elisabeth Moss Cert.15.
Lofty ideals

J.G.Ballard as a writer has been difficult to translate into the Cinematic media though notably Croenenburg succeeded and then some in the nihilistic self extuiguishing Crash in which human desires are not enough in the conventions programmed and hurt and pain must be confronted and when not around sought as a will of living in a world without purpose self sacrifice extends the precept becoming a concept.  It is the concept of the body surface being immaterial and destructible.  Innate memory is apparently located in the brain.  It has a physical location, yet how are we to comprehend how it excercises it’s life giving instructions onboard memory.  The circuitry of cars and machines – being pre internet etc – Ballard in one sense has been prescient although breathtakingly bleak in an appraisal of what might emerge.  Certainly almost apocalyptic violence is manifesting though not as the Nuclear fears expressed in both Crash and High Rise have espoused.  Here and now is as bleak a trajectory.
The concrete jungle in High Rise is a universe, a small holding, within again the Handmaids Tale projection of externals, internals.  Ben Wheatley and his wife and the films screenwriter have as 70’s children forgone the machinations of post war Britain and Wilsons, Labours uprise after the Conservatism which failed in and after the War.

We are, they are acclimation get us in this narrative by keeping the Ballard thematic Seventies view which they can relate to.  If you can also; it’s a bit difficult for the Irish (the scourge of Catholic suppression and child harm is recent memory – only now is England a customizing itself to the horrendous (is it a co-incidence it surfaced – underground – in the seventies as a outplaying of liberalism and thereafter the liberal economics also took time to die?) child church abuses taken place in past eras.  It is also difficult for the North, Belfasts high rises were thrown up as mini me type developments luckily not on a scale represented elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and thus the Divis Towers, Municipal tower blocks were not only of a social class apart from Highpoint and the contemporary Jean Renet style of streets as living machines with added landscaping environments (there called trees and plants!) so the idealism is quashed by Ballard.  Even Jean Renet got things wrong although they were minor errors in comparison.  To place living rooms on the North side; his early designs were far to swift out of the ‘blocks’ and the schoolboy error was emitted, later disposed of.
Ballard thought technology was something to destroy humanity, “the high-rise was a model of all that technology had done to make possible the expression of a truly free psychopathology.”  Repression he thought would be our illness.  It is of a kind prescient but it is wholly the making of a society detached and apart from the environment except in its unsustainable present form, population levels being unsustainble. He does not acknowledge that part of our demise rather expresses the violent reaction to it which is not as in High Rise a social contract ripped up but a severe case of the colly wobbles – OK – mental meltdown overcoming a ‘tower block condominium’.

Parts are played by a cast of very accomplished stylised and perhaps becoming ad-hoc actorial spokespersons of an age.  The redoubtable West Cork boho Jeremy Irons adds his throaty gravitas to the (and Ballard names his characters in keeping with character, King, Wilder etc.) Penthouse dweller is he.

Evelyn Waigh tried fictions sing Ernö Goldfinger but it was never likely to reach Ballalrds essentially more demonic vision.  Ernö is attributed to the Hungarian modernist feel London was to be influenced by.  Even maybe Denys Lasdun taking a que  from him in the brutalist, watch the same time comforting realism of form and with erstwhile honesty still considered a valid statement architecturally and socially befitting then and now.

