Same as before! Check out the Shorts post here.
A woman becomes infatuated with her neighbour’s daughter after convincing herself she is the reincarnation of the girl she had lost many years ago. Andrea Risenborough does a fantastic job exuding the pain and longing this character has to face and the myriad emotions the story takes her on, and her back must also be so sore from carrying this thing. I don’t think it’s particularly well shot-it fell flat a lot for me and I really hate how certain plot points are sparsed out, it’s never clear how information is meant to be communicated to the audience. This would have been passable, but that ending….oh fucking hell. Really poor start to the festival.
This film looks at various perspectives of real life interviews and animated segments to recreate the moment of the Bataclan shooting in Paris. While it can get a little muddled in terms of who or what we’re focusing on, it’s a fascinating and cleverly constructed way to get you into this headspace and be put in that moment in time with the survivors. It’s well animated and done in a way that doesn’t take too much focus from the heart of it, which is reliving a nightmare of being an ordinary citizen smack in the middle of an attack.
Meat the Future
I think one of the strengths of a critic is to look outside of your own subjective standards and prioritise an issue bigger than you that’s being tackled in a film, this is especially prevalent in documentary. Man was it put to the test for me here, looking at a process that will create an artificial meat product that tracks it’s progress from lab testing to getting investment. This is so important for the future of food production and environmental conservation, but the presentation for me is so freaking dull, and while these people seem perfectly lovely their stories were just not interesting enough for me to invest in. So yeah, this is important, I’d check it out for that. I still don’t have to like it.
Faith and Branko
This documentary looks through various years of the lives of travelling musicians who fall in love and try to build something together despite the struggles. Again, I found some issues with focus and intent, and this comes with the territory of attempting to craft a narrative with something a myriad and everchanging as several years of a life. Human beings don’t fit conventional narrative form. With that said I really enjoyed this. The exploration of cross-cultural standards and how this shaped these two was really strong, and they’re both endearing and likeable enough to keep your attention, especially when the story does not take an easy path. Solid slice-of-life doc and a credit to all involved.
Sometimes I Dream in Farsi
Iranian-American comedian Pirooz Kalayeh explores the concept of microaggressions as a traumatic experience of a haircut when he was a child resurfaces during the heights of tension following Trump’s election. This puts him in conflict with a friend and even his own father in an excellently thought out and quite challenging documentary. I appreciate the attempts to delve into complex issues really sincerely, and even allow Kalayeh to admit fault in his exploration. While it sometimes stumbles on its ambition and could use a bit of polish, it’s a fascinating and probing doc that allows itself to be highly emotive as it needs to be challenging the ever growing facets of race in America.
At the End of Evin
An Iranian trans woman meets a wealthy benefactor in Tehran to try to secure funding for gender reassignment surgery. Where it goes here is an absolute mad dash into further and further paranoid frenzy, both anxiety inducing and reflexively terrifying. The entire film is told from our leads point of view as she’s deceived and led down a path only fuelled by her desperate desire to find acceptance within herself. A great metaphor for how the vulnerable are consistently exploited and have said vulnerabilities held like a cast iron to their throat, one of the best thrillers I’ve seen this year.
A Brixton Tale
An aspiring filmmaker falls for a working class youngman as she follows him and his friend as the subject for a film. I feel this threads on a lot of grounds covered by other films about class divides and racial disparities and profiling in the UK, and there are some story choices by the end that just put me off, but the cast are solid and it’s got a decent pace going here as we follow this couple and how their different worlds and divides come up in really personal and ugly ways. Not the most standout in this kind of niche, but enjoyable and well presented.
Looking at the life of a mother and daughter pair as they attempt to grift their way into the lap of luxury in the midst of disparate economic times in Spain. This is another case of recognising the talent on display even if it doesn’t really personally do much for me. I think the actors do a great job and the film feels distinctively its own thing while having the airs of the French New Wave, but I don’t feel the commentary is that well interlaced, a lot of the segments and episodic moments just didn’t do a lot for me. It’s got a great ending, and certainly one I’d recommend, but it left me feeling cold even if I can admire it.
