Canal bank bleak

In­spired by Bergman, filmed in a toi­let: Ivan Ka­vanagh on his new hor­ror

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FRONT PAGE -

Some decades ago, Ivan Ka­vanagh, an Ing­mar Bergman ad­dict from Fin­glas, was pon­der­ing whether or not to go to film school.

“I thought about film school, then looked at the fees I’d have to pay and de­cided to get a new cam­era in­stead,” he says.

There is an en­cour­ag­ing les­son here. Even if you haven’t yet seen The Canal, Ka­vanagh’s new off-cen­tre hor­ror, you will know we wouldn’t be pub­lish­ing this piece if the story had ended un­hap­pily. Fol­low­ing The Canal’s tri­umph at the Tribeca Film Fes­ti­val, Ka­vanagh was head-hunted by the stu­dios. He is now work­ing on a se­ries for a “ma­jor net­work” (about which he can say lit­tle) in dis­tant Swe­den.

“I am such a Bergman fan it seemed in­evitable I would end up here, even­tu­ally,” he laughs. “I re­ally should learn the lan­guage now. But, yeah, Tribeca was the main thing. It was so well-re­ceived there. Amer­i­cans took it to their hearts. I’d never been to a fes­ti­val where peo­ple were so open in their praise.”

The Canal is a prop­erly un­set­tling piece of work. Ru­pert Evans plays a cinema ar­chiv­ist who, fol­low­ing the dis­ap­pear­ance of his wife, be­comes con­vinced that a vi­cious spirit is haunt­ing his Vic­to­rian house. Mak­ing good use of footage that ef­fec­tively apes nascent si­lent cinema, marinated in odi­ous sound de­sign, the pic­ture com­bines queasi­ness with jump shocks in equal mea­sure.

Call­ing card

Ka­vanagh is not the sort of fel­low who plans his ca­reer with a spread­sheet, but it is, nonethe­less, just the sort of film that at­tracts main­stream at­ten­tion.

“It was, to some ex­tent, about mem­o­ries of films that had ter­ri­fied me a child,” he says. “When I was young – too young, prob­a­bly – I saw Bergman’s Cries and Whis­pers. There is a dream se­quence and Liv Ull­mann goes into her sis­ter, who’s died but some­how she’s still talk­ing to her. I re­mem­ber see­ing that and be­ing ter­ri­fied. Also the end of Rose­mary’s Baby.”

Again with the Bergman. For all its dis­tin­guished her­itage, The Canal is a genre piece at heart, no­table for fea­tur­ing the most un­pleas­ant cin­e­matic loo since the one in Trainspot­ting.

“We knew at once when we found the lo­ca­tion,” he says. “It was still not as dis­gust­ing as I wanted. We had to add a bit to it. It was an old toi­let, but we had to make it even more hor­ri­ble. The smell in there was hor­ri­ble. The stench. And it was the hottest day of the year. Poor Ru­pert was gen­uinely retch­ing when he had to vomit. But I was in my el­e­ment.”

The Canal is the clos­est Ka­vanagh has come to shoot­ing on a com­fort­able bud­get. Made for just un­der ¤1 mil­lion, the film is dirt cheap by main­stream stan­dards, but still cost 10 times more than any of his pre­vi­ous films.

“You re­alise quickly how lit­tle money that is when you have pros­thet­ics and ef­fects planned,” he says. “But, you know, the prob­lems you have on lower bud­get films should be the same ones you have on big­ger bud­get pro­duc­tion. They should al­ways be cre­ative prob­lems.”

The self-taught film-maker is less con­strained by weary tem­plates and hoary con­ven­tions. In the early days, Ka­vanagh ca­su­ally broke rules that he didn’t know ex­isted. If, how­ever, you want to get your films seen you will even­tu­ally have to en­gage with the in­dus­try. It seems as if the direc­tor just blun­dered his way to­wards fund­ing af­ter years of get­ting by.

“There was no plan. It just hap­pened. I funded my first three fea­ture films. I was the worst se­curi- ty man ever. I worked in bars. Then out of the blue Simon Perry, who was head of the Film Board, called me in. I’d never re­ally ap­plied for fund­ing. He said: what do you want to do next? The Ir­ish Film Board have sup­ported me ever since.”

First films

Ka­vanagh be­gan with an in­ter­est­ing, rough-edged fam­ily drama called Our Won­der­ful Home. Af­ter that, he set to work on a breath­tak­ing tragedy called The Fad­ing Light. Though barely re­leased in cine­mas, it re­ceived crack­ing re­views and won Best Ir­ish Film and Best Ac­tor from the Dublin Film Crit­ics Cir­cle at the 2010 Jame­son Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val.

More than a few saw traces of, yes, an Ing­mar Bergman in­flu­ence in there.

“I grew up lov­ing Hol­ly­wood and art-house,” Ka­vanagh says. “But I think Bergman’s the ge­nius. If I’m ever unin­spired, I’ll stick on Win­ter Light or Cries and Whis­pers.”

Ka­vanagh has to get back to work on his mys­tery project. When that’s all fin­ished, he will make a trip to Fårö, “Bergman’s is­land”, in the Baltic.

“I want to make the pil­grim­age.”

The Canal goes on re­lease next Fri­day

Mak­ing good use of footage that apes nascent si­lent cinema, marinated in odi­ous sound de­sign, The Canal com­bines queasi­ness with jump shocks

Shock hor­ror

Direc­tor Ivan Ka­vanagh. Be­low: Ru­pert Evans and An­to­nia Cam­bell

Hughes in The Canal

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