Start the New Year cinematically

Galway Film Society’s winter/spring season starts next week

AN ARTIST is ‘inspired’ by her guardian angle, a Kurdish youth plans to swim the English Channel to reach his girlfriend, dark goings on mar a town in Germany on the eve of WWI, and a Hungarian woman must confront her past if she is to have a future.

These are just some of the stories from some of the films which will be screened during The Galway Film Society’s winter/spring season which runs from January 17 to March 14. There will also be films from France, Germany, Romania, and Britain, as well as the new film from Jane Campion.

The main films

The winter/spring season begins on January 17 with Seraphine (France 2008 ), about the French ‘naïve’ artist Séraphine Louis (aka Séraphine de Senlis ).

Séraphine (Yolande Moreau ) is devoted to her art and to the ‘guardian angel’ whose instructions she claims she is merely following. By chance, German art critic and collector, Wilhelm Uhde (Ulrich Tukur ), takes up residence in the house she cleans and discovers one of her paintings, so setting in motion a long association between artist and patron.

Home (France 2008 ) will be screened on January 24. Isabelle Huppert and her bluff husband Olivier Gourmet and their death metal loving daughter live in rolling fields by the side of an apparently disused road. However life changes suddenly when the trucks move in to transform their quiet thoroughfare into a busy, noisy, dual carriageway. Beginning as a sleepy slice of naturalism, the film takes on the quality of an absurdist joke, before descending to much darker places.

Mid-August Lunch (Italy 2008 ) tells the story of a middle-aged man who lives with and looks after his elderly mother. The bills are piling up, so to make ends meet he starts looking after the elderly relatives of his landlord, friends, and even his doctor, leading an assortment of ill-matched, elderly, ladies to descends on his tiny flat. The film won awards at the London and Bratislava film festivals. See it on January 31.

Welcome (France 2009 ), which will be shown on February 7, features Bilal, a 17-year-old Kurd from Iraq. He phones London to tell his girlfriend Mina that he will soon be crossing the Channel to join her. He has already made an arduous three-month journey to France, and believes that the final leg will be easy. But after an unsuccessful crossing as a stowaway on a lorry, Bilal conceives the desperate notion that perhaps he can swim to his goal.

Enter swimming instructor Simon, in the throes of a divorce from teacher Marion, who agrees to give Bilal swimming lessons, then becomes increasingly involved with, and protective of, the boy - initially, it appears, in the hope of impressing Marion, but eventually for more complex emotional reasons.

Tales From A Golden Age (Romania/France 2009 ) is a series of witty tales from a variety of Romanian directors to be shown on Valentine’s Day.

A photographer for the governing party in Romania lands in a lot of hot water when his picture of Giscard D’Estaing’s official visit makes the Frenchman seem more presidential than their own dear leader. A lovelorn lorry driver seeks to win an inn-keeper’s heart by smuggling her illicit eggs. A suburban family face the challenge of slaughtering a pig without alerting their apartment block neighbours. A delightful closing story goes to show that you can sell air for a profit if you are clever enough.

Bright Star (Britain 2009 ) the latest film from The Piano director Jane Campion, focuses on the three-year relationship between Fanny Brawne (Abbie Cornish ) and John Keats (Ben Whishaw ) - one of the great love affairs of English literature. Cornish gives a wonderful performance as Fanny Brawne a sensitive young woman who is intrigued and amused by the reputation of her neighbour, Keats, but insistent on her own rival skills as a dressmaker and seamstress.

The film subtly moves from playful banter and underlying tension into the true love and mutual reliance that springs up when John and Fanny become next door neighbours in Hampstead. See it on February 21.

White Ribbon (Austria/Germany 2009 ), from director Michael Haneke is set in a small farming village in northern Germany on the eve of the Great War, and is shot in sparkling, iridescent black and white.

Beneath the sun-dappled fields lurks a series of disturbing events recounted by the local schoolteacher: a horseman has a strange accident, a worker is killed in the sawmill, a young boy is kidnapped, a barn is torched. This provides the backdrop to Haneke’s brilliant examination of a society that admits to nothing and hides everything.

The winner of the Palm D’Or at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, White Ribbon will be screened on March 7.

Tulpan (Germany, Kazakhstan 2008 ), a prize winner at the Cannes and Karlovy Vary film festivals, will be screened on March 14.

Recently discharged from the Russian navy, Asa, together with his boisterous best buddy Boni, calls on the only family in the area with an eligible daughter. She refuses Asa, claiming it's because his ears are too big. Crestfallen, Asa finds his dream further deflated when he proves to lack a natural instinct for herding, yet he persists at both courtship and animal husbandry.

Preserving an organic mix of naturalism and poetry, director Sergey Dvortsevoy offers a fascinating mixture of ethnographic detail, gentle humour, and spectacular cinematography in this film set in the Kazakh steppes.

Special screenings

Sleep Furiously (Britain 2008 ) will be screened on Tuesday February 2. Directed by Giddeon Koppel, this film is a series of carefully chosen moments from a year in the life of a small rural community, Trefeurig in mid Wales.

John Banville has described it, saying: “Koppel’s vision sets man in his true context, as a part of creation and not lord over it...grave, measured, subtly comic and beautifully wrought, free of polemic and yet offering a new way of seeing that is as old as Arcady. Sleep Furiously is, simply, a masterpiece.”

On February 28 there will be a surprise film direct from the Dublin International Film Festival with guest speaker. Details to be announced at a later date.

To mark International Women’s Day, the Galway Film Society and Amnesty International will screen Katlin Varga (Romania, Hungry 2009 ) on Wednesday March 10 at 8pm.

Banished by her husband and her village after an incident in her past is revealed, Katalin Varga (Hilda Péter ) is left with no choice other than to set out on a quest to find the real father of her son Orban.

Taking Orban with her under another pretence, Katalin travels through the Carpathians where she decides to reopen a sinister chapter from her past and take revenge. This quest for redemption leads her into a place she prayed she would never set foot in again.

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