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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Captive in Cork

If you ever want to have the sensation of being in one of those movies where most of the people in the world have been wiped out and you’re nearly the only survivor left alive (Stanley Kramer’s On the Beach comes to mind, as well as the more recent 28 Days Later), then just go walking through the streets of Cork’s city center early on a Sunday morning.

If you want, on the other hand, to have the sensation of being in one of those movies where the world is about to end and everyone is out on the street, doing all the partying they can before the end comes (come to think of it, the only movie I can actually think of that falls into this category is the 1998 Canadian film Last Night), then just go walking through the streets of Cork’s city center after midnight on a Saturday night.

And, if you want to have the sensation of having had your body run through some sort of medieval torture chamber device, well, then do both of the above on the same weekend.

But, of course, no rational person would willingly choose to negotiate the partying throngs spilling out of the copious number of pubs and clubs lining the streets between the core of the city and the university (the number of people clogging the streets enhanced by the fact that, by law, all smoking must now be done out of doors) in the wee small hours of a Sunday morning and then make the same journey in reverse just a few short hours later in the early daylight. But the definition of “rational person” doesn’t account for people who attend film festivals and who build their personal schedule, not on convenience but on which films they most want to see. Which is how I wound up leaving the Cork Opera House at 1:30 in the morning, after having seen Jim Jarmusch’s hip and humorous Coffee and Cigarettes, and then heading off, after what seemed like just a few minutes’ sleep, to the Gate Cinema for a Sunday morning screening of the reconstructed version of Samuel Fuller’s World War II epic The Big Red One. No wonder I still haven’t recovered from a nasty cold, which was the Little Munchkin’s parting gift to me as I left for Cork, and which afflicted me all through the week, as I was missing sleep to watch late (and sometimes early) movies. In a particular bit of total insanity, I even arrived back at my room one night just before 2:00 a.m. and got caught up in watching the entire final presidential debate in real-time, which lasted until 3:30 a.m. in my time zone. After that, I suppose I simply didn’t deserve to get any healthier.

This cold was one of those nasty viruses that caused not only regular coughing (always appreciated by one’s fellow film buffs during a screening) and fatigue, but also all kinds of unpleasant stuff to come seeping out of my eye sockets. To have any hope of actually seeing the films, I had to have bits of tissue at the ready for dabbing my eyes at fairly regular intervals. I’m sure that people around me thought I was a real wimp, as I kept wiping my eyes with tissues while watching the wonderful Danny Boyle film Millions. Maybe I would have been dabbing them anyway, even without the cold, but I should probably re-watch that movie when I get the chance to make sure that I didn’t award it a rare four-star rating merely because the virus made me think I was being affected emotionally. What I have to wonder, though, is what my fellow audience members might have thought when they spied me dabbing eyes with tissue, while watching movies like the aforementioned Coffee and Cigarettes, which involved nothing more moving than two friends clinking their cups of java, or Eating Out, a fairly explicit sex comedy, of which the emotional highlight was an act that Bill Clinton once described as not being intercourse. I could almost hear people in the row behind me whispering, “Wow, he must really be emotionally fragile!”

Anyway, I somehow made it through the entire week, without missing any of the films that I had scheduled for myself, and I’m pretty proud of that. The grand tally was 20 feature-length films and five shorts over a period of seven days. Not my personal all-time best, in terms of average daily film viewing, but definitely better than averaging a film a week, which is my normal accomplishment.

I always like to look for trends among the movies I see at a film festival. Frequently, it seems as though certain themes or motifs recur from one film to another, obviously by coincidence, making the recurrences seem all the more weird. One theme that appeared in this festival was not by coincidence. As I mentioned last week, a few films that were screened early in the week were related to a Disability on Film seminar, notably the opening night film Inside I’m Dancing and the second-night film Aaltra. I don’t know if the theme was meant to extend as well to the Saturday late night film Saved!, a comedy set in an American Christian school, which featured Macauley Culkin in a wheelchair. Unfortunately, I missed that one, since I was busy weeping at Coffee and Cigarettes at the time.

Another trend that I noticed early on (and which seemed less consciously planned) was people being abducted. For a while, it seemed as though every movie I was seeing featured a kidnapping. Primary among these was Park Chan-wook’s Oldboy, in which the movie’s protagonist is abducted at the beginning of the movie and held against his will for 15 years. An apparent kidnapping is also central to the plot of Hideo Nakata’s Chaos, in which a woman vanishes from a public street in broad daylight during the opening moments of the film. An abduction in Northern Africa by Algerian rebels sets in motion the events chronicled in Alan Gilsenan’s Timbuktu. And an abduction of a Russian general in exile figures prominently in the climactic moments of Eric Rohmer’s film of political intrigue Triple agent. In Jonathan Demme’s The Manchurian Candidate, an entire platoon of American soldiers gets abducted during the first Gulf War, as part of a long-term plot to take over the U.S. government. And even The Big Red One has Lee Marvin taken prisoner by the enemy—at least temporarily, until the Allies free him by taking Tripoli. By the end of the week, I was frequently looking over my shoulder to watch for any suspicious characters who might be looking to shanghai me.

In a way, I suppose all these onscreen kidnappings add up to an appropriate metaphor for my week in Cork. I was held prisoner (although not against my will) by my unquenchable love of cinema. I guess it is just as well, for both me and my family, that they stopped screening films, so that I could go home.

-S.L., 21 October 2004

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