If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? It’s a philosophical sentiment that’s permeated popular culture to such an extent that the existential quandaries the question raises are all too often forgotten. What is sound? Is the world defined by our perception of it? And, perhaps most importantly: if falling trees go on making sounds even without us to hear them, then what are we for? These questions and more lie at the heart of documentarian Pat Collins’ first narrative feature Silence, a remarkable marriage of image and sound that, in its finest moments, encapsulates the best of cinema and humanity both.
A hilltop in the dead of night, the cold air of the Irish south hanging over the scene. Then, a sudden burst of brilliant, white light, a cacophonous roar of engines, and a shape crashing into the fields below. The young Paco is the sole witness to this unreal event in Ian Power’s feature debut The Runway, a reality-inspired tale of a Colombian pilot whose crash landing in County Cork in 1983 led to a small town’s combined efforts to help him get back in the air once again, and the friendship he forges with the kid who sat waiting for something to arrive from above.
The image of the train is that most cinematic of devices, rumbling in as it carries a dark stranger (U2 drummer Larry Mullen Jr.) to a sleepy town to engage in misdeeds that only happen in the movies. The train is a complete sensory package as the reflections bounce apathetically off of the windows, giving a character one of the few luxurious means to be transported to a new locale with adequate time to contemplate where they’ve been. The mechanical orchestra clambers on, carrying with it a lifetime of connection to cinema as the two have been inseparable since their respective births. It is the perfect cinematic device as it (like narrative cinema) is only capable of moving forward on its tracks. There is no sense of past with the arrival of a train, save for the hushed whispers of the brakes that hiss with ignored warnings. Like the complicated lives of the mysterious strangers they carry across the countryside, in both narrative film and trains there is only now.
Some films, whether they’re good or bad, have a strange magic about them. They operate as a kind of fascinatingly damaged fable, made all the more intriguing by their mix of clichéd and inspired moments. As you watch it, you’re thinking this is the most poorly constructed scene I’ve ever… and before the thought is finished, a truly unique visual graces the screen creating the most wonderfully absurd juxtaposition between drudging mediocrity and supreme artistry. This is the mysterious dynamic of Mary Harron’s The Moth Diaries.
Known though he might be for his portrayal of the United States President in The West Wing, Martin Sheen made headlines last year as a potential candidate for the Presidency of Ireland. His connection to the country, from which his mother’s side of the family originates, seems ever-growing: he holds an Irish passport; he took a semester just a few years ago at my own alma mater (a fact the university embarrassingly deems worthy of inclusion in all promotional materials); he was guest of honour at the most recent editions of both the Galway Film Fleadh and the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival, where he presented his new film Stella Days.
The Irish submission for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film 2011 (and just the second such submission the country has ever put forth), As if I Am Not There is the feature debut of writer/director Juanita Wilson, whose 2008 short The Door was nominated for an Oscar. Like that film—Wilson’s first—As if I Am Not There concerns itself with Eastern European issues, specifically the traumas and effects of the Bosnian War upon the country’s populace. Focusing particularly on the women held in captivity during the conflict, it sees the experiences of Sarajevo-born Samira when she is taken from a rural village by militants shortly after assuming a teaching position there.
Drawing ever closer to his self-projected retirement date, Steven Soderbergh is undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s most prolific filmmakers. His prior directorial credit Contagion released a mere 4 months ago, Soderbergh is back with Haywire, interestingly comparable as a companion piece of sorts, the two sharing a good deal in common: a wide cast of top names; a variety of international settings; slight twists on familiar genre formulas.