Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Killing of a Sacred Deer: a dread-inducing myth of demanded penance (QFT 3-16 November)

Colin Farrell plays Dr Steven Murphy a who caught up in a Grimm fairy tale in which act of medical negligence can only be repented for by the sacrifice of someone dear to the cardiovascular surgeon. The man who plays God in his role at the hospital, and learned the hard way not to do so under the influence of alcohol, is confronted by a vengeful child who demands an act of penance. As the title says, what’s needed is The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Steven has befriended teenage Martin (Barry Keoghan). Their relationship, their fondness for each other and the giving of gifts feels uncomfortable, but is driven by something other than sex. Steven’s connection with his wife Anna, an ophthalmologist played by Nicole Kidman, is unconventional (particularly in the bedroom) but consistent with the spectrum of awkwardness at play.

A curse – maybe even a series of plagues – is revealed when the couple’s son Bob (Sunny Suljic) wakes up one morning and has lost the power of his legs. Gradually Steven becomes aware of the bind in which his family have become trapped. Medical experts pore over the growing number of patients without realising that they need access to supernatural diagnostics rather than MRI scanners.

Like The Lobster, director Yorgos Lanthimos has again created a world in which norms are turned on their head, and a film in which there are two distinctive parts. The opening hour sets up the rules of the game and the board on which the socially awkward Murphy family must play; the second half sees what happens when they apply themselves to the dilemma at hand.

The creepy patterns of speech are echoed in the disturbing music tracks – deep ratchety and distressed strings, the ever-rising sound of a kettle boiling, soaring religious voices – that created a sense of unease in my chest that lingered a few hours after leaving the cinema.

The camera often keeps its distance, observing from afar or gazing over other people’s shoulders. In one scene it looks down from the high ceiling in a hospital reception’s atrium, capturing the drama from a position of helplessness. Never has tomato ketchup been so symbolically squirted over chips in a movie, and a glace of cool pure water sipped to so mockingly.

Throughout the film, the hirsute Farrell remains overly rational as his oft-commented upon hands lose their grip of the order he demands in his life.

Each member of the threatened family begins to adapt to the deathly quandary and fight for their own survival. Kidman exudes an air of emotionally-constrained concern as she at first gently explores the circumstances of her husband’s relationship with Michael, and then takes matters into her own hands to find out the facts of the botched surgery three years prior.

Raffey Cassidy impresses as the naïve daughter Kim who begins to mirror her mother’s coolness and confidence as 14 year old Kim realises that she’ll need to adopt grown up tactics in order to survive the seemingly inevitable cull. (My only gripe with the screenplay is that Kim’s obvious tunelessness is at odds with her membership of such a talented choir.)

Keoghan is superb as the evil engineer of the Murphy’s distress, never showing any sign of personal pain as Michael and holding his own among the more experienced stars cast in the film.

Unsettling in nature and uncomfortably long, The Killing of a Sacred Deer creates a disturbing mythology that is well executed on the big screen. If you can stomach two hours of joyless dread, head along to the Queen’s Film Theatre between Friday 3 and Thursday 16 November for a real cinematic treat of story-telling!

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bloodlines - has the male regulation of women really changed between 1911 and 2017? (Lyric Theatre) #belfest

Vittoria Cafolla’s new play Bloodlines cleverly twists together two situations a century apart that question the male regulation over women’s fertility, sexuality and powers of decision-making, and asks how much Northern Ireland has really changed?

Back in 1911 the Belfast Eugenics Society really were debating whether the city could breeding itself away from the growing “feeble minded and subnormal” working classes. On stage, Dr James Lindsay (played by Michael Condron) introduces the latest paper by Charles Darwin’s son Leonard. But this runaway thinking and its oppressive conclusions about controlling the population are challenged by Margaret Boyle (Mary Lindsay) who works with the city’s poor and is becoming involved with the Suffragette movement. Dan Gordon plays the snobby Bishop Charles Frederick D’Arcy who presides over the Society and supports the segregation and institutionalisation of those deemed “mentally deficient”.

Meanwhile in modern-day Tyrone, a vegetarian butcher Annie Baxter (Mary Lindsay) seeks an injection of high quality sperm into her ovaries. But after a failed relationship with a disappointing DUP councillor (Michael Condron) from another tradition, she’s picky about who might father her child, even remotely by IVF. Sister Phil (Nicky Harley) is a genetics student whose own lesbian love life is caught up in the claustrophobic village and isn’t sure whether she can stick staying under the local spotlight.

The modern day scenes are lighter in tone and support more humour than the historically rich pre-war passages. Condron captures well the political and pseudo-religious conservatism which Cafolla has written, plunging the character into a spin that lashes out and abuses those who would have maybe stopped to give him a second chance.

Decisions being proposed for a young destitute mother (played by Adele Gribbon) push Margaret over the edge and trigger the exploration of how the wider vision of the suffragette movement has never been fully delivered.

As the scenes ping pong between the two timelines, Mary Lindsay impresses as she switches from the violent delivery in a regional accent to the calm more posh tones of the unmarried well-to-do city professional.

While the format of a read-through (combined with good breathing technique) easily permits rapid transitions, keeping up the energetic scene changes could be an opportunity for very inventive costumes and set design. Director Emma Jordan allowed some simple props to add  life to the relatively static read-through and wisely avoided the use of canned sound effects.

The dynamic between the two protagonists in each of the two eras and the elements of symmetry between them were well observed and well performed. There’s a depth to the writing which even includes a great quote from the 1900 novel The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, citing Tin Woodman’s conclusion that “once I had brains, and a heart also; so, having tried them both, I should much rather have a heart”.

Bloodlines by Vittoria Cafolla was one of the four scripts chosen from the seventy or more submitted to the New Playwrights Programme. Watching this play was a very rewarding way of spending this afternoon and a bit of a treat to round off three and a half weeks of dipping into the Belfast International Arts Festival.

The next version of this play will hopefully return to a local stage with a full production. It wouldn’t be out of place as part of the programme in the NI Human Rights Festival or the Imagine! Belfast Festival of Ideas & Politics.

Closed Shutters - opening up street level perspectives of homelessness (Lyric Theatre) #belfest

Andy Doherty’s new play Closed Shutters looks up from the pavement to see life from the perspective of Spark and Ed who occupy side-by-side pitches on a busy Belfast street. Written in reaction to the raised awareness last winter of homeless people sleeping out on the city’s streets, through the pavement banter and voiced frustrations the audience learn about the two men’s individual circumstances and how passers-by interact with them.
“You have no idea who I am”

Michael Condron plays the relatively shy yet sometimes aggressive ‘Spark’ with a barking cough and cold limbs, disconnected from his family and his old life as an electrician, and with a worrying dependency on alcohol. Ryan McParland gives Ed a laddish charm and can do attitude, yet underneath the bravado his confidence is as limited as his life options are checked.

