Best of Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival 2022

The Dublin International Film Festival celebrates 20 years on the big screen

BJ Quinn

After hosting an entirely online event in 2021, this year, from February 23 to March 6, the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival (VMDIFF) was back where it belonged: on the big screen! This time, the public could enjoy in person a host of national and international feature films, short films, documentaries, premieres and galas. And as if that weren’t enough to celebrate, the Festival celebrated its 20th anniversary this year – hip hip hooray!
The festival kicked off with a bang with the screening of the highly acclaimed An Cailín Ciúin by Colm Bairéad. The coming-of-age drama, which stars newcomer Catherine Clinch, Andrew Bennett and Carrie Crowley, debuted at the Berlinale Film Festival in February, becoming the first Irish-language feature to chart at the Berlinale, and received the Generation K Grand Prize plus International Jury for Best Film – a historic achievement. In addition to his achievements, An Cailín Ciúin even won the VMDIFF Award for Best Irish Feature Film as well as the Virgin Media Audience Award. The jury was full of praise: “Colm Bairéad’s feature debut, An Cailín Ciúin, is a masterful character study that has rightly won international acclaim and puts Irish cinema on the map of a unique and individual way, using our mother tongue to tell stories. with a sensitivity and a cinematographic art that moved us all.
Róise & Frank, directed by Rachael Moriarty and Peter Murphy and produced by Macalla Teo’s Cúán Mac Conghail, was another local production to be recognized at the awards night, winning Best Ensemble. Starring Bríd Ní Neachtain, the film follows Róise, who lost the love of her life, her partner Frank, two years prior, but begins to believe he may have come back to life when a mysterious dog arrives and seems determined to connect with her. Róise & Frank and An Cailín Ciúin were made under the TG4, Screen Ireland and BAI CINE4 program and are due to be released in cinemas later this year.
If that all sounds a little corny, then Kate Dolan’s feature debut, You’re Not My Mother, is for you. Receiving its Irish premiere at the Dublin Festival following its successful debut at the Toronto International Film Festival, You Are Not My Mother delighted Dublin audiences that night. The horror stars Hazel Doupe – one of the country’s top young actresses – as a teenage girl who notices that her mother, who has returned after some time missing, seems strangely altered. The image blends Irish folklore and family dysfunction to winning and terrifying effect. Dolan was one of three directors, alongside Colm Bairéad and Rioghnach Ní Ghrioghair, to be selected as recipients of the Aer Lingus Discovery Award which aims to champion, support and encourage new and emerging talent in front of and behind the camera.
You Are Not My Mother wasn’t the only Irish horror to premiere in its hometown; Conor McMahon, best known for his 2012 feature Stitches, tickled audiences with his vampire comedy Let the Wrong One In. Hilarity ensues when a young supermarket worker, Matt, discovers that his older brother Deco turned into a vampire. He faces a dilemma: will he risk his own life to help his brother – after all, blood is thicker than water? Or will he kill him before he spreads the infection further? The film stars upcoming Irish talents Karl Rice and Eoin Duffy as well as Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Ted Lasso star Anthony Head. Let the Wrong One was released nationwide on April 1st – I couldn’t think of a better way to spend April Fool’s Day.
Other Irish films screened include: the Belfast one-shot thriller Nightride starring Moe Dunford; the mystery drama Wolf starring George MacKay and Lily-Rose Depp, about a boy who thinks he’s a wolf trapped in a human body; the world premiere of Le Cri de Granuaile; and the documentaries North Circular, Young Plato, The Peculiar Sensation of Pat Ingoldsby and Vicky, a portrayal of cancer campaigner Vicky Phelan which won Best Irish Documentary.
Turning our attention overseas, the festival’s selection of international films was the best in recent memory. At the top of the list was Vortex, French provocateur Gaspar Noé’s most intimate film to date. Miles away from the psychedelic journeys of Climax and Enter the Void, Noah’s latest directorial effort follows a retired psychiatrist with dementia and a struggling author with heart disease as they live out their final days together in a Parisian apartment, I could think of worse places to shuffle this deadly reel. Last year, Noe’s understated masterpiece shocked Cannes audiences for its change of pace, and the Dublin Critic Circle (DFCC) was also wowed, crowning Vortex as the festival’s best film.
