Review: Dublin Film Festival

The 2018 Dublin Film Festival kicked off with a trip to the other side of the island, a literal Western which re-imagined the 19th-century potato famine as a grisly revenge odyssey.

Lance Daly's sixth feature, Black 47, is a robust, politically cynical chase thriller with notes of dark absurdity. James Frecheville plays Feeney, a British army deserter and Connacht native who discovers his family devastated by the blight and goes full John Rambo on the heartless colonial administration, working his way up to Jim Broadbent's casually evil Lord Kilmichael. The bleak, muddy photography is beautiful and impotent, home to flashes of Jacobin violence.

Offering a feminist counterweight to the bearded maschismo of Daly's film is another revenge Western with a regionally specific focus. From Indonesia's Mouly Surya, Marlina The Murderer in Four Acts appropriates classic genre forms — whiplash lettering; Morricone brass; gorgeous open, landscapes — for a tale of female rage and righteousness. Marsha Timothy plays the widowed Marlina, robbed and raped by a crew of bandits, who responds to patriarchal hostility with determined counter-attack. She treks across Sumba's empty countryside with the head of her rapist — part trophy, part evidence —in search of an elusive justice. The film moves with gentle, quasi-formal rhythms, its pulp thrills clouded by a gendered melancholy. Timothy wears the warrior expression of a women who can't believe she has to go through this shit.

Rebecca Daly netted the Irish directing prize for Good Favour, written with regular collaborator Glenn Montgomery. It's a controlled, entrancing parable about bubble effects, devotional longing and the power of faith to shape our reading of the world. Tom (Vincent Romeo) is an orphaned stray who stumbles on a faith-based commune circled by the big, bad Black Forest, an enclave of good-hearted believers who have rejected the modern world. His tabula rosa persona, and Romeo's blank, expectant face, invite the attention, and the desires, of the congregation. Daly builds a slippery, uncertain atmosphere, ending with a stunning shot of wishful thinking. Elsewhere, the tension mounts in debut feature Tower. A Bright Day, a tricky family (melo)drama with an apocalyptic bent from Poland's Jagoda Szelc.

The Breadwinner was Kilkenny-based animation studio Cartoon Saloon's third Academy nomination, piped to the post on the night by the unstoppable Pixar. Saloon's previous two features, The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, used Celtic imagery to tell charming fairy tales about the power of story-telling in the face of personal troubles. Based on Deborah Ellis' children's novel, itself rooted in the told experiences of Middle Eastern refugees, Nora Twomey directs a family drama about a Kabul girl whose father is imprisoned by the Taliban. With unchaperoned women barred from public spaces, Parvana (voiced by Saara Chaudry) has to cut her hair and wear boys' clothes to earn money. American jets rumble overhead and the air is thick with fanatical threat, signalling a more sober film than Cartoon's previous work, but one still rooted in myth and family.

Finally, Wes Anderson bounds back with stop motion, a fun but slightly thin dystopic adventure which lacks the whirlwind dysfunction of The Grand Budapest Hotel. Set on a garbage island off Japan where the nation's mutts have been quarantined as part of a conspiracy, the glittery voice cast includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Tilda Swinton. Snow disrupted the festival's last days, but these were Beasts from the East we could root for.

Connor Smyth

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