Japanese Folklore goes as gaeilge

A generous crowd gathered at the Holywell Trust building in Derry for the launch of a book of Japanese folklore which has been published in bilingual form with stories collected by an Irish poet published in both English and Irish.

Patrick Lafcadio Hearn was born in Greece in 1850 to an Irish father and Greek mother. In correspondence with non other than W.B. Yeats Hearn said, “I had a Connaught nurse who told me fairytales and ghost stories and so ought to love Irish things and do”. In fact a nanny was not Hearn’s only claim to Ireland as his father was from Co. Offaly so to all intents and purposes he was Irish.

Hearn it would seem is well regarded in Japan, however it is only relatively recently that he has begun to be appreciated in Ireland, with a Japanese garden having been opened in Tramore, Co.Waterford in 2015. The book itself is a beautifully designed and illustrated paperback with text in both English and Irish. The only glaring omission being that an opportunity was missed to include some Japanese. For further details on how to purchase the book contact the Holywell Trust or The North West Japanese Cultural Group in Derry.

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The Kindergarten Teacher

In The Kindergarten Teacher, which was shown as the closing film at this year’s Foyle Film Festival, Maggie Gyllenhall plays Lisa Spinelli a thirty something kindergarten teacher who is disillusioned with family life and her work. Then in class she notices that an otherwise quiet and unassuming boy in her class by the name of Jimmy is particularly good at writing poems. The problem is that many of these poems come sporadically and out of the blue. Another problem is that no-one seems to be nurturing the boy’s talent at home because his mother is seemingly absent, his father spends next to no time with him because he is busy with his work and his nanny fails to notice the significance of what the child is saying. Alongside her day job Lisa takes a night class in creative writing. As Lisa nurtures Jimmy’s talent more and more it becomes unclear whether Lisa Spinelli is doing so for his benefit or her own. It is only once it becomes clear that Lisa is trying to nurture Jimmy’s talent for his own sake that things turn against her. Part of the charm of The Kindergarten Teacher is that the classroom in which it is set almost becomes a character in its own right. In many of the scenes that are without any, or very little, dialogue you can almost hear Sara Colangelo and Nadav Lapid’s screenplay being read out loud to the audience.

Maggie Gyllenhall is excellent as Lisa Spinelli who you’re never quite sure of the motivation of, displaying characteristics of both light and shadow. Also of note is young Parker Sevak who while still young at five years old, is a wise old head on young shoulders. You can’t help but feel however that this is a talent best left out of the spotlight and allowed to mature, returning in about twenty years from now to reactions of “oh yeah, that was him”.

The Kindergarten Teacher goes on general release in March

The Return of the Hero is a French delight

The Return of the Hero, shown recently as part of the 31st Foyle Film Festival is a French farce with plenty of laughs. Set during the Napoleonic wars it tells the story of Captain Neuville, a dashing, handsome war hero who has fallen in love. Upon being called into action only hours after he has proposed, he leaves his sweetheart broken hearted. 

Despite promising to write every day Pauline falls into a deep depression when his letters fail to appear. In an act of desperation, and hating to see her so depressed, Pauline’s sister Elizabeth decides to take on the role of the dashing hero, at least in pen, and begins writing to her sister masquerading the dashing love of her life. Each letter gets more and more outrageous, recounting all of his exploits (which are probably not really happening. The problem is that Elizabeth is getting just a little bit too comfortable with her new role when matters are complicated by… well, the return of the hero.

What follows are a series of events which creates confusion for all involved with hilarious results. The Return of the Hero is a comedy like only the French know how to make, creating farce out of what is sometimes even the gravest of situations. This film is a delight.

The Silence of Others

How would it feel if you or a relative was coldly and callously murdered and buried at the side of the road in an unmarked grave. Imagine if you will that your grave is then tarmacked over to make way for a duel carriageway. This is just one situation faced by many of the families of people who were killed by both sides in the horrific events which took place between 1936 and 1939 when General Franco launched a coup in Spain against the democratically elected socialist government. Upon victory what followed was one of the most brutally oppressive regimes in modern day western Europe. Throughout the civil war and his fourty year rule Franco’s troops were responsible for some of the most brutal acts of torture and murder. Upon his death in 1976, in order to set up a democratically elected government once again both sides decided on a pact of forgetting. The Silence of Others explores the flaws of this pact as the viewer follows families whose relatives were killed by Nationalist forces during the civil war fight through the courts in Argentina (because it is illegal to do so in Spain) in order to find out what has happened to their relatives. Of course where the film, and perhaps any other film about a war, falls down is in the fact that it does not acknowledge the victims on both sides. Of course the natural and reasonable justification for focusing on the victims of Nationalist forces during the civil war is that they were on the winning side and the fact that the Franco regime, during a dictatorship which spanned nearly half a century, tortured and killed many who simply didn’t agree with their politics. The natural reaction to this of course would be to say that, at the outbreak of the civil war, the republican government was the one in power and their forces were responsible for their fair share of atrocities, including clergicide.