At first it seems surreal for two guys to be discussing the relative merits of different brands of cardboard boxes and how it would fit their personality and boost their begging potential. Yet with hours to spend occupying themselves day and night, it’s no more inane than the kind of conversation that could be happening over an eye-wateringly expensive latte in a coffee shop yards away from them.

Michelle (Adele Gribbon) introduces another angle, a mother who is trapped in an abusive relationship as an alternative to being homeless or reliant on a shelter. After some special moments when Ed and Spark square up to each other, the sensitive yet funny play finishes rather abruptly with a signposted conclusion for one character.

Emma Jordan’s direction of this read-through for the Lyric Theatre’s New Playwrights Showcase as part of Belfast International Arts Festival shuns chairs and lecterns and allows the performers to rest on four different heights of riser, creating the appropriate pavement setting. Andy Doherty’s future drafts may need to correct the steering on the underdeveloped character of Michelle who veers towards being a tart-with-a-heart stereotype rather than someone more complex, and deserve to further flesh out the troubling role rather convincingly played by Marty Maguire.

Friday, October 27, 2017

True North: The Crossing – Refugee Rescue (BBC One NI, Mon 30 Oct at 10.40pm)

Three Fridays ago I sat in what must be one of the world’s smallest TV studios in BBC’s Broadcasting House in Belfast. On the stool next to me was Joby Fox who I’d last seen singing at the launch of Community Relations week in 2016.

We talked on air (if that’s the correct phrase for a #WowTheFest Facebook Live broadcast) about Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun, the Schaubühne play that opened this year’s Belfast International Arts Festival, and powerful drama investigating the power plays at work when conflict causes people to flee their homes and migrate across borders.

The image of Alan Kurdi lying dead on a beach near the Turkish resort of Bodrum on 2 September 2015 is probably one of the key photographs of the century. It took a picture of a dead child on the doorstep of Europe to heighten awareness and wake up western countries to the world wide migration routes, fraught with danger and misery.

Belfast musician Joby Fox was so horrified at the news of refugees and migrants drowning in the Mediterranean, he left his family and went out to Greece to help. Standing with other volunteers on the beach on the Greek island of Lesbos, he realised the real need was out at sea.

He returned to Northern Ireland with a madcap mission to fund and operate a humanitarian rescue boat in the Mediterranean. Friends were roped in, including art curator Jude Bennett and Rathlin Island ferry skipper Michael Cecil.

“Once you are exposed to something like this you feel a responsibility to these human beings, and ultimately that’s what it is about, I am a human being, they are human beings, they need me. Children never asked for this, you know, so that’s my motivation … simple.”

That’s Joby explaining his motivation to help the refugees. A film crew from Northern Ireland followed them as they purchased a rigid inflatable boat which they named Mo Chara (Irish for ‘My Friend’) and along with Devon life guards set up a 24/7 Refugee Rescue mission on Lesbos.

Filmmaker Ben Jones said:
“Everyone watches news events on TV and thinks that’s awful. However, what’s the difference between someone who just watches, and someone who gets up and just goes there right away to see what they can do? I think that’s what always fascinated me about Joby’s story.”

You can watch Joby’s Story as part of the True North series on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.40pm on Monday 30 October. It’ll be streamed live and then available to watch back on demand for 30 days. And you can find out more about Refugee Rescue on their website, Twitter and Facebook.

New Playwrights Showcase - Lyric Theatre - October 2017 #BelFest

When you step into a theatre to see a play you normally put yourself into the hands of the playwright who crafted the original words, the actors who bring them to life, the director who shaped the performances, the set designer who creates a space for each scene, the lighting designer who pulls your eye hither and thither depending on the beams of light they shine across the stage, the sound designer who adds bass rumbles and background music to key moments, as well as the friendly host who checked your ticket stub and pointed you towards the seat and the people sitting on either side who may or may not check their phone and unwrap noisy sweet wrappers.

Eliminate the set, the lights, most of the sound effects and the majority of the choreography and the stripped back performance becomes much more reliant on the words of the play and how they are voiced.

As part of Belfast International Arts Festival, the Lyric Theatre’s New Playwrights Programme are showing off four new works by writers who have benefited from six months of dramaturgical support.

Last weekend there were read-throughs of Away With The Fairies by Seamus Collins and All Mod Cons by Erica Murray, both directed by Des Kennedy. This Saturday evening (7pm) and Sunday afternoon (2.45pm) another two plays will be showcased: Bloodlines by Vittoria Cafolla and Closed Shutters by Andy Doherty, both directed by Emma Jordan.

The four cast members stepped forward to four music stands with their script folders for Away With The Fairies. Scene one. Laura Hughes and Dan Gordon were loitering at the side of an imaginary confessional box. Helen and Easy are founder members of ‘Prayer Club’ which has a deep concern for the souls and exploits of parishioners so they can feed into the spiteful chain of gossip that consumes the town.
“Better you hear it from me than some deplorable gossip.”

But Helen has heard about a “doirty” video made up on a hill outside town that stars Easy’s young niece Sarah. Uncle Easy’s nickname of ‘Sleazy’ is down to his wandering eyes (and maybe hands) but he’s a naïve, unsexed soul. Up to now has enjoyed a good relationship as guardian of his niece. Adele Gribbon plays sweary and offensive Sarah who works part time in a café and banters outrageously with her boss Nathaniel (Seamus O’Hara) who may take honesty pills at breakfast given.

Over 80 minutes, this well-formed play explores the rift that forms between the normally cosy Helen and Easy as their backstories unravel. There’s a slew of coming out, attempts to destroy the hilltop statue that’s thought to be a pagan fairy goddess of female love and transmitting wanton feelings of gayness over the townspeople. Small town. Small minds.

Within days, everything has changed, power has shifted, unexpected grace abounds, and the Prayer Club is shaken to its doirty foundations. Seamus Collins’ Away With The Fairies has great promise as a play with its distinctive characters, funny dialogue and surprising twists. Hopefully it’ll be picked up by a local company and staged in the near future.

Tickets are still available for this weekend’s performances.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Lives in Translation (Kabosh Theatre): misrepresentation in the asylum process #BelFest

Theatre can confront audiences with stories and people that they would normally not hear or see. Lives in Translation is a new three-handed play that tells the story of one Somali woman who fled from Mogadishu. Yet Asha does not escape from conflict. While she no longer lives in such fear of death and sexual violence, she is now at war with an asylum process and frustrated at every turn by the necessity to work through interpreters.

Based on interviews with Somalis who are refugees or are seeking asylum in Belfast, playwright Rosemary Jenkinson has pieced together a compelling piece of theatre that lays bare the inhumanity of the asylum process. (I interviewed Jenkinson about the play a couple of weeks ago.)
“I’ve been questioned a hell of a lot for someone who hasn’t committed a crime.”

