Short and sweet film festival

 

Ireland’s oldest celebration of film has long been the place to premiere your pocket masterpiece, but Cork Film Festival is also an oasis for feature-length films and the work of local film-makers, writes DONALD CLARKE

THE CURRENT calendar position of the Corona Cork Film Festival gives it plenty of room to stretch out its venerable limbs. From February to October, the festival circuit is a veritable whirlwind of activity. Then, as awards season looms, everything calms down nicely. The oldest film festival in Ireland – and one of the oldest in Europe – stands as the last oasis before the dry months strike.

The event has always been known for its strong interest in short films. The organisers have also made a point of highlighting new work by local film-makers. But the festival always makes sure to lay down a series of strong new features to support the greater superstructure.

This year’s festival, the 56th, kicked off with a screening of Drake Doremus’s Like Crazy. A multiple prize winner at the Sundance Film Festival, the picture stars Anton Yelchin and Felicity Jones – two equally ubiquitous actors – as a couple who try to sustain their relationship after being separated by immigration complications. A delicate piece, as slight as it is touching, the picture proves the durability of the Brief Encountermodel. It also confirms the emergence of a new force in British acting. Jones has been around for a few years, but, to date, has been offered little material worthy of her talent. With the Sundance prize for best actress beneath her belt, she now looks set to annihilate all resistance.

Much attention was focussed on the screening of Alexandra McGuinness’s eye-catching Lotus Eaters. It may seem unfair to begin this paragraph by pointing out that the director is the daughter of Paul McGuinness, U2’s influential manager, but the poor woman is probably used to it by now. What we have here is a beautifully photographed, defiantly deadened study of absurdly wealthy youths drugging and shagging their way about London’s most vogueish quarters. Rising star Antonia Campbell-Hughes appears as the least detestable of the latter-day Bright Young Things. Over the course of this economic film, she gets battered from one floppy fringe to the next and, eventually, appears to wake up to the emptiness of her environment.

Lotus Eatersmanages the interesting trick of seeming aggressively contemporary and suffocatingly familiar at the same time. There is, surely, a nod towards Fellini’s La Dolce Vitain the nicely crisp, monochrome shots of trivial skeletons whittering away their most promising days. So swinging is the depiction of London that one half expects Julie Christie to leap from the nearest airing cupboard.

McGuinness and Gareth Munden, her gifted cinematographer, deserve credit for producing such a coolly attractive package. But the script is seriously problematic and some of the supporting performances are a tad below par. We understand the dialogue is supposed to be blank and the characters are supposed to be empty. But this blank? This empty? After five minutes of their preening, you end up longing for the return of national service.

On to the shorts.

For more than five decades, Cork has been the place to premiere your pocket masterpiece. As ever, the programme scared up quite a few promising young talents.

We have all become a bit blasé about the boon in Irish animation over recent years. That sector shone with pictures such as Dutch Darkness, Leitronium and 23 Degrees 5 Minutes.

Steve Woods’s Dutch Darknessrevisits the works of the Dutch Master painters with a nod to Czech filmmaker Jan Švankmajer. The use of stop-motion animation with live actors doesn’t always work, but it does make for disconcerting spectacle.

Leitronium marks another exercise in hilarious stop-motion celebrity spotting from the clever folk at Cutbacks. Following on from the team’s amusing re-inventions of Jedward, the new film casts Seamus Heaney as a middle-aged detective in the mould of Inspector Morse.Is there a vast international conspiracy to mine local bodies for the valuable and completely mythical substance known as Leitronium? Don’t bet against it.

23 Degrees 5 Minutesfinds the Oscar-nominated Brown Bag Films bringing together physics and high adventure for a characteristically amusing seasonal adventure. The depictions of early 20th century Dublin are rather lovely.

For this writer, however, the most attractive Irish animation was Paul McNulty’s The Art of Making Friends. The piece takes the words of a dedicated hobbyist and works to translate his musings into spooky, funny 2-D animation. It stars a creature that seems trapped between teddy bear and cyborg. Nice.

As far as live-action shorts go, we put our informal awards the way of Phil Harrison’s Even Gods, Colm Quinn’s Joyand Damien McCarthy’s Never Ever Open It.

Harrison’s film, beautifully acted, robustly shot, finds a middle-aged addict reuniting touchingly with his daughter and her deaf child. “It doesn’t matter how many leaves you turn over,” he says. “It’s still the same tree.” Moving stuff.

Joy,shot in beautiful widescreen, finds a teenage mother facing up an anticipated, but still heartbreaking, trauma. The film never shouts when it can whisper. Its familiar story is archetypal in its poignancy.

Hats off, finally, to the team behind the brief, agreeably spine-chattering Never Ever Open It. Telling an effective horror story in under 10 minutes is never easy. But McCarthy and his crew pull the task off very competently. What’s in the box? Something disconcertingly, side-splittingly awful. Get that money together for your low-budget shocker promptly, boys. We need such things.