DIR: Tomm Moore • WRI: Will Collins, Tomm Moore • PRO: Claus Toksvig Kjaer, Tomm Moore, Paul Young • ED: Darragh Byrne • MUS: Bruno Coulais • CAST: Brendan Gleeson, Lisa Hannigan, Fionnula Flanagan, David Rawle, Lucy O’Connell
Acclaimed Irish filmmaker and illustrator Tomm Moore follows up his first Oscar-nominated feature, medieval fantasy quest The Secret of Kells (2009) with another mythological and magical tale of venture steeped in legend and lore in his second consecutive nominated film, Song of the Sea. Inspired by the mysterious, fabled selkie creatures, who inhabit the land as humans but transform into seals at sea, Moore’s timeless tale, nostalgically delineated in hand-drawn, 2D animation, melds the mystical of yesteryear with a specific time in contemporary Irish culture to create a heartfelt story of origins, home and identity that will resonate with audiences of all ages.
Ben lives with his little sister Saoirse and father Conor in a lighthouse off the Irish coast. Their selkie mother returned to the sea six years previously, leaving Ben devastated and his father unable to cope. Troubled Ben grows increasingly resentful of mute Saoirse, who appears to embody the selkie tales told to him by his mother and whom he blames for her abrupt departure. When Saoirse discovers a white sealskin coat she is called to the sea and it is revealed that, she too, is a selkie and swims with the seals until she is washed up ashore, prompting Granny to take the children to the city for their own safety. Yearning to return home, they run away and in their adventurous quest, they encounter a host of mythical characters inhabiting a lost and forgotten world, who either help or hinder their challenging venture to see them safely back to the island.
Set in the 1980s and voiced by an all-star Irish cast, including Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flanagan, Lisa Hannigan and Pat Shortt, Song of the Sea is a retrospective celebration of an Irish culture and identity that no longer appears visible in the nation’s ever-changing cultural landscape. Rooted in a particular space and time, depicted through its recognisable pre-Celtic Tiger iconography, unobtrusive Irish symbolism and colloquial expression, the film is a romantic and wistful portrait of a defunct past that evokes a particular cultural mood and serves as a welcoming breath of fresh air in a genre that is wholly engaged with a hyper-sophisticated, CGI platform. The film’s revisionist perspective elicits a deep emotional resonance to a specific cultural identity while also challenging the art of contemporary animation through its bewitching use of a traditional and predominantly redundant means of animation filmmaking. Moore’s hand-drawn, water-coloured aesthetic executes a craftsmanship that stimulates an intimacy, charm and melancholic beauty and which sits in complete opposition to its successor’s craft, so that each frame stands alone as a conventional laboured work of artistry and finesse.
A masterful storyteller, Moore’s dreamscape retrospectively entwines a bewitching fantasy of ancient folklore with a heart-warming contemporary narrative to marry the traditional with the new, the fantastic with the real, the joyous with the sinister and the mystical with the cynical. Narratively more accessible and visually more arresting than The Secret of Kells, the classic narrative of attempts to reach home in the face of adversity, driven by a host of recognizable archetypes in possession of traditional Irish values, engenders a nostalgically recognizable milieu that summons a language and behaviour of a bygone era, bringing a sense of wondrous familiarity to the film’s narrative and overall comforting aesthetic. Song of the Sea explicitly embraces its revisionism through its highly conventional narrative, stereotypes and style to commemorate a time when a sense of collective national and cultural identity appeared more clearly defined and resolute. Moore, however, does not glorify an idealised past in blissful amnesia. Shards in the narrative detail dark subtexts infusing a socio-cultural commentary that is fully aware of the past’s own failings. Themes of abandonment, alcoholism, depression, grief and isolation recall metaphorical legends of an ancient past realised through a more conflicted contemporary narrative, creating a vision that is both romantic and discordant but underpinning a sentimentality that is firmly embedded in its Irish identity.
Song of the Sea is a magical feast of visual delights, narrative intrigue and nostalgic revisionism that will appeal to the inner child of all ages. It can be viewed as a yearning to return to a familiar past and reclaim a forgotten identity, lost in an ever-increasing chaotic culture, both narratively and within the context of the animation genre. It serves to reinforce a more coherent vision of the past through its use of over-familiar and universal narrative devices, which will effectively resonate with knowing audiences, particularly those familiar with the pre-Celtic Tiger era in Irish culture. Song of the Sea does not seek to dethrone the existing digital prowess dominating the animation genre but rather through revisiting conventional mores within the genre itself it, celebrates a simplistic but highly emotive method of animation filmmaking and a distinctly traditional way of authentic Irish life.
PG (See IFCO for details)
Song of the Sea is released 10th July 2015