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Scott Larson

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All you need is…

So, who do I have to sleep with to get into the opening night film at the Cork Film Festival?

Two years in a row now I have failed to get in, despite forking out the money for a festival pass (admission to all festival events) and doing so in what I thought was a timely manner. I might as well give up trying. In any event, if the two most recent festivals are any indication, the opening night seems reserved for Irish films wallowing in grim nostalgia for the days when the Catholic Church abused young people. Last year’s opening night film was The Magdalene Sisters, about a nun-run asylum where girls were forced to labor in a laundry for offenses ranging from being raped to being too flirtatious to being too pretty. This year, the opening night film was Song for a Raggy Boy, about boys being abused in a reformatory run by Catholic brothers. I wonder what’s on tap for next year. The Bernard Law Story?

Otherwise, in this year’s festival there were three other new Irish feature films. Coincidentally, they all dealt with drugs and/or criminal gangs. Maybe it’s the Veronica Guerin influence. Maybe it’s just what everyone in Ireland is focused on these days. Shimmy Marcus’s Headrush was a comical look at the drug scene and how ripping off criminals can finance a new career and help you win your girlfriend back. David Gleeson’s Cowboys and Angels took place in Limerick but made a quick dash to Dublin to pick up some drugs so the hero could finance the tuition for art school. David Blair’s Mystics was about crime gangs in Dublin but, quaintly, they didn’t seem to be dealing drugs. Instead, they were the old-fashioned kind gangsters who just pull off elaborate robberies. If these movies are any indication, crime and drugs seem to be out of control in Ireland these days. Maybe it’s time to bring back tough schools run by strict, no-nonsense nuns and brothers.

Other than the annual opening night Catholic Church bashing, what other trends can we discern in the Cork festival? Well, it seemed as though quite a few movies had the word “love” in the title. Maybe that is why the festival program and poster featured a big red heart. Feature films that I saw with the L word in the title included the 1997 John Hurt film Love and Death on Long Island, the weird apocalyptic suspense romance It’s All About Love, and the English ensemble romantic comedy Love Actually. The festival also included the English lesbian feature Do I Love You? as well as the English short Love Me or Leave Me Alone and the Norwegian gay short Love Never Dies. Actually, I don’t know how much of a trend this really is. A quick check of movie titles through the years reveals that literally hundreds of films that have the word “love” in the title. Indeed, one could argue that most movies are ultimately about love in one form or another. In tackling the theme of love, however, the festival films that best portrayed what love is all about didn’t necessarily have the L word in their titles. Top of the list would be Denys Arcand’s wonderful The Barbarian Invasions, specifically about the love between a father and son, but also between a man and his friends and family. In the same vein, Catherine Hardwicke’s adolescent drama Thirteen was a daunting but ultimately life-affirming testament to parent-child love. As for love between siblings, that was on brilliant display in the darkly wondrous Wilbur Wants to Kill Himself.

The ambitious comedy Love Actually tried to cover all kinds of love in a multi-threaded story involving all sorts of Londoners. This kind of thing has been done quite a few times before, in everything from the 1950 French film La Ronde to its 1992 American quasi-remake Chain of Desire to the recent Irish film Goldfish Memory. In many of these films, however, the idea of exploring different “kinds” of love often means man-woman, man-man, and woman-woman. In Richard Curtis’s Love Actually, the “kinds” are wife-husband, father-son, sister-brother, and even star-agent, as well as various man-woman combinations, including a couple of employer-employee situations (particularly one with Hugh Grant in the role he was born to play). This film definitely gets the prize for the broadest view of the topic of love.

As for the film that best depicted non-sexual love between men, it was definitely the low-key Scandinavian comedy Kitchen Stories, which gently illustrated the bonds that can form over time, even when people come from different backgrounds. And no film festival would be complete without at least one movie in the genre of l’amour fou, i.e. obsessive love. That would definitely be Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island, which is itself a riff on Luchino Visconti’s tale of obsession with love and beauty, Death in Venice. John Hurt gives a memorable portrayal of the ache of longing and of being in thrall to someone gorgeous that anyone (from stuffy English authors to 12-year-old girls) can identify with.

The Cork Film Festival doesn’t give awards to feature films, which is why I am giving out my first annual Love at the Cork Film Festival awards. The Cork fest does, however, give awards to short films. Fittingly the top award, the Jameson Award for Best Irish Short Film, went to a film about love. This was Full Circle, which tells in 14 minutes a story about two people who look at each other all day everyday across a busy street, trying to screw up the courage to cross to the other side and break the silence. The award jury gave a Special Mention to another film, and for my money that one was better and told us much more about love. Róisin Loughrey’s Fall Into Half-Angel simply allowed a couple, who happened to perform in a trapeze act together, talk about their work and their personal relationship. We quickly realize that an acrobatic partnership is a perfect metaphor for a life partnership. Both require compatibility, cooperation, communication and, above all, trust.

After seeing all these films and learning so much about love in just one week, there remains only question on the subject. It’s the same question that I began this column with. So, who do I have to sleep with…?

-S.L., 23 October 2003

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