Cork Film Festival 2018

I was at the Cork Film Festival this year, and I saw…lots…of movies. Here’s what I thought of them.

Lords of Chaos

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A biopic of Norwegian black metal band Mayhem, particularly on their original frontman and guitarist Euronymous. There’s a nice balance between the intentional mundanity of the cinematography with the absolute craziness of the band’s antics. You really get the impression of the normalcy and dreariness they wish to escape. However, I feel the movie fails to get a good line of how much it take these actions seriously or just treats the band like a joke. The acting is, for the most part, decent, especially from Rory Culkin, but the moments it takes these guys seriously doesn’t feel as well earned and could definitely have done with a bit more of a definitive tonal shift. 5/10

Wild Strawberries

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One of Ingmar Bergman’s most celebrated film, and a delight to catch it for the first time on the big screen. It’s a really sharp meditation on life and the existential woe of living beyond your prime, combined with a fun road trip and crushing flashbacks and dream sequences. All the characters are extremely well written, and the dialogue is consistently sparkling and thought provoking. You really get an insight into our protagonist’s mindset and the unspoken regrets he has over his long life, and whether it was well lived or not. 9/10

Bergman: A Year in a Life

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This one may give you some insight into the man himself, but I don’t know if it’s that well made a documentary. It tends to fly off into random tangents, and its presentation isn’t very well thought out. Despite giving us tantalising insights into his character, like his connections to Nazi Germany and the incredibly unfair way he treated actor Thorsten Flinck, it still chooses to venerate him instead of frame a portrait of a complex man with terrible neuroses and control issues. It’s meandering and overly detailed, and while you may find the information about Bergman fascinating, I still do not know the importance of 1957 for Bergman outside of what I already knew; two of his most important movies were released then. 4/10

Won’t You be My Neighbor?

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Unlike the previous one, this documentary about the life of a prominent cultural figure, this time Fred Rogers, gives exactly the insight that is needed. And it’s a rather simple one: he’s exactly as good a guy as he comes across. While not really as prominent a figure over here, Mr Rogers Neighborhood was a hugely important mainstay of children’s TV for over three decades in America, teaching children the importance of self-esteem and compassion. We see exactly how much Rogers cared for children and the impact that media can have on their development. Conversely, we also see he had some of his own quirks and eccentricities, and even humour. It’s a sweet, heartwarming and impactful portrait of a man who did everything he could to reach a hand out and make all who were touched by his message feel special. Highly, highly recommended. 9/10

The Favourite

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Yorgos Lanthimos’ latest feature breaks away from his usual mould to make a historical film which fictionalises the later life of Queen Anna (Olivia Coleman). The main chunk of the story focuses on two cousins (Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone) who compete for the favours of the Queen. All three actresses do a great job, though it’s easily Olivia Coleman who steals the show, one of the year’s best performances. This film lacks a lot of the strange imagination of Lanthimos previous films, but even subpar Lanthimos is better than most of the dreck put out there. It’s funny as hell, has some really interesting readings of history, it’s extremely well shot and the production is lush and on point, traditional and feels real while also embracing the filmmaker’s quirk. 8/10

The Magic Flute

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A recreation of an 18th century stage, this telling of Mozart’s opera by Bergman was shot for television, and that really comes across. This is probably my own view that stage productions that are filmed really lose the ambiance and physicality of actually being there seeing them performed (ironically, I watched this screening at a theatre house), but I could not get into this at all. I mean, the sets were lovingly recreated, the actors are game and really throw themselves into the role 1000%. I’m sure those with more of a tolerance to see these performances on the screen got more out of this, but for me it just did not connect. A shame. 4/10

