It seems apt to introduce a festival which predicates itself on an independent vision with a movie like Europe in 8 Bits, Javier Polo’s enjoyably energetic documentary on the emergence of “chip music”, an eccentric electronic style born of the 8-bit sound systems of yesteryear’s gaming apparatus. There’s a clear curatorial bent to opening this second edition of Ireland’s newest film festival on a wide-smiling toast to the embrace of eclectic community; if the movie’s buoyant mood is anything to go by, there’s a heck of a week ahead of us. Opening on a jubilant animation sequence that meets the throwback textuality of Wreck-It Ralph with the melancholy nostalgia of Toy Story 3, Europe in 8 Bits’ exalted exploration of this emergent subculture is at its best when fronting the fruits of their labour. Elsewhere it’s a touch typical, standard doc tropes and an uninspired editorial sensibility manifesting in a movie that’s never as exciting as those it seeks to showcase. Still, their passion carries, and there’s few won’t exit the aisles immersed in an effort to imitate the intoxicating sounds. Much as it might seem mere eyebrow-arching indulgence for Polo to afford a psychoanalytical spotlight to his own godfather, there’s enough in the dryly bemused psychiatrist’s spiel to suggest a tongue-in-cheek tip-of-the-hat to this culture’s residence far outside the mainstream.
It’s an outlook not unfamiliar at IndieCork, where the next screening was the first in a five-part series of international shorts, introduced by programme director Mick Hannigan as an intently-atypical slate. Shorts, Hannigan ventured, are the “R&D wing of the film industry”, and if this selection’s successes suggest new avenues worth exploring, it’s equally indicative of several dead ends. That’s not to diminish the overall quality of the batch: in nine films spanning the globe from Iceland to Japan, awe was more frequent than ire; from the Reygadas-reminiscent dusk cinematography of Lucie Baudinaud’s It Will Come to Light to the expressive abstraction of Inés Sedan’s Van-Gogh-in-motion animation The Song, the diversity of cinema’s future looks safe. Be it a programming penchant or pure accident of fate, perhaps the selection’s most interesting quality as a single screening was the majority of female directors, a welcome corrective to statistics past, and a proud testament to this festival’s efforts to amplify unheard voices.
There’s a clear curatorial bent to opening this second edition of Ireland’s newest film festival on a wide-smiling toast to the embrace of eclectic community; if the movie’s buoyant mood is anything to go by, there’s a heck of a week ahead of us.
But like any earnest intention, that’s a mission statement that—when taken too far—leads to opposite extremes. Wearing its lack of support from the nation’s funding bodies like a badge of honour, the Cork-shot debut feature Dead Dogs crashed the party with all the finesse and fun of a drunkard drawn to the window by the flickering light within. Made in essence, per director Ian Ruby’s own admission, just to see if it could be, this ambling effort doesn’t so much tackle the tough themes of mental illness and suburban decay as lunge wildly in their vicinity and wind up crashing to the floor. Deeply confused characterisation sees recent Irish efforts in a similar rough-and-ready vein—Charlie Casanova and Stalker, to name but two—seem positively controlled by contrast. It’s to the credit of the bulk of Ruby’s cast that they manage to cling to some sense of human verisimilitude as the film finally flies off the handle and stumbles toward its self-satisfied finale. Nervous titters aplenty evidenced an audience every bit as unsure of the tonal intention as the movie itself.
…this ambling effort doesn’t so much tackle the tough themes of mental illness and suburban decay as lunge wildly in their vicinity and wind up crashing to the floor.
How fortunate, then, for Class Enemy to follow, a film whose pleasures lie precisely in debut director Rok Bicek’s extraordinarily ambiguous hold over the plot’s greater socio-political implications. Cast in the same pedagogy-as-politics mould of European art house brethren like The Class and The Wave, the film’s focus on the fallout of a classmate’s suicide and the issues it raises allows it to exceed the formulaic framework that hosts it. It’s at once a piece of operatic intensity and understated affectations, of glances and gestures writ unmissably large. Controlled camerawork renders the hectic handheld style—undeniably redolent of the aforesaid forebears—entirely apt, Bizek and Janez Lapajne’s assured editing curating a grammar that lends their more momentous cuts all the force of a fist. Delicate performances from the cast—their characters mercifully confined to the classroom and spared the segues to stuffy home lives—are paramount to pardoning the film’s slightly cyclical approach to its central issues; if Class Enemy can feel as if it’s going through the motions, it’s only because the systemic setbacks to which it speaks circle one.
In the next dispatch: Pied Piper; Candlestick; Scottish shorts; Beneath Dishevelled Stars.