Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Popping my Cork

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Cork.

Just when I really needed a film festival, you provided one for me. After looking over what I wrote last week, I feel kind of bad because I got off on tangent about murders and Roy Keane, and I might have given the impression that I wasn’t completely fond of Cork.

For the record, Cork is a lovely city. Never mind that every major street seems to be dug up at the moment. Oops, there I go again sounding negative. Stop that! Anyway, the best thing about Cork, after all, is that they have a film festival. But there are lots of other nice things about it. If you’re a tourist, there is Blarney Castle and its famous, kissable stone, and there is the heritage center at Cobh (formerly known as Queenstown) where you can see where millions of Irish people (including my own mother-in-law) set sail for new lives in faraway lands. It is also the last place the Titanic stopped before setting off on its ill-fated course to America.

More importantly, if you are a refugee from Seattle, Cork’s city center boasts numerous cafés where you can get lattes and cappuccinos. And, if you are a native Californian, it’s good to know that it boasts not one but two Mexican restaurants, one of which is perfectly passable and the other which is pretty darn all right. With all of this, along with convenience shops that stay open until all hours on Friday and Saturday, what’s not to like about Cork? Oh yeah, and although this isn’t something that particularly interests me, I seem to have noticed that they also have one or two pubs.

Cork is unusual among Irish cities in that it has not one but two breweries—and neither of them is Guinness. For years the Murphy’s brewery sponsored the film festival, but the Murphy’s name has been taken off the official festival name—apparently because Murphy’s has been bought out by the Dutch brewer Heineken and they must not be into film. While we’re on the topic of alcoholic beverages, it is also worth noting that Cork is also home to the distiller of just about every major brand of Irish whiskey. Definitely my kind of place. The whiskey distilling has been centralized in Cork, and the only distillery in the group left to stay in its original location is Bushmills, in County Antrim. It is the oldest continuously operating distillery anywhere and definitely worth a visit—although, as far as I know, they don’t have a film festival. (A few years ago, the Missus and I spent a night at the picturesque Bushmills Inn, and I committed the faux pas of all time in the restaurant when I absent-mindedly ordered a scotch. I have been afraid to go back since.)

But enough about alcohol. If I have any regrets about the 47th Cork Film Festival, it is that I didn’t get to see more Irish movies. It is a testimony to the Irish audiences that they flock to home-grown productions—at film festivals anyway. Since I didn’t actually know I was going to Cork until the last minute, I was too late to get into the opening night gala film Magdalene Sisters, Peter Mullan’s film about the Irish laundries run by the Catholic Church, where “fallen women” were sentenced to spend their lives laboring. And I didn’t get into any of the Irish short film programs either, although I managed to see a couple of the short films as part of other programs. And I did manage to see the futuristic fable Chaos, which wasn’t exactly great.

The highlight of the festival for me then was really the closing night gala film, Phillip Noyce’s powerful Rabbit-Proof Fence, as well as the chance to see and hear the great English cinematographer Jack Cardiff after having viewed two fine examples of his work, Black Narcissus and The African Queen. The intriguingly plotted and acted Spider also proved to be a skillful piece of filmmaking by an unexpectedly restrained David Cronenberg. And the American film Tadpole, which I hadn’t seen before, also proved to be very good, in spite of its tricky subject matter.

Otherwise, it was the French who kept my eyes popping throughout the week. François Ozon’s 8 femmes was a campy treat and a real hoot, as we got to see France’s greatest living female film stars sing, dance and overact together. Damian Odoul’s Le Souffle was a powerful look at adolescent angst in the grand tradition of François Truffaut. Laetitia Colombani’s A la folie… pas du tout totally confounded our expectations by mixing the romance, comedy, thriller genres, as it told the story of the twisted relationship between the stars of Amelie (Audrey Tatou) and Brotherhood of the Wolf (Samuel Le Bihan). And the ever reliable Bertrand Tavernier gave us another thoughtful story about war, this time in Paris in 1942, in Laissez-passer.

That’s another great thing about Cork. Being Ireland’s southernmost city, it’s not too far from France.

-S.L., 17 October 2002

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