While the first few movies I saw at ADIFF were pretty solid, the festival – at least, for me – really picked up steam in its second half. First off was Berlin Syndrome (B+), a gripping thriller about an Australian student, Claire (the very watchable Teresa Palmer, Lights Out) backpacking across Germany. On her travels, she meets Andi (Max Riemelt, Sense8) – a handsome English speaking Berliner. At first, he seems perfect. However, it’s not long until Claire’s one-night stand has trapped her in his apartment – determined never to let her go.
Perhaps due to being made by Cate Shortland – a female filmmaker, Berlin Syndrome benefits from a distinct lack of sexualised violence against women, a stigma that tends to mark these types of thriller (see M. Night Shyamalan’s recent Split). Instead, the director and writer Shaun Grant seem more focused on character than typical genre thrills. Basing the film on the novel of the same name by Melanie Joosten, they mine creepiness from the trivial everyday details of Claire’s situation, things which clash jarringly with the craziness of the scenario. Andi removing his future victim’s sim card as she sleeps is terrifying, particularly as he follows it with non-sequiturs like “Do you like pesto?”. At one point, he even has the tenacity to play the put-upon boyfriend, asking his captive why she can’t “be normal”.
Occasionally, this emphasis on character does cause the film to lag in pace. At 116 minutes, the movie could be a little tighter as one particular sub-plot regarding the relationship between Andi and his father goes nowhere. However, even in these moments the performances keep one invested. Palmer and Riemelt are supremely charismatic actors and up until its tense finale, Berlin Syndrome entertains.
For such a small country, Ireland, in recent years, has produced some of the world’s finest actors. No better example of this is Trespass Against Us (B), a standard gangster picture elevated by its predominately Irish cast. Michael Fassbender plays Chad Cutler – the oldest son and heir to aging gangster, Colby (the always terrific Brendan Gleeson) – a man who twists the words of the Bible to justify his actions. The two, along with Chad’s family – his wife Kelly (Rome’s Lyndsey Marshal) and two children – live like travellers in caravans along the English countryside. Worried about the influence his father is having on his young children, as well as the outlaws he allows to congregate on their land, Chad plots to escape the life of crime. However, Colby has other plans, involving him in a dangerous heist – one that causes the family to butt heads with P.C. Lovage (Penny Dreadful’s Rory Kinnear) – a policeman with history dealing with the Cutlers.
While the script by Alastair Siddons struggles to escape from gangster clichés – an unlikable cop on our anti-hero’s tail, religious imagery, familial strife – and the film doesn’t maintain a consistent tone – evident by its final scene which aims to be both hilarious and tragic, Trespass Against Us has two things going for it. Firstly, there’s the ethnographic elements of the story which effectively convey the Syngian-esque notion of the traveller as an outlaw – people who grow tired of conventional life and take to the hills to live off the grid. Secondly, there’s the all-round terrific cast. Fassbender manages to make a character who could be unlikable – he is a thief and a thug – very interesting. Chad’s a tragic figure. He’s someone torn between the outlaw life he loves – an early scene sees him stopping during a car-chase with police to buy cigarettes – and providing a better life for his family. Although he has grown accustomed to his way of living, he doesn’t want his children to be unable to read, like him, or to be looked down upon by people of conventional society – an internal struggle which Fassbender really sells. Gleeson is a joy to watch delivering these insane backwards religious parables: “hell hath no fury like a locked up super-goat”. Plus, a diverse supporting cast comprised of distinct character actors like Marshal, Kinnear and Sean Harris, as well as Love/Hate’s Killian Scott and Barry Keoghan all look the part.
Although the NASA focused documentary The Farthest (which I did not see) received the festival’s prestigious Audience Award, the highlight of my ADIFF experience was 7 Minutes (A-), a social drama from Italian director Michele Placido. Based on a true story – following a takeover of a textile factory, eleven female worker’s representatives are delighted to learn that they will retain their jobs. However, there is a price. The new management has one condition – cutting their break time from fifteen minutes to eight. Although at first, it seems like an easy compromise. The workers begin to think it’s a power play by their new boss to see how desperate they are to stay employed. As a character states: “It’s not the seven minutes. It’s what the seven minutes represent”.