Other international highlights were Cannes winners The Worst Person in the World, Murina and Nitram, Venice Happening winner and Bergman Island with Tim Roth and Vicky Krieps. Legendary German actor Udo Kier received the Best Actor award for his role as an aging barber who embarks on an odyssey through his small town in Todd Stephens’ song Swan. “We felt honored to witness such an irresistible performance from Udo Kier,” said Tara Brady, President of the DFCC. A fan favorite, the surprise VMDIFF film continued to be one of the most popular events on the festival schedule. Until the screening, the identity of the film remains a well-kept secret known only to the director of the Festival – even the projectionist does not know the title of the film. Highlights from previous years include Another Round (2021) and Get Out (2017), so expectations were high ahead of this year’s presentation. Predictions ranged from the low-key Colin Farrell’s After Yang to the Viking extravaganza The Northman directed by horror prodigy Robert Eggers. In the end, The Outfit, a movie about an English tailor who made suits on London’s famous Savile Row, turned out to be a little underwhelming, truth be told.
Far from a disappointment, however, the Irish premiere of The Batman starring Robert Pattinson, Zoë Kravitz and Colin Farrell.
Four days before the film’s general release, festival-goers had the rare opportunity to see the most anticipated film of the year in all simplicity. “We work with Warner Bros. for many years and we acknowledge their support of our festival by adding this film to our lineup,” said festival director Gráinne Humphreys. “A big thank you to Matt Reeves and the team at Warner Bros. in Dublin for working with us to enable us to present the film.”
Special mention must go to Sean Baker’s Red Rocket: the story of a charismatic con artist and failed porn star (Simon Rex, who won a Screen Acting Guild award for his efforts last March) who returns to his hometown to erase his past and start over – the American dream. After the worldwide success of Tangerine and Florida Project, Baker shows no signs of slowing down; Red Rocket is a bold and brilliant exploration of toxic masculinity, as well as being the funniest movie I’ve seen in a long time. And as if Red Rocket weren’t racy enough, Dutch maestro Paul Verhoeven’s new film, Benedetta, had everyone under wraps when it screened at Dublin’s Lighthouse Cinema. I don’t think I’m saying too much describing Benedetta as a sassy nun’s romance featuring equal parts sex and satire.
Unfortunately, Verhoeven wasn’t there to see our faces turn seven shades of red, a sight he would surely appreciate, but the festival had plenty of guests lined up for the week nonetheless. This year’s most notable guest was American director Adam Mckay, who received the prestigious Volta Award for his contributions to film, including Oscar winner The Big Short, the ever-quotable presenter and the unforgettable Don’ t Look Up. On receiving the award, McKay said: “I couldn’t be more delighted to have returned to Ireland to join Minister Martin and festival director Gráinne Humphreys in person. The passion for film and the arts at the Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival and here in Ireland, not to mention the incredible Irish warmth and hospitality, is second to none.
Some guests didn’t have to travel that long; talents such as Carrie Crowley, Moe Dunford, Vicky Phelan and George MacKay alongside filmmaker Neil Brand attended the red carpet. The festival also welcomed actor Alan Cumming as well as fellow Scottish director Jono McLeod. Their film, My Old School, which chronicles one of the strangest and most notorious cases of impostors in modern times, closed the Festival and a wonderful 12-day celebration of Irish and world cinema.
And just like that, the 2022 Virgin Media Dublin International Film Festival has come to an end! Speaking about this year’s festival, Gráinne Humphreys said: “There has been a particular intensity in audience reactions to this year’s festival screenings. From the tears that flow after our opening night film An Cailín Ciúin, to the laughs of our comedy strand, to the emotional exhaustion of Gasper Noe’s Vortex and the nerve-wracking horrors You Are Not My Mother. It’s been a roller coaster!” Too true, a roller coaster that we can’t wait to do again – ride VMDIFF2023!

Gerald R. Schneider