Editor’s Note: The following dispatch is part of our coverage of the Cork Film Festival. For more information on the festival visit corkfilmfest.org or follow the Cork Film Festival on Twitter at @CorkFilmFest.
The decidedly Irish opening to the 58th Cork Film Festival—the island nation’s oldest such cultural event—came not courtesy of the film chosen to kick things off, but rather from the impromptu stand-up set delivered by the lead actor of that choice’s supporting short. Gloriously adorned in an all-white suit, the elderly Sil Fox alleviated the tedium of typical opening oration with his unexpected energy. Funnier still, and here’s where it all gets so Irish, was the contrast between his jovial jostling and the gritty gravity of the film itself. Mechanic draws on Irish cinema’s rich tradition of black comedy, touching on issues the like of suicide and mental decline with an unlikely wit that makes all the more effective its thematic exploration. Debut writer/director Tomas O’Suilleabhain concocts a simple comic contrivance through which to deliver his heavy pathos payload, his drama cloaked in a series of amusing absurdities. However simplistic his approach, however occasionally strained his comedy, he has found in Fox and Paul Roe faces that tread this line with aplomb.
“Serendipitous” was how O’Suilleabhain described his opening night appearance, calling it nought but fortune that should see his movie share its subject with the opening night selection. To Nebraska, then, to start things officially; Alexander Payne’s first film from a screenplay not bearing his name is a welcome return to form after the heavy-handed humdrum of The Descendants. Bruce Dern’s perpetually dishevelled central performance as a man on the mental decline who sets off to the eponymous state to collect a million dollar sweepstakes prize is an affecting anchor to proceedings, if one a little too often consigned to the same old hard-of-hearing gag. Such cyclical comedy is the movie’s great failing, in fact, Bob Nelson’s otherwise adept script falling back frequently on the same frustrations. Still, where his humour tends to sag, his sense of character remains strong: if there’s one thing Payne gets, it’s the road movie, and Nebraska effectively explores homosocial relationships and an America in stasis with his monochrome meditation on the genre’s tropes. More quiet and contained than the director’s earlier, angrier efforts, his latest may not represent a quantum leap forward, but its melancholy musings hit the mark nonetheless.
Would that the festival might have continued on such firm footing; Monday began badly—badly as can be—with a film even the foremost fan of slow cinema would struggle to defend. India Blues, a Berlin-set romance in eight non-linear movements, has set the bar for the festival’s worst film very high indeed. Its most obvious antecedent is Taxi zum Klo, though to so much as mention that movie in the same sentence is to do India Blues a favour it just doesn’t deserve; where the earlier film’s frank depiction of gay life and sex was a taboo-busting declaration of cinematic equality, George Markakis’ egregious effort is little more than prick-teasing pornography, with its bad acting, bare plot, and sex scenes spread thin across an hour and a half. Oft-illegible onscreen text was just one consequence of the unacceptably poor digital cinematography, which saw the big screen bathed in imagery as wanting in focus as the non-story itself. It’s a character piece without characters, a romance without emotion: a film without function.
How better to cleanse the mind of so lacking a study of sexuality, though, than to next turn to The Man Who Fell to Earth, part of a five film mini-retrospective of director Nicolas Roeg running in Cork this year. Focused firmly on the filmmaker’s first decade in action, the series spotlights his distinct aesthetic and erratic editorial style, present in spades in this 1976 effort. Brilliantly utilising the star persona of a then coked-up David Bowie, Roeg casts the otherworldly musician as an alien masquerading on earth as human. Typically strange, almost surreal, Roeg’s bizarre narrative features nude scenes and non sequitir aplenty, throwing transgressive content at the screen—homosexual and interracial relationships are prominent, all the more so for their casualness—to see what sticks. An incredible amount does: The Man Who Fell to Earth is a magnificent movie, wild and weird and wonderfully astute, far more thematically concise than its seemingly scattershot story might suggest.
Less madcap, though not by much, is The Punk Syndrome, Jukka Kärkkäinen and Jani-Petteri Passi’s documentary centred on Pertti Kurikan Nimipäivät, a punk act comprised of members with mental disabilities. Perhaps the best film of its type this side of Anvil! The Story of Anvil, it’s above all a testament to the profound power of this music to offer escape to its players. There’s an incredible scene, at once funny and frightening, where the band’s singer screams on-the-spot lyrics with all his might, his face reddening as his art allows him a vent for the frustrations of life. And what wonderful lyrics they are; free-styled or not, the songs we hear in The Punk Syndrome are marvellously frank and unyieldingly honest, speaking to everything from the difficulties of dealing with disability to the simple pleasure of a birthday party. Kärkkäinen and Passi adopt a fly-on-the-wall approach, capturing candid moments with an immediacy that adds to the action immeasurably. This is a magnificent movie, everything a rockumentary should be.
Up next: Halley; Bad Timing; Vic + Flo Saw a Bear; XL; Dark Touch.