Right bang in the middle of what has traditionally become known as ‘the awards season’ (November to February), Irish cinefiles are treated to our very own annual film festival from the 20th of February to the 3rd of March.
The festival, which started 12 years ago, did so with relative local acclaim and familiar Irish faces. Exposure has meant exponential growth, and now, it’s reach ever expansive, the festival has become a yearly celebration worth noting with major stars from across Europe and America, Asia and beyond, making the effort to come here, answer Q&As and give talks. This year sees a hugely impressive list of entries. But which ones should you look out for?
Her Smell (Feb 21st) sees director Alex Rose Perry team up with Elizabeth Moss for their third outing together after Listen Up Philip and Queen of the Earth. Moss, ever the chameleon, will take another career detour and play a dethroned 90’s rocker. It’s sounds more like a compelling introspection piece rather than a spectacle of debauchery. Tantalising nonetheless.
There are a number of intriguing screenings on February 23rd but I’m going to suggest two films; Blind Spot, the tough directorial debut from Norway’s Tuva Novotny which focuses a sharp lens on the rather timely issue of mental health, and Adrian Panek’s unyielding thriller Werewolf. The latter is not really about lycanthropes but rather a survival story following a group of children as they’re released from notorious concentration camp Gross Rosen in 1945.
Sure there’s Loro from acclaimed director Paolo Sorrentino (The Great Beauty) about the media tycoon and ex-Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, but how about something a little bit lighter? Try Aussie comedy The Merger. Comedian Damian Callinan plays the sports wonder injured in his prime and forced into retirement only to put himself forward as the new coach of a local footy team, The Roosters. Both films are screening on February 25th.
China is well represented this year with a number of magnificent films being shown, a list that includes Zhang Yimou’s Shadow (Feb 23rd), Zhang Yang’s Up The Mountain (Feb 26th) and Bai Xue’s The Crossing (March 3nd). But for me two absolute musts for any cinemagoer, are An Elephant Sitting Still (Feb 27th); a one and only stand alone feature length film by director Bo Hu who took his own life shortly after the film’s initial release, and Ash is Purest White (Feb 28th) by critics favourite Zhangke Jia.
While we’re discussing Asian films, it’s worth pointing out that for those willing to try something new, it’s not very often we have a Brilliante Mendoza feature on the big screen. The Philippine maverick’s new film Alpha, The Right to Kill – a title knowingly indebted to the country’s present day war-on-drugs declaration – delves right into the belly of the beast with this all out gritty slice of street life.
There are as always a number of Irish features worth seeking tickets for. The adaptation of Kevin Barry’s book of shorts Dark Lies The Island looks like the most promising of the bunch. Featuring a cast of Peter Coonan, Moe Dunford, Charlie Murphy and Pat Shortt, expect a engrossing mix of dark humour and violence in small town Ireland.
Thursday the 28th of February sees a number of fascinating films on offer. Brady Corbet follows up his critically lauded Childhood of a Leader with rock diva epic Vox Lux. Natalie Portman plays the lead as she, much like Elizabeth Moss’ character mentioned above, faces the downslide of her career and attempts a resurrection. Also, on the same day, photographer Richard Billingham returns to his childhood apartment block to document a biographical reconstruction of his parents in kitchen sink drama Ray & Liz.
On March 1st, Polish director Agnieszka Smoczynska follows up her bizarre, albeit mesmeric 2015 musical debut The Lure with yet another daring feature in Fugue. A contemporary and suspenseful thriller, it’s difficult to pinpoint how this one will turn out but we’re excited.
Neil Jordan returns on March 2nd with Greta, his first film in 7 years. Isabelle Huppert takes the lead as a woman who befriends young Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz) on her arrival to New York City. As Frances gets to know her new acquaintance, fact and fiction, fantasy and reality begin to blur as the initial maternal charm begins to sour. Fingers crossed for this one.
Words: Shane O’Reilly