Raquel McKee holds the centre of the stage dressed in her colourful garbasaar for the hour long performance playing Asha, voicing the frustration and desperation when she realises that she’s been trafficked to Dublin rather than the US, and as weeks turn to months and then years as she ‘battles’ the system while coping with the distress of being separated from her family.

The passage of time is emphasised by Conan McIvor’s giant clock which is projected onto the set. This visual timepiece provides a signal for flashback scenes that look back to happier times in Mogadishu. Tony Flynn ably slips in and out of accents and jackets as he portrays the disinterested legal system, a welcoming and can-do Belfast church worker, as well as Asha’s singing and dancing husband.

Stuart Marshall’s set backdrop consists of panels of documentation and forms and receipts. Words also infect Liz Cullinane’s costume design with blouses, shawls and ties sporting newspaper articles.

The cultural identity of an interpreter may clash with their client. Amongst other characters, Julie Maxwell plays the role of a translator whose tribal background and personal prejudice leads to the misrepresentation of Asha’s case and contributes to her asylum application being refused. It’s shocking and sad but all too believable that the asylum process lacks any self-awareness of its in-built flaws and weaknesses.

The questions used to ascertain the veracity of an individual’s story and background are shown to be inflexible. The default position of disbelief makes the authority figures into the liars and deceivers as they twist the words to catch people out. Yet they stand proudly above any claim of prevarication or obfuscation. Then there’s the process of deportation from Belfast to Dublin via a boat to Scotland, the bus to Glasgow, Manchester, London and a flight to Dublin … before stepping straight back onto a pre-booked bus to return north to Belfast and start the process all over again.

The few moments of grace and generosity in Asha’s story contrast sharply with the constant grind of ‘detention centres’ that don’t allow you to cook your own food, and tribunals which want you to be able to sing the pop music that was at the top of the charts when you fled your country.

Yet Jenkinson allows Asha’s black humour and to lift the mood with statements like “I want no memories. I’ll take pills every day, like the Irish!” and spotting parallels between the Titanic and her own failure to reach the US. With no props and very little human contact, director Paula McFetridge relies on good delivery, expression and movement to carry the story.
“How do your children know that you love them?”

Lives in Translation escapes the trap of merely being a worthy liberal rage by providing a window into a world that is clearly not fictional. The audience watch state-run processes grind Asha down over a ten year period. There really is no happy ending to this tale of disempowerment and loss. Happy hormones are not released at the end of the play with a hopefilled finale. Instead the audience are invited to sign a petition calling for progress and justice in a local asylum case that is still ongoing after 14 years.

Map showing how to find entrance of S13 venue on Boucher Road - Google Maps
Kabosh’s production of Lives in Translation runs in S13* on the Boucher Road as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until Saturday 28 October before touring through Downpatrick Courthouse (Tuesday 31), Newtownards (Wednesday 1 November), Dungannon Courthouse (Thursday 2), and Derry’s Cultúrlann (Saturday 4).

*S13 is the new venue in the old B&Q store on the Boucher Road. While there is an enormous car park in front, you may find it more convenient to park along Balmoral Road nearer the new venue entrance at the back of the store.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Party ... is over and the last supper has begun (QFT until 2 November)

Janet (played by Kristin Scott Thomas) has been supported in her idealistic climb up the greasy political pole by her academic husband Bill (Timothy Spall). She’s arranged a dinner party with some close friends to celebrate her promotion to Shadow Health Secretary. The Party proves to be a night of beginnings and endings, but mostly endings.

Brutally honest April (Patricia Clarkson) arrives with her soon to be ex-boyfriend, healer and life coach Gottfried (Bruno Ganz) who dispenses aphorisms with irritating regularity. Jinny (Emily Mortimer) bursts in with news for her older partner Martha (Cherry Jones). Tom (Cillian Murphy) arrives and makes excuses for his delayed wife. He’s het up, tooled up, agitated, and turns out not to the only one ‘doing a line’ in the house.

Played out in real time over seventy one minutes in black and white, the lack of colour accentuates audience focus on the dialogue and people’s facial expressions as the entrée explodes. While the mood is already collapsing like a soufflé that has been checked on in the oven once too often, Bill’s revelation about his health – which explains his mournful drink-infused jazz-laden lethargy – is the fatal blow that pushes the evening into the catastrophe curve from which it surely cannot escape.

Despite an evening of cooking and the excitement that follows, Janet’s white blouse remains unblemished. Secrets are served up instead of food. Her own secret remains tucked away like her cheeping mobile – was that a Blackberry? – unlike everyone else in the house. Timothy Spall switches from being docile to animated, encouraged by Gottfried’s crazy mix of philosophy and dogma. His second revelation is one of the least signposted aspects of the plot. Kristin Scott Thomas pivots from celebration to concern to lashing out as her already complicated world overheats. Emily Mortimer’s naïve portrayal of pregnant Jinny enjoyable until the moment she too disappoints and outs her over-feminist doctrine.

Given how little the friendship circle actually understand the lives of each other, Janet couldn’t have invited a worse group of people over to toast her success.

Sticking to black and white has not limited writer/director Sally Potter’s ambition to old-fashioned methods of story telling. The handheld camera is allowed to wobble, explore low angles and cut off people’s heads if they move through the shot too quickly. The varied pace of the editing keeps the story moving despite being trapped in the ground floor of the house. Scenes flit between conversations and locations, yet are allowed to linger without dialogue when it fits the moment. Laughter roars out from the audience at the fraught situations and bizarre things people say when they are tense.

Hypocrisy abounds. Long held understandings are stressed and fractured. The film finishes before the evening is over. No one’s situation is fully resolved and much is left hanging at the end. It’s an incredibly satisfying manner in which to fade to black (with the exception of seeing the last shot right at the beginning minus the dialogue which ever so slightly tarnishes the symmetry).

The often unseen cost of ambition and people’s struggle to adequately live out their feelings of loyalty are explored. The presence of a weapon is transformational in a confined and emotional vortex.

I feared that this film would really be a play. It is and it isn’t.

Sally Potter very effectively exploits the grammar of film while retaining the intensity of a stage production. The camerawork makes it into a film, but The Party could – and perhaps, should – transfer to a theatre stage with relatively few changes.

If it had been staged in a theatre I might have had more space to unpack the universal messages of social conflict and political pressures, but on the silver screen it still worked as a mature and well formed piece of storytelling.

I often wonder what Dennis Potter would have made of Brexit, the Scottish independence referendum and the DUP propping up the Tory government? I imagine if he was still writing plays and TV series, his imagination and scathing pen would have eviscerated any sense of complacency with a treatise that lampooned the heightened feelings of nationalism and gung-ho politics of today.

