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JDIFF 2014 Reviews #2 – Calvary, Only Lovers Left Alive, Ida

Our second set of reviews from the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival come from Páraic.

Follow all our JDIFF 2014 coverage here

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Director: John Michael McDonagh
Cast: Brendan Gleeson, Kelly Reilly, Domhnall Gleeson, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen
Country of Origin: Ireland/UK
Duration: 100 minutes
Year: 2014

Calvary – for the heathens among you – is where they crucified Jesus. It is also the name for John Michael McDonagh’s new film starring Brendan Gleeson in one of his best roles to date. The pair are reunited having previously worked together on The Guard and this time around we have a much more enjoyable work with some great supporting roles.

Gleeson plays Fr. James who learns while taking confession that a member of the parish is intent on killing him. While Fr. James has done no wrong the perpetrator feels it will generate more headlines if a “good” priest is murdered. We then follow the life of Gleeson over seven days as he encounters his eccentric parishioners.

A host of Irish acting talent is on display from Chris O’Dowd and Dylan Moran to Aidan Gillen and David McSavage. Kelly Reilly as Gleeson’s daughter is brilliantly cast, whereas Aidan Gillen seems to be unsure of what is required of him. How someone from Ireland acting in a film set in Ireland can get an Irish accent so wrong is startling. McSavage as Gleeson’s superior seems like a big inside joke for Irish audiences as they will recognise his character from his satire show “The Savage Eye”, making it impossible for you to take his part seriously.

The film belongs to Gleeson playing a man who came to the priesthood after losing his wife, and still grapples with the many moralistic mores of society. He watches over his flock with a compassionate eye looking out for their best interests but unafraid to stand his ground.

It has less paddywhackery than The Guard by a healthy margin and takes a more considered look at the various players in Irish society today. It tries to be too clever for its own good at times, pulling you out of the film with a wink and a nod but thankfully these moments are few and far between and it doesn’t suffer the predictability of The Guard in its final act.

Sligo is also a main star of the piece with many an aerial shot of Benbulbin cutting throw the dialogue, providing its own sense of drama. With some razor-sharp dialogue, terrifying analogies and hilarious characters Calvary doesn’t quite gel together as a whole, but it is undoubtedly a five star performance from Brendan Gleeson.

only loversOnly Lovers Left Alive

Director: Jim Jarmusch
Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt
Duration: 123 minutes
Year: 2013

Jim Jarmusch has done a great service to the lovers of vampire movies by taking them back from teenagers, restoring them to the ether of intrigue, sex and passion. He hasn’t done a complete return to the days of Bela Lugosi, setting this tale of romance in the present day and making it a comedy.

Tom Hiddleston plays Adam and Tilda Swinton is Eve. They’re a pair of star-crossed lovers who have been spending centuries together. As it has been centuries they are quite capable of spending much of their time apart, in separate countries. Eve spends her time in the Moroccan city of Tangier hanging out with a long thought dead Marlowe (John Hurt) and Adam hides in an abandoned part of Detroit tinkering away with his musical instruments.

The humour comes from the melancholic Adam who is fed up with living amongst us zombies and having to constantly give away his music for fear of becoming popular. There are running jokes on how he inspired or gave music to many classic and modern day musicians, which is the same with Hurt’s character Marlowe. There is no sucking of blood or big bosomed maidens, simply a visit to crooked lab employees offering up blood for cash. There is one very funny exchange between Adam and his blood supplier Dr. Watson (Jeffery Wright) which highlights Hiddleston’s comic timing and deadpan abilities.

The style of the film is beautifully decaying around itself – set in Detroit, a now bankrupt city which lurks in the shadows and rotting enclaves. The vampires are a dying breed, constantly under threat yet they have been responsible for some of the most important endeavours in human culture – just like Detroit was with its creation of Motown.

A segment of the film involving the arrival of Eve’s younger sister Ava (Mia Wasikowska), a petulant young vampire elicits some very funny scenes showing that even modern day vampires still have in-law problems.

Jozef van Wissem’s music adds to the transcendental feeling of the film especially when the imbibing of blood is carried out. A brilliant scene depicts Adam and Eve as a pair of strung out heroine junkies in search of their next fix.

People may get bored of the word games and literary japes but this is a welcome addition to the vampire canon; funny, touching, intelligent and unafraid of showing it, Only Lovers Left Alive will certainly be vying for my top ten come December.


Director: Pawel Pawlikowski
Cast: Agata Kulesza, Agata Trzebuchowska
Country of Origin: Poland
Duration: 80 minutes
Year: 2013

Ida is one of the most beautifully shot films you will see this year – if indeed you can see the film at all, as it has yet to receive a planned release date for Ireland. Thanks to JDIFF then, as Pawel Pawlikowski’s first film in his native Poland is a treat.

Filmed in black and white and with an aspect ratio of 1.37:1, it tells the story of Ida, a nun about to take her vows. Before doing so she is advised to make contact with her only living relative – an aunt who works as a judge for the state.

Only 80 minutes in length and dialogue-light, Ida still manages to tell a heartbreaking tale examining the effect the Nazi occupation had on Poland and the role of anti-Semitism within the country. When Ida calls on her aunt, she discovers that her parents were killed for being Jewish and she was only spared as she was so young and could easily hide her true identity. The film then turns into a road movie as Ida and her aunt try to track down the location of her parents’ burial place.

Over this journey we learn why her Aunt Wanda is a drunk and on a path of self destruction. The role is expertly played by Agata Kulesza who squeezes every last drop of human emotion from the character. Agata Trzebuchowska, in her first ever acting role, is mesmerising as a young nun trying to maintain her beliefs while coming to terms with a hidden past and being properly exposed to the world with all its pleasures and horrors for the first time.

Due to its religious themes, its colour and the focus on the intricacies of the human face throughout, you can’t help but recall The Passion of Joan of Arc from 1928.

Ida is a rare film managing to convey so much in such a short space of time that will still have you thinking many days later. See it when you can.