Reasons for optimism among the Cork film posse


There is muscle, grit and guile in the taut forms of the shorts at this year’s Corona Cork Film Festival, writes DONALD CLARKE

As the Corona Cork Film Festival cranked its way through a successful 57th edition, the nation gradually became engulfed in a trauma of self-evisceration. By midweek, a dignified crowd had gathered outside the Cork Opera House, the event’s hub, to acknowledge the death of Savita Halappanavar.

Andrew Legge’s A Kingdom Once Again, one of the wittiest shorts in the programme, looked a little like a prescient response to the soul-searching. Beginning with a grim detailing of our current malaise – economic meltdown, social exclusion – Legge went on to offer his own latter-day modest proposal: the Republic should re-enter the United Kingdom. The director had his tongue in his cheek. But his timing could not have been more acute.

The Cork Film Festival – by far the country’s oldest such event – continues to screen a robust array of features. Last night, it featured the Irish premiere of Seven Psychopaths, a characteristically profane, structurally busy comedy from Martin McDonagh. A little less tight than the writer-director’s In Bruges, though more ambitious in the reach of its plot, the film finds Colin Farrell playing a blocked writer propelled among hoodlums. Christopher Walken stands out as a bereaved oddball with a poetic turn of phrase.

Other features of note included Keith Jones and Deon Maas’s Punk in Africa, which did a good job of explaining the multi-racial nature of that music in an unlikely setting, Bill Morrison’s The Great Flood, a study of a deluge in early 20th-century Mississippi, and a welcome festival outing for Gerard Barrett’s fine Pilgrim Hill.

Cork has, however, long been noted for its focus on new Irish short films and, as they are often produced by up-and-coming film-makers, such beasts offer some sort of measure of the industry’s potential at home.

Once again, the technical elan on display was enormously impressive. Long gone are the days when one applauded when the camera failed to fall over. More than a few of the shorts called out to be expanded into features.

Whereas A Kingdom Once Again was something of an angry trifle, Legge’s properly moving The Girl With the Mechanical Maiden came across as an epic in pocket form. Dominic West plays a widowed Victorian inventor who constructs a mechanical nursemaid with predictably troubling results. Featuring a mechanical protagonist who gestures towards Brigitte Helm in Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, the film manages to pay tribute to classic cinema of the macabre without treading on Tim Burton’s toes. Give this man some proper money.

Neil O’Driscoll’s Girls was another short that seemed to have a feature concealed in its taut form. Sleepy, seductive and affectionate, the picture follows a group of teenagers as they come of age in the southeast. The effect is slightly discombobulating. One half feels oneself in the American south of early David Gordon Green features such as All the Real Girls or George Washington. Then a Waterford voice breaks the spell. There is great potential here.

Cian McGarrigle’s No Messages seemed to have a slightly different, ahem, message for commissioning editors. Detailing conversations – some idiotic, some accidentally profound – in a sleepy urban pub, the picture looked like the pilot for a situation comedy that you might actually want to watch. The acting was confident. The jokes were secure. Suggestions of Kevin Smith’s Clerks were not hard to locate.

Old hands, new ideas

Proof that the short film is not just for developing talents was delivered with Shimmy Marcus’s lovely Rhinos. The director of the recent SoulBoy deflected comparisons with Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise by having his male protagonist – escorting a German girl about the city before she leaves for home – wave a copy of that film in his new friend’s puzzled face. It’s a gorgeous, cleverly written romance that is not compromised by one glaring improbability: who has ever met a German who didn’t have a word of English?

The short form does (or should) encourage experimentation and innovation. Eoin Heaney’s Foreclosed certainly sees itself as a political film, but its main virtues lie in abstraction. Heaney’s camera drifts menacingly among abandoned houses: some lavish, some in decay, many still containing sad reminders of their former occupants. A light illuminates a mirror and casts a beam back across the room. A dog stomps spookily through yawning spaces. One could argue that the film belongs in a gallery rather than a cinema, but, either way, it holds the attention with menacing force as it nudges the brain towards consideration of our current economic malaise.

The programme also told us personal stories worth hearing. This writer was particularly moved by Derville Quigley’s Sassie’s Gran. Neatly made, focused mainly on its subject’s voice, the picture found an older Ulster lady – once a beauty queen – musing happily on her grandson’s adventures as a drag queen.

It’s an uncomplicated little piece. But it served to reassure us that, for the most part, this island is populated by decent people. The message was, in this week of all weeks, greatly to be welcomed.

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