On the whole however the way that the directorial team of Robert Bahar, Almudena Carracedo together with writers Ricardo Acosta, and Kim Roberts treat the material at their disposal is done with compassion and tact, painting a picture of a group of families seeking justice for their loved ones. It can only be hoped that all of those involved in this terrible conflict can create a legacy that Spain can finally learn to move on with.

Review of Cold War

Poland has become renowned for its cinema in recent years, typified by it’s 2013 Oscar winner Ida. From the director of that very movie comes Cold War, a film set during temultious times for a pair of long distance lovers. 

The film sees the leading character Wictor traveling throughout the country trying to band together the best musicians that Poland can get and recording the folk music that they play. The film has a fantastic opening shot of an extreme close up of a French horn, from here on in the film is a visual delight to behold. The ultimate objective (for Wictor) is to create a school of excellence where talent is nurtured for the cultural wellbeing and the future of the nation. Unbeknownst to him the nation is merely interested in propaganda. It is as part of this work that Wictor meets a music student named Zula, they fall in love and eventually hatch a plan to escape their oppressive existence. However they become separated at the point of crossing and instead have to live life apart for a time. It is at this point that the story takes a back seat to a certain extent in favour of visuals.

With exquisitely choreographed scenes of folk dancing depicting what would have been the communist ideal of the time, although shot entirely in black and white the film has a vividness that matches any colour film. While Cold War won’t exactly bowl people over with the plot it does more than enough visually to hold the audience’s attention. 

Why We Cycle

The Netherlands, more than any other country, has an obsession with cycling. It is a way of life, as natural to Dutch people of all ages as breathing. In Why We Cycle; which was screened at the Nerve Centre in Derry recently as part of the Foyle Film Festival, this national pastime is explored more fully. 

In this documentary we aren’t talking about lycra wearing troops of middle-aged men taking up roads or footpaths, ringing their bells as they wizz past unsuspecting pedestrians who are using the spaces provided primarily for the latter while specially designed bike lanes lie empty. Various members of Dutch society,  as well as those visiting the  country give testimony  to how the Dutch fit the ordinary everyday cyclist into ordinary everyday life. 

This documentary tells the viewer how Dutch society has successfully integrated all in their society; from the youngest to the oldest into its mainstream transport system safely and responsibly.

What Why We Cycle does well is promote cycling as a casual pastime that anyone can take part in rather than the “sport” that participated in by dangerous obsessives who want everything their own way; which it is in danger of becoming.

It is a documentary which should be shown in every school, to every town planner and to everyone who wants to stand any hope of building a properly integrated transport system.

Filmworker tells the story of Stanley Kubrick’s right hand man.

The world of film, just like every other, is filled with unsung heroes; those people who are there to help the main actor or, as in this case, the director. Leon Vitali, the subject of documentary, Filmworker, shown as part of the Foyle Film Festival, is one of those people. After staring alongside Ryan O’Neill in Barry Lyndon, Vitali gave up a career in front of the camera for one in front of it.

Throughout the film Vitali remains forever humble; leaving it up to other contributors to expound his virtues. The lines on Vitali’s face, each one indicating the passage of time; but also so much more than that. They show experience, a life lived. 

Vitali is portrayed throughout the documentary as someone who has a thirst and ambition for what he does, however unlike the situation in most cases it is for the sake of the work alone, the finished piece rather than for satisfying his own ego or career ambitions. This is emphasised by his children who lament the fact that they didn’t see so much of him as they would have liked; although it has to be said that this is stated rather matter of fact rather than with any sense of bitterness. 

Filmmaker also keenly illustrates the sort of criticism that Vitali took upon his own shoulders regarding Eyes Wide Shut, Kubrick’s 1999 career finale, which the director died not long after making. Much of the criticism for the movie falling upon him rather than postumously on Vitali.

Filmworker is about someone who could have easily had stardom at the other side of the camera but who doesn’t seem to regret it for one single moment. He doesn’t regret it because he got to work with one of the greatest directors of the twentieth century and as a result has become a part of cinematic history.

This is one for Stanley Kubrick fans and general film fans alike. Although it would be suggested that if you are in any way a casual and unenthused cinema goer you leave this one alone.

For the rest are you who didn’t get to see Filmworker as part of the Foyle Film Festival you can now get it in the usual formats from the usual sources.

