The eighth edition of the IrishFilmFesta concluded on Sunday 29 March at the Casa del Cinema in Villa Borghese, marked by its usual large crowds and diverse programme of films.
The final afternoon of the four-day festival began with the Oscar-nominated Song of the Sea, an animated re-visitation of a Celtic myth featuring the voices of Fionnula Flanagan and Brendan Gleeson. The film tells the story of brother and sister Ben and Saoirse, who live on a small island. Ben is unaware that Saoirse is a mythical sea creature known as a Selkie, and is now the last of her kind. The film is directed by Tomm Moore, who co-directed The Secret of Kells and is a founding member of the Kilkenny-based Cartoon Saloon animation studios.
This was followed by Frank, a wildly original movie which IrishFilmFesta artistic director Susanna Pellis described quite rightly as "difficult to classify." Starring Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson and Maggie Gyllenhaal, the film centres around the young aspirant musician Jon (Gleeson) who joins an eccentric band led by the mysterious musical genius Frank (Fassbender) who hides behind a gigantic papier-mâché mask.
Afterwards Pellis introduced the audience to the film's director Lenny Abrahamson, saying that she had waited eight years to finally welcome him as a special guest of the festival, which has now screened all four of his movies. The post-film encounter took a surreal turn when audience members were treated to fan-like Frank masks, hand-made by Floriana, one of the festival organisers.
Pellis said that while the festival does not have a theme outside of presenting the best of Irish contemporary cinema, she identified the link between excessive talent and mental illness as a possible fil rouge to this year's programme, linking Patrick's Day, Brendan Behan: The Roaring Boy, and Frank.
Abrahamson said that his film railed against the idea of the American cultural axiom that "if you want something bad enough you can succeed", as well as the "X-Factor ideology" so prevalent in modern society. He also said the film was against the notion that it was "somehow cool to be crazy", adding: "that is to diminish the reality of some terrible suffering and turning it into some kind of hip motif."
Inspired by the lives of troubled, unconventional musicians such as Daniel Johnston and Captain Beefheart, Abrahamson said: "We wanted to make a film about the chaotic, amazing business of making stuff, we wanted to see that happen, not just hear some finished pieces."
The director described Gyllenhaal as "formidable, artistocratic, and extraordinary", while he equated Fassbender's effect on women with the scenes in Hitchcock's The Birds, when the feathered creatures hurl themselves at windows en masse.
After the almost Theatre of the Absurd style of Frank, the audience was plunged back to the dark days of Belfast at the height of The Troubles, with the festival's swansong, '71 by London director Yann Demange. This relentlessly fast-paced, hard-hitting film centres around newly-arrived British soldier Gary Hunt (played by Jack O'Connell) who finds himself behind enemy lines as his first day on duty descends into nightmare. The movie, which features convincing performances by Dublin actors David Wilmot and Killian Scott, earned Demange a prize for Best Director at the 2014 British Independent Film Awards, after receiving nine nominations.
The IrishFilmFesta goes from strength to strength and Pellis and her crew are already organising next year's ninth edition.