Past and present
By HANNAH BROWN
Films from Ireland and France abound this month at the local cinematheques.
Two notable events are coming up this week on the Israeli film scene: a week at
the cinematheques devoted to Irish cinema, and a retrospective of films by
French film director Olivier Assayas, one of the most exciting directors working
today, who is making a visit to Israel later this month.
Irish films are
generally low budget and low key and often don’t make it outside of Britain, so
the Irish Film Week, which runs from February 20-28 at the Haifa, Jerusalem and
Tel Aviv cinematheques, is a rare chance to see contemporary Irish
The program will include a retrospective of esteemed director
Lenny Abrahamson and will showcase the Israeli premiere of his new film, What
Richard Did, as well as several of his earlier works. Abrahamson is known
for dark dramas laced with humor about people living on the fringes of society.
What Richard Did is a look at a golden boy spending what is at first an
uneventful summer enjoying himself, but it turns into a coming-of-age drama that
focuses on guilt and responsibility. Abrahamson’s 2004 film, Adam &
Paul, is an intense, downbeat look at a day in the life of two
junkies. Also shown, a variety of films that offer a selection of the
best of contemporary Irish filmmaking. The 2007 film Garage is a
tragicomedy set in a gas station in rural Ireland.
Pat Collins’s film
Silence shows a sound technician’s journey to find a place free of man-made
sound. Pilgrim Hill by Gerard Barrett looks at a difficult turning point
in the life of a middle-aged farmer. Kieron J. Walsh’s Jump is a look at
24 hours in the lives of some young party people in Northern Ireland. Patrick
O’Shea’s Tree Keeper is the story of a young man who inherits his family’s
woodlands and isolates himself there. Art O’Briain’s Natural Grace is a
documentary about acclaimed fiddler Martin Hayes.
There is also a program
of short films.
The Olivier Assayas Retrospective will be held at the
Haifa, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv cinematheques, in cooperation with the Sam Spiegel
School for Film and Television in Jerusalem. The French director’s retrospective
just started and runs throughout the month of February.
After 25 years of filmmaking during which he made 14 feature films, several
shorts and one documentary, Assayas has become one of the world’s most
influential and enjoyable filmmakers. Although he hasn’t made one
career-defining masterpiece and works in different styles, depending on the mood
of the film he is making, Assayas’s films do have a distinct feel. Both playful
and sober, his films feature people who are trying to make their way in a world
that continually surprises them, and they in turn surprise the people around
His most recent film will have its Israeli premiere at the
retrospective. Something in the Air (Apres Mai) is a look at a teenage
boy during the 1968 student uprising who is torn between his desire to join the
struggle and to become an artist. Among the older films in the
retrospective is his 1994 film, Cold Water, a brutal and uncompromising
coming-of-age movie about alienated middle-class teens who fall by the wayside,
a film that seems more relevant now than when it came out. There is no political
struggle here, and also no hope.
Irma Vep, his semiautobiographical 1996
film, stars his former real-life love, Asian star Maggie Cheung, as an actress
playing a vampire in her director lover’s film. The director is played by the
wonderful Jean-Pierre Léaud, who is best known as Francois Truffaut’s alter ego
in the Antoine Doinel films. It’s great fun, and is one of the most enjoyable
movies about filmmaking.
Cheung also starred in the director’s 2004 film,
Clean, in which she plays a woman who falls apart after her husband’s drug
overdose. She goes to Paris to try to find stardom and make a new life for
herself. The film co-stars Nick Nolte.
There is always something
surprising, and satisfying, in Assayas’s films.