Cork's smashing, clashing line-up

 

With an impressively wide-ranging selection of new and recent international features and a wealth of short films and documentaries from home and abroad, the 44th Murphy's Cork Film Festival offers a well-balanced and enticing programme that caters for all tastes. With over 250 films screening over eight days from October 10th, and with at least three programmes clashing at every time-slot from morning till late-night, festival-goers may need to spend as long deliberating on what to miss as on what to see.

Having seen many of the new features on the programme at other festivals, I can offer the following recommendations: Limbo: The festival opens with the new John Sayles film, set in Alaska where a former fisherman (David Strathairn), who's racked with guilt after a fatal boating accident 25 years earlier, meets a nomadic bar-room singer (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), who's lurching from one unhappy affair to another. Mastrantonio has rarely been so impressive and she reveals a fine singing voice in this moody, involving drama.

The Last September: Director Deborah Warner's confident crossover from theatre into cinema, adapted by John Banville from Elizabeth Bowen's novel, is set in 1920 as it acutely observes the dying days of the Ascendancy. Maggie Smith, in sparkling, pursed-lipped form, and a radiant Fiona Shaw head a strong cast that includes Michael Gambon and Keeley Hawes.

Run Lola Run: Tom Tykwer's invigorating and very witty German movie powers along as the flame-haired Lola (Franka Potente) races through Berlin with only 20 minutes to save her boyfriend from mobsters. The clock is ticking but her moped has just been stolen, so she has to run and run, to the accompaniment of a pacey techno score in this exhilarating entertainment which left me giddy with enthusiasm.

Rosetta: Written and directed by brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne, this Belgian film was the surprise winner of the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year. Made with a rough, hand-held energy, it follows the humiliations of the 18-yearold Rosetta (Emilie Duquenne) as she struggles to hold down one poorly-paid job after another. Set against a grim industrial backdrop, it acutely - though rather repetitively - captures the emptiness and hopelessness of her life.

The Book That Wrote Itself: This good-humoured, no-budget Irish movie was written and directed by Liam O Mochain who also takes the lead as the author of a Celtic romantic saga which he passionately - and foolishly - believes to be The Great Irish Novel.

Show Me Love: From Sweden, Lukas Moodysson's fresh, incisive and revealing picture of teenage angst deals with the shy, lonely 15-year-old Agnes (Alexandra Dahlstrom), who despairs with her family's move to a boring small town and struggles to deal with the dawning realisation of her lesbian urges and the crush she develops for the high-school rebel. Summer of Sam: Spike Lee's most provocative but least preachy movie for some time is set in New York during the summer of 1977 as the city sweats through a heatwave and fears the serial killer known as Son of Sam. This vibrant, ambitious film stars John Leguizamo on terrific form as a sexually insatiable hairdresser and Adrien Brody as a fiery, bisexual, early convert to the new punk movement. The Lovers of the Arctic Circle: From Spain, Julio Medem's magical and engaging love story follows its protagonists from the ages of eight to 25, and the parallel relationship between the boy's mother and the girl's father. It is photographed in beautiful widescreen images at Madrid and Finnish locations.

I Could Read the Sky: Demanding but hypnotic, Nichola Bruce's adventurous and imaginative film, adapted from the innovative photographic novel by Timothy O'Grady and Steve Pyke, deals with an elderly man - hauntingly played by writer Dermot Healy - looking back without self-pity on an unfulfilled life as an emigrant who made his hard-earned money as a workhorse on building projects all over England.

The Blair Witch Project: A phenomenal success which cost $60,000 and has made $135 million at the US box-office, Eduardo Sanchez and Daniel Mynick's chilling horror movie employs a mockumentary style to follow the unnerving experiences of three student film-makers venturing deep in the woods of Maryland.

8 1/2 Women: In Peter Greenaway's shallow and rambling homage to Fellini, John Standing plays a widower encouraged by his son to pursue his sexual fantasies (Matthew Delamere). Greenaway attempts to enliven this self-indulgent yarn with copious nudity, and he saddles the characters with some truly ludicrous dialogue.

Ratcatcher: Scottish director Lynne Ramsay's first feature is marked by her undeniable visual flair. A grim, dispassionately observed and clearly well-intentioned picture of an impoverished Glasgow family in the 1970s, it centres on the dreams and sexual awakening of a 12-year-old boy (William Eadie) who's riddled with guilt over his role in the horseplay that led to another boy's drowning.

EdTV: Ron Howard's satire on our media world features Matthew McConaughey as an easy-going video store clerk whose life becomes the subject of a 24-hours-a-day television show. Amiable as it is, it remains firmly overshadowed by the far superior The Truman Show.

Wonderland: Packed with incident and directed with an infectious energy by Michael Winterbottom, this gem of a movie weaves together the experiences of 13 characters over four days in London, and was shot with a minimal crew and a hand-held camera, and without lights or extras. Accompanied by a gorgeous, swelling Michael Nyman score, it features a fine cast that includes Molly Parker, Kika Markham, John Simm, Gina McKee, Ian Hart, Shirley Henderson and Stuart Townsend.

Among the notable international features on the programme I have yet to see are:

Mike Newell's Pushing Tin with John Cusack and Billy Bob Thornton as air traffic controllers whose intense rivalry threatens to wreck their careers and marriages - and the planes in their airspace.

Australian director Emma Kate Croghan's Strange Planet, which follows three women in their search for love and fulfilment over the course of one year. From Canada, Jeremy Podeska's film of emotionally inter-connected characters, in The Five Senses. Wes Craven's Music of the Heart, for which Meryl Streep learned to play the violin - and performed on stage at Carnegie Hall with Isaac Stern and Itzhak Perlman.

Shane Meadows's picture of childhood friendships in Nottingham, A Room For Romeo Brass. The Sundance hit, Happy, Texas, with Steve Zahn and Jeremy Northam as redneck criminals mistaken for a gay couple.

The British comedy, Janice Beard: 45WPM, with Cork actress Eileen Walsh as a fantasising typist. From Bhutan, Khyentse Norbu's acclaimed The Cup, in which a group of teenaged monks set out to rent a satellite dish so they can see the World Cup. The new Andre Techine film, Alice et Martin, a love story involving two damaged outsiders played by Juliette Binoche and Alexis Loret.

The festival's strong Irish content includes the world premiere of Fintan Connolly's first feature, Flick, and some notable documentaries - Se Merry Doyle's picture of Dublin street traders in Alive Alive O! - A Requiem For Dublin; a re-evaluation of Sean O'Riada's work in Christopher Swann's Vertical Man; Simon Gibney's Aslan - Made in Dublin, which details the band's chequered 20-year history; and Sinead O'Brien's film of the life and music of Luke Kelly in Luke.

The closing night film on October 17th is Sugar Town, directed by Allison Anders and Kurt Voss and featuring Rosanna Arquette, Ally Sheedy, Martin Kemp, Beverly D'Angelo and Duran Duran guitarist John Taylor, in a story of aspiring actors and singers in Los Angeles. The directors will attend the screening, and the festival will present a retrospective on Anders that will include her affectionate picture of the 1960s pop music world in the underrated Grace of My Heart.

The full Cork programme is available on the festival website - www.corkfilmfest.org - and at the festival office at 10 Washington Street, Cork, where advance booking is now open. Tel: 021-271711