Sally Potter is no relation!

This script and this film demonstrate a much less flamboyant style than her namesake. Yet she displays a very familiar deft touch of pushing a character and the story further than is comfortable to better transmit the message that is squarely on her mind.

The Party is quite a treat and a great piece of storytelling. It runs in Queen’s Film Theatre until Thursday 2 November. Far better than The Snowman, Geostorm or Blade Runner 2049!

Review - Geostorm - climate of disbelief as US fail to get blame for global genocide & weaponising the weather

Disaster movies often follow a tried and tested format. A hurricane threatens to wipe out a city and a science academic known to someone in the Whitehouse is plucked out of obscurity to eliminate its threat before more than a few hundred extras are killed and the countdown clock reaches zero. An asteroid is hurtling towards Earth and an American-led effort is launched into space to intercept it and save everyone on the planet below.

Geostorm turns things on its head. In this movie, the US might be the cause of the problem. They underwrote the (internationally-assisted) construction of a ‘Dutch Boy’ satellite-based system to control the extreme weather patterns that “everyone was warned about but no one listened”. But the system meant to plug its meteorological finger in the climate change dyke is failing.
“I want a full dissection of all components, priority one!”

Cue a race to uncover the sabotage in parallel with the perpetrators rushing to complete their evil plan. The heroes of the piece are two brothers. Jake (played by Gerard Butler) is the rule-ignoring genius behind the design of the system who subsequently lost his job and his family; his brother Max (Jim Sturgess) coordinated the international collaboration and sacked his brother. The two don’t get on – though unlike Cain and Abel they don’t murder each other – but have to overcome their differences for the sake of the planet. Add to that an illicit relationship with Secret Service agent (Abbie Cornish) who has proximity to the US President in case the plot needs someone to help stop the giant countdown clock, and a space station commander (Alexandra Maria Lara) who does all the risky stuff herself.

Suspend your disbelief that the International Space Station which is currently 73m long has inside a matter of years been expanded into an enormous orbiting factory with gravity everywhere on board making the rotating wheel seem a tad superfluous. Be thankful that spacesuits that today take half an hour to get into with assistance can be randomly walked up to and donned alone in a matter of seconds. Such great technological advances just around the corner to look forward to.

Molten lava bubbles to the surface in Hong Kong, giant hailstones fall in Tokyo, an icy breeze freezes the swim suited paddlers on a beach in Rio, twisters sip through Mumbai and a tsunami floods Dubai causing high rise destruction.

And yet there is no examination of the worldwide upset at a US-controlled system malfunctioning and causing the genocide – or at best failing to stop these devastating incidents from killing – of what must be tens of millions of people given the population densities involved. Instead, these catastrophes are an excuse for a series of well executed car chases, one involving a rather excellent electric SMART car, the other an orange autonomous taxi.

The inevitable goodbye does not drip with emotion because one family’s loss cannot be compared with the on-screen massacre already observed. A self-destruct sequence sets a new world record for leisurely and half-hearted annihilation of a facility, and raises questions about whether the ISS could be switched off and on again to fix a dilemma.

As a disaster movie Geostorm succeeds in not being boring and in combining action up in low Earth orbit with the goings on along the US east coast. There are a few clever plot devices and if it wasn’t for the pesky fact that the climatic devastation pre-geostorm seems of such epic proportions that the full thing when the countdown hits zero couldn’t conceivably be much worse, and the pesky slaughter of millions due to rogue US foreign policy, it could be an okay film.

Geostorm is hard to miss in local cinemas. Bring an umbrella in case there’s a hailstorm when you leave the building.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Blade Runner 2049 - a triumph of set over story

How can I say this? I really don’t get Blade Runner 2049. Neither the original nor the sequel! So why all the hype around this overly long science fiction monstrosity?

It’s a lengthy film in which we learn about the collection of an eyeball, home life, new live, searching, finding, feeling, self-discovery, reunion, recalibration, realisation, swimming, an actual reunion and ending. Each of those ‘acts’ is given 10-12 minutes, plenty of room in which to breath, in the much anticipated and quite baffling sequel to the original Blade Runner.

If you’re still reading, congratulations on sticking with this review: a few fans may have been lost after those two paragraphs.

There have been poorer movies this year. I’m thinking about Stratton (too poor to review) and War of the Planet of the Apes.

I’m always suspicious of films that need a preamble to set the scene. That misgiving applies to Star Wars with its trailing text too. This film begins with a much needed glossary to explain replicants, blade runners and retirement as well as a since-the-last-episode catch up about synthetic farming averting famine, rebellion, prohibition and super-obedient nu-replicants.

Ryan Gosling is the modern blade runner K, a replicant working for LAPD and flying around the dusty states looking for old models that need to be stopped. He wears blood well: first caked on the right side of his head, later on the left side, and often trickling down and sticking to his neck.

“What you saw didn’t happen” says Robin Wright playing Claire Underwood, I mean, Lieutenant Joshi in a role that is hardnosed but nowhere near as evil as her character in House of Cards. Sylvia Hoeks plays Luv, chief enforcer in Tyrell Corporation and nemesis of LAPD’s Joshi. These are strong roles which happen to be female, and their strength and ability to give and take punishment is unaffected by gender. However the acting is ponderous and the dialogue is weighted down like Shakespearen speech rather than sci-fi.

The same stressed questioning of replicants is carried over from the first film, though the equipment has been modernised. Holographic projections, large and small, abound throughout the city. The female form is fixated upon in a society that otherwise shows signs of being gender balanced: men must sadly not evolved while we’ve been away.

Virtual companions (Ana de Armas plays the well-named ‘Joi’) are as preferred as real women; and both can be used for surveillance. Flying cars have a Delorean feel, and suffer similar trouble with their electrics, though are badged as Peugeot.

There are moments of unexpected humour in this dark science fictional quest for answers. The birth of the latest Nexus model of replicant looks suspiciously like a baby giraffe being rudely dropped into the world from a great height. Conception is deemed to give hope for delivery from slavery. But it may also be what “breaks the world” and causes war to break out. The blade runners try to cover it up in fear of starting away, while the manufacturers seek to steal the evidence.

The locations are stunning and the cinematography is fabulous, with an opening shot that moves from an eye to a circular solar farm. This architectural design in the city contrasts utilitarian concrete apartments with the archive centres and a Bond villain-esque lair straight out of the pages of Dezeen.com. The colour palette is convincingly ‘post-event’ with its mix of grey, pale yellow, dark brown, dust and white.
“Sometimes to love someone you got to be a stranger”
Aside from the set and the colouration, there is little to like about this dystopian science fiction world. Though a shade longer then The Revenant, Blade Runner 2049 if is marginally more enjoyable, and director Denis Villeneuve does succeed in making a film that is less atrocious than the bamboozling Ridley Scott original. (I’m now tempted – but only a tiny amount – to return to it having sat through ‘2049’ in case I now have enough clues to understand the storyline.)

