Now in its sixth year, the Chicago Irish Film Festival runs Friday, March 4, through Sunday, March 13, with screenings this week at the Beverly Arts Center, 1407 W. 111th St. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $10, $8 for BAC members. For more information call 773-445-3838; a full festival schedule is available online at www.beverlyartcenter.org.
The opening-night feature, Adam & Paul (2004, 86 min.), follows two junkies as they spend a day wandering around Dublin in search of a fix and, perhaps, something more. Screenwriter Mark O'Halloran (who also stars) seems heavily influenced by Waiting for Godot: the dialogue is full of simple repetitions and near-vaudevillian banter that convey capital-D despair. This could easily wear thin, but O'Halloran and costar Tom Murphy strike a nice balance between the stagier aspects and the movie's raw portrayal of addiction. Director Lenny Abrahamson treats the material with the gradually darkening tone it demands, and though he may be overfond of framing the pair against big, flat backgrounds, the motif eventually pays off in a gorgeous twilight image on a hillside. Tickets for the reception and screening are $30, $25 for BAC members. (Fri 3/4, 6:30 PM) Adam & Paul also screens on Sun 3/6 and Mon 3/7 as part of the European Union Film Festival; see sidebar in this section.
Halo Effect (2004, 97 min.) also focuses on the rougher side of Dublin but offers a bit more hope. Stephen Rea stars as a compulsive gambler trying to keep his fast-food restaurant afloat over the course of a very bad week. The script is a bit too tidy, giving each character a story arc and laying on the symbolism. But writer-director Lance Daly has good instincts, and if you can decipher the thick accents, this builds to a strong emotional payoff. (Sat 3/5, 7:30 PM)
The surprise gem of the festival, screening this week and next, is Peter Lennon's documentary Rocky Road to Dublin (1968, 68 min.), which looks at an Ireland still struggling for self-definition decades after winning its independence. Working with Raoul Coutard, the great cinematographer of the French New Wave, Lennon lays out a clear indictment against the Catholic church's influence on Irish society; particularly memorable is a sequence contrasting the social life of a pub with that of a church club. (Sun 3/6, 2:30 PM)
Less successful is Liam Wylie's If You're Not In You Can't Win! (2003, 53 min.), which tells the story of the Irish Sweepstakes. A semilegal international lottery, the sweepstakes sustained the Irish hospital system from the 1930s until the 1970s. The subject matter is interesting (government corruption, increased public acceptance of gambling, the mechanics of running a lottery), but the film feels rushed. (Tue 3/8, 7:30 PM)