Cinema Review: Living in a Coded Land


DIR/ PRO: Pat Collins • DOP: John Conroy • ED: Tadhg O’Sullivan • Camera: Colm Hogan, Feargal Ward • Sound: John Brennan

Ambitious, intelligent and beautiful to watch, Living in a Coded Land marks an impressive follow-up to Silence for director Pat Collins and his talented team. The film investigates the Irish landscape, people and their culture, making interesting links between past and present.

The film makes a sustained argument, explaining contemporary Ireland through its past, so Living in a Coded Land plays as an essay film. It develops an original idea of historian Dr Patrick J O’Connor, taking places such as the Hill of Uisneach, the site of the Battle of Aughrim (1691), Castletown House and Dublin’s former tenement buildings and interrogating them for possible meaning or codes. It traces the emergence of an influential middle class in Ireland that acts as intermediaries for foreign capital. Historians Conor McCabe, Heather Laird and Tony Farmar provide the commentary.

The nature of the relationship between art, culture and politics forms another strand that runs through the film. Folklorist Henry Glassie talks about “the universal of the contextual … of the local”. Collins weaves particular places and artworks into a grander narrative. He even matches discussions of culture with contemporary scenes from GAA matches and practice sessions, expanding the cultural realm to include the national sports.

Living in a Coded Land boasts poetic qualities that make it an enchanting documentary. Collins fills his film with characteristic long takes and striking images (notably a stark moon shining over a still lake). His use of music and archival footage is particularly effective, indulging in sequences in which Séamus Ennis plays his pipes and accordion player Tony McMahon entertains a hall full of students. Austere piano accompanies a sequence in which Dublin’s Georgian buildings decline into the slums. Poets Seamus Heaney and Michael Hartnett read their works, complementing the film’s carefully composed images, rhythms and sounds.

Living in a Coded Land presents an imaginative and thoughtful look at Ireland’s past, an explanation for its present and hopes for the future.

John Moran

80 mins

Living in a Coded Land is released on 25th April 2014


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