What’s remarkable about 7 Minutes is that it has the potential to be quite stagey. The film, for the most part, is just eleven women in a room arguing about their situation. The foreign workers want to take the deal because in their native countries they didn’t have breaks anyway, while the more elderly Italians of the group have the life experience to understand that the compromise will only be the first of many going forward. Yet, while 7 Minutes can be enjoyed as a compelling socially focused take on 12 Angry Men – in the sense that its eleven women gradually coming together to see reason – Placido makes proceedings more cinematic. Having directed the underrated cracking gangster epics Romanzo Criminale and Angel of Evil, he knows how to muster up a cinematic energy through fast cutting and editing. For instance, he shoots a wheelchair bound woman zipping around the corners of the textile plant like a car chase. Occasionally, this works to the film’s detriment – the score is pretty bombastic. Yet, for the most part, it’s amazing how Placido manages to make people in rooms talking feel like something so much grander.
Also, he mines fiery performances out of his cast, particularly Ambra Angiolini as one of the worker’s representatives. However, its Anne Consigny (recently in Elle) as the darkly comic and amoral French new owner of the plant who – in just the few scenes where Placido cuts away from the central eleven women – steals the movie.
The Audi Dublin International Film Festival closed its 2017 season with a screening of the charming coming-of-age comedy-drama Handsome Devil (B+), the latest by John Butler – director of 2013’s The Stag. Fionn O’Shea plays Ned, an outsider at an all-boy Irish private boarding school where rugby is more important than education. His dyed red-hair, his disdain for anything sports related and his ambiguous sexuality make him a frequent target of bullying. Returning after a summer holiday, he is shocked to learn he has been assigned to share a room with Conor (Nicholas Galitzine) – a new, rugby all-star who is a closeted homosexual. Helped along by their English teacher Mr. Sherry (Andrew Scott) – who also is harbouring a secret – the two form a bond that may challenge the troubling, pre-conceived notions of normalcy in their school.
Like Trespass Against Us, Handsome Devil is proof of how talented the Irish are at acting. O’Shea carries the movie with his charismatic narration and swagger while Galitzine conveys the inner-turmoil of his character effectively. However, the real stand-out of the picture is Andrew Scott who is so enjoyable to watch. Mr. Sherry begins the movie delivering these intelligent but sarcastic-laced lessons to his class. However, as the drama continues and his life becomes entangled with that of Ned and Conor, he softens – revealing his wounds – but never loosing that humour that made him so likeable. It’s also worth noting that Scott’s character perhaps would not work as well if it wasn’t for the character of Pascal, a man who stands for literally everything Mr. Sherry does not, played terrifically by Moe Dunford. The rugby coach is the embodiment of the type of prejudice which forces people that are different to stay in the shadows, whereas Mr. Sherry is constantly urging Conor and Ned to be heard – advice he struggles to follow himself. Dunford’s character is very broad delivering lines like: “For sport you have to have an empty mind. Absolutely nothing in there at all”. Yet, the Patrick’s Day actor manages at moments to imbue Pascal with some layers, an example being the moment where – referring to his personal troubles (his wife left him because he was too obsessed with rugby) – he states hilariously and tragically: “We’re all going through shit but you deal with it. You deal with it by standing in a field and blowing on a whistle”.
Handsome Devil is similar in tone and structure to Sing Street. The two are films where the warmth and charisma of their first two acts are so palpable that when in the third act things become overly sentimental and unbelievable, one doesn’t really mind. I can see Butler’s effort achieving a similar success to Sing Street. It’s feel-good fun and its overriding message about the importance of finding one’s voice and being loud is a terrific one to end a festival about artistry and creativity. Stephen Porzio
- Each year at the festival, there is a surprise film. The audience buy tickets without knowing what they are going to see. 2017’s was Jordan Peele’s socially minded horror about race relations Get Out.
- Big ups to the ADIFF staff who finally gave Bong Joon Ho’s incredible Snowpiercer an Irish cinema premiere – four years after it came out – to honour its’ star John Hurt following his passing.
- So many movies premiered at ADIFF this year that it would be impossible to see everything one had hoped. The films I was curious about but missed were Irish eco-horror Without Name, Oliver Assayas’ ghost story Personal Shopper starring Kristen Stewart, the critically acclaimed 60’s homage The Love Witch, Brazilian drama Aquarius, Pablo Larrain’s quasi-biopic Neruda and Ben Wheatley’s star-studded shoot-em-up Free Fire.
- Best guest(s): Michele Placido was very intelligent and insightful in the discussion that followed the screening of the weighty 7 Minutes. Also, worth noting is comedian Ross Noble who was hilarious at the post-Nails Q&A, recounting a story of the four-hour struggle he went through to shoot a scene that didn’t even end up in the movie.