The Audi Dublin International Film Festival, Ireland’s premier celebration of film from around the globe, continues to go from strength to strength, with this year’s events attracting huge crowds to a high-quality array of workshops, talks and special screenings. Demand was particularly high for the unmissable opening director’s masterclass with Ben Wheatley, whose bullet-strewn new release Free Fire kicked off the festival in explosive style at the Savoy Cinema on O’Connell Street. Among the many other presentations during the 10-day event were Working with Actors, a masterclass with award-winning actor Kerry Fox held in Brooks Hotel, and A Conversation with Terence Davies, in which novelist Roddy Doyle hosted an insightful interview with the acclaimed Liverpudlian film-maker.
The most important elements of any film festival are, of course, the movies themselves – and this year ADIFF was blessed with a bumper crop of outstanding features from around the world. Two of the best of these both offered penetrating insights into the experiences of 21st century women, albeit in wildly different contexts. Anna Biller’s The Love Witch managed to pull off the difficult trick of paying heartfelt homage to sixties horror tropes while retaining a sharp, post-modern edge – its acerbic critique of outmoded gender roles and society’s attitudes to female desire make it so much more than just a well-appointed B-movie. That said, Biller’s frame doesn’t half spill over with lush, psychedelic mise en scene – Elaine, the film’s anti-heroine, lives in a candy-box Victorian mansion crammed full of arcane occult bric a brac and garish portraits, and the director frequently camps it up with far-out psychedelic visual flourishes and midnight movie special effects. Samantha Robson, excellent as Elaine, uses her feminine wiles and vampish allure to ensnare a succession of over-sexed meatheads (including one hilariously pretentious English teacher), but when she is finally confronted by a buttoned-down cop who she suspects may be “the one”, her malevolent scheming comes to a grisly end.
Through the ages, the figure of the witch has embodied men’s fear of women and of female sexuality, and as was repeatedly highlighted in the recent American presidential election, rampant misogyny remains prevalent in both the public and private realm. The arrival of The Love Witch couldn’t be more timely, and with its biting feminist message and gorgeous retro visuals, Anna Biller’s movie has all the credentials required to become an instant cult classic.
Kristen Stewart has successfully emerged from the shadow of her association with the Twilight series to become one of the most acclaimed and exciting talents of her generation, exhibiting a twitchy nervousness that has evoked comparisons with James Dean, among other era-defining stars Hollywood’s past. While there remain some question marks about her range as a performer, her ability to convey millennial anxiety makes her a perfect lead for Oliver Assayas’ Personal Shopper. Coming hot on the heels of their previous collaboration Clouds of Sils Maria, Assayas and Stewart here serve up a maddeningly incoherent but oddly fascinating portrait of dread, dislocation and 21st century angst. The film tries to have its cake and eat it; being an awkward blend of fashion industry satire and enigmatic supernatural thriller. Stewart, however, ably carries the whole enterprise with a performance of understated intelligence – she features in practically every frame and has an undeniably mesmerising presence. It’s Stewart who holds Personal Shopper together – whether or not you buy into Assayas’ premise depends on how well you react to his detached and sometimes puzzling style.
Other highlights of this year’s festival included the aforementioned Free Fire, a high-octane shoot-’em-up caper starring Armie Hammer, Jack Reynor, Brie Larson and Cillian Murphy; the premiere of Snowpiercer (featuring the final performance of the late John Hurt), and a very popular Costume Design masterclass with Oscar-winning designer Alexandra Burke. With a formidable variety of films which were truly representative of the global nature of cinema, and the usual array of illuminating and entertaining special events, the 2017 ADIFF truly was one to remember.