Editor’s Note: The following review 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.
There’s irony to spare in the title of Nothing Bad Can Happen, Katrin Gebbe’s difficult debut drama that made for a third consecutive morning of tough starts in Cork. Taking the same cue, if not perhaps to the same length, as Ulrich Seidl, Gebbe derives her tripartite structure from the Corinthians quote asking abidance of faith, hope, and love. There seems little of the latter two in this tale: centred on a young member of a Christian group in Hamburg as he becomes increasingly involved with an initially affable but deeply troubled family, it’s a film that inflicts the same torture on the audience as it does its protagonist. Gebbe’s assured aesthetic control is impressive, earning winces aplenty as things get yet nastier for the ever-unwavering main character. But gruesome shouldn’t be seen as synonymous for great, and the disturbing nature of the later scenes is more the consequence of shock value than of any particular thematic impetus. Plenty bad can happen, we soon learn, and often to no real end.
Packaged with specially-shot interviews captured with the director in his London home, Walkabout next capped the fest’s mini-retrospective for Nic Roeg. His first feature as solo director—the phenomenal Performance was made with Donald Cammell—the Australian-set film benefits hugely from its helmer’s history as a staggering cinematographer of sun and sand. Employing the elliptical and associative editorial techniques that have become synonymous with his cinema, Roeg constructs a captivating film that’s at once the story of stranded white children surviving with the genial aid of a native guide and an ingeniously arranged indictment of colonisation and the culling of an entire culture. Pulling pitch-perfect performances from his child actors, including son Luke, Roeg uses the inherent innocence of youth to exacerbate the inauspicious origins of modern Australia. It’s appropriate that this should be the sole film in the series presented out of chronological order; as the peak of Roeg’s directorial achievement, Walkabout is as good an end to this overview of his career as there could be.
The grisly demise that threatens throughout to befall the characters of Walkabout is precisely that which opens Who Is Dayani Cristal?, Marc Silver’s documentary chronicling his and producer/narrator Gael Garcia Bernal’s efforts to uncover the identity of a decomposing body found in the Sonoran Desert in Arizona. It’s an affecting piece, if perhaps an unfocused one: Silver finds no shortage of human drama in the story of this tragic death, but his film affords little attention to the multifarious dimensions of legal complexity at hand. To simply say that the immigration situation in America is inhumane, alas, just isn’t enough, and Silver’s refusal to engage with the realities of the situation see his film fall far short of the relevance it might, and should, have attained. Still, it’s an often excellently shot film, made all the more engaging by Bernal’s reconstruction of the anonymous subject’s journey across Central America.
Another supporting short next in the form of Ewan Stewart’s delightfully deadpan Getting On, which sees a typical day in the life of a wife and mother to adult children shaken up with the arrival of a surprise visitor. Crisp monochrome visuals anchor a smart style focused on everyday actions, the connective tissue of which is Louise Goodall’s voiceover, delivered via her alluring Glaswegian lilt. The quiet sense of comedy, played out within the social realist framework of this working class narrative, makes all the more absurdly amusing the eventual arrival. But it’s more than a mere gag that Stewart and brother Liam, on whose short story the film is based, have up their sleeve here: simple as it may be, Getting On’s gentle little joke makes impressively attuned its central character study, which—despite the specificity of its setting—should be one familiar to us all.
Universality in the face of a specific setting: there, perhaps, is the curatorial thinking behind showing that short ahead of Night Train to Lisbon, the title setting of which doesn’t preclude the film’s internationality. Starring Jeremy Irons as a Swiss-based professor seduced by the prose of a Portuguese revolutionary he happens to come across, it follows his impromptu journey to discover the hidden history of this man and the friends of whom he writes. A supporting cast as sprawling as the eventual trip across Europe includes such names as Jack Huston, Christopher Lee, Bruno Ganz, and Charlotte Rampling, each of whom is equally underused in a stuffily-structured fiction of flashbacks. Bille August’s direction is as flat as the story itself, doing little to embellish an exceedingly ordinary movie with any visual excitement. What a terrible waste of terrific talent this is: Night Train to Lisbon is a terribly tepid affair, a film without even an iota of the energy embodied by the revolution at its heart.
Up next: In the Name of…; Sarah Prefers to Run; Tom at the Farm; A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness.