The Dublin Film Critics Circle (DFCC) awards ceremony has never been so starry as it was for the 20th Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival.
Some of the international talent joined the audience by video, but this remained an array for the ages. Gaspar Noé, whose Vortex won best film, raised a pint of lager remotely as he remembered happy days in Dublin. Udo Kier, the legendary German actor, was touchingly delighted to receive best actor from Tara Brady, DFCC president, for his turn as an aging hairdresser in Todd Stephens's poignant Swan Song. Lee Cooper, director of Maisie, a lovely film on Britain's oldest drag artiste, flew across the Irish Sea to pick up his award in person for best documentary. The team from the already much acclaimed An Cailín Ciúin were in the Light House cinema to the receive best Irish film gong, as was Kelly Campbell, whose debut short An Encounter won her the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award. Campbell's film, adapted from James Joyce's story by Mark O'Halloran, lays down persuasive images of contemporary Dublin as it goes among a couple of lads who skirt danger when mitching from school.
The second week of the festival brought more quality and more variety, but, sadly, no hoards waving placards while yelling from Deuteronomy. When word got out that Paul Verhoeven, director of Basic Instinct, was to make a film about the 17th century lesbian nun Benedetta Carlini, many anticipated protests at its arrival in Ireland. True enough, the film features nuns on the lavatory, nuns being brutally tortured and nuns placing religious statuettes where no religious statuettes should go. Yet there was not a single yeller outside the Light House Cinema on Wednesday night for Benedetta's domestic premiere. What has become of us? The film plays Verhoeven's usual transgressive games to increasingly diminishing effect. Let us see what happens when it opens later in the year.
Other highlights included a screening of Audrey Diwan's gripping Happening. Winner of the Golden Lion at last year's Venice Film Festival, the picture reminds us that, in the early 1960s, countries we thought unimaginably sophisticated had abortion laws as prohibitive as those in Ireland. Anamaria Vartolomei, who took the best actress prize from the DFCC, plays a teenager who falls pregnant and finds all doors to a termination shut. The film works in believable recreations of the era, but is most memorable for pressing home how depressingly isolated women can find themselves in such situations.
It is a delight to report that Terence Davies, who spent decades struggling to get films off the ground, is continuing his recent prolific run. The Liverpudlian's Benediction stars the unstoppable Jack Lowden as Siegfried Sassoon, poet of the trenches, in a film that blends styles as it takes us from recouperation to uncertainty to relative obscurity in a changed England. The film is maybe a little long, but no director is better at making poetry of quiet despair. Matthew Tennyson is chiselled as the doomed Wilfred Owen. Peter Capaldi could hardly be bettered as an older Sassoon adrift in the era of frozen dinners and mop-topped pop groups. Great use of Ralph Vaughan Williams's Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.
Laura Samani appeared on the DFCC video screen to receive best director for her stunning debut Small Body. Shot in a Venetian dialect and the Friulian language, the film follows a North Italian woman as she carries the body of her stillborn child to a distant church where a miracle may allow the baby enough life to be baptised. The film is set in 1900, but it would be no surprise to learn that it was taking place at least 100 years earlier. Like Happening, Small Body is powered by anger at society's historical denial of basic compassion to women in distress. It is also a compulsive folk tale that takes in a variety of memorably craggy characters.
New Irish films unveiled included two intriguing monochrome works, both dealing with fecund Dublin locales, from the Arts Council's Reel Arts strand. Luke McManus's North Circular Road offers rooted psychogeography as it takes us from the Phoenix Park, where cricket is played by a more racially diverse crowd than was once the case, via protests over redevelopment of the Cobblestone pub in Smithfield to a powerful ending at Dublin Port. McManus weaves traditional music in with contemporary chatter to create a vivid portrait of a key artery. The tireless director Alan Gilsenan was over on the southside for a consideration of mid-century Bohemia in the consistently evocative Ghosts of Baggotonia. The spirits of Patrick Kavanagh, Brendan Behan and Myles na gCopaleen are all summoned up, but the film is not afraid to remind us of the restrictions that closed in upon those writers. The dreamy film is undercut by a faintly sinister edge.
This writer must admit personal interest in the latest film from the immensely talented Dónal Foreman. The director follows up his innovative drama Out of Here and his powerful documentary The Image You Missed with an intellectually knotty piece entitled The Cry of Granuaile. The great Dale Dickey stars as an experimental filmmaker who, grieving her mother, travels to Ireland with thoughts of making a film about the eponymous pirate queen. Foreman ingeniously works left-field techniques in with more conventional drama as he takes us towards an encounter with sometimes puzzled locals in Granuaile's native Mayo. Early on, the protagonist is metaphorically duffed up by a film critic playing an outrageously pompous version of himself. As if such a thing would be allowed.
THE DFCC AWARDS AT THE 2022 VIRGIN MEDIA DUBLIN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL
Best Film Vortex
Best Director Laura Samani, Small Body
Best Screenplay Terence Davies, Benediction
Best Actress Anamaria Vartolomei, Happening
Best Actor Udo Kier, Swan Song
Best Debut Feature Blerta Basholli, Hive
Best Editor Sean Baker, Red Rocket
Best Cinematography Frédéric Noirhomme, Playground
Best Ensemble Roise & Frank
Best Documentary Maisie
Best Irish Film The Quiet Girl
Best Irish Documentary Vicky
Special Jury Prize Cannon Arm and the Arcade Quest
George Byrne Maverick Tristan Heanue (Harvest - short)
Michael Dwyer Discovery Kelly Campbell (An Encounter - short)