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.
What a queasy start to the day was Halley, Sebastián Hoffman’s starkly realist body horror that observes the deathly decay of a living man with morbid curiosity. He, played with indescribable sadness by Alberto Trujillo, is in essence a zombie, a label the film takes care to avoid (though a soundtrack listing lets it slip). Offering an interesting counterpoint to the equally excellent Harold’s Going Stiff, Hoffman’s film is resplendently dark in both its imagery and its approach; though not without its share of jet-black comedy, Halley stares death and disease direct in the face, using its character conceit as a means to engage with the unavoidable truth of life. Squirmish shots of wounds, oft-populated with various larvae, are grim and gruesome in the extreme, visualising our inevitable creep toward demise with disgusting deft. Hoffman here has horror held to the peak of its possibilities, invigorating one of the genre’s most outmoded monsters with tremendous emotional weight and impressive existential breath. It’s extraordinary. Full review here.
The Nic Roeg retrospective continued next with Bad Timing, which transpired to be an apt title indeed: released in 1980, a few months too late to take advantage of Hollywood’s habit for indulging auteurist efforts, it fell prey to the same backlash as the likes of Heaven’s Gate and Cruising. Here’s where the benefit of retrospect makes itself most clear, allowing us to enjoy the film free from its clouded context. Again displaying his deftness in creative casting, Roeg centres the movie on Art Garfunkel, whose dour psychology professor is an appropriate cipher for the psychosexual musings that constitute Yale Udoff’s unsettling story. As ever, Roeg’s editorial style is elliptical and alarming, smashing scenes together to immensely disorienting effect; indeed, such is the disorientation here that it almost seems too much, blending past and present to excessive extents. It’s nought but a stunning sleight of hand, however: Roeg’s revisionary last act is a gut-punch powerhouse, sure to leave no jaw unfloored.
The first of two Québécois directors to play Cork for the second consecutive year in 2013, Denis Côté returns to the festival with Vic + Flo Saw a Bear. It says less about the new movie’s content than its predecessor Bestiaire that this one is positively commercial by contrast. And yet there’s more in common between the two than might meet the eye on first sight: the earlier movie was a dialogue-free documentary simply observing animals as they room about their zoo home, letting them speak for themselves; the new one, albeit a narrative feature, does much the same for humans. Ex-con lovers living deep in the countryside, the eponymous women play host to Côté’s slow-burn drama, which unassumingly amounts to an alarming study of the extent of human cruelty, and with it our capacity for kindness. Deliberately denying his audience details, the director both strengthens and weakens the film: much as his approach may essentialise emotion, it’s disarming to a point of dispassion. With their story so reduced to scenic ciphers, Vic and Flo can’t help but feel the same themselves.
Then to Iceland by way of XL, Marteinn Thorsson’s woozy, boozy portrait of a despicable politician as rapidly en route to the top as he is to rock bottom. Ólafur Darri Ólafsson gives an immense performance as the lumbering lout, a clear indictment of the country’s gluttonous government who’s every bit as repulsive as Thorsson, in tow for a post-screening Q&A, perceives the political system. That he’s additionally established as an antihero, then, is a mysterious move on the writer/director’s part. Afforded ample amusing antics, Ólafsson has a blast with the role, rendering his character less offensive than he is oddly enjoyable. The result is a movie that’s torn between two tendencies, drawn to both caustic cultural critique and amped-up entertainment, and all but intolerable for it. An alcoholic himself, Thorsson plays with POV to interesting effect, though there’s only so much shifting focus the eye can take before the irritation far outweighs the intrigue. Ditto the film as a whole.
Eight features in and not an Irish effort seen; it was about time next to turn to home-grown talent in the form of Marina de Van’s Dark Touch, a haunted house horror with a heck of a twist. But first a short to support: Sunday Morning, starring the ten year old Rebecca Carroll as a lonely little girl wandering her luxurious home and awaiting her parents’ awakening. Crisp shots keep at least visually interesting a movie that’s eons too long, stretching some five minutes of story to five times that length. Self-imposing the challenge of a film near-devoid of dialogue, writer/director Brian O’Toole captures his character in her desperate efforts to pass the time and primarily just passes that tedium on to the audience. Wisps of worthwhile depth eventually emerge, albeit in a typical case of too little too late; indeed, it fast becomes a case of too much too late as O’Toole adds another layer altogether in a last-minute move that’s more reductive than revealing. More’s the pity.
That short, also Irish, perhaps provided an insight into why native talent’s so far so scarce this year: there just isn’t much of it to go around. If Dark Touch is as good as we can do, we’re in trouble indeed. Opening with the typical tropes of haunted house horror, it makes moves through almost every subgenre imaginable—torture porn to boot—as it plods on, as though de Van is changing her mind throughout. Her film is a phenomenal—and by consequence quite funny—mess, falling over itself at every turn to a new mode of address. Here The Amityville Horror, there Carrie, briefly and bizarrely Matilda, back to Carrie, and then a last-minute lapse into Children of the Corn: Dark Touch isn’t just derivative, it’s dependant, grabbing others’ ideas and failing to understand a single one. It’s most egregious misunderstanding, though, is of itself: its finale is fundamentally foolish, dropping the one modicum of meaning everything up to then managed to create.
Up next: Kid; Computer Chess; Eureka; ¡Vivan las Antipodas!; All is Lost.