The glory and the gloom of the Galway Film Fleadh

There are at least half a dozen Irish films worthy of hearty praise this year, so why are Irish film-makers so dark of mood?

Tue, Jul 15, 2014, 01:00

Two years ago, Jimmy Deenihan, then Minister for Arts, turned up at the Galway Film Fleadh for the world premiere of Gerard Barrett’s Pilgrim Hill. The film went on to become a critical smash. Everybody had a nice time. Rather touchingly, when Deenihan arrives to present Barrett’s second feature at this year’s festival, he is still clutching his side after suffering in the Taoiseach’s night of the long knives. “I’ve just lost my job today,” he says. “I’d like to be here as minister for the arts, but I’m not.”

It is a sombre start to what continues to be, from one perspective, a somewhat sombre evening. Barrett’s superb Glassland feels very much like an urban successor to the earlier rural tragedy. Whereas that film dealt with the difficulties of maintaining a remote farm, the new picture concerns a young man seeking to cope with an alcoholic mother in working-class Dublin.

Jack Reynor, who played a better-off kid in What Richard Did, does excellent work as an ordinary bloke forced to make impossible choices. Will Poulter, among the best young actors on the planet, makes something deeply poignant and quietly funny of a supporting role as his best pal. Toni Collette does what we know she can do as the tortured mum.

The naturalistic tone of the film can obscure the fact that we are dealing with a proper auteur here. Barrett has a taste for hanging back with the camera and uses sound – more particularly, silence – in a way that suggests maturity beyond his annoyingly callow years. Joining Reynor, Poulter and the producers on stage, he comes across as a modest sort of fellow. To upend Churchill’s assessment of Atlee, he has nothing to be modest about. Glassland is a curiously brilliant (and brilliantly curious) film that should play successfully beyond these shores.


More charm than Casanova

There is little shock when Glassland is announced as co-winner of the gong for best Irish film. The prize is shared with Patrick’s Day, the second film from Terry McMahon. Charlie Casanova, the director’s debut feature, was not greeted with universal acclaim, but the new film is an immense improvement. McMahon’s dialogue is still a tad overheated and the story a little underdeveloped, but this remains an interesting, original, ultimately moving take on mental illness. The excellent Moe Dunford plays a young schizophrenic who, on the national holiday, becomes separated from his insanely protective mother (Kerry Fox in Manchurian Candidate mode) and hooks up with a suicidal flight attendant. The film then takes off into an unsettling phantasmagoria whose very oddness is hard to resist. I recommend Patrick’s Day with some enthusiasm (and they can quote me on that).

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