An illustration of the might and probably intolerable self belief of Ernö as opposed to a depiction on film by the redoubtable Irons comes with the story, true, of him called his architectural practice from afar and someone of his Architectural practice answering as he Ernö Goldfinger himself answered. “Goldfinger speaks.” Enraged he said apparently “This IS Goldfinger, Who is this?” Met with silence, “I will be back in my office by four and if I am not told who is my impersonator I shall sack you all.”  He returned to his office at four.  All the staff remained loyal to the miscreant and he said. “Right, you are all fired.”  Every single member of his staff were thus summarily dismissed.  So I wonder if hat featured in the iron filings of Jeremy’s researches.  It is Carparthian precocity and bombast which carried him through and to make monument of social order in the form written down as High Point.
Tom Hiddlestone who is magnificent as the operative Night Manager alongside the malevolent, in the acting sense, Hugh Lawrie is in this a bit too laid back and all Etonian with his Doctorial manner.  It is not as mad as Ballard intended and perhaps constraint was wrongly deployed or instructed by Ben Wheatly. His views on ‘critics’ I learn is somewhat acerbic but I attribute that to his ouevre being table salt currently, not river salt – digest as you see fit.
The film is averistically consuming of material in every sense.  The detail recognised with such relevance and reverence by designers is scornfully treated here not is nicely observed.
A Cinematogopers eye is usually lustfully absorbed into the kind of Goldfinger mettle advanced by and so meticulously created, from the top down to the social order of his office staff. I can hear him proclaim – get on with it.  He apparently dished out the same invective to his Mother.  There is undoubted beauty, relationships with colour and audacious constraint and minimalist editorial guile within much of Goldfingers work from the smallest home, shop to this High Rise ‘edifice’ which is a signature piece now.

Victoria : A Film Review

Picture this

This is a film of stealth and realtime cinematic vision.  In 134 minutes is is all over.  In one take.

It is audacious, gripping, filmicly sublime, brilliantly played and as a tale of modern Europe with ever increasing racial conflict it endeavours to put the nastiness of real time, day time life in a far of place while these young people try to make their way in the world. The dark night escapism becomes a severe challenging uncompromising confrontation with choice which are not your everyday ones. There is even a love story developing here.
Sometimes a really unusual film surfaces and has you gripped from start to finish. Victoria is one such film. Gripping, engrossing, emotionally engagin, it is a thrilling provocative study of fragility and choices determined through minutest detail how a life can be transformed in an instant.
The film was shot in one single long take by Sturla Brandth Grøvlen from about 4:30 AM to 7:00 AM on 27 April 2014 in the Kreuzberg and Mitte neighborhoods.

Victoria herself is as you might imagine the one character we can all relate to.  Played brilliantly by Laia Costa who looks a bit like a petite Darcy Bussell, (not strictly!) takes us on an odyssey within her life in Berlin as an incomer. The remaining key players are as follows –  Sonne (Frederick Lau) and his friends Fuss (Max Mauff), Boxer (Franz Rogowski), and Blinker (Burak Yigit) the guys she lets into her enclosed world. Director Sebastian Schipper (Actor, Run Lola Run, The English Patient)and the team apparently had four goes at making it until this final finished glorious outcome.  Perseverance is the shtick best describing all the efforts to bring it to this result.  Like an on stage play it contains some flaws but they actually heighten the gravity and suspenseful journey.

Strobe lighting aside, music durable techno, the vibe of a night out is the early morning setting for the portrayal of a lone traveller, Victoria from Madrid who is testing Berlin and herself to find a place in life; she has been there three months finding out what makes her tick and exposes her vulnerabilities as well as hitherto unknown strengths.  It emphasises as unfamiliar cities – tried by many before her – test her metal and flexibility of sociability and protection and safety, well being. Survival at the heart of existence.
We first see her as a night clubber pulsating vibe like any dungeon cavernous club.  She draws us into the fantasy suspension experimental escapism of music played in the commune of a Nightclub.  The location becomes secondary, it is a space of suspension of beliefs, literally a dry ice whiteout, and introduces us to the key players taking us on this onward non stop journey we are to be absorbed into from four o’clock onwards – in a time when most of the near humanity is asleep undercurrent adventure, skirting the law takes place.  The film unfolds at a pace which almost makes you believe, and react as though you are part of the group – in one take – taking place in 22 locations and introducing the night normality of entertainment in Berlin’s Mitte district and Kreuzberg. The latter apparently a ‘well off’ district.
Berlin Night and Shade
Sebastian Schipper.
The camera is firstly used extensively for head shots of Victoria and held shoulder height.  If they go up some steps it rises as you eye would. If it looks down on someone sitting, likewise. Quite steady and replicating a persons movement, without a sign of unsteadiness in any viewpoint.  When she sees some guys who she indirectly saw and briefly spoke to one, messing around drunkenly around a car a conversation develops and her bike (there are a lot of bikes chained up and resting in Berlins Mitte district!) forms a link as the guys show their balance and skills.  
Sturla Brandth Grvlen Cinematographer Cameraman.
Here the language barriers cross with they as Berliners, some speaking German only, and her able to converse with principally one, Sonne looking like a young Brando who has a good command of English.  This presents an opportunity to develop the tensions even further as Victoria is discussed in their native tongue while she takes risks and engages more testing herself and her loneliness outside a comfort zone. The guys have odd names, Fuss, Boxer, Blinka, Sonne. In one line Sonne tells Victoria and us what it’s about. “I’ll show you our world.”  It is both generous and dangerous.  Just like life. There are simple elements actually calling the story narrative as an ultra state love story.  It can be accepted on several levels such is the mastery involved in the whole films development.  One view was expressed to me that development was both present and absent.  That is, it was seen in unconventional form. 

