We have moved a long way from the unkind — and always inaccurate — caricature of Irish films as having too much to do with rural priests tumbling into fetid ponds. Rachel Moriarty and Peter Murphy, working in the Irish language, have here managed to slip a pondering of the grieving process in with the most delightfully airy comedy. It may be facetious to make comparisons with Jonathan Glazer’s Birth, in which Nicole Kidman thought her late husband had been reincarnated as a young boy, but we do so to illustrate how a similar conceit can generate a radically different tone. Bríd Ní Neachtain is resigned and unwavering as Róise, a middle-aged woman reeling from the death of her husband, Frank, when she encounters a shaggy dog whose personality seems eerily familiar. Could it be the aul’ fella in mutt form?
The film-makers build a busy community around their central character. Always strong as a pesky nuisance, Lorcan Cranitch has fun with the neighbour who, his eyes set on Róise, would happily see the poor dog sent to the pound. Cillian O’Gairbhi is properly funny as the protagonist’s often-exasperated adult son. Ruadhán de Faoite offers a strong juvenile performance as a young hurler who gains confidence when the apparent canine version of Frank arrives on the scene.
Never mind Glazer’s sombre film. The more obvious predecessors here are those live-action Disney films in which a characterful hound — or cat or rabbit or bear — brings solace to all he encounters while a morose malcontent (here Cranitch) shakes his fist angrily. That glib summary, however, fails to convey the richness of the characterisation here. Yes, the film toys with whimsy, but it is always at home to emotional honesty. There are worthwhile arguments being made about the difficulty of remaining connected to the bereaved when the wider family has moved on.
Shot in the Gaeltacht area of Ring, Co Waterford, Róise & Frank profits from Peter Robertson’s crisp cinematography and from committed acting in every corner. Part of a still-developing renaissance in Irish-language film-making, the picture really does justify the most dreaded phrase in cinema promotion. It is “fun for all the family”. Don’t let that truth put you off.