Being There

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In Peter Sellers’ final role, he plays a simple-minded gardener who has no legal papers to define him whatsoever. After his employer, and the patriarch of the house he lives in he simply refers to as ‘The Old Man’, dies, he’s pushed out into a world he doesn’t understand, and his good nature and naïve curiousity for everything gets him into crazier and crazier scenarios. That’s about as much as you’re going to get from me-despite how old this film is, I won’t dare ruin it. This may be my favourite movie of the festival. The performance from Sellers is outstanding, Hal Ashby manages to blend quirk and social realism so effortlessly into the same shot. I love how there’s always something going on; despite a lot of it being long talky sequences it’s never boring or poorly paced. It’s clever and cutting, still relevant to this day, and a perfect testament to the places film can go that you may never have considered. This one is a gem, be sure to check it out. 10/10

Meeting Gorbachev

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Werner Herzog has one of the most exciting and fascinating voices when discussing the world around us. He and co-director Andre Singer travel to Russia speak to Mikhail Gorbachev, the controversial final General Secretary of the USSR. The talks with one of the most influential figures of the late 20th century are a great insight, and while a lot of the surrounding background can feel like extraneous fluff, it is interesting to get a look nto the life and background of this man. He remains an excellent speaker even into his old age and it paints a portrait of a complex figure no matter how you feel about his actions or politics. Not the most amazing interview-style documentary, but a tantalising and rewarding watch in a lot of ways. 6/10

The Old Man & the Gun

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Robert Redford’s ‘last role’ is a tale of a professional thief who lives life to the fullest and a by-the-books cop who is pursuing him. This is a fun, breezy throwback to old 70s gritty cop dramas that’s a little more focused on the robber. Despite it taking cues from a gritty era of detective fiction, it’s mostly fun and not-entirely-serious, yet develops its cast in interesting and nuanced ways. Redford kills it in a role that looks effortless for him, and his budding romance with Sissy Spacek just makes the film. They are so cute together! The only thing holding it back is a very flabby ending (which seems to happen with a lot of David Lowery’s work) and Casey Affleck’s character feeling a bit too focused on even though he’s not that interesting? And yes, I get his purpose to the overall story. Even with this, this one’s a hoot and a real good time at the movies. Be sure to catch it once it comes out. 7/10

The State Against Mandela and the Others

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A recreation of the Rivonia Trials that put Nelson Mandela and other members of the ANC in jail. These segments are animated as no video footage exists of the trials, and the documentary is more focused on the other members arrested alongside Mandela and their lawyers. The recreations are fun, and it’s cool to get insights into such important figures in apartheid South Africa that may go overlooked for a lot of people, but the presentation is a little jumbled and it’s hard to keep focus on every person’s story. There’s also sequences that go on a bit too long, and I’m not sure what of substance I got of these men in the long run. Perhaps releasing the interviews separately may give a better frame of refence. Absolutely not without merit, I just wish it had been presented a little more cleanly and concisely. 5/10

Monsters and Men

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A socially relevant film about three different focuses of a police killing of an unarmed black man. One’s a friend of his, one’s a cop and one’s a student on his way to a scholarship. I don’t think these three tales gel as well into one entire narrative as well as they are attempting it to, and at times it can feel too impassioned or prone to wander away from the emotion of the difficult world it wishes to convey. Still, this is an impressive and passionate debut filled with quiet anguish and fury. Excellently shot and all the performances are on point, especially from John David Washington. It’s a tantalising debut feature and I look forward to seeing more from this director. 6/10

For the Birds

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An incredibly honest and open look at Kathy Murphy, a woman who has an animal welfare case spiral out of control after she hoards hundreds of poultry birds in her small house and puts a strain on her marriage. The way everything escalates feels natural and is well balanced, you feel every beat of the story unfold in a compelling way. There is great lengths to make sure Kathy and the animal sanctuary team are depicted in a neutral light, not turning the audience against either of them (the only one we get a bit of negative embellishment on is Kathy’s lawyer, but even then it’s a little more complex than that). It’s a strange but sad and poignant story about a woman in denial over her own issues, both mentally and personally, and it’s economically told while being spread over years and never once having it feel like too jarring. Excellent documentary, probably my biggest surprise of the fest. 8/10