Death of a Ladies’ Man
Gabriel Byrne plays a womanising professor who, after the end of his second marriage and having a tumour causing him to mass hallucinate to Leonard Cohen songs, decides to reconnect with his Irish roots and falls in love there. This movie is confused in the most baffling way possible. The hallucination fantasies never fit in naturally, his relationship with his first wife and children is awkwardly handled and not well explored, he has a hackneyed rapport with his father who appears to him in visions. All of this is just kind of boring, but there’s a twist about 2/3rds of the way through and afterwards we’re in complete insanity town. Intensely poorly handled and just a fascinating trainwreck.
Girls | Museum
Oh I get it! It’s cause they’re girls, an they’re at a museum! This review just writes itself. A deconstruction of women’s place in the art world, and thus culture and history, told through the perspectives of teenage girls walking around the Museum der bildenden Künste Leipzig. I like the point its gets across and using the perspective of the next generation is a fantastic way to illustrate it, I just find the pacing lagging and it just drags for me by the end. Worth checking out, and it’s great to get these kids’ insights into a history that forms them.
Segredos do Putumayo (Secrets from Putumayo)
The fascinating and tumultuous life of one Roger Casement, a British Consul General from Ireland who went to expose the human rights abuses at one of old Blighty’s plantations using the indigenous people of a community in Rio de Janeiro to mine rubber. It’s an excellent historical artefact, using his diary to shape the story and, despite it being an exposure of colonialist abuses from the British Empire, how he was celebrated by the Crown here compared to how he’s treated for his later actions paints a fine contrast. It’s a great film, well thought out in showing the continued impacts of this legacy of colonialism and the continued solidarity between Britian’s conquered, be they from a better (white) situation than another.
Best Summer Ever
This movie gets a lot of favour for me for its “disability-blind”, as it were, casting. No mention or lampshade is given to anyone with a disability here; they’re treated just like any other kid and it’s great and encouraging. The film itself is ropey, the acting isn’t great and most of the songs are not amazing, but it’s sweet and earnest and I really like the two leads, they have amazing chemistry (the female lead has some pipes too-damn!). I love the push for inclusivity it has, and it’s done in a way that makes the entire thing feel utterly normal as it should be, and it’s an easy enough watch to get absorbed into. I may not have been swept up by its earnest charms and good nature, but I could imagine you may.
Eyimofe (This is My Desire)
What a fascinating and devastating look at Nigerian immigration culture and class divide as two people wanting to live abroad have their plans derailed due to family struggles. It’s great to see how complex and interwoven both characters’ lives are with the wealth brought into the country and how it’s handled and distributed, and shows confidence in the first time feature directing brothers Arie and Chuko Esiri. They have an intelligent eye for the myriad sociopolitical culture of Lagos as well as telling compelling and engaging drama with two diametrically opposed not-emigrating storylines that doesn’t feel too bogged down or that either is not given the deserved time to breathe. Excellent and exciting filmmaking.
The Queen v Patrick O’Donnell
Another great documentary on an Irish historical figure, this one told in more in a true crime kind of style to get across the sensational feel the case was at the time. They sang folk ballads of Patrick O’Donnell, murderer of an IRB informant, which was essentially like creating a TikTok edit nowadays. The performed bits can be a little ropey, but they’re better acted than most and don’t entirely detract from the overall quality. Just a solid, fascinating tale of a man who may or may not have murdered in cold blood and an entire nation on his side because of good PR and the burning-over tension between the Irish and British around this era.
Abso-fucking-lutely killer doc about lesbian punk groups that formulated and thrived in London during the 80s with the various challenges and culture that permeated. It’s a straight(hah)forward talking heads set up, but the stories are so fascinating and layered, they really give you the sense of what it was like to be there and what these women had to go through to live freely. There’s also the internal politics of these groups that is painfully relatable and I loved how the shifting tides affected the burlesque houses-it really shows how things can change on a dime in terms of what cultural trends will allow you to get away with. Excellently thought out with some fun animations too, highly enjoyable and an undersung story that needs to be told.
