The Image You Missed: Superb study of the void between two men’s times

Review: Donal Foreman’s odd documentary of his father merges the personal and the political

The Image you Missed
    
Director: Donal Foreman
Cert: Club
Genre: Documentary
Starring: Donal Foreman, Arthur MacCaig, Maeve Foreman
Running Time: 1 hr 14 mins

Donal Foreman, one of our very best young film-makers, confirms the promise of Out of Here – a stealthy Dublin odyssey – with a defiantly odd documentary that combines the personal and the political to stirring effect.

The idea of the film is easily summarised. Now resident in New York, Donal is the son of Maeve Foreman, a distinguished social worker and academic, and the trail-brazing Irish-American documentarian Arthur MacCaig.

Never having known his dad as a child, Foreman set out to discover the man who, best remembered for the 1978 film The Patriot Game, became a dedicated chronicler of the Northern Irish Troubles.

A few months before his death in 2008, Donal caught up with MacCaig in Paris and shot the footage that closes this film. Other images and sounds cloud around like half-grasped memories.


The Image You Missed has much to say about the difference between the two men and the difference between their times.

“You were able to reach conclusions,” Donal says of Arthur. Foreman is a child of millennial confusion. He filmed Occupy Wall Street. He remains a political being. But he is “always concerned with what gets left out”. Looking at his dad’s work, he suspects that, if attacking the same story, he’d have to mention splits in the Republican movement and other slippery complications.

The real beauty of The Image You Missed is the way form follows content. Whereas Arthur's main priority was to convey information lucidly, Donal rejoices in confusing juxtapositions, visual paradoxes and moments of jarring humour. He cuts snippets of his mad childhood action flicks in with MacCaig's rigorous documentary footage. (You won't need to be told that, like every other kid who wanted to make films in the 1990s, he had a Taxi Driver T-shirt and a Reservoir Dogs poster.)

All this plays out to a brilliant score by Michael Buckley, Ohal Grietzer and Christopher Colm Morrin that enjoys its own contrasts: mechanical throbs beneath keening sax improvisations.

We get the sense that Donal still doesn’t know his awkward, sometimes unhelpful dad, but his researches have helped to illuminate the void that was left behind. Foreman’s sensibility may verge on the oblique, but it no less raw or honest for that.

A wonderful film from an intriguing, restless talent.

Opens: August 10th

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke

Donald Clarke, a contributor to The Irish Times, is Chief Film Correspondent and a regular columnist