“Any idea what you’re going to be doing with yourself?” It’s the question—posed by the parents of Out of Here’s protagonist—unequivocally dreaded by Irish youth. What can you do, when raised at the height of an “economic miracle” only to arrive at adulthood just as its optimism explodes? Donal Foreman’s film captures like few others have the nascent nihilism of being a young person in Ireland, treading a course through the typical teenage—in stilted mindset, if not reality—life and finding it every bit as dark and dismal as the omnipresent cloud of the Irish sky. There’s a terrible pretence to proclaiming any film “important”, yet few other words could do justice to a film that understands its intended audience like no other.
“There’s too many things changing in life,” a barmaid says after proudly showcasing the two hundred-plus year-old flagstone floor on which her institution stands in The Irish Pub, Alex Fegan’s warmly funny crawl cum cultural study. Hers is one of twenty-two bars the documentary features, spanning the length and breadth of the country in efforts to arrive at an image of how the pub—or indeed teach tábhairne; Irish seems so much more appropriate here—has come to command so firm a footing in Irish identity. “There are no strangers here, only friends you have not yet met” goes the W.B. Yeats quote on which the movie opens; certainly there’s a charm to these amiable interviewees to leave us lusting after a Guinness in their company.
Far from being the polemic decree it perhaps seemed keen to postulate itself, Mark O’Connor’s manifesto for Irish film, unveiled at the premiere of Stalker at the Galway Film Fleadh in 2012, has had little immediate effect in changing the face of the nation’s cinema. That’s, in a sense, precisely the result of the very conditions against which the document railed; unlike the Danish Dogme 95 manifesto, a technical call-to-arms, O’Connor’s is a piece rooted in socio-political strife, keen to spurn the youth of Irish cinema to assume their rightful place behind a camera trained on the reality of post-crash life, an action made difficult by the dearth of fiscal opportunities in a country whose culture has become victim to slashed budgets.
There’s a moment toward the end of Run & Jump when the melodrama reaches full boil. Our frazzled protagonist (Maxine Peake) has locked herself in her bedroom. Three men pound on her door: her husband, a cognitively-impaired stroke survivor; her son, a gay, self-harming teenager; and her lovesick admirer, a doctor who also happens to be studying her husband. Each man needs something from her. Each is his own unique source of stress. Each won’t stop pounding.
It all started with a 78 RPM MGM record of Hank Williams and lazy dancing through peonies in that magical time between spring and summer when anything was possible. Hank’s notes fill the screen in stylistic flourishes that bring us closer to the mind of Terri Hooley and his inner fixations that drove his crazed charismatic smile. Innocence is lost with an accidental arrow to the eye and that eternal mystical springtime gives way to decades of grief as “the Troubles” take over Ireland and the world seems to become a little more cynical. Flash-forward through a series of images taken from a cultural zeitgeist of sectarian violence and ideological turmoil and we are quickly catapulted into Terri’s young adulthood where he bears the dubious honor of being the “best DJ in Belfast”. He plays reggae for empty dive bars as Ireland’s last romantic soul, waiting for similar spirits to join his unintentional revolution of peace, pot, and eventually punk music.
In a brilliant follow up to The Pervert’s Guide to Cinema (a film that broke down the semiotics of films by masters ranging from Chaplin to Tarkovsky), Slavoj Žižek returns and once again uses film to dissect the very nature of our desires and the limitations of pure objective thinking, weaving through canonical and subversive cinema like a manic cinephile and using it a tool to enrapture and engage. The philosopher and psychoanalyst uses cinema to craft a fascinating philosophical discourse and carefully constructed argument that simultaneously reinforces the importance of dreams while contextualizing historical events through cinema as it reinforces the importance of a “Big Order” even when it attempts to subvert it. By using the language of cinema to carry out his philosophical discourse, he enraptures us through own shared fixation of the artistic medium that manifests our collective dreams, however hollow or disingenuous they may be. We are presented with fascinating interpretations of films that range from Jan Nemec and Milos Forman, to more contemporary mainstream films of filmmakers like James Cameron and Christian Nolan, but the philosophical discourse is what is rapturous despite its dizzying breathlessness through a wonderfully diverse array of films.
What a poetic sort is Martin Hayes, subject of Natural Grace, Art Ó Briain’s measured movie that uses the fiddler’s musings as the gateway to a reflection on the nature of tradition and its relation—beyond that evidenced in the name—to what the Irish call “trad”. He speaks of such things as “the simple shape of a melody”, artfully describing music’s uncanny ability to assume an almost physical force in its ability to move us. Such a subject is essential to any good music documentary: not merely a great player—and there’s no doubt, given his toe-tapping talents, that Hayes passes that test—but one also capable of communicating their passion, their love, their obsession, as integral to the very essence of who they are.
“Can a child control where he is born?” is one of the many open ended questions posed by Reflections in the Emerald Isle, a film so fatally scattershot that the only suitable answer seems “no more than you can control yourself.” Mark Magro’s short is a strange offering indeed, wistfully wandering about Ireland as the narrator-director leaves voicemail messages to some distant dying relative and waxes lyrical without ever really saying anything much at all.
Down in southern California there’s a bit of a cultural time warp happening. The Rockabilly music scene is an underground movement that generally tries to maintain the aural and visual aesthetic of 1950’s teen culture. Of course the Rockabilly scene isn’t limited to California, but Reb Kennedy’s Wild Records is based in California and that’s where Elise Salomon spent five months shooting her documentary Los Wild Ones.
One unfamiliar with the elliptical structure of John Banville’s Man Booker-winning novel The Sea might fairly assume the ephemeral nature of its film adaptation’s scenes to be but a desperate attempt on the part of director Stephen Brown to hide the turgid literariness of its lines as best he can. Banville, adapting his own work, certainly needn’t worry about adding an Oscar to his mantelpiece: The Sea, in script form, is a dreadful mess, poorly transforming the diarised stream of consciousness form of the book to a third-person narrative with little consideration for cinematic ontology. How poor a position Brown finds himself in then, having to pick up the pieces of this bare and bad translation by an author either ignorant of or, worse, ignoring the requirements of screen storytelling.