The Wicked Witch

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One of the most unique and fascinating films I’ve seen all year, a woman who is thrice widowed gets believed to be a witch by her superstitious town, and she uses this to her advantage to scam people out of money to look after herself and her late husband’s brother. Actress Tian Tian has a commanding presence and really makes the material pop, but it’s the fascinating cinematography and bizarre use of the premise that make it work. I love how the movie will rarely go into colour (it’s mostly shot in black and white), but also colour random objects like fire and Christmas lights. It really captures the understated magic of the piece. It plays fast and loose with reality and really makes you question what’s real and what’s just trumped up fantasy of a town too wrapped up in their roles and customs. The movie kind of loses its way about two thirds of the way in and it feels like it’s missing some details to make it whole, but it’s a distinctive and provocative watch, one worth hunting down. 7/10

The Return

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A documentary-style feature that sees two Danish-Korean adoptees return to their countryoof origin to find their birth parents. It’s got some really interesting framing and I love how natural everything feels. There’s some great moments of atmosphere and tension where the moment is just allowed to be played out slowly and naturally. If I had any complaints, I feel some of those moments don’t need to be as dragged out as they were. There’s one moment where our lead is arguing with a case worker which was grating. Plus, I never really got a sense of who any of these characters are, and it really hurt my investment in their story. Still, this is great and cleverly made debut, clearly someone who could leave their mark on cinema in the future. 6/10

Yours in Sisterhood

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A collection of readings of unpublished letters sent to the feminist magazine Ms. Magazine read by women all over America. That’s pretty much it, really-exactly how it sounds. Some of them are fascinating and disquieting in how they reflect today. There was a good mix of different intersections of feminism, like race, trans issues, sexuality, etc. That was great. It was good to hear all their insights into the letters too to contextualise them nearly 40 years later. It’s just a tad too long at 100 minutes and the format is deeply, deeply repetitive. This may have worked better as a collection of shorts on YouTube or some platform so the viewer can browse them at their own convenience. Still, cool premise and some fascinating accounts of how things change and how they stay the same. 5/10

Putin’s Witnesses

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Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky was tasked to make a propaganda film for sitting President Vladimir Putin shortly after Boris Yeltzin’s resignation and before his campaign for the presidency. This is intercut with Mansky’s own musings years after the fact and subtle ways Puttin laid the groundwork for his incoming rule which still have ripple effects to this day. I wasn’t really sure what to expect of this movie. It is fascinating to see just how early in a lot of the traits people recognise from Putin’s reign were laid here. It just doesn’t offer that much in terms of insight or critique, it’s just a lot of moments showing the lengths Putin will go to assert his dominance. Bit flat and not as striking as it could have been, it’s still a decent glance into the early days of one of the most important political figures of the early 21st century. 5/10

Same God

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Evangelical professor Dr Larycia Hawkins was fired from her tenured position after making a Facebook post showing solidarity with the Muslim community. This deals with the fallout and the discussion of how much connection should the Christian and Islamic community have, what’s the limits to freedom of speech and what place do evangelicals have in modern day America. This documentary is well made, it captures the precise and important moments in this woman’s story. I found its depiction of evangelicals interesting because it’s a rare one to see in media. It’s a very by-the-numbers in its presentation and nothing you haven’t seen already, but it’s an interesting story and they got me invested in both the plight of this woman and the philosophical discussions in the fallout of her choice. Definitely one to find if this sounds interesting to you. 7/10

Ága

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A quiet and lovingly intimate film about an Inuit couple who live out their days as one of the last pair to stick by their traditions despite their failing health. The cinematography is stunning here, using lush sprawling shots of the snowscape homeland of our leads, really capturing the intimacy and yet vastness of their lives. The dialogue is sparse and intimate, and the pair have an excellent rapport. They just feel like a couple living their lives. It’s a really personal and small scale film that manages to be devastating and powerful. Well worth your time tracking this one down. 8/10

What is Democracy?

