It doesn’t usually bode well for modern cinema when the highlight of a film festival is its retrospective screenings. But when that retrospective consists of some of the greatest films ever made, modern cinema can be forgiven. After all, it’s hard to compete with the likes of Tati’s Playtime (possibly the greatest comedy of all time, and still as relevant as it is funny), or Bresson’s Pickpocket (unfortunately more famous for its influence on Paul Schrader than its own superior brilliance)—just two of the seven films that made up the Classic French Season at this year’s fleadh. The selection spans over 30 years and included some of the key works not just of French cinema, but of the medium as a whole: Tati and Bresson were joined by Renoir’s La Regle de Jeu, Jean Vigo’s L’Atalante, Truffaut’s The 400 Blows, Cocteau’s Orphee, and Godard’s Vivre Sa Vie.

However, it’s especially hard to compete with these masterpieces given that very few people seem to have actually seen them. This year was an all-too-rare opportunity to catch up with some of these works—and, ultimately, it’s in the interest of modern cinema that they be caught up with. Their greatness must be recognised before it can be matched.


Paul Schrader may have been the big name in Galway this year, but the fleadh’s real guest of honour, though represented only by his films, was Alexander Sokurov. While the retrospective of his work was anything but comprehensive—nine films were screened out of the approximately 42  films Sokurov has completed to date—it nevertheless provided a rare and fascinating glimpse of a great contemporary director who is unfortunately largely unknown outside of his reputation as “the guy who did that movie in one take.”

Sokurov has also been both praised and dismissed as the “new Tarkovsky”—but then so has every filmmaker whose shots last more than a few minutes. Besides, the width and breadth of his interest, as well as his prolific output, mark him out as anything but imitative. From collage films to personal dramas to historical epics, Sokurov’s work isn’t homogenous enough to be pinned down to one influence.

Among the stand-outs of his earlier work was his debut feature, Lonely Voice of a Man. The film is so rare it had to be screened from a (not fantastic) video copy—and without any subtitles! It’s testament to the potency of Sokurov’s images that the film still managed to wow the audience. His other features on show, Whispering Pages and Mother and Son, have a similar non-verbal efficacy, and are as difficult to talk about as they are to forget.

Given the brilliance of these earlier works, the infamous Russian Ark came off the weakest of the films on display. It seems a pity none of Sokurov’s greater films happened to use a technique or technology that was novel enough to attract international media attention as Russian Ark did.

Hopefully, Sokurov’s latest film, which premiered at the fleadh, will receive as much recognition. The third in Sokurov’s trilogy about 20th century political leaders, The Sun puts the mediocre Downfall to shame in its much more subtle and interesting treatment of another key World War II leader Emperor Hirohito of Japan.

For more information about Sokurov, go to:


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