Two thirds of the way through this 163 minute film a familiar male figure steps out of the darkness along with his cute dog and a longing for cheese. The possibility of a Star Wars-ian ‘guess to whom I am related’ moment is allowed to linger for twenty minutes before being snuffed out in the snow. That’s a disappointing revelation in a film that offers little other hope.

One late scene brings forward the possibility of Indiana Jones and the Watery Ending. But the true hero – and not the one you’ve sat watching for several hours – must be kept alive in case there is a further sequel.

Blade Runner 2049 is a long and disappointing foray into a future world whose architecture far surpasses the story. Give me Solaris or even give Sunshine any day over this nonsense!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Celui Qui Tombe (He Who Falls) - a physical theatre treat and allegory for our time #belfest

There’s a chance I may run out of superlatives in this review.

Every now and again a show comes along that exceeds expectations, even though it has been built up as spectacular by everyone who has mentioned it in the months prior to seeing it.

Celui Qui Tombe (He Who Falls) is perhaps the most unexpected and magnificent piece of theatre I’ve seen in a long, long time. If it even is theatre. Part circus, part dance, part narrative, the cast show off their gymnastic, athletic, choral and acting ability over the 60 minute piece of awesome physical theatre.

The safety curtain in the Grand Opera House rose and in the gloom behind a rectangular wooden platform descended. As it gently tipped forward, six people could be discerned. The platform was suspended on steel cable from four winches high up in the custom lighting rig above the stage.

The platform tipped further forward and some of the figures struggled to keep a grip and began to slide down the wooden structure. Beethoven blasted out, creating a sense of calm amongst the chaotic scene.

When the magic carpet reached the level of the ground, the music stopped, the cast froze, and a man with a limp walked forward from his control desk at the back to the stage and nonchalantly released the cables.

Soon the platform began to spin anticlockwise and the three women and three men had to adapt to the centrifugal force that threatened to push them off the platform. At first we saw them ‘learning’ to lean in towards the middle. Then they crowded in and huddled up as a bunch, before experimenting with moving across the centre of the platform.

Before long the platform and the performers was spinning in the other direction – in the Q&A afterwards, the cast admitted that some nights dizziness is harder to avoid than others – before the they had to delicately balance on its centre point and the cast began to drop on to the floor, swing from it and dodge it as it flew from side to side across the otherwise set-free stage.

Each new scene challenged the cast and surprised the audience. Frank Sinatra’s I’ll Do It My Way blasted out while the figures on stage were learning that cooperation was vital to their survival. Partnerships were formed and then cruelly split apart by other people crashing through their embraces.

There was love and affection. There was cause and effect. A rogue exploration of the other side of the platform could literally tip and balance and jeopardise the stability of the five others. Sometimes the hazard could be ducked and dodged, other times the characters had to go with the flow or hang on for dear life.

Perhaps the most magical moment comes when the backing music is ditched and the cast begin to sing while a couple dangle beneath the raised platform and others stand on top. A genius moment to sing a madrigal with the high soprano notes flying over the deeper male voices.

Director and designer Yoann Bourgeois says that the six performers are “a kind of mankind in miniature ... they react to the physical constraints without initiating movement themselves, and it’s from this tussle between their mass and force that the situation is born”.

It was understandable when the audience gasped as bodies seemed to be helplessly sliding towards the edge of the platform. Less understandable when people talked loudly about what they were seeing and let their mobile phone ringtones compete with the official accompaniment. And then there were the latecomers, fifteen minutes after the show began and the unstoppable urge of some to hold up their phones to film the spectacle.

Celui Qui Tombe is produced by Centre Chorégraphique National de Grenoble in France. The effortless sliding, running, falling and hanging was all the more amazing given the admission that this two night run as part of Belfast International Arts Festival were the first shows for two of the six performers.

In a political situation that is locally dominated by an uncertain stalemate, nationally overshadowed by the unknown variables of Brexit, and internationally overshadowed by tension between the US and North Korea and global terrorism, Celui Qui Tombe illustrates how hard it is to keep control and how much easier it is if we work together.

A physical theatre allegory for our time. Jump at any chance you have to see this show in the future.

- - -

Belfast International Arts Festival runs until 28 October. Poppies: Weeping Window outside the Ulster Museum are well worth a visit, and a series of talks about WW1 and the theme of remembrance continue after the festival closes. The powerful Gardens Speak experience closes on Sunday 22 October.

Rosemary Jenkinson’s new play Lives in Translation opens in the old B&Q store on Boucher Road next week, while Owen McCafferty’s Fire Below (War on Words) continues its run in the Lyric Theatre and they’re still Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World in Riddel’s Warehouse.

Meanwhile the programme of talks continues, with In Praise of Forgetting on Thursday evening with David Reiff.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Soldier Still (Junk Ensemble) - shedding the damaged skin of the traumatic military #BelFest

Soldier Still explores violence and trauma through the mode of dance. Junk Ensemble’s latest production ran for two nights in The MAC as part of Belfast International Arts Festival.

The piece is based on testimony from former soldiers from both sides of the Irish border as well as civilians and a child survivor from the Bosnian conflict. I spoke to the sibling choreographers, Megan and Jessica Kennedy, for a preview piece published on Culture Northern Ireland.
When I think about PTSD, talking therapies come to mind long before dance. Yet sibling choreographers Megan and Jessica Kennedy found researchers like Dr Bessel van der Kolk, whose scholarship shows that therapies which use the body can be more successful than traditional talking treatments.

First World War soldiers suffered from what was then called ‘shell shock’ and the trauma was often physically visible in their bodies through tremors and their inability to walk.

'We experience trauma through our body and we need to let go of trauma through our body,' explains Jessica, ahead of the forthcoming performance Soldier Still as part of Belfast International Arts Festival. 'We’re looking at alternative therapies that a minority of soldiers have employed, but have had higher success rates than yoga, meditation and even talking therapy.'

For a non-dancer like me who sometimes struggles to understand dance performances, Soldier Still is remarkable accessible. Short snippets of dialogue taken from the research interviews stop the audience having to guess everything from the movements. Dancers pick up some of these moments, including abuse in the parade ground and the after-effect of an artillery shell exploding nearby.

The often silent on stage presence of Dr Tom Clonan, a former Captain in the Irish Defence Forces, is a uniformed representation of the military machine that is “inherently destructive” and sees abuse and trauma but often does not intervene in a positive manner.

The total immersion of life into the military is quickly established with the putting on of the uniform, and later the shedding of this damaged skin like a metamorphosing caterpillar is captured in a beautiful solo sequence by Julie Koenig. (Though it leaves a question about female nudity versus the impact if it had been a man floating in my mind.)