Victoria has to initially make choices about shut eye for the short time to her breakfast stint as a part-time waitress so her expectations never raise the bar much and she tries to slope away for a few hours shut eye but instead becomes embroiled in the group who are shifting their feet, sans music, on the pavement outside. Here she makes a decision bringing into the story the Cafe in Mitte where she works. I wrote down the name of the cafe which I presume is just a made up name. It was hand written elegantly in ‘whitewash’ on the windows of this end of block, prominent cafe, Wilhelm + Medne, allegedly an organic coffee house. The locations lit in the stark contrasts of night also add dramatic intensity and soon an intimacy is turned on.  It is where the story then in a non linear way kicks off, astride the clubgoers and the district. All is to happen around this tightly woven scenic, atmospheric district which director Sebastian Schipper must have scouted painstakingly with cameraman and art director, for weeks and months to cut it into plan which has no outakes or reshooting.
Method and miracle

The camera work is paramount to pulling this off as a story and it is achieved brilliantly by the reci, the planning, the knowing the form the story is to take by all the actors. When some are playing various levels of drunkeness and spaced out joint induced; one who is left behind, itself a cause of a major problem dragging Victoria deeper into their world is followed meticulously by all.   It is bravado and the pre-scripted elements allowing improvisation make for an intensely real construct. In each location the finite explorations of character are exhumed.  Dead to the daytime world they are in darkness and they bond. Even further on the bond becomes virtually unbreakable and sears at your own emotional connections with them.  It is brutal in parts, soft and gentle, warm and tender in others.  Far from the wearisome prospect of this, what some reviewers idiotically call a stunt, form it gives the viewer their shocks, surprises, preconceptions right in their lap and their heart.  As with the drugs partly a cause of their unwise moves at times, it projects highs, heightened, lows, lower than imagined which you will all see breathtakingly bold and as real as might be possible given we are looking at a cinema wall.  Somehow the fourth wall is enveloped.  
It is through the ballet of the camera the above is achieved. I thought of Dancer in the Dark, with Bjork and its outdoor musical feel intensified by situation.  I listened to the studious; there is one gorgeous defining piece inset at the cafe which is beautiful and essential as story element. There are sound sculptures with crossover, flipped silences, with tip tap, windscreen sounding type beats either real or added providing the dilemma for the viewer to ask themselves is it real or is it imagined. In every sense this construct is utilised to embed the story in your emotional reactions.  Both handsome and not so pretty.  As I noted early we are the third person in the frame. The actors using improvisation when the story is not focusing on a very tight set of actions provide you with loose reality though director Sebastian Schipper’s vision.
Reminiscent of Ordet but shot in one day it is a homage of a kind to the masterful filmaking of Carl Theodor Dreyer whose 114 takes of around seven minutes each were groundbreaking in Cinematic realisation.  Made over four months he would have one take each day limiting movement, lighting, condensing the surreal visionary themes developed prior to filming. 
Belief of a visionary
Ordet – Carl Theodore Dreyer
“I believe that long takes represent the film of the future. You must be able to make a film in six, seven, eight shots…Short scenes, quick cuts in my view mark the silent film, but the smooth medium shot — with continual camera movement — belongs to the sound film. “Carl Theodor Dreyer

