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Viennale Diaries: Day 5
Friends, lovers and relatives in director-actor reunions.
The Banshees of Inisherin
It’s little wonder why both critics and audiences agree in their love for Martin McDonagh’s latest. It’s very hard to find any faults with The Banshees of Inisherin, an Irish parable that will urge you to tell the next person who pisses you off to go feck themselves before you buy them a fecking pint.
I seriously doubt there’ll be another film that will make me laugh as hard as Banshees this year, a tale of two friends who have an unreciprocated falling out against the backdrop of the Irish Civil War in the early 1920s. Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is simple-minded, big-hearted and known in his small island community as the nice guy, and Colm (Brendan Gleeson) is the older and more respected of the two, a violin-playing cynic who abruptly ends his friendship with Pádraic seemingly overnight. Hilarity ensues, and the whole village gets involved.
Martin McDonagh is four for four now as far I’m concerned, officially overtaking his brother John Michael as the more consistently good director. He successfully reunites Farrell and Gleeson who have already proven to have firecracker chemistry and banter in his debut In Bruges, and follows up one of the very best films of 2017, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, with another multi-layered satire, that’s funnier and closer to his home. Not that I agree with any of the critics who huffed and puffed as they led the backlash on Three Billboards, but the local lens is more McDonagh’s element as the themes are more seamlessly woven into the film’s fabric.
Banshees has the contour of folklore, foretold by the title - which does make sense once you see the film - and supported by the small-town community vibe where you get the sense that you can meet everyone in one day and the line between strange and funny is as thin as a donkey’s hair. Everyone - from Pádraic’s sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), the only rational person on the island, to the cartoonishly ghoulish Mrs. McCormick (Sheila Flitton) and the tragi-comic Dominick (Barry Keoghan) - plays a memorable role in making The Banshees of Inisherin vital viewing.
Farrell and Gleeson are in top form as the leaders of that ensemble, and if it didn’t come out in the same year as The Whale, I’d say Colin Farrell deserves to sweep all the Best Actor awards. The movie also belongs to Carter Burwell, whose score strikes a pitch perfect balance between whimsical and melancholic, and to Ben Davis, whose cinematography of the overcast cliff-side village creates an “edge of the world” backdrop abundant in beauty.
Mostly it belongs to Martin McDonagh the writer, who for his fourth straight feature film shares screenplay credits with no one. The Banshees of Inisherin, perhaps his most easily watchable film to date and one that I will be returning to time and time again, makes a strong argument that he might just be the best fecking original screenwriter around.
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Bones and All
In my second director-actor reunion of the day, it was the love story Bones and All. Luca Guadagnino and Timothee Chalamet follow up their heartfelt 2017 coming-of-age cinematic ode Call Me By Your Name with horror-fuelled coming-of-age cannibal-loving gore.
It’s really odd to think that the same director-actor team made both films. Call Me By Your Name is a beautiful story that feels oh-so-real and close that it re-settles belief in the dual nature of love; its cruelty and compassion. Bones and All is a genre film that, like the flesh its characters devour, detaches a romance from the sinews of horror and is unsettling in its loving compassion for two pretty cruel creatures.
Are we seriously supposed to root for Maren (Taylor Russell) and Lee (Chalamet) and feel anything but pity and disgust when they talk about (or engage in) eating other people? There are enough scenes that are shot in a certain light, preformed with a certain vulnerability and scripted with a certain love and kindness that lead me to believe the answer is yes. And if that’s the case, what the everloving fuck Guadagnino?
The film follows meek teenager Maren, who finds it hard to make new friends due to the fact that her and her dad (André Holland) don’t stay too long in one state. That’s because Maren, as sweet as she is, has an insatiable craving for human flesh - something that she was born with apparently, since her first cannibalistic incident was chewing off her babysitter’s face at age three. So they must skip from state to state, until dad can’t take it anymore and leaves her to fend for herself.
Soon enough Maren encounters others of her kind in the form of Sully (an exceptionally creepy Mark Rylance), and then Lee - who much like her is a lost young soul, although unlike her seems to have accepted his cannibalism with the nonchalance of a pothead accepting the latest strain of weed.
To its biggest credit, Bones and All does a remarkable job of genre blending; it’s a road trip, a love story, a coming-of-age tale for Maren, a crime caper, a story of outlaws running away from the law, their parents, themselves and psychotic killers. It’s also, unquestionably, a horror.
Even though Bones and All manages to keep all of these flavors nicely balanced, the act of cannibalism is on the verge of being romanticized here with a final scene and message that rings true in essence, but leaves a nasty aftertaste when digested within the context of this film.
The Eternal Daughter
The final director-actor reunion film of the day centered on the bond between a mother and a daughter. It was Joanna Hogg’s ghost story, The Eternal Daughter, which saw her reunited with the great Tilda Swinton, who was twice as great here as both mother and daughter - a fortuitous bit of casting magic.
It’s wonderful to see Joanna Hogg step outside her comfort zone after the very personal and grounded Souvenir movies. In the Q&A after the screening, she said how she feels that all her films are, in a way, one big film. Something I’ll be sure to remember when I write my upcoming retrospective on Hogg. But The Eternal Daughter is definitely a little different compared to anything else she’s done before.
It’s genre, Hogg style.
It’s a ghost story to be precise, set in an enchanting, creepy and creaky Welsh hotel. We meet Julie (Swinton) and her mother Rosalind (Swinton) as they make their way over there, through mist and fog, in a taxi. Upon arrival, Julie’s first interaction with the hotel’s seemingly sole employee, a nameless receptionist who looks bored to death (Carly-Sophia Davies), is the first of many uncanny and off-kilter conversations and moments that beset the daughter on this trip.
There are almost two movies here. On one hand, it’s a family drama anchored by an internal, unspoken tension within Julie, who is riddled with guilt anytime her mother expresses any kind of concern. On the other hand, it’s an unsettling gothic tale about a hotel with trapped memories, leering gargoyles and ghostly apparitions. The first is very much Hogg’s familiar playground - Julie, like the Julie in The Souvenir’s, is also a tormented filmmaker trying to write her next film. The second is refreshingly not.
There are elements of suspense, true wonder, puzzling threads of plot that lead to nowhere, and at the heart of it all lies the creative process. Both Julie’s, as she searches for a breakthrough, and Hogg’s, who intertwines the dual nature of her story into one seamless whole, a testament to her successful evolution as a filmmaker.
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