JDIFF 2012 Irish Cinema Review: Silence, Pat Collins and Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde

Jameson Dublin International Film Festival

Irish: Silence

Thursday, 23rd February, 8:45pm, Light House


Pitched somewhere between documentary and fictional film Silence gently eases us through a defiantly abstract story. It stars Eoghan Mac Giolla Bhríde as a man who is striving to capture silence on audio, or the closest approximation to it. Wandering across the Irish landscape he attempts to locate a place untouched by man-made noise to fuel this private obsession and the film employs a great deal of natural longueurs to illustrate the natural splendour of the countryside.


Eoghan’s crusade brings him into contact with a few different characters who like himself appear to live on the fringe of a world slightly more exaggerated than real life and it’s in this mingling of the real and fantasy that the film retains its mystery.

I notice that the character’s name which is shared by the actor is only uttered once in the film casually by an old man he converses with near the end, the line between improvising and script becoming blurred. The mix of professional actors and real people lends an unsteady air to the whole proceeding. With the lead also being an audio engineer outside his acting work this lends an authenticity to his role.


In conversation with filmmaker Ken Wardrop following the screening the director Pat Collins told us that the treatment was at one both specific of back stories but loose regarding the framing of scenes. While certain beats and story moments had to be hit the tone of the piece feels elusive and stark.  Collins explains, ‘It began as an idea of the old time folk collector, the man who records stories for future generations.’ Utilizing some archive material which is interspersed throughout conveys that message of lineage economically and to great effect.


When divorced from the overriding idea of silence as an artistic or personal force the film is essentially a prodigal son story, the man afraid to return to the island of his youth, to the weighty silence of home. The character is very remote, letting very little personal information trickle out in his various conversations, his discussion with a writer erring on the side of abstract analysis, his conversation with another man being far more generalised.


It is interesting to note that it is when faced with a younger generation and through the Irish language (obviously a skill he does not employ inBerlinwhere he currently lives, one of the few concrete facts we are told about him) that he seems to open up the most when faced with the naivety of youth. The boy he discusses his life with seems to ask far more probing questions unknowingly than other adults featured. Perhaps the boy lacks a filter or finesse the other characters would have used when discussing such matters.


Visually stunning, the array of locations from Berlin via Cork, Mayo and Belfast amongst others is caught with a loving eye and an artist’s appreciation of scope. However I can’t deny that the film left me somewhat cold as the quest is somewhat academic and sterile and the character too vague. I understand this was a choice on its creators part and having a more conventional structure and protagonist would have run the risk of sentimentality I do wish there was more of a hook here. While trying to avoid maudlin clichés they fell afoul of the other extreme and have crafted a cold arty piece that while masterfully shot its fidelity to silence leaves all other senses out of the loop.


Emmet O’Brien

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