VDMIFF 2021 (2/4)

The second in TFR’s coverage of VMDIFF, with reviews by Cathal Eustace and Katie McKenna.

To All My Darlings

Review by Katie McKenna

With the likes of Normal People (Lenny Abrahamson, Hettie MacDonald), Wolfwalkers (Tomm Moore, Ross Stewart, 2020) and the upcoming Conversations With Friends, it seems like we are in the midst of an Irish screen renaissance. It’s refreshing to see Irish culture portrayed so vibrantly and authentically on screen. I find myself wondering: how long can this last? However, having had the pleasure of watching IADT student Lia Campbell’s short, To All My Darlings, I think my question has been answered.

After another miscarriage, Adaeze (Demi Isaac Oviawe), must break the news of a serious medical diagnosis to her husband, Nonso (Precious Okpaje), in Campbell’s emotional drama. The film is seeping with empathy, thanks primarily to Oviawe’s magnetic performance. A particular standout is a scene in Adaeze’s garden, where, with absolutely no dialogue, Oviawe says a huge amount. This character study lives or dies on the lead performance and Oviawe absolutely delivers.

The story does, however, feel somewhat underdeveloped, particularly when examining Adaeze’s relationship with her husband. Near the end of the film, Nonso says, “they’re my kids too.” It feels as if it isn’t just Adaeze who forgets this, but the film as well. Nonso feels like a tacked-on element, neglected until the very end. It’s hard to care about him or his relationship with Adaeze as we’re shown almost none of it. This could be a consequence of the restricted runtime that comes with making a short. However, I feel, the filmmakers chose to develop the world the characters live in at the expense of the heart of the story. While her film lacks the final emotional pay-off, I believe that Lia Campbell is a filmmaker with a huge amount of promise and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

A Worm In The Heart

Review by Cathal Eustace

A Worm in the Heart (2020) - IMDb

This documentary tracks the journey of a gay Irish couple’s journey along the Trans-Siberian railway. The filmmakers Paul Rice and Liam Jackson Montgomery meet with members of the LGBTQ+ community in various cities across Russia, staying with them and talking with them about their experiences. The pair had clearly done their research and made an effort to communicate with their interviewees prior to their trip: hidden groups of social workers providing secret mental health support to locals, sisterhoods of trans women who are forced to live together for safety, drag queens in the icy plains of Siberia — all the while explaining the history of systemic homophobia in Russia.

Sitting down and allowing the horrifying stories of queer Russians to suck me into the disturbingly calm Siberian tundra created a surreal viewing experience. I only paused the film occasionally to register the scarring retellings of violence against the interviewees, otherwise I watched it all the way through, never leaving the couch– to do so would have felt like I was disregarding the trauma of those being interviewed.

Following the route along the Trans-Siberian railway eastwards, the gradual shift from the more “progressive” cities of St Petersburg and Moscow all the way to the remote Vladivostok creates a simple structure for the audience to follow. The film is bookended by the couple’s experiences before and after their journey. Prior to their departure we feel as if the pair are venturing into the unknown, almost expecting something awful to befall Paul and Liam as they go from the relative safety of Ireland to the legitimately dangerous climate of Russia. After their journey however we feel as if the pair have become involved members of the Russian LGBTQ+ community.

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