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Astra Taylor travels to Plato’s Academy in Athens to get to the understanding of what democracy is. It reflects on Greece’s own recent issues, as well as the rise of far-right populism. There’s a myriad of fascinating perspectives here and it really does justice to what is a fraught and complicated question. Unfortunately, it just never really grasped onto its subject in an engaging way for me. There’s definitely a lot here to ponder, and I appreciated the perspective on the refugee crisis it offered. An interesting and competently made film, if not really soaring for greatness and the tough intrigue that the question of democracy can really offer in contemporary times. 610

Crystal Swan

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An impressive and intelligently made feature debut from Darya Zhuk about the social confusion and ennui of the post-Soviet period of Belarus. Alina Nasibullina plays a young woman living in Belarus in the 90s trying to get a visa to America to pursue her love of house music, but a mishap with immigration services means she has to go to a random house in the middle of nowhere to pretend she’s her own employer to confirm her fake reference. The framing via a letterboxed aspect ratio and quasi-grainy footage really evokes a sense of 90s charm, while still being incredibly well shot. You really get a sense of the lost nature of this generation and hopelessness over what to do next in an honest way without it feeling overtly political. The acting is great-our lead has the makings of a star and absolutely carries the movie. A few problems in the third act kind of brought it down a little for me,  but this film is wonderful and a perfectly competent demonstration of capturing a specific mood and feel of a time period. 8/10

The Dig

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A haunting and emotional Irish debut feature from twins Andy and Ryan Tohill. It stars Moe Dunford as a recovering alcoholic who returns home after being serving time for a murder conviction. He finds that his land has been dug up for the past 15 years by his victim’s father, as nobody knows where she’s buried as her murderer was blackout drunk at the time. As an act of penance, he joins the father in helping him find her body. This is an economically made film with a cast of four, all do a great job. Dunford stands out as the quietly tortured and conflicted ex-con. The location for the bog is perfect, suitably murky yet striking and vast. It’s really well edited, with only a few minor cuts, sound effects and shaky performances taking me out, but nothing to ruin the experience overall. The climax kind of loses me a lot, but I can’t discuss why without spoiling it. This is a moody and effective film about redemption and consequences, really worth your time. 6/10

White Boy Rick

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The true story of Richard Wershe Jr., who got involved in the drug scene in 1980s Detroit after being recruited by the FBI. With an absolutely superb cast featuring Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Dern, Piper Laurie, Bel Powley, Jennifer Jason Leigh and others, it’s hard not to really dig this movie. And while Leigh manages to be the best thing in any movie she’s in no matter who she’s playing, credit needs to go out to newcomer Richie Merritt who holds this role with grace and aplomb. He truly gives humanity and pathos to this part, which is needed as we question exactly how badly this kid was used. It’s got some wonky pacing issues near the middle, but it’s a solid and well told biopic and a really interesting story about a boy who never really could catch a break in life, and got used by nearly everybody around him as a result. Definitely one to scope once it goes on general release. 7/10

In Fabric

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Peter Strickland gave us one of the most probing and terrifying movies of the year; a horror movie about a haunted dress. Only a mind this creative and strange can make a premise that daft so goddamn good. I loved every moment this film took me on-it’s eccentricities and surrealist nature are made all the more compelling by how grounded our leads are. These ordinary people just walked into a Peter Strickland movie and are taken along for the ride. I love how cerebral the colour palette is, I love how the movie has a wicked and really precise sense of humour. I love how it feels like a throwback to classic 60s horror films while being very much its own thing. I love its rather subtle commentary on contemporary life and the hoops we jump through to be seen as fitting in. I just love everything about this film. It’s brash, it’s strange, it’s offensive, it’s so amazingly confident on what it’s doing and just runs with that to amazing places. Catch this when you can. 9/10

