6 March 1997 Edition
Not just an Irish struggle
The world premiere of A Further Gesture opened the Dublin Film Festival this week and a more honestly radical and thought-provoking film you'll find hard to get.
It has a straightforward plot - the sort you really could tell in 25 words or less. An IRA man escapes from Long Kesh, makes his way to New York and becomes involved in a plot to kill a Guatemalan dictator. But the story has plenty of twists and heart-racing action scenes, particularly the brilliant opening escape sequence.
Stephen Rea gives one of his best performances yet as IRA Volunteer Seán Dowd. With a weary heart, he chooses an anonymous life in the United States rather than returning to active service in Ireland following his escape. His is a story of loss and loneliness, excellently captured in his life as a dishwasher in a sleazy part of New York.
When he intervenes in a fight in his cheap hotel he is stabbed. Lying in his room, slowly bleeding to death, he faces a squalid end. He is saved by a friend from the restaurant, a Guatemalan, who takes him back to his apartment. Dowd falls in love with his friend's sister and then discovers they are involved in a plot to kill a brutal dictator. But they are amateurs so, through love and sympathy with their struggle, Dowd decides to lend his expertise as an IRA Volunteer to help their plan.
The film deals with themes of loss and of change but also of the universal nature of struggle and, ultimately, of its human cost.
Ronan Bennett has written a marvellous script which is tight and pacy as well as subtle in examining the motivations of the main characters.
It will be a few months before it goes on general release but when it does, don't miss it.
By Brian Campbell
For many, a film like Ken Loach's Carla's Song will stand or fall on its political content. Those who agree with Loach's viewpoint will tend to speak favourably of the film, while those who disagree will argue that he shouldn't be so ``political'', or that the film lacks ``objectivity'', or balance.
But Carla's Song is no Michael Collins or In The Name Of The Father, it is more radical than either. There are no super heroes or cause celebres, left-leaning or otherwise.
George (Robert Carlyle) is an ordinary, if charismatic Glaswegian bus driver who befriends a Nicaraguan refugee, Carla (Oyanda Cabezas) who dodges bus fares and busks to survive in the city. She is suffering from extreme traumatic stress - a result of the brutality of the American-backed Contras.
How she copes with this trauma, and how George helps her through it is the central story in the film. In what is an act of emotional, more than political solidarity he returns with her to Nicaragua to face what she has left behind.
At one stage George exclaims that the Contras are ``animals''. An American, however, sets him straight: This is no random violence or civil war. The tactics, strategy and funding for the Contras come from Langley, Virginia, CIA Headquarters. The Contras target schools and medical centres to undermine the social programme of the democratically elected Sandinistas. If the programme is seen to work in one country, then other countries might start to get uppity (not to mention those deprived of adequate health and education in the United States itself).
But don't assume that this is just a film about Nicaragua. How Loach portrays Glasgow is equally revealing. When George wrangles a phone number from Carla, he uses the payphone in his block of flats. Outside the dingy shelter where she hides from reality are the Smash The Poll Tax posters, accurate both in message and flaky corners.
Inevitably this film will be compared with the superb Land and Freedom. I'm not sure if such a comparison is fair. The Spanish Civil War captivated the idealism of an entire generation. George, in Carla's Song has to ask his schoolgoing sister ``what's going on in Nicaragua?'' Land and Freedom documents an ideological struggle, Carla's Song highlights a deeply personal one.
By Proinsias O Maolchalain
Grace of My Heart is a strong and absorbing tale of a fictional singer/songwriter. The story begins in 1958 when Edna Buxton, played brilliantly by Illeana Douglas, escapes the bosom of her rich but stifling Philadelphia family and heads for New York, where she pursues her musical ambitions. Much of the film centres on the famous Brill Building in the Big Apple, which, between 1958 and 1970, spawned hundreds of hit records, launched as many careers and sustained several major genres, girl groups, teen idols and uptown soul.
Edna's singing career hits the rocks within the first 20 minutes but her exceptional songwriting talents are soon spotted by record company executive Joel Milner (John Turturro). With his encouragement and a name change to Denise Waverly, she achieves writing success. Throw in some excellent tunes, a disastrous relationship, some more success, another disastrous relationship and the pattern for the film is set. The third relationship sees former brat packer Matt Dillon's entrance, while Patsy Kensit also has a supporting role. This sounds a little glib on the page but some excellent acting and a good script keep the whole show's head above the clinging cloying waves of the Sea of Sentimentality. A host of original songs litter the film, written by such talents as Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello but the two main characters are the mainspring and make the most of Allison Anders' script.
This reviewer approached Grace of My Heart with trepidation but emerged well satisfied. I think you will be pleasantly surprised as well.
BY LIAM O COILEAIN