Discussing the evolution of this singular feature, Treasa O’Brien, an academic and independent film-maker, has gestured towards unclassifiable cinema from Iran. One thinks of Abbas Kiarostami’s Close Up. Is it a documentary? Is it a cousin of fiction?
Town of Strangers is almost certainly a documentary, but it began life as something like a drama. O’Brien arrived in the Co Galway town of Gort – also subject of the recent doc When All Is Ruin Once Again – with a mind to casting actors for a fictional film. She drives about in a van blasting out requests for the locals’ “loves and losses”, and, intrigued by the auditionees’ stories, decides to make them the subject of the picture.
Gort is remarkable for having a larger percentage of people born outside Ireland than any other town in the country. Many of those are recent immigrants from Brazil. Some of those make it in. So do a few older English people who fled west in search of rural idylls.
Much of the film – executive produced by Joshua Oppenheimer of The Act of Killing fame – is taken up with these interesting folk telling their varied tales. “I said to my girlfriend ‘I’ll be back in three weeks,’ ” Ralf tells us. “That was 17 years ago. Do you think she’s still waiting for me? She must have boiled the kettle a thousand times.” Rosa talks about discovering her true sexuality surprisingly late in life. We get a sense of how Ireland changed them and, to a lesser extent, how they have changed Ireland. The camerawork by the director and Gina Ferrer discovers exotic oddities in every corner of a lively town in a beautiful part of the country.
There is serious purpose here. There is evidence of experimentation and self-conscious pondering. But the film remains agreeably lively throughout its terse running time. Some of the cinematic forerunners may have come from the Middle East, but the brash humour and wry attitudes could hardly be more Irish (within which camp we now happily include those born in Brazil, Spain, England . . . ).
A delightful and sincere entertainment.