The Eyes of Orson Welles

Orson Welles is widely regarded as one of the greatest filmmakers of all time; his 1941 debut Citizen Kane is thought of by many as the greatest film ever made. In this documentary, director and writer Mark Cousins explores the many passions of Orson Welles, including many unseen before sketches, drawings and paintings. Along the way Cousins guides the audience through Welles’ many interests from his childhood in Wisconsin to youthful foreign trips, 1930s activism and his interest in African American theatre.

For anyone whose life has straddled the two most recent centuries it is hard to believe that Welles, such an innovator in cinematic arts and sciences, has not been around to witness such advancements in the world such as the internet, or, perhaps more thankfully for him has not given witness to the rise of a real life Charles Foster Kane.

The entire feel of The Eyes of Orson Welles reads as it sounds, as if the great maestro himself is looking on; looking on as Mark Cousins and we the viewer intrude upon a life that was. Throughout the film you have a sense that Orson Welles’ ghost (an alternative title perhaps) is following Cousins, but unable to control what Cousins is doing, unable to have a say. Or maybe it’s even the other way around.

As we travel with Cousins we travel with Welles’, through a lifetime of drawings and sketches and photographs, all of which would go on to inspire the many works of Orson Welles.

In between visits to old neighbourhoods, interviews with Welles’ daughter you see clips from Welles’ extensive body of acting as well as directorial work; only through this could many people, unless they be the most enthusiastic of film fan, just how extensive and important to cinema Orson Welles really was.

Although this film might be considered self indulgence to some it is without doubt an important testament to one of the most important figures in twentieth century cinema. A must watch for any film fan!

The Happy Prince

While The Happy Prince, disappointingly in many ways, is not a retelling of Oscar Wilde’s classic and well known children’s story, it is an imaginative and creative account of the last days of it’s celebrated writer. Shown at the weekend as part of the 31st Foyle Film Festival; with one of the film’s stars, Edwin Thomas, who plays Wilde’s long time friend Robbie Ross, in attendance.The Happy Prince is set just after Wilde’s release from prison and follows his life in continental Europe right up to his death which took place in Paris in 1900. It portrays Wilde as a debortous drunk who is thrown out of pubs for creating trouble. He’s on his last penny and has only a few genuine friends left. Rupert Everett, in his directorial debut, is unreasonable as an older Wilde. He is some who seems determined however to reconcile himself with his long suffering wife Constance, the narrative however does leave it open to interpretation if he was actually serious about this or not. It cannot be guaranteed that this is an authentic portrayal of course very few can tell, however as interpretation goes it seems to be the one of the better ones. These are the days long after Wilde’s hayday, although there are brief flashbacks to happier times. Colin Firth, in a relatively low key role plays Regie Turner; one of the few friends Wilde had left in is latter years. Colin Morgan, who shot to stardom as the young Merlin in the hit BBC series Merlin is unrecognisable as Bosie, and also suitably spoiled and uptight, playing the part to a tee. While relative newcomer Edwin Thomas gives an assured performance as Oscar’s longtime friend Robbie Ross. On the whole while not being wildly brilliant The Happy Prince is a good, entertaining story which entertains and interprets real life events in a way that upholds the humanity of real life characters.

Foyle Film Festival starts with a bang

There was a packed house as the Foyle Film Festival’s 31st year commenced with a gala screening of Collette on Friday night at the Brunswick Moviebowl in Derry.

The film, starring Kiera Knightly, Dominic West and Eleanor Tomlinson (she of BBC’s Poldark fame) star in this biopic of French writer Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette; known to most simply as Collette. Most people will not be familiar with the subject of this film, however anyone who is familiar with the film Gigi starring Maurice Chevalier and Louis Jourdan might be interested to know that Collette wrote the novel upon which the film is based.

The film is certainly sublime when it comes to costume, set design and cinematography However, what it gains in those things it sacrifices in plot. The film completely ignores two of her marriages, the birth of a daughter and the most prolific writing period of her life; thus ignoring the strong female role that could have been portrayed for that of someone who was manipulated by her first husband and hopped into bed with almost any woman that was around. 

While it is obvious that the film has tried to portray Collette as a rebellious trend setter who broke the mould that society of the day set her; it cannot be helped but to think that the achievements of the real Sidonie-Gabrielle Collette have been sacrificed by this film in the name of sensationalism. It is obvious that the film wanted to get across the fact that Collette was manipulated by her first husband, artist and writer Henry Gauthier-Villars, (also known simply as Willie) (played abily by Dominic West) and the fact that he controlled much of her earlier career; the film could have been braver and more adventurous in doing so. Collette is a reasonably watchable film, however it can’t help but be thought that it could have been a whole lot better. Instead this film tends to do more for the male gaze than the feminist cause.

The Foyle Film Festival continues until Sunday 25th November.