Bicycle Thieves: Pumped Up
A volatile young woman trying to make ends meet delivering pizza is pushed to her wits end after her precious bike gets stolen during a delivery. This is a very first-time feature, and sadly it suffers from having a lot of ideas and gags but not enough clear vision and focus. And there’s some great stuff here-I largely agree with the disaffected frustration in terms of Ireland’s housing market and predatory landlord culture-but it’s got allusions to, well, Bicycle Thieves, has really random segues that never quite fit, a quasi-mystical element it’s trying to play off with blasé humour and I’m pretty sure an important character is just dropped midway through. A lot of what holds it together is Roxanna Nic Liam, who has buckets of charisma and is such an engaging and likeable lead even with how insufferable Mags can be. Not an amazing effort, but enjoyable in its own way.
Another dud horror film for me, sadly. This one is taking the crazy hillbilly subgenre, but transferring it to Ireland instead. And that’s about it-the plot is pretty straightforward abduction fare. The pacing and direction are pretty flaccid to me and I do not gel with this cast at all. They’re clearly trying to make the really manic, tetchy lad a standout character, and I just never find him anything other than annoying and he never shuts up. There’s not much that held my attention, and while there’s little here that’s objectionably awful or anything, its cardinal sin of being boring is really what killed my engagement here.
A Palestinian student’s work on a social farm in Ireland causes her to reflect on the lack of disability support at home, combined with COVID hitting around this time causing this all to coalesce. I felt this documentary offered a valuable, personable insight into a more day-to-day experience of Palestine, however it was let down by its lack of focus or cohesion in the ideas it wants to get across. Certainly an insight well worth examining as the focus on the Israel/Palestine conflict very rarely takes disability concerns into consideration, I just felt it didn’t leave to a wholly complete picture here.
P.S. Burn this Letter, Please
A wonderful and achingly personal look into the drag and crossdressing scene in the US during the mid-20th century via a series of letters as well as testimonials from those still alive to tell the tale. It celebrates the sense of community and love present in these scenes without ignoring the reality of growing up gay or gender nonconforming in these times. The letters are presented in a warm and inviting way and it’s great to see a lot of those who experienced it look back fondly and proudly of who they are and how they guided the future queer community in the United States.
Áine Tyrrell-Irish Troubadour
This is a really nice look into travelling musician Áine Tyrrell as she travels to Brisbane with her family and we reflect on her escape from domestic abuse. A lot of the music is a lot of fun with different genres and styles intermixing, and it’s personal and reflective on Áine’s struggles without it being too much to handle for audiences. It doesn’t really hit too many highs as it’s more a personal piece on this life and what drives it, but sometimes that’s enough and it’s worth catching if you’re into folk music.
Two sisters are trained by their mother for survival in a wilderness, but begin to suspect their mother is not being entirely upfront with them. In terms of survivalist fiction this kind of doesn’t go in any direction I couldn’t have called myself while watching it play out. Having said that, it’s pretty strong, with some absolutely pungent atmosphere and incredible performances, shoutout to Lola Petticrew in particular as they are becoming one of my favourite up-and-coming Irish actors. It may not do much for you if you read the premise and are looking for something new out of this kind of subgenre, but it’s strongly made and develops the three-way relationship effectively making it worth checking out.
I really enjoyed this-a story of two women living together on a reservation after one of their sister’s got paralysed after a horse fall, while she herself is considering getting back into racing. The meandering and day-to-day pace can get a little tiring by the end of this-it does feel like a lot of these years-long stories that they’re discovering the film while shooting and don’t cobble it together too effectively once they lock it. However, there’s great moments of intimacy and conflict as the two women’s age gap and different upbringings come into conflict challenging the strength of their bond. Well told and effectively emotional.
So a lot of this film going in has a slight expectation of knowing Russian myths to get into the story. However it really doesn’t detract from my own watching, and honestly helped how disorienting and terrifying this is. Holy shit some good fucking horror! This is great slow burn stuff that keeps you guessing where the next turn will take you, told with such gritty moodiness that never lets up and you honestly grow to care about this family, as miserable and selfish as they can come across. Effective folk horror that takes an entirely distinctive direction and effectively absorbs you in their terror and fraught circumstances.
