Wednesday 20 March 2019

Cinema paradiso

This year's Dublin Film Festival is dominated by powerful Asian dramas, but there are some other gems to savour too, writes Paul Whitington

Historical epic: Shadow features some impressive combat sequences
Historical epic: Shadow features some impressive combat sequences
Paul Whitington

Paul Whitington

The Dublin Film Festival kicked off on Wednesday, opening with the latest film from John Butler (The Stag, Handsome Devil), a charming Los Angeles-set drama called Papi Chulo. It's just one of a number of interesting Irish films on the festival programme, from Neil Jordan's helter-skelter thriller Greta to Alexandra McGuinness's soulful road drama She's Missing and the documentaries Prisoners Of The Moon (about the Nazi rocket scientists who worked for Nasa) and the self-explanatory When Hitchcock Met O'Casey.

Otherwise, the festival is the usual eclectic mix of international mainstream and art-house fare, but with upwards of 120 movies to choose from, prioritising your outings isn't always easy. This, then, is our personal pick of movies you should look out for over the coming week, and don't worry too much if you miss one you're particularly keen on, because the best of the Dublin Film Festival's programme tend to get subsequent releases.

Shadow

With a palette inspired by the ancient yin and yang visual symbol, Zhang Yimou's splendidly made historical epic tells the story of a great warrior and commander who hires a lookalike to continue his legend after he's badly disfigured in battle. As you'd expect from the maker of House Of Flying Daggers, there are some impressive combat sequences, but above all, Shadow is a visual treat.

Saturday, February 23, Light House, 11am

Donbass

Winner of an Un Certain Regard award at Cannes, Sergei Loznitsa's angry drama is inspired by the 2014 war between the Ukraine and Russian-backed insurgents. The themes of propaganda and ultra-nationalism are explored as a group of actors prepare to take part in a TV segment that turns out to be a carefully crafted piece of fake news. Furious, funny, absurd insight into a senseless war.

Saturday, February 23, Light House, 8.20pm

Transit

Christian Petzold's stylish and paranoid noir thriller is set in Nazi-occupied France in 1942. A young man called Georg escapes Paris and flees south to Marseille, where he assumes the identity of a dead writer called Weidel, whose papers could come in handy. He's waiting for passage when he meets a beautiful young woman who turns out to be Weidel's widow. What are the odds?

Sunday, February 24, Light House, 8.40pm

Loro

Director Paolo Sorrentino and actor Toni Servillo renew their partnership in this scathing satire based on the life of Italian tycoon and four-times Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. When a businessman comes to Rome to get close to the reins of power, he worms his way into Berlusconi's inner circle, where only the most ruthless survive.

Monday, February 25, Cineworld, 6pm

The Little Comrade

This tender, heartbreaking story is set in Estonia during the Stalinist tyranny and tells the story of a little girl called Leelo, whose mother has been sent to a labour camp. Haunted by the mother's advice that she be "a good girl", Leelo does her best to please those around her in a dysfunctional and indifferent world. A touching little film.

Tuesday, February 26, Light House, 8.15pm

The Sisters Brothers

A Jacques Audiard film is always something to look forward to, and in this darkly comic drama, the Frenchman spreads his wings, traveling back to 1950s California where a pair of hitmen (Joaquin Phoenix, John C Reilly) are puzzled by their latest job. A wealthy and sinister mogul asks them to kill a man who stole from him, but the task turns out to be anything but straightforward.

Tuesday, February 26, Cineworld, 8.30pm

An Elephant Sitting Still

Hu Bo's mesmerising drama is four hours long, but worth every moment. In a grimy northern Chinese industrial city, multiple characters struggle to find meaning and hope, but are constantly tricked and disappointed by others. A brooding atmosphere evokes a cruel and alienated society, and sadly this was Hu Bo's first and last feature - the hugely talented 29-year-old died by suicide shortly after finishing it.

Wednesday, February 27, Light House, 1.45pm

Ash Is Purest White

China provides some of the strongest films at this year's festival, and none stronger than Jia Zhangke's magnificent slow thriller built around a tough and resourceful young woman called Qiao. She comes from a gloomy coal-mining town, and has fallen for a local hoodlum called Bin: when he's attacked, she fires a gun to protect him, binding their fates for what turns out to be a dark journey. Exceptional.

Thursday, February 28, Cineworld, 6pm

Jesus

By no means a perfect film, but a very promising one, Hiroshi Okuyama's debut feature tells the story of a lonely nine-year-old boy who feels all at sea when his parents move from Tokyo to a small and snowy mountain town. He's initially bewildered when sent to a Catholic school, but will soon acquire a real friend, and an imaginary one. Quirky, but interesting.

Thursday, February 28, Light House, 6.30pm

Gaza

All we ever see of Gaza is footage of rioting and violence, but what is it like to live there? In Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell's beautiful documentary, we find out through the stories of Palestinians who try to remain cheerful while making the best of a bad lot. Sold out at time of going to print, this is probably the standout Irish film at the festival and will definitely get a cinema release.

Saturday, March 2, Cineworld, 2pm

Wild Rose

Tom Harper's Glasgow-set comic drama might as well have been called 'A Star Is Born', because after this film, Jessie Buckley's going to be a big one. The Kerry-born actress is sensational as Rose-Lynn Harlan, a young working class woman with a lot on her plate. Recently released from prison, and with two young kids to look after, her dreams of becoming a country music star seem hopeless until she meets a bored and wealthy woman. Irresistible.

Sunday, March 3, Cineworld, 8pm

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