I was able to see all of the following films at the Audi Dublin International Film Festival.
In Loco Parentis
Through the experiences and tribulations of its teachers, staff and students, In Loco Parentis is an in-depth look at Headfort, the only primary boarding school in Ireland.
It’s a simple but charming documentary. Neasa Ní Chianáin and David Rane craft something fairly engaging here, with a suitably wide set of perspectives: several students, the principal, etc. Pride of place is given to John and Amanda Leyden, a married couple teaching different subjects at the school. Amanda tries to engender in them all a love of reading, while John is a bit more musically inclined, overseeing a sort of extracurricular den where students can work at their artistic sides.
In Loco Parentis is practically oozing with positivity in every other frame. The teachers are caring, the students are (eventually) happy and even the ethos of the school – surprisingly liberal, as a scene focusing on Ireland’s same-sex marriage referendum shows – seems to tailor made to make you smile. Indeed, it is this which is really In Loco Parentis’ only flaw, in that it lacks any kind of bite or higher point to really make. In much the same was as Older Than Ireland, the editing of In Loco Parentis smacks as being tad selective in terms of the overall positive portrayal: the strain of elitism in private education is barely touched upon.
But that really doesn’t mean a whole lot. It successfully manages to draw a contrast between John and Mary, they being in their twilight years in terms of career, and the vast potential still stretching out ahead of their young students, not even half-way through their formal education. For a 90-minute look at a unique part of the Irish school system, and at the joys of teaching generally, In Loco Parentis does what it says on the tin. As the people behind ADIFF noted before the show starts, this positivity is one of the films key drawing points: in comparison to pretty much all of the films I otherwise saw, this documentary is the happiest that things were really going to get. Recommended.
The King’s Choice (Kongens Nei)
April 1940: Norway stands on the brink of war, as Nazi Germany threatens invasion. King Haakon VII (Jesper Christensen) sticks strictly to his ceremonial role as a constitutional monarch in the face of the crisis, until events overtake him and the rest of the royal family.
I can’t say I’m very familiar with Norwegian cinema (though this is actually a co-production of Norway and Ireland), but I am familiar with Christensen, due to his recurring role in the more recent Bond films, where he’s been rather good. He’s really stepping things up here, playing arguably the most famous Norwegian monarch in that Kingdom’s history. Haakon VII is renowned for his deportment and behaviour in the face of unrelenting Nazi aggression and inevitable defeat, and he needed a portrayal to match. Christensen gives him that, managing to mix and match the aloof seriousness required of any mid-20th century monarch and the family man who just wants a quiet life, one being denied to him by the whims of history. Scenes between Haakon and his grandson Harald – the current King Harald V – are some of the film’s most heart-warming, as a strained patriarch delights in a younger generation, and does everything he can to shelter them from reality. The interaction between Haakon and his direct heir Olav (Anders Baasmo Christiansen) is also to be noted, a more mature father/son relationship, being tested under the most trying of circumstances. Haakon wants to limit his participation in the unfolding events, while Olav wants to take control, but at its heart is a simply story of a man trying to live up to the example of his father.
The film is quite long, due to the preponderance of material outside of Haakon’s experience of the German invasion, The King’s Choice perhaps being somewhat misnamed: The Nation’s Choice might have been better. Excellent scenes early on document the initial Kriegsmarine incursion into Norwegian waters, as ghostly destroyers glide into the range of army guns, the eerie serenity of the moment soon dispelled by the devastating blasts. The German embassy works itself into a frenzy of negotiations and politicking, as poor Ambassador Kurt Brauer (Karl Markovics) struggles to maintain his authority and deny Vidkun Quisling a place at the table. Beyond that, the film flounders a little by casting an eye on various generals, ministers, and lowly soldiers, with a combat sequence in the latter half oddly out of place with the diplomatic wrangling going on all around it.
For Norwegians this will all be well-known history, but for the rest of us, A King’s Choice is rather special, that little slice of World War Two largely outside of our experience, and worthy of further attention. There is a certain element of hero worship, and the film only lightly covers Haakon’s decision to go into exile – a marked contrast to his brother, Danish King Christian X – so should not be considered a definitive exploration of these madcap days of the German invasions, but for those of a film persuasion, it’s not a bad way to start. Recommended.
The Age Of Shadows (Milijeong)
In 1930’s Korea, an underground resistance movement orchestrates a plan to smuggle explosives into Seoul, with operative Kim Woo-jin (Gong Yoo) running into both a problem and an opportunity: the attentions of government detective Lee Jung-chool (Song Kang-hoo), who may be turned to the resistances’ cause.
I’ll admit, I went into this one expecting something a bit different to what I got, thanks largely to the films primary flaw, namely that it doesn’t to know what it wants to be either. All in one overly-long two and a half hour experience, The Age Of Shadows is a crime story, a love story, a political uprising story, a fall from grace story, a revenge story, a torture porn story, and the real issue is that it doesn’t blend any of these things together very well: instead it just sort of jumps from one to the other whenever it pleases, with corresponding leaps in the amount of bloodshed at random moments, especially in the last 40 or so minutes.
And maybe the other problem is that the film doesn’t seem comfortable in itself. It very obviously wants to eb something akin to The Untouchables in large stretches, a very western production in so many ways, and I think I would preferred something a bit more Korean in focus. As it is, it feels like a quasi-Coppola film that happens to have an (nearly) all Asian cast. The character journeys suffer much the same fate as the general tone as the film jumps from one to another, never really settling on whichever it considers the most important: is it Lee’s quest for Korean independence, Kim’s reluctant search for redemption? The Age Of Shadows can’t mix and match them properly.
Of course, it still manages to hit the right notes at times. The world of puppet-government Korea is well-realized, and a sequence on-board a train around the midpoint is a real stand out in terms of creating tension and really tapping in to a sort of noir/espionage sentiment. But the tidal wave of blood and gore in the last act drowns a lot of that out, leaving you with a very different impression of the film then what it might deserve.
In the end, it’s really only alright: a somewhat dull slog through a lot of boring dialogue that tries to compensate with a violent explosion towards the end. As an example of Korean cinema, not all that appealing. Not recommended.
(All images are copyright of Magnolia Pictures, Nordisk Filmdistribusjon and Soda Pictures).