Effectively moody and stirring Irish-language drama about a sheltered man forced into reality after losing both his parents and inheriting a large amount of land. It does a pretty decent job of characterising someone very cut off and isolated from social interactions and norms, especially through the excellent performance from Dónal Ó Héalai. I feel the story kind of loses me near the end where it doesn’t entirely live up to the momentum it’s built, but it’s an effective and challenging character piece and I hope more people get a taste of what film can sound and feel like with our tongue.
The only benefit on it taking me forever to write this list is that I got to check this one out on general release, and I fucking loved it! An intelligently constructed and effectively messed up exploration of the videonasties craze of the 80s, framed through a woman’s frantic search for her sister who’s been missing since they were children. The period setting is appropriate and suitably sparse for when the more “nasty” angle with the video sneaks in. There’s some really clever playing with the aspect ratio and quality of the tech to really absorb you in this experience. It’s a great social commentary on the effects of violence in media that has no real easy answers and manages to be a celebration of a long-affronted style of films as well as examining them more thoughtfully than you may expect, a wonderful flick.
Effective piece on how COVID hit this quiet Laois town most people would overlook. Things in this discussion become so fraught with solutions and pushback that we never consider the communal consequences such an event will have on these areas. I don’t think it achieves to be much more than this and this may have you switch off in disinterest, but it’s charming, you get a lot of personality from the locals and really feel the sense of love and affection this town has for one another. Really happy I checked it out.
Kímmapiiyipitssini: The Meaning of Empathy
This documentary focuses on drug rehabilitation programmes within a First Nations community in Alberta. The quiet intimacy of following a handful of workers and addicts gets across the human toll of this disease, as well as the absolute uphill struggles it can be to get these people treatment and stability. I found it to be way too dragged out for my own taste-the pacing is ragged and I just wasn’t as invested in the stories overall even if everyone involved had my sympathies and respect. It’s a by-the-numbers social justice doc, but the quiet strength and, well, empathy it depicts will keep you invested and wondering what you can do to help these or similar situations.
Ryan McMullan: Debut
Ryan McMullan is an up-and-coming singer-songwriter who has accumulated a decent following and toured with the likes of Ed Sheeran and Snow Patrol. He’s undoubtedly talented, and seems fairly likeable and grounded but this feels like a bloated promo reel instead of a doc. There’s some interesting stuff to gleam from the production process, but most of it is signal boosting how awesome this lad is, and while I’m not denying that it just kind of makes it feel like I’m being pitched his unfortunately long delayed debut album than being told a story. Hope he does well, he clearly has a following, his rags to riches story ain’t for me.
The Club of Angels (O Clube dos Anjos)
A group of friends bonded through a love of food have their decades-long monthly food meetings shaken up by an amazing new chef they find. However, as members of the club start dying they begin to question their next move. This is a really funny and excellently presented dark comedy about the weak ties that bind us and how much we expense for our passions. The group themselves all have distinctive quirks and characteristics, I love how they play this so obviously and it’s all offset with a bouncy and theatrical presentation getting across the stagey overt-politeness and desire to see things through. Painful food metaphor that everyone uses in their reviews.
The Story of Looking
Documentarian Mark Cousins ruminates on a quote from Ray Charles as he considers the singular yet combined experience of vision and what it means as he awaits eye surgery. This burning passion of the psychological and biological marriage that gives the visual tapestry of the world meaning is so wonderfully explored as it taps into a real fear of those with their sight. His exploration of these patterns and meanings in the digital age with COVID forcing us to sit and ponder has really brought this to the forefront, managing to be an excellent visual poem, treatise on visual processes and their meaning and a personal story of what it may mean if this sight ceases to be. Incredible documentary, a film about why film and all its components matter.
