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Interview: Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy • Directors

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“We don't like displays of acting”


- The writer/producer/director pair makes the leap from acclaimed shorts to an accomplished, award-winning feature debut

Interview: Joe  Lawlor and Christine Molloy  • Directors

Cineuropa: What was the inspiration for Helen [+see also:
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interview: Joe Lawlor and Christine M…
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Christine Molloy: The starting point for Helen would have come first and foremost from some of the ideas for a short film we made called Daydream. Initially, we were interested in the idea of an investigation into a young woman (Joy) who has disappeared and speculation on what might have happened to her. And as we were developing the idea, we got drawn to the idea of a police reconstruction and in following that line of enquiry, we became more and more interested in how these reconstructions are cast, who plays what part and how they are chosen.

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We found ourselves drawn to the idea that somebody might stand in for another person. If the woman we have standing in (Helen) has her own mystery around her, particularly about her own identity - who she is and where she comes from… We felt instinctively that was the material for us to be following. Although the film plays around with ideas about genre in the beginning, we feel that it turns a corner and we imagine and we hope that the audience are willing to turn that corner with the film.

We would call it a philosophical thriller than a psychological thriller – a film that is interested in the questions and mystery about identity and ideas about unconditional love and understanding who we are.

In terms of form its very austere, like in some mainland European cinema.
Joe Lawlor: I certainly see the connection to French cinema or even Danish in the work of Carl Dreyer. If you look at Dreyer’s work, it is quite minimalist, very thoughtful, quite elegant, emotionally it is quite under the skin – the acting techniques don’t display themselves too overtly. The austerity in the acting comes from the characters. For example, Annie Townsend, who plays Helen, her character is someone who’s grown up in a care home all her life and this would be somebody who’s not used to articulating her emotions, even understanding them and she’s not very trusting towards adults, she’s quite guarded.

This is to do with the kind of cinema that you want. Do you want actors emoting all over the place? We personally don’t like that as an aesthetic taste. We don’t like displays of acting as they very often get in the way of content.

Helen is funded in a unique way with the cities of Dublin, Newcastle, Gateshead, Birmingham and Liverpool involved, in addition to the Arts Council of England and the Irish Film Board. This also spawned a companion short film – Joy?
CM: Joe and I have been involved in a project called Civic Life, where we made a number of short films in association with local culture and arts organisations from around the UK and Ireland. They are shot on 35mm, made over the course of a day, use the long take and involve participation of local people from the community. The films are presented in the local community. Helen came about because, around the same time, several different organisations approached us. They wanted us to commission us to make Civic Life short films. We saw an opportunity where these partners could pool their money and resources and we could make a feature film. Luckily for us the partners were very open to this, but one of the partners also wanted a standalone short film.

One of the things our feature film doesn’t address is that what happens to Joy. We realised the short film could open up the possibility of looking at what happened to Joy. It’s less of a definitive account of what happened to Joy and more of a speculation.

And your next film, Mister John?
JL: It’s a story set in Thailand about a man going through a crisis, trying to deal with two big problems in his life. The story is his physical and emotional journey.


international title: Helen
original title: Helen
country: Ireland
sales agent: Visit Films (USA)
year: 2008
directed by: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
screenplay: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
cast: Annie Townsend, Sandie Malia, Dennis Jobling, Sonia Saville, Danny Groenland

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