About Me

My photo
The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Film Review - Knuckle (2011)

There is a trend in documentary filmmaking for the filmmaker to put his or herself in the film. No more the outside observer, filmmakers such as Nick Broomfield and Michael Moore have made this practice feel very familiar in the last decade. The director of Knuckle, Iain Palmer, whilst not visually present in the film, does become a major character in the film: interacting quite a lot with the subjects of the documentary. This is to some degree expected as he has made this film over 9 years and the subjects of the film would certainly have come to know him quite a bit. The flipside of this, however, is that Palmer risks his objectivity and one of the uncomfortable feelings watching his film is that he has become one of the gang. In fairness to the director he does point out the risk of this himself in voiceover during the film.

Knuckle tells the story of bitter feuds between various traveller families which seem to have been going on for decades. The central feud is the one between the Joyce Mc Donaghs and the Quinns. The modern incarnation of the feud seems to be a murder of the one of the members in London in the early 1990s. There seems to be no end to the fights and hatred that emanates from these two families. The men are the decision makers and fighters who are in charge of everything. The women seem to be submissive and, in this documentary, are rarely on camera.

This is a serious documentary with some appalling violence throughout as fights are organised. There is humour here however as the precursor to fights usually revolves around one member of the family sending a video challenging a rival for a fight and profanely insulting him. Anyone who has ever watched American wrestling will be struck by how eerily similar the videos are to the pontificating of the wrestlers being interviewed. But the fights themselves are brutal and bloody. You can feel every punch landed. There is admirably no sanitising it for the audience. Palmer is a filmmaker who clearly has the respect and trust of these men. There is unprecedented access to a community that is generally closed off. There is an argument to be had that he is only showing one particular part of the traveller way of life and it is probably a fair criticism. But in fairness to Palmer the title of his film points out exactly what he was looking to document.

There is one scene where Palmer finally gets a chance to talk to the women of one of the families. This scene is quite revealing as it shows an unexpectedly progressive attitude towards the cycle of violence that engulfs them. One is left wanting more of that kind of input. There is also the feeling that despite the rivalry and feuding that exists that there is another reason altogether for the fights and this is money. Up to €20,000 has been bet on some of these fights and one can’t help wonder if that figure is only what people are prepared to admit to. If this is a strong reason for the fights it adds a cynical edge to an already unpleasant business.

Knuckle is a tough watch. It is about an unpleasant subject yet it is hard to take your eyes from it. Palmer has crafted a fascinating and brutal documentary that enthrals and appals in equal measure. The people in the film are colourful and entertaining and come out with some hilarious phrases. Yet it is hard not to feel saddened by the limited viewpoint of the world that the men have in these two families and the lack of influence the women have. It is this in the end that is the great tragedy and not the fighting itself.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Film Review - One Hundred Mornings (2011)

‘I knew it was coming, I didn’t expect it to happen so quickly’.

This phrase is uttered in a quiet style by Tim (Robert O Mahoney) whilst drinking vodka early on in Conor Horgan’s quietly superb One Hundred Mornings. When the end of the civilised world arrives one imagines it would happen the way it is shown here. It seems to have ceased to exist not with a loud crack but a sickening whimper. What is left are pockets of people clinging together hoping that something, indeed anything will happen to bring back familiarity. Instead we have empty towns and an Ireland where the Gardai are carrying shotguns.

Two couples, Jonathan (Ciaran Mc Menamin) and Hannah (Alex Reid) and Mark (Rory Keenan) and Katie (Kelly Campbell) are holed up in a cabin in Wicklow. There has been an unspecified event that seems to have brought general western standard of living to a standstill. Food is being rationed and the electricity has been out for quite a while. There is an older neighbour (Tim) who is friendly but distant with the group. The two couples are living on top of each other and nerves are frayed. Supplies are dwindling and they lack any real weapons to defend themselves. Clearly something unprecedented has taken place and as outsiders begin to learn that this group still has supplies, the threats start to multiply.

It is not difficult to read this as a mirroring of our times. The theme is not particularly subtle but its execution is done very subtly and without fanfare. To Horgan’s credit he gets the information out, not with chunks of exposition, but with visual clues throughout. There is no real talk of what happened but instead we get visuals: the accumulated detritus under an abandoned car’s windscreen wipers. Even Jonathan’s smoking one cigarette a day to make them last gives a sense of the time that has passed and the time left ahead of them. There is a subplot here involving infidelity within the group but unusually it does not become a dominant issue. There is a cold logic to this. If you are facing starvation that would probably take precedence over everything else.

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the film is in the tiny incidental pleasures in glimpsing things that were always taken for granted. There is a scene of great joy when normalization returns briefly. To say more would be to spoil it but it shows how much we take for granted and how much we miss things when they are gone. The tiniest pleasures for the most fleeting of moments work well here and are believable and organic within the story. The cinematography by Suzie Lavelle is quite beautiful making full use of the wonderful Wicklow locations. The score by Chris White is sparse and is used brilliantly to accentuate the loneliness and hopelessness of the situation. The acting is pretty good from the four leads - if a little uneven. Mc Menamin stands out in the ensemble as one to watch. O’Mahoney as the neighbour who does great work in the amount of screen time he has.

There is a brilliant shot of Hannah scrubbing clothes in a stream that calls to mind those famine drawings of women doing the same thing. And it is to those times that the film reaches back to. A time where people left and took their chance someplace else or stayed and died. It is this nihilistic viewpoint which is the film’s key strength. It works within the film and also as an analysis of the times we now find ourselves in. One Hundred Mornings is probably the first film to address the mess Ireland currently finds itself in and like the politicians we depend on, it offers us no way out of it. As a film dealing with end times this is not one of the zombie persuasions which give you easily definable heroes and villains. It says straight out that the enemies are ourselves and that we better make some difficult choices before it is too late. All this may does not give you the feel good DVD release of the summer, but it deserves to be seen by a large audience who can appreciate a low budget and superbly realised film.

Out on DVD Monday 23rd July.