Tribeca Film Festival Dispatches: A Brit of what you fancy

A look at some of the British and Irish films on show - Legacy, Zonad, My Brothers and Brilliantlove.

by Amber Wilkinson

"For anybody in the audience that might be expecting something a bit like Once... think twice," says John Carney, introducing his latest film Zonad alongside his brother and co-director/writer Ciaran.

Sadly, the differences don't just extend to the fact that where Once was a gentle and perceptive study of relationships, Zonad is a broad comedy. Gone is any attempt at subtlety or, for that matter, narrative flow. They are replaced by a plot which plays out more like a series of comedy sketches strung end to end than a substantial story and comedy which views sex - and virtually any other bodily function you care to mention - as a punchline in its own right. This is not to be po-faced, or to suggest that there aren't some decent comedy moments but there is an awful lot which falls a long way south of the mark, not to mention the belt-line.

One night, in Irish hamlet Ballymoran, the townsfolk are out checking the skies for a comet. After the event, the Cassidy family heads home only to find an overweight man in a red PVC suit lying in a pool of food on their living room floor. This is Zonad - a visitor from another planet, who just happens to look like Chris Hoy might if he took up pie-eating and PlayStation as hobbies. The family fall for the stranger (Simon Delaney) hook, line and sinker, and he soon becomes a celebrity in the village who are blissfully unaware that the newcomer is, in fact, an alcoholic on the lamm from the local rehab clinic.

It is possible to buy into this sort of Waking Ned/Father Ted/Outer Limits mash-up to a point, but the laugh quotient really isn't high enough. The whole venture would be more suited to a six-part comedy series on Channel 4 than the multiplex, where the plot leaps and inconsistencies would be more easily accepted.

Much better cinematically, from Ireland, is family drama My Brothers - which marks the full-length directorial debut of Somers Town scribe Paul Fraser. It's the late Eighties and Noel (Timmy Creed) is the eldest of three sons who are living in the shadow of their father's slide towards death due to cancer. Struggling to come to terms with it, Noel takes his father's watch - a cheap Casio won from a 'grabber' machine at a seaside arcade that has become dad's pride and joy. When the watch gets broken Noel embarks on a road trip with brothers Paudie (Paul Courtney) and Scwally (TJ Griffin) to try to win a replacement.

The film is at its strongest in the dialogue between the brothers. Scriptwriter William Collins has an excellent grasp of the minutae of childhood relationships and rarely strikes a false note. There are signs of inexperience, however. The scoring is intrusive and, frequently, unecessary and one or two of the incidents on the road feel like overkill - particularly a scene of 'peril', which is so unlikely that it sticks out like a sore thumb an otherwise winningly naturalistic narrative. Still, this is a charming film with great performances from the leads which, with a scaling back of the music and a slight trim, could easily become quite a gem. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see this included in the Edinburgh Film Festival when the line-up is announced.

Britain and Ireland are well represented at this year's festival and in the spirit of Pokemon I'm doing my best to catch them all. There's certainly plenty of diversity in terms of genre, which stretches from the broad comedy of Zonad through to the erotica of Brilliantlove. I say 'erotica' although its a fine line between that and 'porn' - and it is the line that director Ashley Horner and writer Sean Conway seem intent on exploring. Manchester and girlfriend Noon live a counterculture lifestyle, squatting in a garage on the outskirts of a town in the north of England. Enjoying a hot summer of love, they spend most of the time having sex, which Manchester documents via an instamatic camera. But when a porn baron comes across some of their pictures, it threatens their equilibrium.

Weirdly, for a film that contains such a vast amount of sex - you're rarely many minutes from a bit of inventive copulation - very little of it could be described as 'erotic'. Certainly much of it is artistically shot and leads Nancy Trotter Landry and Liam Browne show immense bravery and considerable talent in roles that require them to be naked and simulating sex a vast amount of the time. The central love story holds the attention, but despite this and the undeniable artistry of Horner, the film is let down by the script. You can't help feeling that there is very little point to the action, not helped by the fact that the narrative, not unlike some types of sex, you might say, becomes both predictable and not a little histrionic towards its climax.

Legacy - Thomas Ikimi's second feature - also suffers a little from predictability towards the end, but there's plenty to commend before that. Telling the story of Malcolm Grey, this is, for the most part, a tense little thriller that makes a virtue of its limited budget. Grey is played by Idris Elba - soon to be seen in upcoming action flick The Losers and a man whose acting talent is surely going to ensure he will be a common sight at awards ceremonies in the years to come. Elba is so good in the role of this former 'black ops' vet that he makes you willing to overlook some of the film's flaws.

Grey is a man with a legacy of pain, having been tortured after being captured when a mission to kill an eastern European kingpin goes wrong. Now holed up in a Brooklyn apartment, he is tormented both by memories of his past and by the injustices of a present that has seen his brother rise in status to Senator with his eye on the White House on the back of Grey's failed mission and his erstwhile girlfriend give him up for dead in favour of marrying his brother.

Increasingly fixated on exposing his brother's less than clean methods for achieving results, he is also succumbing to post-traumatic stress that makes him - and us - unsure of quite what is going on. There is much to praise about Ikimi's film, not least in the way he thrusts us right into the middle of the action, trusting the audience to understand and piece together the narrative rather than spoonfeeding us, with the credit sequence, in particular, a little piece of genius. Once Grey sets himself under siege in the down-at-heel bedsit, Ikimi also makes good use of the space and the claustrophobia it affords. It is only as the final act nears that problems start to creep in, as savvy audiences will begin to spot the signs that indicate they've been in this sort of dark psychological territory before and find themselves predicting the outcome. By-the-numbers or not, Elba is magnificent as the damaged brute of a man at the story's heart - at once sympathetic and dangerous - and it is Elba who keeps you riveted even as his character's trajectory becomes obvious. Featuring plenty of visceral thrills and presented with more intelligence than many of the thrillers which spring forth from Hollywood strafing cliche bullets to little effect, it suggests everyone concerned is destined for bigger and better things in the future.

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