At times the four professional dancers move as if they are in formation on a parade ground, with one falling out of step, but then being pulled back into the conformity. One person habitually bears enormous weights – Lucia Kickham carries one of the male dancers around the stage on her back – even when their character has left the army.

The threads of each character are woven together and leave the impression that it as probably as hard to shake off military service (with your constant preparedness to kill) as it is recovering from the trauma that results from being innocently involved in conflict.

It’s clear to see why Soldier Still picked up Best Design Award at the Dublin Fringe Festival. The set, lighting, sound, and costumes all combine to strongly support the choreography and intermittent dialogue.

The rivulets of coloured paint running down the back wall of the stage add intrigue and detail to the overall staging, as well as creating a flag in the shallow well underneath that emphasises nationhood and serving a country.

Soldier Still is an intelligent, thought-provoking production, which succeeded in meshing a non-performer in with the professional troupe in a way that added rather than subtracted.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Bad Day For The Cut - introducing NI 'farmer noir' with a body count that nearly matches the certificate

A man lives in a farmhouse with his mother and enjoys a pint in his local. He has caring responsibilities but would rather not be tied to the land. Sound familiar? Seen that before recently?

Despite the similarities with God’s Own Country, instead of turning into a film about love bursting out on the Yorkshire fells, the elderly mother (played by Stella McCusker) is brutally executed near the start of Bad Day For The Cut, triggering the violent revenge of her son Donal (Nigel O'Neill).

Young guys are sent to finish him off and Donal forms an unlikely alliance with Bartosz (Józef Pawlowski), the more clueless of the two. Between his self defence and mechanical digger, the middle-aged farmer easily disposes of the other more deadly attacker.
“He tried to kill me but it’s all sorted now.”

Bartosz joins the bereaved farmer and the unlikely pair travel through Belfast and up and down the Antrim coast in a converted campervan – Donal has a passion for restoring old vehicles – searching for clues as they track down the villainous boss at the top of the criminal tree that seems so set on eliminating his family.

Country and western tracks play in the background when they’re driving along. There is something of the wild west about the killing spree that follows, with a wry touch of humour in the way bodies are hauled along the floor and jingly music to hilarify some of the fight scenes.

While clearly an amateur militia man, the farmer certainly knows how to wield a shovel, has a good eye for improvising instruments of torture from household objects, and carries a double-barrelled shotgun for so much of the film it’s a relief when he finally fires it.

We witness Donal’s capacity to fend off varying degrees of mediocre gangsterism as the storyline works its way up the chain of command (through countless familiar faces from local theatre and television). Bartosz sticks around in the hope of finding and releasing his sister (Anna Próchniak) who is working in a brothel high up in Obel Tower for reach top dog Frankie (Susan Lynch) and her suave handyman Trevor (Stuart Graham).
From early on in the film it’s clear that Donal’s Mum must have taken some secrets to the grave to explain her being targeted. Yet the real confusion in the film stems from the overcomplicated array of villains that begin to litter the ninety nine minute plot and some odd editing that unwittingly misdirects viewers by showing a roadsign that explains a destination before cutting to a completely different location with another group of characters, and allows people with no transport to travel long distances at night.

Nigel O’Neill combines being gruff with being menacing and yet also naïve as he seeks revenge. Susan Lynch makes a great supervillain, bringing a sense of evil purpose to the role along with her snowy white blouses that disguise her blood-soiled heart. Józef Pawlowski and Anna Próchniak’s subplot adds a richness to the storyline and lifts it away from the terrorism roots that start to grow into the traditional bedrock of NI cinema.

This is Chris Baugh’s debut feature as a director, co-written with producer Brendan Mullin. It’s very watchable, has a satisfactory ending and bodes well for further productions that they bring to the silver screen.

Bad Day For The Cut is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 20–Thursday 26 October, and courtesy of Film Hub NI it will be touring through Ballyclare, Portrush, Omagh, Dungannon, Fermanagh, Newcastle, Derry and Mullaghbawn, though hopefully not in the blood strewn camper van. The film will also be available on demand from iTunes from 23 October but it deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Fire Below (A War of Words): class warfare on the decking (Lyric Theatre until 28 October) #belfest

Rosemary and Gerry are out on the patio decking waiting for their neighbours Maggie and Tom to come round and help them guzzle a crate of New Zealand wine that she ordered online. A civilised cross-community middle class evening of putting the world to rights with the strain of opera music in the background and some not so casual racism while Gerry waits for the Eleventh Night bonfire to be lit in the field at the bottom of the garden.

Owen McCafferty’s new play Fire Below (A War of Words) holds a mirror up to the letsgetalongerist middle class behaviour of pretending that everything is all jolly nice and there’s nothing to disagree about that can’t be disagreed about in an agreeable fashion.

That is until an overseas conflict comes up in conversation and acts as a proxy for the local one that has up until now been swept under the decking. It all kicks off, harsh words and bitter silences are exchanged, and the limit of neighbourly offence is measured by experiment.

Gerry is as drôle as he is irascible, sipping wine and hiding behind dark sunglasses and the plumes of smoke from his e-cigarette. Mostly the ex-Catholic sits on the fence, neither liking nor disliking anything or anyone … unless someone hits a topic that is dear to him.

Actor Frankie McCafferty is clearly in his element as Gerry and has the audience roaring with laughter as he uses Owen McCafferty’s script to spit out moment after moment of comic genius.

Rosemary (played by Cara Kelly) ignores the excesses of Gerry’s humour. She bats away his hare-brained schemes and rarely sits down, preferring to buzz around filling up wine glasses and offering nibbles.
[Rosemary] “… I would care if I thought they were dancing around the bonfire thinking we were Fenian bastards – I’d care then – if they’re just doing what they do because they are who they are then no I don’t care.”

Tom (Ruairi Conaghan) is learning Irish as a Protestant and practices it with Rosemary next door. Lacking Gerry’s easy sense of humour he exposes himself as an ass early on and is the character you just can’t warm to.

On the other hand, Maggie is the revelation of the piece. Ali White brings depth and effervescence to the character which probably has the least lines in the play. She allows the wine to slowly dishevel Maggie’s appearance, before bursting back to life towards the end of the one act no interval play to tell a story about her mother and then justify her position on the divisive contentious issue that breaks the party up. It’s like a much more subtle version of her performance as Veronique in the magical God of Carnage a couple of years ago.

Paula McCafferty’s set allows the decking to extend beyond the natural front of the Lyric stage, perhaps symbolically linking the middle class characters on stage with the supposedly middle class characters in the stalls. Six frameless windows hang behind the decking reflecting the onstage action and allowing the audience to imagine seeing themselves in the action. However, I found them visually distracting when they also gave a glimpse of (a projection of) swaying trees and the bonfire.

