Past and present

Films from Ireland and France abound this month at the local cinematheques.

past and present (photo credit: Courtesy)
past and present
(photo credit: Courtesy)
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 cinema.
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 them.
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.