Directed by Terry McMahon. Starring Emmett J Scanlan, Leigh Arnold, Valeria Bandino, Johnny Elliott, Thomas Farrell, Damien Hannaway, Ruth McIntyre 16 cert, limited release, 91 min
This angry critique of post-Tiger Ireland fails to live up to its potential, writes DONALD CLARKE
PREPARE TO fan your armpits. Get ready to pat your brow with iced water. The angriest film of the year has just brawled its way into the multiplex.
Terry McMahon’s extraordinary Charlie Casanova presents itself
as a Rabelaisian evisceration of post-Tiger Ireland. Sending a horrific personification of the nation about a nocturnal Hades, the film looks to be positively inviting certain unattractive knee- jerk objections.
Turn away from the thing and you risk denying that, over the
past decade and a half, Ireland has given into greed and vulgarity. Hold your nose and you may give the impression that you can’t quite handle the film’s violence, profanity and queasy sexuality. Perhaps you mistake the protagonist’s half- baked pop nihilism for a sincere expression of the writer-director’s own philosophy.
You fools! You suit-wearing, limousine-driving, establishment-
kowtowing stooges! A vote against Charlie Casanova is a vote in favour of – to reference Marxist cartoons of the last century – overstuffed cats in top hats who eat money and defecate on starving factory workers.
No. The problem with Charlie Casanova is not to do with its largely admirable attitude towards our current diseased polity. The problems are all to do with its execution.
This relentlessly one-note, indigestibly overwritten picture duplicates the experience of being trapped in a train carriage with a bore who’s spent too much time at the drinks trolley. There’s a good film bursting to get out, but it hasn’t been allowed space to breathe.
Emmett J Scanlan, familiar to viewers of Hollyoaks, plays a stereotypically evil businessperson named Charlie Barnum. He rents houses to unfortunate non-
nationals. He wastes no opportunity to pour scorn on the working classes. “You think I’m a beast? The devil? The boogyman? I’m not. I’m you,” he says while driving malevolently about the city. If you say so, mate.
Charlie and his cohorts are staying in (boo!) a bland hotel while (boo!) attending some sort of business conference. Drifting into Bonfire of the Vanities territory, the film finds Charlie knocking over an unfortunate citizen in his motorcar. It hardly needs to be said that he doesn’t report the crime to the authorities.
Over drinks, Charlie introduces his cohorts to a new strategy for coping with life’s challenges. When confronted with a decision, the disciple is invited to determine his or her path by randomly drawing playing cards. Anyone who’s read Luke Rhinehart’s The Dice Man will have some idea how the action proceeds. Further atrocities follow as Charlie’s megalomania increases.
Produced on a miniscule budget, the film often makes a virtue of its limitations. Eoin Macken’s grimy cinematography chimes with the mordant narrative tone. The tight framing increases the sense of claustrophobia. But, despite the presence of a formal three-act structure, Charlie Casanova is totally overpowered by the exhausting, incessant pontificating of its baldly drawn protagonist.
Charlie says the same thing a hundred times and he always says it at nauseatingly extended length. The prose (and that’s the word) features all the clauses, sub-clauses and parenthetical asides you’d expect to encounter in the tracts distributed by embarrassing street lunatics outside mainline railway stations. Of course, Charlie really is a lunatic. But this is not dialogue. It’s an articulated screed.
It doesn’t help that Scanlan – a talented actor, it must be said – delivers the endless gibberish in a heightened, enormous style better suited to a one-man show in a pub theatre. The hand gestures are archly symmetric. Some pauses are so huge that you half expect the words “video buffering” to appear upon the screen.
The picture reaches its over- reaching nadir when Charlie presents a rant at a basement comedy club. Charlie Casanova is engorged with literary and cinematic echoes: a quote from the divine Sweet Smell of Success; frequent shadows of the idiotic Fight Club; that plot point from Bonfire of the Vanities. But having Charlie begin his diatribe with (intentionally or not) the opening line of Albert Camus’s L’Étranger is an allusion too far. It’s akin to allowing that volume to poke conspicuously from the pocket of a corduroy jacket.
Still, there is unquestionably potential on display. If everybody involved took a deep breath and reined themselves in they might yet land a blow on the nation’s unreconstructed vultures.
Too in love with itself, Charlie Casanova just lets the bastards off the hook.