For once the theatrical middle-classplaining about loyalist culture and motivations is perhaps justified. It’s an illustration of how shallow this behaviour looks and is.

Playwright Owen McCafferty gets away with it, but there is a nagging feeling that he is deliberately ignoring the reality that Northern Ireland is no longer made up of binary communities: Protestant and Catholic, unionist and nationalist. What’s missing – though I bet it’s not a sequel – is the awkward evening when the Alliance/Green-voting neighbours on the other side come round and everyone tiptoes around the cultural landmines once again.

The fascination with the bonfire at the bottom of the garden provides the reason for the cast to constantly look out at the audience (although the mirrored set would have allowed them to stand at any angle). Director Jimmy Fay creates some lovely lines on stage with the four characters and has great fun with the awkward silences. The extended dance routine is performed with guts and gusto, as is the rather tuneful impromptu rendition of The Sash.

Owen McCafferty beautifully plays different pairs of characters off against each other, exposing marital tensions and unlikely alliances. Fluent Irish speakers – and anyone with programme to hand which includes the translations into English – will realise that some of Rosemary’s quips in Irish to Tom along with her one extended violent outburst confirm what you might already suspect about the closeness of the two neighbours.

The final scene which pretends that nothing untoward has happened and allows the couples to return to share an earlier racist motif initially felt like an awkward end to the play. On reflection, perhaps that is exactly as should be. It’s not a neat ending; instead it’s a rather frayed and disappointing conclusion because these characters are stuck in their rut and unwilling to change.

Yet the eponymous ‘fire below’ has been lit in the patio’s fire pit. The couple’s clichéd sociability and animosity is exposed for the shallow excuse for a relationship that it is as they tiptoe over the truth of their differences. And the audience have no excuse not to learn from this moral tale seen reflected in the stage’s mirror.

Fire Below (A War of Words) plays in the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until 28 October after which it transfers to the Abbey Theatre in Dublin 7-18 November.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World – new world, old rules (until 27 October) #BelFest

Replay Theatre Company conjures up a post-apocalyptic world in which only people under the age of ten have survived a deadly virus outbreak. With a chance to start again and rebuild society, will they repeat the sins and mistakes of the past? Or will they reform and create a more utopian world?
“Keep together … Keep safe … Do as I say.”
For Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World, Riddel’s Warehouse has once again been transformed into a multi-level performance venue. Order is quickly established as the audience arrive and are curtly directed to their seats. Amazingly nearly everyone obeys the command to power down and not just silence their mobile phones. While the man in a beige jumpsuit barking the instructions was carrying an improvised truncheon made out of an iron bar which did give him some clout, I make a mental note that my fellow audience members are not the kind of people who are going to rebel against their revolutionary overlords.

As we are chaperoned across the floors and up and down the stairs we pick up the vocabulary of the new society. Electronic goods and books are ‘stash’ and must be collected, bagged and destroyed to prevent further infection. These ‘seekers’ protect their skin from contact with stash and live in the ‘Homeplace’ where regular ‘burnings’ are used to rid the world of contamination. ‘Controllers’ set the rules. Every society has controllers …
“The job of a seeker is to serve the Homeplace.”

Playwright John McCann has a sense for language and dialect and has developed a Homeplace catechism that the seekers recite upon challenge. Original thinking and even remembering the past are not just discouraged but forbidden. Bruises (hopefully from make-up rather than rehearsals!) remind us that life is tough in this new world. Susan Scott’s costumes have a scavenged look, combining the uniform of asbestos workers with desert fatigues!

We meet two dissenters who live outside of Homeplace in ‘the place beyond’. They live under the threat of being found by the zealous seekers. While Manus (Miche Doherty) carries injuries that confine him to their bunker, Skye (Diona Doherty) runs a one person resistance movement, confusing and attacking the enemy. She understands what’s going on with the “bitter wee boys barracking themselves up in Homeplace playing God”. Chris Grant and Daniel Kelly are seekers, and the cool and authoritative Emer McDaid exerts control over the pair as their tutor.

Mary McGurk plays the role of a new seeker. She journeys through the system as an ingénue, learning about both sides of the conflicted land before having to face up to her own choice about what and who she believes. We watch the seeds of distrust and conflict being sewn inside Homeplace, and see the outworking of clashes between the righteous seekers and the dissenters.

The penultimate scene is like a special episode of Eastenders: full of hysteria, blood and family revelations. However, this outpouring of emotion and distress overshadows the final big reveal delivering a slightly anticlimactic ending to a thoughtful and energetic evening of science fiction theatre.

Promenade performances are quite rare. Good use is made of warehouse space, though as the 90+ minute show goes on, competition hots up to be in the half of the audience who will get a seat in each new scene! Much of the ground floor fabric of the old warehouse is covered in polythene sheeting. Set designer Ciaran Bagnall has abandoned the Meccano of his youth and embraced scaffolding to create a playground of runways and bars over which the seekers can climb and run and spin.

Familiar patterns of behaviour pervade this vision of the post-viral future. The undertone of gender discrimination and men doing what men always seem to do even when there’s a chance to start again is accurate albeit depressing. There’s a nuanced exploration of whether people blindly follow an oppressive regime or whether they pretend to play along but are more aware than they let on about their overlords, in this case the aptly named controllers.

Dancing at the Disco can definitely be seen as an allegory for Northern Ireland politics with a younger generation potentially able to seize control in the vacuum left by the so-called adults. Are these the sort of mistakes that they would make and repeat if they got hold of power?

Replay specialise in theatre for young audiences and I’d love to see and hear how their younger audiences evaluate this vision of a society emerging from the hands of the young few who remained after the virus.

A technological armageddon. The resilience of luddites. A road to a new hell paved with good intentions as human patters of behaviour survive annihilation by a virus. With a superb venue, a good ensemble cast and a thoughtful script, Dancing at the Disco at the End of the World is a new piece of theatre that seems sure to rattle around my head for days to come. It runs in Riddel’s Warehouse as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until 27 October.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Can’t Pay Won’t Pay - enslaved workers steal themselves and face up to austerity (Lyric until 15 October) #belfest

Suspend your disbelief for 75 minutes (and the interval) and step into Don McCamphill’s imaginary parallel universe of west Belfast where left-wing theories are being lived out in the Kennedy Centre where the financially marginalised shoppers are claiming the contents of supermarket shelves as their own without payment as a protest against high prices. And this popular uprising might be spreading to public transport too.

Adapted from Dario Fo’s original Italian 1974 play Non Si Paga! Non Si Paga! into Irish as Ní Thig Linn Íoc! Ní Iocfaidh Muid! (Can’t Pay Won’t Pay!), the cast of five bring to life a fantastical world of phantom pregnancies, hirsute clone policemen and a wardrobe to hide in that could have been borrowed from Narnia. There’s simultaneous English translation through headsets at every performance.

