What does it mean to cross the Border? After this woozy documentary I’m still not sure

TV: Borderline – Four Seasons in One Day is an art-house rumination on the two Irelands

Four Seasons in One Day: we are never entirely sure which side of the Border we are on as we accompany the ferry that crosses Carlingford Lough, shuffling people and cars between Co Louth and Co Down

Four Seasons in One Day: we are never entirely sure which side of the Border we are on as we accompany the ferry that crosses Carlingford Lough, shuffling people and cars between Co Louth and Co Down

 

Borderline: Four Seasons in One Day (RTÉ One, Tuesday) is a Belgian art-house rumination on the Border, Brexit and the liminal otherness of the places that connect and divide the two Irelands. And goodness does it feel like it.

Annabel Verbeke’s film has a woozy, dreamlike quality. At moments it comes across as quite consciously crafted to disorient the viewer. We are never entirely sure which side of the Border we are on as we accompany the ferry that crosses Carlingford Lough, shuffling people and cars between Co Louth and Co Down.

There are lots of Northern accents, fewer Louth ones. And, with a handful of exceptions, it’s difficult to get a sense of who is coming and who is going. The one constant is the great expanse of the lough, framed to the north by the tumbling Mourne foothills and to the south by the Cooley Mountains.

A nationalist in the North says he has never acknowledged the Border. A unionist says he never saw a Catholic until he was 10 years old – and half-expected that they would have horns

So it’s film that that grapples with big ideas – identity, nationality, change – while, moment to moment, seeming to be about nothing at all. In its textures it feels like slow television with an Irish filter. A funeral-home director rearranges some chairs, a man bangs a Lambeg drum, kids play Farming Simulator on their Xbox. It’s just life, flowing by.

Whether Verbeke has anything new to say about Irishness or Brexit is less clear. When she drills down we’re back to the old tropes. A nationalist in the North says he has never acknowledged the Border. A unionist says he never saw a Catholic until he was 10 years old – and half-expected that they would have horns. Later he wonders if life might not be easier if all of Ireland were British again. (Spoiler: no, it probably wouldn’t.) And he recalls with alarm a visit to Dublin, which has become threateningly “cosmopolitan”. He couldn’t get back across Carlingford Lough fast enough.

Four Seasons in One Day is part of a series of Europe-wide meditations on borders and crossings, beginnings and endings. And “meditation” is the word. This is yoga-mat film-making. An accumulation of vignettes flows by. But afterwards it’s hard to recall any of the details, let alone how they fit together to form a bigger picture. They swirl away, like fragments of a dream.

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