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.
God? Love? That’s the brilliant binary distinction made by the trailed-off title of In the Name of…, a film that singularly fails to work even half as well as its ellipsis suggests. Centred on a Polish priest whose sexuality puts him at odds with that which he preaches, it’s an interesting concept underused by a movie that’s restrained to the point of redundancy. Director Malgorzata Szumowska, whose Elles was unfairly dismissed on theatrical release last year, does well in using Andrzej Chyra’s wayward glances to communicate his internalised anguish, but at a certain point low-key turns to no-key, and the film’s left more than a little wanting for purpose. Still, if not quite the complex drama its subject calls for, In the Name of…’s an oft-admirable and emotional character study, courtesy chiefly of Chyra’s able work. Szumowska’s slight aversion to ever ending things leaves a bitter aftertaste; this many endings would put The Return of the King to shame.
Understatement again to start things on Sunday, the fest’s final outing, with Québécois drama Sarah Prefers to Run. Observing the eponymous athlete as she uproots to Montreal on a sporting scholarship, it’s a deliberate debut from Chloé Robichaud, whose framing and colour palette are every bit as meticulous as her protagonist’s running regime. The drama derives from a premise we might instead expect to find in a rom-com, with Sarah’s sweet roommate suggesting they maybe marry for the financial aid it offers. The plot, like Sarah, continues along its course thereafter, though it’s less story that interests Robichaud than the opportunity to explore the idea of obsession: contrasting her heroine’s singular goal to reduce her PB with her husband’s growing attractions, the director’s designs a domestic drama that’s simple almost to a flaw. For as fine as the performances of Sophie Desmarais and Jean-Sébastien Courchesne may be, their relationship offers as little to take away for us as it does for them.
Low-key’s never been a phrase associated with Xavier Dolan, yet even he seemed to have fallen prey to the pervasive wave of restraint rippling through Cork. Tom at the Farm is his fourth film, and a far cry from the kind of abundantly emotional displays he’s demonstrated in the past. This is a terse three-hander for the bulk of its running time, seeing Dolan himself play the eponymous mourner at his boyfriend’s funeral who’s shocked to discover his late lover was closeted. Pierre Yves-Cardinal is menacingly mercurial as the would-be brother-in-law who forbids Tom from telling his mother of the relationship, kicking off a claustrophobic chain of events that’s as tense as it is terrifying. Serving above all to show the perilous consequences of allowing intolerance to prevail, Tom at the Farm has Dolan demonstrating the dangers of self-repression by stylistically doing the same, a smart move that manifests itself in maybe his best work yet, on all fronts. Full review here.
“I knew it had to be the final film, and I knew it had to be here,” said festival feature programmer Don O’Mahony of A Spell to Ward Off the Darkness, which screened in Triskel Christchurch, the deconsecrated church turned cinema that offers the only official home to Cork’s art house film scene. It was an appropriate venue indeed: distinctly divided into three key phases, experimental short directors Ben Russell and Ben Rivers’ collaborative feature is a strangely spiritual piece, contrasting the ideas of community and individuality as it follows a man desperately in pursuit of the self. Ideologically interesting overall, its overwrought thirds tend to drift like the fishing boat that provides a setting to the second, lingering on long after the point is made. The result is a film that’s frustrating for its successes, never quite congealing as its acts each overrun and thus leaving its many aesthetic successes lost amidst an excess of filler. Still, with the people both on the screen and off it all searching through the darkness for something to make them appreciate themselves a little more, perhaps this was indeed an ending apt for the film festival this has been.