Editor’s Note: The following dispatch is part of Ronan’s coverage of the 2012 Cork Film Festival
Nothing heightens the spirits quite so much as the first film of one’s festival experience being an amazing one. Oonagh Kearney’s Wonder House was my introduction to the 57th Corona Cork Film Festival, and it could scarcely have started things off any better. Structured loosely around a series of audio interviews with scientists on the topics of imagination and childhood development, it’s a visually daring and dazzling experiment that blends disparate styles with astonishing success. Shot as the journey of a young girl through a castle and its grounds, encountering a multitude of strange characters in each of the many themed rooms, it has something of the tonal eeriness of Jan Švankmajer’s Alice, albeit with wonderment in place of horror. Remarkably odd and oddly remarkable, Wonder House is an undeniably unique experience, an immensely imaginative means of exploring abstract ideas.
Abstract was a word hugely applicable to the next screening: Australian drama Hail. Beginning with the release of Daniel Jones—playing a cinematically skewed version of himself—from prison, it rapidly establishes he and his wife as a couple inextricably in love. It’s deceptively difficult to act as oneself, yet the charmingly bumbling Jones excels in the transformation of his own life to that of this character, as too does real-life girlfriend Leanne Campbell. Debut director Amiel Courtin-Wilson favours an immensely stylised approach, many sequences in the film’s latter half given to total experimentation, several to strikingly effective ends. The looseness of the aesthetic—not to mention its wild jaunts from reservation to mania—cost Hail the total fulfilment of its potential, Courtin-Wilson’s indulgence meshing with the story’s more bloated aspects to leave his film something of a mess, albeit an attractive and intriguing one.
Neither attractive nor intriguing is The Good Man, an Irish production that serves as the first major disappointment of the festival for me. Revolving around an investment banker whose conscience consumes him when a man dies as a result of his self-serving actions, it seems a savvy allegorical take on the state of the nation, yet never once manages to tie its central issues into any wider world context. That’s no great crime in itself, of course; where The Good Man really falters is in its storytelling: this is Phil Harrison’s first feature, and even at a brisk 75 minutes he struggles to maintain our attention. Half the film is given to the exploits of a South African teen, infinitely more interesting than those of his Irish counterpart courtesy of its far superior cinematography. The strands’ inevitable intertwining is, to Harrison’s credit, a smart move, but no amount of smarts could patch over performances quite so restrained, and a story quite so limply told.
Disappointment lingering on the spirit, fears were at a high as Laurence Anyways began. Director Xavier Dolan debuted in 2009 with the exceptional I Killed My Mother, a film he followed one year later with the impressive but occasionally self-indulgent Heartbeats. In my introduction to this festival coverage, I named Dolan a “wunderkind”; perhaps now a better term might be “wundermann”: Laurence Anyways is a work of incredible maturity, a selfless and sophisticated piece of filmmaking, and one of 2012’s most affecting and important movies. Not a wasted second stands among its 160 minute length, every moment used to staggering effect as Dolan constructs a towering romantic epic around his two sublime central performances. A beautiful confluence of difficult drama and cheeky comedy, the film’s exceptional soundtrack and fluid direction make it a sensuous, irresistible experience that resists all prejudice and exposes it as nothing but disgusting, depraved intolerance. I Killed My Mother was a film that promised the LGBT community a new cinematic spokesman in Xavier Dolan. Laurence Anyways is the incredible fulfilment thereof. It’s not just an important film: it’s vital.
Coming up tomorrow: Get the Picture; Bestiaire; Pilgrim Hill; Reality.