Review: All of This Unreal Time at Manchester International Festival

In a world premiere being showcased at this year’s Manchester International Festival, Cillian Murphy discovers we truly do live in a society.

The city has once more been plastered with posters for the Manchester International Festival, the biennial showcase of independent arts, film and theatre performances which has been running since 2007.

This year’s festival runs until July 18, taking over Manchester Central Convention Complex, as well as other spots across the city, to present the numerous different offerings that have been put together – largely inspired by, or crafted through lockdown.

Previous festivals have featured the likes of Bjork, Steve McQueen and The XX; and this year has been no exception.

Of the films being shown as part of the festival, the one with perhaps the biggest name attached to it is the world-premiere of ‘All of This Unreal Time’, a short which stars Cillian Murphy of ‘Peaky Blinders’ fame – which itself just recently took over Castlefield for filming of the upcoming sixth series.

Cillian Murphy’s role in this owes more perhaps to his stints as a DJ on Radio 6 or his earlier films. ‘All of This Unreal Time’ is a moody, artistically shot, 45 minute long soliloquy in which Murphy roams empty and deserted streets, going from the pitch black cold of winter nights to the bright stillness of an early morning.

As he goes along he monologues to the camera, apologising, he says for, well – a lot.

He talks in poetic terms, and his strong Irish accent, about family and lineage, the state of society, his own failings and musings.

We see him wander through alleyways and underpasses as he voices his deep discontent with life as he finds it and his failure for not achieving more – before then, in grey fields, he apparently reaffirms the good in the world, and the need to treasure it.

The film is quite obviously a piece that’s been inspired by, and has utilised the unique situation that the pandemic has created.

There was a while, throughout the early stages of lockdown, where a lot of art seemed to be shying away from what was going on in the world – perhaps out of the idea that none of us needed yet another reminder of the ongoing crisis.

But as seen with several newer pieces, such as horror flick ‘In The Earth’, which was released last month and is full of scenes of hand sanitiser and distancing, we do now seem to be seeing more films willing to approach it.

All of This Unreal Time’ makes really effective use of dead and desolate streets, perfectly reflecting the atmosphere it’s going for. Director Aoife McArdle states how “rainy, empty, lockdown streets became vivid canvases,” which help add to the sense of angst and loneliness present throughout.

The whole thing looks and sounds gorgeous; with vibrant, serene, beautifully lit shots of both cityscapes and the country, rain dappled pavements and harshly lit chip shops.

The music is also perfect for the tone, it featuring a raw, ambient soundtrack from Jon Hopkins, an independent, electronic musician who’s previously worked on numerous other film soundtracks, as well as with artists like the Scottish singer-songwriter King Creosote.

The whole atmosphere is no doubt enhanced by the surroundings at the festival, and though it’s now available online, I can’t imagine it would be quite the same.

Upon turning up at the venue, at Manchester Central, around half an hour before showing, I and the rest of the audience were led into the huge, cavernous space within the Centre, in what used to be the Manchester Central Railways Station.

The whole place remained dark, but with all kinds of stabbing, flashing light displays and ambient, oppressive music filling the entire Centre for the half hour before the film even started, on a large screen at the very end of the Centre.

This alone made for a quite spectacular, immersive experience, especially after being so long bereft of any forms of theatre or gigs in lockdown. That being said, it did get almost too much after a while, and I ended up walking out with a mild headache, feeling like I’d just emerged from an eye test at the opticians.

And really, the same is true for the film as a whole, and is where it falls down. At 45 minutes of nothing more than this one monologue, from this one character, spoken in abstract, and with a strong Irish accent – it’s not exactly what you’d call commercial, and is certainly not going to be for everyone.

The film is in many ways exactly what you’d expect from independent, arthouse cinema – or it’s stereotype. The soliloquy, written by Max Porter, has its moments, but it does end up feeling like it’s trying too hard to be artsy, like a teenager who think he’s being edgy or deep, and halfway through, after grimly accepting this was the entire film, I was checking my watch.

It might be that the piece would have benefited from a shorter runtime. Certainly it has it’s moments, and throughout there were people clapping, and laughing. In the end however, it feels less like a work of cinema, and more like an exhibit in an art gallery.

It looks and sounds gorgeous, but at the length it goes on for, ends up struggling to justify this kind of runtime with anything of real substance.

The film is available to watch online, on the MIF 2021’s On Demand website. You can catch the trailer here.

Main photo copyright MIF: https://mif.co.uk/about/press/press-media-library/MIF21-media-library/all-of-this-unreal-time/

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