Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Galway Film Fleadh 2011...

The Galway Film Fleadh is one of my favourite things about Galway. It's the one festival you can always rely on to have an exciting line up, with something for everyone and this year was no different. The programme was brilliant, there was so much I wanted to see, but I had to narrow it down to eight. There were more films I'd like to have seen but overall, I was delighted with the ones I picked.

Here's a wee look at those films.

I began my film fleadh adventure with 'Tomboy' directed by Céline Sciamma, the story of Laure, a ten year old tomboy who moves to a new town with her family and allows the local children to believe she's a boy called Michael. She becomes accepted by the group and a young girl called Lisa develops a crush on her. Her younger sister becomes implicated in the lie and with the threat of the summer ending and school beginning; her fantasy life begins to fall apart as it becomes clear it will be difficult to continue this deceit. I thought this was a warm, intriguing film - it was funny in parts (the younger sister is particularly hilarious) but I just felt this overwhelming sadness whilst watching it, I just felt so sorry for this kid that she had this conflict between who she wanted to be and who everyone else wanted her to be. I felt like the film left the issue unresolved and the ending wasn't quite satisfactory but overall it was a brave film about a difficult issue and I loved the relationship between the two sisters - it reminded me a great deal of my own relationship with my sister, particularly when we were children and the way in which no matter what happens, your sister will always back you up in the end.

"I have an only daughter who dresses like a man and drinks whisky."

My next stop was Gigola, a film exploring the relationships the enigmatic Georgia strikes up as she roams the cafés and bars of 60s Paris, based on the cult series of novels written by Laure Charpentier. The film stars Lou Doillon which was my initial draw to the film (I've referred to her before on this blog) - she's just so beautiful and intriguing to look at, and really, she was the best thing about this film. Georgia, or Gigola, is heartbroken after the suicide of her lover, and spends her time tempting prostitutes away from their pimps, seducing women and engaging with local criminals. I've been struggling as to whether I liked this film or not, and to be honest, I didn't like it. I just felt rather uncomfortable throughout - I'm no prude but I did feel rather like I was watching a soft-porn film in a seedy cinema somewhere, and while really it was just silly fun, I just couldn't get into it. That said, it looked gorgeous and Lou Doillon was captivating in the lead role, but I'm not in a rush to see it again, thankyouverymuch.

'Mad Bastards' couldn't have been any further from the pomp and frivolity of 60s Paris if it tried. It's a fairly grim and tough tale of an Aboriginal community, struggling to survive on the peripheries, plagued by alcoholism and abuse. It focuses on TJ, a tough guy who is trying to pick up the pieces and reconnect with his son, who himself  is struggling to do the right thing, all under the watchful gaze of the local cop, Tex, who is trying to do his best for his family and the community. None of the actors came from acting backgrounds, adding a rawness and a certain heart to their performances. The Q & A session with the director was particularly enlightening as he revealed how the film was a collaborative effort; a lot of the script was based on actual events, which the cast shared with him from their own experiences. This added another much-needed dimension to the film and it gave the film an added resonance.  The soundtrack is fantastic - the band responsible for it turn up in several scenes, akin to the Soggy Bottom Boys in 'Oh Brother, Where Art Thou' and the film is all the richer for it.

David Mackenzie's 'Perfect Sense' was a thought-provoking film, looking at a pandemic which affects first the emotions, and then the senses, while in the midst of it all, Susan, an epidemiologist, and Michael, a chef, fall in love. The film is incredibly stylish, beautiful to look at, brilliantly shot and left me thinking 'what if this actually happened?! What if we lost our senses?' It was an interesting idea, well conceived and executed. It reminded me of Fernando Meirelles' "Blindness", a film that deals with a similar issue, and funnily enough, the only film I've ever walked out of. I thought "Perfect Sense" dealt with the subject better - it didn't shove the horror of the situation down your throat, it was more subtle, allowing the viewer more space in which to imagine what this might be like if it actually happened in real life. Ewan McGregor was wonderful in it, while Eva Green was perhaps a little cold in the role, but at the same time, I bought into their relationship and was genuinely moved by it.  Rather beautiful, I recommend this film highly.

