Music video director Aoife McArdle discusses her narrative feature debut, Kissing Candice, which marks her as a bold new visual stylist.
Aoife McArdle’s Kissing Candice portrays young womanhood as a disorienting, often frightening experience. Coming from the world of music videos, the Irish director crafts a sensory feast far from the social realist style that the film’s rural setting might suggest. With a heady, immersive aesthetic, this impressive feature debut stands out from standard teen dramas.
Candice (Ann Skelly) is a 17-year-old whose dreams about a boy quite literally merge with reality when he suddenly appears in her waking life. Named Jacob (Ryan Lincoln), the boy at first seems like the imagined creation of a girl driven by lust and loneliness — until the film eventually grants us moments alone with him, outside of Candice’s gaze. McArdle forces us to question Candice’s reliability by giving us time with several supporting characters: Jacob, a group of local boys, Candice’s best friend, Martha (Caitriona Ennis)… How much of what we’re seeing exists for them, too, and how much is just in Candice’s head?
From Candice’s point of view, the world doesn’t always make logical sense, yet her potent emotional life carries us through the film. McArdle’s bold visual filmmaking, combined with Skelly’s magnetic performance, draw us into Candice’s rich interior world; vivid colours thrust us into the mind of a teenage girl who is burning with desire and surrounded by the threat of violence. In Candice’s dreams, a foggy haze distances and beautifies those feelings — but in the real world, colours are lurid, surrounding and trapping her like a deer caught in the headlights.
At the Glasgow Film Festival, I talked to McArdle about making the leap from music video directing to narrative feature filmmaking, creating the aesthetic of dreams vs. reality, the influence of horror cinema on her film, and depicting female friendship on screen.
Seventh Row (7R): What was the genesis of the project?
Aoife McArdle (AM): I had always wanted to write an Irish youth film that felt different — vivid, anarchic, and immersive… almost a dark fairy tale, where the place, its history and atmosphere, was as much of a character as its residents. I based the story around dark stories I had grown up around. Candice and Martha evolved out of personal recollections and observations of characters I know intimately.
7R: What did you find challenging about making the transition from music videos to narrative features? How did you have to adapt your approach?
AM: Visual storytelling and camera choreography are big passions of mine. All my videos have been scripted narratives where I work very closely with the actors. So, truthfully, I didn’t adapt my approach.
I think the major difference is just the magnitude of a feature. You’re working over a much more sustained, intensive period. In my case, I had so many more actors to work and rehearse closely with. I get very obsessive over performance and the visual detail of every frame in all my work, so obviously, with a feature, I had thousands more frames to obsess over. It was certainly a lot more of an exhausting process.
When I write, I play each scene out in my head. I see how and where I want the camera to move, what the actor is feeling and doing, what the lighting is like, what meaningful colours and art direction I’d like to use. In a way, once I’ve written it, I feel like I’ve already made it. The most taxing thing is trying to ensure that what you’re then creating with your actors and crew is marrying up to this ideal vision you have played out in your mind a thousand times.