Instead of making central the minimum of shots, Carl Theodor Dreyer played on the objects within the frame, editing them out, though not as a visual pedant seeking immateriality. He focuses alternatively the viewers eyes on the meaningfulness of the ‘words’ essentially materialized by the scenes and facial expressions he wishes us to unite.  He does not remove every straw frowqm the barn where the pigs lie – inadvertently or not – for the sake of ruining a take?! – he leaves the pen door open in one where the pigs are then likely to wander off.  It’s priorities and not pedantry which encapsulates this film like no other I have seen or am likely to see.

As a tribute to the film makers going out of their way to offer some additional insights I came across a site with as you can see a title which itself describes our need to engage with creative film making. It is worth reading. Besides the writing is less lumpen than mine. It has an advantage of a one to one with the Director.This film is something of a landmark as far as I am concerned. It is visionary in its treatment and fluidity which pulls you in. Whether it is because you want to be there, (most probably not) as the idea of risk appeals somehow, or you love the looseness and character encounter it is profoundly affecting as a film can be.

Conclusion #####5
An immediate instant seat grabbing enthralling film. It starts off framing close up the escape of Victoria in that place most of us have been. The anonymity of a nightclub with you absorbing, responding to the audio immersion. Learning just recently bass is not heard through your ear but through your skeleton, your flesh then bones, the experience is even more personal, no matter whose around, who your with. This is the description of the cinematic experience as sought by Sebastian Schipper and I would say practically delivered.
We don’t watch films with our brains, and we don’t watch films with our hearts. I think we watch films with our nervous systems. You’re in this river, and whether it’s fast or at times really slow, if we changed rivers, you would feel it.” Sebastian Schipper. Like Carl Theodore Dreyer before, 1955 in fact, the suspension in a film is about many specifics coming together. Story, telling, revealing, knowing, desiring, expecting, loss, imprisonment, conflict resolution and limbo. There are many other things but visually and aurally we have our receptive ‘nervous system’. This film will take yours places I hope. Beneficial and illuminating.

John Graham

28 March 2016


I asked two visitors to Belfast; returning to see the place again after many years for their reaction to the film. We had quite a deep discussion about the various themes and consequences, making and special emotional grab of the film.
These are just a few quotes I pressed out of them which were given graciously and with special meaningful insight.

Christiane. from Berlin.
2+ hours joining real time through a Berlin night – what could you imagine could happen? A whole world of psychology, adrenalinc madness, commitments and a glimpse of life’s craziness.

Malene. Denmark.
Brilliant camera(work) Very convincing acting.
Sitting on the edge of the chair for over two hours.

Opening at Queens Film Theatre from Friday 1 April to 14 April 2016. No perfect storm expected, freaky Friday, April fool etc. it’s not an April fool, 13th is a Thursday, so do not be afraid! April fools are meant to be over by noon!
Actually – expect to be gripped emotionally and enthralled and surprised. I was.
From the soundtrack DJKoze stands out. Nils Frahm never does for me!
No. Title
1. “Burn With Me (Victoria Edit)” DJ Koze 5:18
2. “Our Own Roof” Nils Frahm 5:18
3. “A Stolen Car” Nils Frahm 4:44
4. “In The Parking Garage” Nils Frahm 4:55
5. “Them” Nils Frahm 4:00
6. “The Bank” Nils Frahm 7:18
7. “The Shooting” Nils Frahm 4:50
8. “Nobody Knows Who You Are” Nils Frahm 2:48
9. “Pendulum” Nils Frahm 2:41
10. “Happy New Fear (Bonus track)” Deichkind 2:32
11. “Marilyn Whirlwind (Bonus track)” DJ Koze 7:12