Galway Film Fleadh: keeping the flag flying for Irish cinema
The festival, in its 25th year, continued to showcase new home-grown features, from mainstream-friendly recession comedy ‘Life’s a Breeze’ to the off-centre ‘Out of Here’
Two similarly titled films catered to horror enthusiasts. Colin Downey’s The Shadows adapted a George MacDonald fairy story about parallel universes with intermittent success. The mythological imagery is soaked in gothic menace but the insistent voice-over is ultimately a little hard to bear.
Rossella De Venuto’s House of Shadows – one of many international co-productions in the new Irish category – slotted into the genre known (to me anyway) as travelogue horror. The always-excellent Fiona Glascott plays an Irish woman holidaying in a spooky Italian villa with a history of ecclesiastic malignity. The picture, featuring an excellent crab infestation, proudly meets the criterion of superior hokum.
The closing film, Stephen Brown’s The Sea, set itself the unenviable task of turning John Banville’s novel of the same name – a Booker-winning tussle with memory and regret – into a manageable motion picture. The result, from a script by the novelist, is a very nicely crafted piece of “quality cinema” that never entirely escapes its literary origins.
Ciarán Hinds is reliably nuanced as a writer returning to the scene of a formative childhood experience. The contrast of smoky shades (for the present) and Kodacolor fuzz (for the past) is boldly effective. Stressing the mystery elements more heavily than did the book, Brown’s film ends up playing like a particularly murky Ruth Rendell adaption. This is not meant as criticism.
The Irish film most likely to attract large mainstream audiences is surely Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze. After drawing critical kudos for Kisses – and receiving little attention for his US debut The Good Doctor – Daly has consciously attempted to serve up a comedy for the recession years.
The picture revels in a premise that could easily have driven an Ealing comedy. Fionnula Flanagan plays a slightly befuddled grand dame – materfamilias to users and grabbers – who falls into a resigned fury when a mattress stuffed with money gets left out for the binmen.
The picture cracks along at a great pace. It makes its social points forcefully without hectoring the viewer. And it knows just what to do with its fine cast. Pat Shortt is funny and touching as a lovable fool. Flanagan owns the art of the indomitable. Young Kelly Thornton’s performance again confirms that Daly is a genius at casting and directing children.
For all its popular appeal, Life’s a Breeze was, however, beaten to the fleadh’s prize for best Irish feature by Steph Green’s touching Run & Jump. Green, director of the Oscar-nominated short New Boy, has taken a tricky, knotty script by Ailbhe Keogan and delivered a drama that, in its skilled juggling of raw emotion, recalls the work of Danish director Susanne Bier.