Mackenzie directed Ewan McGregor in another film, "Young Adam", a film I would also recommend - not the most comfortable film in the world to watch, it's murky and grim, but it's a film that lingers in the memory long after you watch it.

A lotus eater is described by the film-makers as 'a person who spends time indulging in pleasure and luxury rather than dealing with practical concerns'.

This aptly sums up Alexandra McGuinness' directorial debut "Lotus Eaters." This film was pretentious and vacant to the extremes - it was all about the 'beautiful people', all model-looking people, in expensive clothing with "desirable" hedonistic lifestyles. And while this would ordinarily be enough to send me demented, I actually really enjoyed this film. It's beautiful to look at, I totally lost myself in the imagery, I loved that it was shot in black and white and I just allowed myself to be swept along by the glittery, glamorous wonder of it all. I know already I will buy it on DVD, and play it over and over, probably with the sound off, just to look at the beauty of it again. There is no plot really to speak of but it still managed to hold my attention, and I found the lead actress Antonia Campbell-Hughes particularly engaging - again, she was just beautiful to look at, fragile and innocent and all very sweet. As McGuinness' directorial debut, it was a stylish and assured beginning and I'll certainly keep an eye out for her future efforts.

God help me (and them) if I was trapped in a room with any of those characters though.

My highlight of the festival was Terry McMahon's "Charlie Casanova". Filthy, disgusting, sordid, ugly, claustrophobic and utterly brilliant. This film blew me away, I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like it in my life. The plot is simple - Charlie Barnum, a charming and seductive sociopath, possessing the gift of the gab, runs over a working class girl and consequently decides to abdicate all responsibility for his actions, letting his fate lie on a deck of playing cards.  It was incredibly claustrophobic - you felt you were confined in a small space with these horrible, vile people and it made my skin crawl.  Emmett Scanlan was hugely impressive in the lead - he threw everything into the part - he was uncomfortable to watch at times, such was the intensity of his performance. I felt like I was watching something quite special, something different. It shocked me, appalled me and repulsed me and yet I just want to watch it again, I want that experience again.  I felt suffocated by it and I've been rewatching the trailer all day, trying to recreate that feeling...it's very odd. You will either love or hate this film, there is no inbetween.

I loved it.

It astonishes me that this is McMahon's directorial debut, and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. The film was introduced by Janet Pierson, head of the SXSW festival, which was in itself, very exciting. Her enthusiasm and passion for the film let us know that we were in for something rather extraordinary.

Dancing Across Borders was a light relief from the heady and seedy onslaught of Saturday night. Anne Bass' documentary followed the story of Sokvannara (Sy) Sar who was spotted at the age of 16 by Bass during a trip to Cambodia. She saw him dancing and she was so moved and impressed by him, she felt his talent could not be squandered and so sponsored his move to America where he was trained by the best in the business. The clips of Sy dancing are sublime, it’s impossible to watch his dancing without being impressed and moved by it. I enjoyed the documentary, but I felt troubled by the fact that Sy himself does not seem happy, I got the sense he'd be happier at home in Cambodia, that his dancing does not mean as much to him as it does to those around him. Still though, if you love dance, you should watch this film.

Rounding up my time at the Fleadh, was Tom Tykwer's "Three" - a film telling the story of a couple who both fall in love with the same man, resulting in a pregnancy where the paternity of the child is unknown. I have to be honest, I wasn't expecting much going into this film, as soon as I read the word 'tragicomical' used to describe it, alarm bells started ringing but I was pleasantly surprised!  The characters were charming and funny, and I found myself instantly drawn into the tale. It was very enjoyable to watch, it really felt like a collective experience as everyone in the cinema giggled or groaned in turn at the twists the tale took, and that really added to it. There seems to have been a running theme in the films I chose this year - the idea of fluid sexuality and challenging the destiny biologically determined for you. This film was an interesting take on relationships, sexuality and life itself. A rather perfect and satisfying end to an epic Fleadh.

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