Aíne (played by Aoife Ni Ardghail) has been struggling to manage the household finances. With barely two pennies to rub together, not every bill has been paid but Jonty (Tony Devlin) doesn’t realise just how dark the fiscal clouds are that gather over their flat.

Margherita (Eleanor O’Brien) and Cricky (Jamie Hallahan) are Aíne and Jonty’s mates and partners in crime. They’d do anything for their friends, and don’t stop for long to consider the ramifications of the deceitful japes they get caught up in.

Ni Ardghail plays Aíne as a quick-witted and quick-worded woman whose imagination runs faster than a car freewheeling down Craigantlet hill. She could talk Margherita into anything. O’Brien quietly steals scenes with her comic contractions and labour drama. True to form Devlin breaks into song at every opportunity. Multi-roled Jack Walsh exploits his minimal costume changes for laughs as he switches characters, appearing more than once in many scenes.

With a simple set consisting of a kitchen island unit, a sofa, a door, a window and the aforementioned wardrobe, director Brid Ó Gallchoir allows the cast to chew the linoleum by doing laps around the kitchen as they mull over the moral and pecuniary dilemmas they face. The audience sit on all four sides of the stage. Physical tricks add to the subtle mirth and sense of the extraordinary alongside the critique of capitalism and the radical left socialist response.

Aisling Ghéar celebrated their twentieth anniversary of producing Irish language theatre this year. With this performance, the company once again show that they are not afraid to produce original work that stands out in the busy local theatre scene.

Listening to the play in translation through headphones ever so slightly disconnects the acting from the dialogue – at times, it’s like watching a perceptibly out of sync video – and while most of the humour comes across, the loss of immediacy decreases its power.

While the play avoids going full farce until the final scene, it is full of surprises and crazy ideas that grow legs. Can’t Pay Won’t Pay is a gentler-than-expected cry against the state, against banks, against politics and against the strong arm of the law encouraging the “enslaved masses to stand up” as the cast sing at the show’s conclusion.

Can’t Pay Won’t Pay! continues at the Lyric Theatre as part of Belfast International Arts Festival until Sunday 15 October.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Snowman: sinister Scandi-noir thriller (in English) that warms up slowly (from 13 October)

While author Jo Nesbø allegedly has a cameo appearance with a dog, I couldn’t spot any sign of Aled Jones in this new Scandi-noir investigative thriller based on one of the many Harry Hole page-turning novels.

The Snowman begins by casually laying out a series of family scenes like crime files being flung onto a table. Only the age of the vehicles gives away the different timeframes on display.

We see a distressed young boy whose abusive ‘uncle’ walks out of a house in rural Norway: soon the young lad is orphaned. Next a woman is followed home and the next morning a snowman has been built and is wearing her scarf, looking sinisterly up at the first floor bedroom windows (rather than looking out across the road) and she is missing. There are further disappearances and the predator begins to tip off a police detective before carrying out his crimes and leaving a snowman calling card.

Inspector Harry Hole (played by Michael Fassbender) has a new partner in work, Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson). She’s a keen investigator, on top of the new-yet-clunky technology being rolled out by the Norwegian police force, whereas Hole is a depressed soul who is on the lookout for a good murder to scrutinise with his old fashioned methods.

Particularly in the first half, the film’s pace seems to be move at the speed of permafrost thawing. At one point I wondered if the film would exceed the Blade Runner 2049 run time and last all day. For certain scenes, the book – which I’m a few chapters into – is actually faster to read than the movie is to watch.

The loose chronology and lack of breadcrumbs create an ambiguous canvas upon which director Tomas Alfredson paints the blended plot and scatters his collection of disposable characters. The relationship between the two cops is one of mistrust. The closest Hole has to a friend is his ex-partner (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg) who has custody of their child. Inevitably the professional and the personal collide before the credits roll.

While it’s not uncommon to pretend that everywhere in the world speaks English and ignore indigenous languages – who can forget Sean Connery as the Russian submarine captain with a Scottish accent in The Hunt for Red October? – it felt unusual for a myriad of English accents to be used and the only snatches of spoken Norwegian kept to chatter in the background. Maybe the subtitled Saturday night series on BBC Four have spoilt audiences and taught us to enjoy languages other than English, but I found the linguistic nature of The Snowman distractingly false and commercial.

Devices, physical and cinematic, are the bedrock of the film. The clunky police computer is lugged around from scene to scene, eventually failing the most basic fingerprint security test and proving why twelve hourly synchronisation is not sufficient, but still providing a clue which leads to the discovery of the (most) evil character. While horrific in places, the film pulls back from ever firmly stepping into horror. Norwegian scenery is stunning and beautifully captured in the bluey grey tones of the film.

Michael Fassbender plays the moody inspector with a cryptic nonchalance, the kind of chap so nonplussed with life that he’ll use a stack of LPs as a pillow while listening to a record through expensive headphones. Across the cast, he delivers the most depth of performance as his own demon-infested backstory is revealed.

Rebecca Ferguson keeps her headstrong character’s cards close to her chest as she hides a personal connection to the case, a connection which finally connects together the loose threads that have been left dangling all the way through. As well as Fassbender and Fergus, the Irish acting fraternity has also slipped Adrian Dunbar (Line of Duty) into the cast. His brief appearance along with that of Toby Jones (The Play What I Wrote) momentarily took my mind off the movie and reminded me of more enjoyable ways to spend a couple of hours.

I imagine that the dramaturgical diagrams and charts behind the plot of Milo Rau’s play Compassion: The History of the Machine Gun are complicated, but The Snowman must have had many walls covered with cards and string in order to map out the different layers of the story. Yet there are still loose ends (and red herrings) like the dry rot workman and the cigarette butts whose on screen presence feel more significant than they turn out to be. And I’m never convinced by an injection whose needle barely has to prick someone’s skin before the person keels over.

While The Snowman is definitely a much more sophisticated film than some of the juvenile fare that has recently been screened in cinemas (Stratton, American Assassin, and Kingsman - The Golden Circle come to mind), for me its admirable complexity and craft weren’t sufficient to overcome my dissatisfaction.

Fans of the series of books may enjoy how the familiar characters leap off the page and onto the screen, but for me the disconnected paperback method of telling the story was unsuited to the two hours of screen-based storytelling. And it certainly wasn’t helped by the all too familiar return to the trope of a serial killer targeting women (though the only gratuitous torso in this film belongs to Michael Fassbender) and the repeated use of torture tools to sever bits of victims’ anatomy.

The Snowman will be in cinemas from Friday 13 October, including the Movie House and Omniplex chains.