Paul Whitington: What not to miss at the Dublin International Film Festival
This year’s programme is dominated by powerful Asian dramas, but there are some other gems to savour, says Paul Whitington.
The Dublin International 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. That will be on wide release shortly, and there’s plenty of other 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 arthouse 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.
With a palette inspired by the ancient yin and yang visual symbol, Zhang Zimou’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
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 ultranationalism 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 ongoing war.
Saturday, February 23, Light House, 8.20pm
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
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 an unscrupulous young 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. Moonika Siimets wrote and directs this 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 called The Commodore 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 Zhang-ke’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
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
All we ever see of Gaza is footage of rioting and violence on the news, but what is it like to actually live there? In Gaza, Garry Keane and Andrew McConnell’s beautifully photographed documentary, we find out, through the stories of ordinary Palestinians who try to remain cheerful while making the best of a bad lot. Sold out at time of going to print, but is probably the standout Irish film at the Festival and will definitely get a cinema release.
Saturday, March 2, Cineworld, 2pm
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
For programme information and ticketing check out www.diff.ie