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'I wanted to make a film that was visceral and dangerous and had a woman at the centre'

Director Aoife McArdle talks to us about what makes her debut feature Kissing Candice so different.

Source: Irish Film Institute/YouTube

IRISH DIRECTOR AOIFE McArdle has made a movie about youth, danger, and young women that’s inspired by growing up on the Irish border.

Kissing Candice, which is out this weekend, centres on the story of a young woman called Candice, who dreams – during an epileptic fit – of a young man that she falls in love with. But in pursuing the guy, she nearly gets mixed up with a local gang of terrifying youths. It’s the first feature film for McArdle, who grew up in Omagh and is now an internationally-acclaimed director.

She’s chiefly known for her work in advertising and making videos for the likes of U2 and Bryan Ferry, but some of her most high-profile work includes the Audi Superbowl ad, which is all about female empowerment:


Source: AOIFE MCARDLE/Vimeo

So it’s no surprise, then to see that Kissing Candice is all about a young woman who knows her own mind.

Try or fail

The film – made as part of the Irish Film Board’s Catalyst scheme for upcoming filmmakers – had a much tighter budget than what McArdle is used to working with.

“I knew I would have to make sacrifices and compromises but also I thought to myself I’d much rather take a risk and go for it and fail spectacularly, than not do it,” she tells TheJournal.ie, adding that she doesn’t shy away from challenges.

The whole film is told through Candice’s subjective perspective, and at times the viewer doesn’t know if what they’re watching is fact or fiction.

“[I wanted to] make a youth film which was from the perspective of a young woman,” says McArdle. “We’ve seen so many films from the perspective of men and I thought ‘I want to make a film that was visceral and dangerous and thrilling where it was a woman who was at the centre’. On loads of levels that made sense, being a female director, and I think we haven’t seen enough female stories and we need to see more of that because everybody needs variety in the stories they’re hearing about.”

What’s unusual about Kissing Candice – and not because it should be unusual – is how she allows Candice to follow her own sexual urges.

“Female sexuality, I think’s a huge subject that we don’t get to delve into that much and I was really interested in showing that on screen,” says McArdle. “It’s something you always get to see, where the man is the instigator of all the sexual relationships and romances. And I wanted the female in this to be who’s going after what she wanted and was being very direct and proactive about that.

To me that’s what I have seen in many young women, they are very strong-willed and they have their own wants and I thought that would be an interesting angle for it; that we haven’t seen much of it.

However, the film gained an 18 rating in Ireland, compared to the 15 rating it got in the UK, meaning that many young women won’t get to see it. It’s a decision that baffled the film’s distributors, who appealed the decision to the Irish film classification office, Ifco.

Wildcard Distribution’s managing director Patrick O’Neill told us: “This is [Aoife's] feature debut. So I just think it’s a bit of a shame because it’s kind of reflective of what teenagers are watching and at any screening we’re aware of where a teen audience has watched it they responded very positively.”

Elements of real life

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A huge fan of work by directors such as Claire Denis, Agnes Varda and Jane Campion, McArdle welcomes the latest push to get more women making films. She’s been paying close attention to the #MeToo discussion going on in Hollywood.

“It’s a very positive thing that we’re highlighting the subject now, hopefully all the weird negative stuff that we’re highlighting is going to turn into positive stuff,” says the director.

“And I think women have been a lot more empowered in their working lives, and having more opportunities, and not having to deal with sexual predators would be a big bonus obviously so your energy could go into being creative, rather than fobbing off the advances of unwanted attention.”

Northern Ireland

McArdle is from Omagh but her parents are from Louth and the family spent a lot of time in Carlingford and Dundalk growing up.

“So I did like how that was a little hub where you’d have people coming up from the south and the north,” she says. Inspired by this, she wanted to give a “fictional universal feel” to the film, meaning there is a melange of accents.

“The border itself, I wanted to use as an idea because I like the idea that Candice as a character is on the cusp of adulthood and being on the border reflected that experience as well,” she says. “I didn’t necessarily set out to bring out those things. I guess there are elements of violence under the surface and a sense of threat behind closed doors, there’s sort of a looming threat over the whole film that possibly is to do with how I felt as a teenager.”

I just wanted to make a youth film that was quite nightmarish and dystopian but the same time was also quite fun in ways. It’s a film that’s designed to be dangerous and exciting at the same time.

A keen photographer from a young age, McArdle wanted to go to film school when she was 18, but says she didn’t have the confidence or “see it as a possibility for me”.

Instead, she studied English Trinity College Dublin, and only got her dream out of her back pocket afterwards.

She got a grant to go to Bournemouth to study filmmaking, where she was “thrown in the deep end” learning her craft. But she says it wasn’t until she left film school and went out on her own that she really stepped up a gear. She started making music videos for the likes of Bloc Party, before going on to make ads, which upped her profile.

She says that her work is very visually orientated, which is why the narrative in Kissing Candice isn’t told exactly how you’d expect. Yes, there are moody teenagers and menacing gangs, but McArdle also tells us the story through lighting (she particularly favours red and blue), smoky scenes, slow motion, and noir.

McArdle’s distinctive, broody yet intriguingly-lit work is inspired, she says by everything from German Expressionist films to Francis Bacon paintings and beautiful skies. “I’d like to think I could shoot something in a happy way, but it always comes out dark,” she laughs.

The result for the viewer with this film is that: “You will slip in and out of reality and dream as a view and by the end not really know what is real and what isn’t real and you’ve jumped on her journey and you’ve jumped inside her psychological perspective, and that was a big part of it really.”

McArdle is currently juggling to big ad projects, but is also writing her next feature, which she says will be science fiction. She’s also still grappling to an extent with knowing Kissing Candice is out and being viewed around the world.

“If I’m really honest I didn’t actually think anyone would ever see the film,” she says. “It was so small and it was like such a kind of fast-made experimental thing that you kind of don’t think about that at all and then when it happens you’re like oh, shit… this is what happens when you put a film out, you get this attention.”

Kissing Candice (18) directed by Aoife McArdle is in cinemas now. 

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