Madly in Life (Une Vie Demente)
Alex and Noémie’s lives are completely unravelled as Alex’ mother suffers from a progressive form of dementia and slowly losing her cognitive functions. There’s definitely a certain weight and sensitivity brought to the forefront here, it’s well acted and has a sense of comedy to the proceedings so it’s not completely miserable, but this didn’t really do a lot for me. It takes a lot for me to get really invested in stories about mental illness and invalid people that focuses on the carers, and the cast is just not fleshed out or likeable enough for me to really get involved here. They do this static three-pronged shot for me which just got annoying. I think this was one I just didn’t gel with, as it’s getting a lot of good press, so judge it for yourself I guess.
Who We Love
An Irish film about a teenage girl realising her own sexuality and coming to terms with being out and what her life will look like moving forward. There are some good bits here, mostly the cast wo are mostly likeable. But there’s a bit too much going on which leads to a languid focus and there’s just not enough spark and momentum to keep my investment. It’s not that compellingly shot and has few pacing issues, it didn’t really make it clear where sympathies should lie in certain moments. I admire having more LGBTQ+ focused features in Ireland, and this was definitely not for my own age bracket, I just didn’t go for it at all.
I Don’t Wanna Dance
Really compelling and disquieting family drama based on a true story about an aspiring dancer and his brother after they move back in with their drug-addicted mother after she appears to be on the mend. It really puts you on a knife’s edge and captures the flagrant unpredictability of living with addiction, especially for children. The character work is solid and there’s a demure and neutral tone here which really shines when shit tends to go south in the narrative. Solid and from the heart recounting of a life experience, all the more real feeling by it being a personal recount.
Drone Bone Jetty
More of a theatrical/filmic hybrid than a straight up feature, and honestly it didn’t do a lot for me. It’s a bit too airy-fairy for my taste: not solid in it presentation or thematic hooks to really guide me as an experience, and I found the more theatrical elements distracting than enhancing. I can say they made whatever it is they wanted to, and it’s possible if I saw this staged rather than entirely filmed my experience may have been enhanced. As it stands it just kinda washed over me, not really my vibe sorry.
Ride the Wave
An 11-year old Scottish boy competes in surfing competitions with kids three years his senior and sets his eye on a pretty powerful wave indeed. Like a lot of these foot-on-the-ground docs that follows their subjects for years the narrative can be kind of wandering (or wavey hah), but it’s made up here by just how likeable and involved the family is, especially the father juggling between being a parent and a coach. There’s some nice surfing montages, though couldn’t get too close for obvious reasons they’re still fun to watch, it’s got a cool easy tone while still building up the tension for the master wave. Fun watch, worth tracking down if you can.
Fun hardboiled detective-style thriller set on a remote island off the coast of Ireland (and another Gaeltacht at that!) with an intriguing mystery and a fantastic lead in veteran Irish actress Brid Brennan. Having this unassuming old Irish woman be the retired veteran cop on the case is a stroke of genius, really gives the film a distinct tone and I’d honestly take a series of this woman solving mysteries in Irish-speaking locales (sadly, not a lot of those left). It’s a bit TV movie feeling in places, but the plot goes at a brisk pace and the isolation of the island really helps set the stakes dramatically. It loses me near the end, but still a really fun thriller worth checking out.
The first Death of Joana (A Primeira Morte De Joana)
When a young girl’s aunt dies without ever marrying, she and her friend speculate and investigate why this may have been the case. This is an absolutely spellbinding coming-of-age drama using the contemporising of Brazil to explore gender and sexual equality, conservative values and being one with a community who may never accept you. The characters are so goddamn loveable, it has this gentle yet uneasy tone as we discover with our lead-lush landscapes and getting the absolute most in terms of visuals of this stark, seaside town. Quietly revelatory yet echoing in tone and intent, one of the best queer stories of the year.
This is an extremely difficult watch as we focus on the Mother and Baby Home survivors, in particular activist Anne Silke. It’s a harrowing watch but cleverly put together that really focuses on the State’s complete and utter complicity and profiting off the broken homes and subjugated nightmare that women went through in this country in living memory. There are some really messed up things revealed here-some of which will change the faces of well known public figures-but the grit and determination displayed here is inspiring, and it’s a strong and defiant note to end the fest on.