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My 12 for ’18: “You Were Never Really Here” & What You Never Really Saw

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number eight.

The premise of You Were Never Really Here suggests a certain type of film.

Joaquin Phoenix stars as Joe. The audience learns very little about Joe explicitly through exposition of dialogue, his back story and motivations suggested by quick cut flashbacks. As with a lot of You Were Never Really Here, director Lynne Ramsay understands something that may seem counter-intuitive to cinema, the notion that what is unseen might be as important as what is explicitly shown. Joe hunts down paedophiles and rescues children from their clutches.

That description suggests a thriller or an action movie, rooted in visceral and tangible violence. It might work as a direct-to-video exploitation film starring some actor with which mainstream audiences have no familiarity. It might also play well as a Liam Neeson release in early January, something akin to an even grittier Taken. At the more extreme end of the scale, it could play like a cousin to Joel Schumacher’s weird and overlooked 8mm.

What is so refreshing about You Were Never Really Here is that it doesn’t play like any of those, and is instead very much its own thing.

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Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards, 2018

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

Snow! Christmas! Terrible but enjoyable (and apparently, this year, controversial!) music! End of year “best of” lists!

I’m a member of a couple of critics’ organisations, so we’ll be releasing a couple of these lists upon which I voted. I’ll also hopefully be releasing my own top ten as part of a Scannain end-of-year podcast some time this week.

In the meantime, the Dublin Film Critics Circle have released their end of year awards. Thrilled to be a part of the group, who are voting on films released in Ireland during the calendar year of 2018. As such, it will be a different pool of films than the Online Film Critics Society awards.

A massive thanks to the wonderful Tara Brady for organising the awards this year, balloting members and collating results.

Anyway, without further ado…

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New Podcast! Scannain Podcast (2018) #7!

Before the storm…

The arrival of “Storm Emma” and the “Beast from the East” ensured one of the most memorable Audi Dublin International Film Festivals in recent memory. Myself, Jason Coyle and Ronan Doyle took a bit of a breather in the middle of it all to talk about the best of what we’d already seen, what we thought would win at the Oscars, as well as the usual trip through the weekly top ten and the new releases.

Check it out here, or give it a listen below.

Non-Review Review: You Were Never Really Here

This film was seen as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival 2018.

“Close your eyes,” the vigilante “Joe Rogers” advises the Nina Votto as he takes the ball hammer to the naked man standing in the doorway. The camera remains focused on Nina, foregrounding her as Joe goes to work. The audience knows what is happening, even if they only see it out of focus and in the background. This small moment is indicative of how You Were Never Really Here has chosen to approach its subject matter. Director Lynne Ramsay cannily keeps most of its violence off-screen.

Ramsay does this in a number of interesting ways. Part of this is through the skilful editing of Joe Bini, who pieces together fragmented flashbacks that suggest unfathomable horror without ever feeling gratuitous or grotesque; leaving a tangible feeling of unease without ever feeling voyeuristic or intrusive. Part of this is down to how Ramsay chooses to place the camera during acts of violence, while keeping the acts themselves very abrupt and brief; characters are frequently thrown through doorways, for example. Part of this is simply cutting around the violence, exploring its aftermath.

The result is intriguing. Appropriately enough, given its title, You Were Never Really Here is defined more by what it isn’t (or what it consciously chooses not to be) rather than what it actively is. The concept of the film would seem to suggest some brutal seventies vigilante extravaganza, revelling in the righteous violence of a man who hunts paedophiles and exacts a terrible vengeance upon them. However, You Were Never Really Here instead opts to be something a lot quieter and a lot more considerate; a film about violence that refuses to linger upon or indulge in that violence.

There is something very effective in all of these choices, both as a response to how such violence is typically portrayed in cinema and on their own merits. Perhaps the most striking of these choices is the manner in which Ramsay chooses to approach this story from the perspective of a child, through the eyes of the victim rather than the archetypal hero. It is a bold and provocative choice, one that elevates the material.

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