No Greater Law

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A close look at the Idaho Followers of Christ church, those who believe strictly in faith healing and ignore all other types of medical intervention, with one of the highest child mortality rates in America. This is definitely an interesting subject, and just why they’re getting away with this. I don’t feel there’s as deep a moral dilemma here as the doc seems to imply there is, but I’m not religious so maybe that could give you a deeper understanding of why they let children die for no reason. It’s definitely fumbling in parts, and tends to meander in some pretty tedious courtroom stuff for a long while. I don’t mind the focus on the attempts to stop this, but the real meat was listening to the churchgoers on why they lived their lives like this. Even the perspective of the mortician who works alongside them, despite their practices affecting her work. An interesting watch with some beautiful cinematography. 5/10

The Changeling

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One of the best ghost movies ever made, where a man (George C. Scott) moves to a new home after the death of his wife and child only to discover it’s haunted. George C. Scott is of course incredible in the lead, and this movie just leans on its simplicity for its effect. It’s a bare bones haunted house mystery that’s intriguing and keeps you wondering how it will unfold. It’s effectively creepy and wonderfully atmospheric. An unsung gem in the eyes of horror-if you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favour and rectify that choice. 9/10

Sorry Angel

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Call Me by Your Name for the naval gazing crowd! And it’s delightful. Christophe Honore’s latest feature looks at a couple in early 90s France (Paris and Brittany, to be precise), one an older respected writer and the other a young student. There’s a realness to how the movie plays out, a lot of the dialogue is incredibly natural-feeling and the character dynamics really give you a sense of the history they share. There’s some great chemistry between nearly all the cast, and the breezy communal style offset the undercurrent of the AIDS epidemic and how truly devastating it has become. It won’t change your life, but for an early afternoon screening I was amused, charmed, emotionally moved and heartbroken. Great use of the soundtrack as well. 7/10

Girl

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An intimate and detailed portrait of a ballet dancer struggling with her attempts to transition. This one brings up a lot of issues facing the trans community that are never really shown on film, in particular that they can feel dysphoria over their genitals. It’s sensitively handled, but also really hard-hitting and gets into this girl’s mindset, anxiety’s and split over her sense of self as she desires to rush through her transition as quickly as possible. You really understand her plight, helped by some excellent use of soft lighting and a powerful performance (the actor playing her is a cis man, which I know may upset some people). Not perfect, but definitely glad I checked it out. 7/10

Sorry to Bother You

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Look, the less you know about this one the better off you are, so just trust me this film is worth your time. A scathing indictment of our gig economy and the continued commodifying of human rights in the workforce. Hilarious, whip smart and unapologetically political, Boots Riley’s debut feature came in like he had been here years with something refreshing and blunt as a tack, absolutely needed in our modern culture. Great cast with Lakeith Stanfeld and Tessa Thompson just stealing your attention whenever they can. A kick ass soundtrack, fantastic camera work and scene transitions and an incredible, uncompromising vision. See this as fast as possible. 9/10

Orphée

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Avant garde master Jean Cocteau gave us a really fascinating, contemporary retelling of a story that stayed with him his entire life; the myth of Orpheus. I love it being told in the style of a classical Hollywood romance with the use of Death and the more surreal elements more background dressing for this Greek tragedy made modern. The effects still hold up, and are stunning in their form. The twist of the figures of death falling in love with the humans is cleverly implemented really adds to the drama. It’s a timeless classic beautifully shot and compellingly told. I’m really glad I get a taste of a master, and I can’t wait to watch more. 9/10

Capernaum

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The closing film of the festival and a contender for the Oscars. We follow a young boy named Zain as he brings his parents to court whilst in a juvenile facility. He tells the story of how he ended up there, including helping out a desperate immigrant woman and her infant son. I feel the story really didn’t need the framing device of the courtroom scenes, we could have followed this story chronologically and it would have been a little more effective. Also, I feel the ending is a big too Hollywood for my tastes. Despite that, I really enjoyed this film, and it really gives a sense of the cutthroat nature of the world our characters inhabit. It perfectly frames the degradation and ugliness of their living situation, with birds-eye views to give a sense of the maze-like quality of the streets. Excellent acting from the young lead (even the toddler is great!), and a haunting, effective score. Great movie to close on. 7/10

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