From mainstream to cutting edge

Mon, Feb 22, 2010, 00:00

JAMESON DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Opening weekend at JDIFF had directors, actors and crew all lining up to hear audience reaction to their work - and take in a public demo as well

YOU COULD tell that a Michael Moore film was unspooling at the Savoy on Saturday morning. From about halfway down O’Connell Street the noise of demonstrators was clearly audible. Well, if you make a film entitled – ironically, of course – Capitalism: A Love Storythen you are bound to attract the odd supportive leafleteer.

The film turned out to be the bulky documentarian’s least tendentious and most sincerely felt film since 1989’s Roger & Me. Using his undeniable talent for comic montage, Moore powerfully made the case for capitalism as a malign and destructive doctrine. Patrons of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, up bright and early on the event’s first weekend, offered up righteous applause at the close. There are not too many neo-cons in that demographic.

Capitalismis one of several big pictures – sadly, Michael you are now in the mainstream – playing at the festival shortly before their theatrical release. Another was Atom Egoyan’s Chloe, which, alas, again suggested that the gifted Canadian has lost his way somewhat.

Based on Anne Fontaine’s French picture Nathalie . . ., Chloefinds doctor Julianne Moore suspecting husband Liam Neeson of dallying with other women. She hires Amanda Seyfried’s high-class hooker to test his fidelity. The performances are all decent and the Toronto locations well used, but the picture ends up looking queasily like one of those straight-to-video erotic thrillers that followed in the wake of Basic Instinct.

Elsewhere, smaller, more eccentric films were connecting with keen audiences. On Friday night, Tom Harper, hitherto a distinguished director of British television, turned up at the Screen cinema to talk about his impressive debut feature The Scouting Book for Boys.

The film stars young Thomas Turgoose – best known for his astonishing turn in This is England– as a lonely kid who, while staying in a Norfolk caravan park, helps his best pal fake her disappearance.

Enriched by more, predictably dreamy photography from our own Robbie Ryan, the film begins as a wistful piece before shockingly and impressively lurching towards the dark side. It does look like a first feature, but both Harper and screenwriter Jack Thorne, a veteran of Skinsand Shameless, look set to successfully make the jump from TV to film.

For many, however, the highlight of the first few days was the Irish premiere of Todd Solondz’s striking new film Life During Wartime. A sequel to Todd’s transgressive 1998 ensemble piece Happiness, the picture recasts all the returning characters with very different actors.

Indeed, Ciarán Hinds, who takes over the role of the haunted paedophile previously played so effectively by Dylan Baker, confirmed after the screening that Solondz doesn’t quite accept that the characters remain the same people. Get that?

As it happened, Life During Wartime, though occasionally gruelling and rich in tar-black humour, turns out to be a somewhat more sober film than its predecessor. You wouldn’t take your granny to it, but you might bring an open-minded great uncle. After chatting to playwright and director Conor McPherson, Hinds received a Volta Award – the festival’s tribute for career achievement – and a deserved swelling of warm applause. “I just talked to Todd and he sounded really pissed-off that he couldn’t be here,” he commented.

“ ‘Please clarify that I am not hard to work with,’ Todd said. He’s not. There’s a difference between pedantic and specific and he’s really, really specific.”

On Saturday evening, Warwick Thornton’s singular Samson and Delilahproved that cinema can always find new ways to communicate. Some eyebrows were raised when, last September, the film became Australia’s submission for the Oscars in the best foreign language feature race.

After all, Samson and Delilah, which follows two indigenous Australian kids as they flee disastrously to the city, features almost no dialogue. Still, it remains a troubling and moving picture. Occasionally reminiscent of the Irish film Adam & Paul, Thornton’s sedately paced drama uses sound – distant obscure clunks, the jamming of a rickety rock band – to create a dizzying class of cinematic blank verse. Perhaps it loses the courage of its conviction towards the close, but this remains a stunning piece of work.

THE FIRST WEEKEND ALSO SAWfurther outings for two, already highly praised Irish features. Ken Wardrop chatted happily to an entranced crowd after a screening of his indecently charming documentary His & Hers. Conor Horgan’s One Hundred Mornings, a fine spiky drama set in the aftermath of societal collapse, was also greeted with noisy gusto.

The main Irish premiere at the weekend was that of Mark O’Connor’s earthy, profane Between the Canals. The film, shot quickly in mobile, speedy style, follows three small-time criminals as they pinball their way about Dublin one boozy St Patrick’s Day. One of the guys (Dan Hyland) is plotting an escape from minor villainy. Another (Pat Coonan) hopes to move up the criminal pecking order. A third (Stephen Jones) seems happy to coast.

From the superb first scene, during which the guys propel a washing machine off a high balcony, it becomes clear that O’Connor has a notable talent for generating creative mayhem on a meagre budget. Damien Dempsey makes an appearance in the picture. This seems appropriate.

Between the Canals– though a tad chaotic and distinctly short on plot – has all the raw, angry energy of the great man’s roaring songs.

Defiantly rough and ready, proudly independent, the film is, come to think of it, just the sort of thing that might appeal to Michael Moore.

FOUR TO SEE TODAY

WHEN YOU’RE STRANGE


Austere documentary – no talking heads, all contemporaneous footage – concerning those archetypal beatnik rockers The Doors. Archetypal beatnik actor Johnny Depp narrates.

Cineworld 17, 6.30

NINO ROTA: FILM MUSIC

The composer of the scores for La Dolce Vitaand The Godfather is celebrated at the National Concert Hall. Expect the DIT Symphony Orchestra to deliver swelling chords.

National Concert Hall, 8.00pm

BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS

Werner Herzog has not quite remade Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant. It’s not quite a sequel either. It is, however, bound to be crazy. Nicolas Cage stars as the unstable cop.

Cineworld 17, 8.30pm.

LOURDES

As the title suggests, Jessica Hausner’s film has to do with miracles and the intricacies of faith. One to ponder at length.

Screen 1, 8.30pm