Liam Hanlon was at the Dublin International Film Festival for Peter Mackie-Burns’ screen adaptation of Mark O’Halloran’s play Trade.
Based upon screenwriter Mark O’Halloran’s play Trade, Rialto is an exploration of masculinity in crisis and its relenting isolation for its protagonist. Tom Vaughan-Lawlor stars as Colm who has worked in Dublin’s docks for most of his life and is ignoring an impending redundancy whilst struggling to cope after the death of his father. He also struggles to accept his sexuality. Colm is a married man with children but turns to male prostitute Jay (another Tom with a double-barrelled surname – Tom Glynn-Carney) for pleasure but also to source some glimmer of solace in his life.
Rialto is a film which uses location to empower its story. Director Peter Mackie-Burns mentioned at its Dublin International Film Festival’s premiere that he and Tom Glynn-Carney, both of whom are Scottish and English, respectively, spent time walking and driving around the film’s environment to properly immerse themselves in the characters’ world. Location drives Colm’s alienation. He is seen alone as a miniature figure amongst the towering shipping containers in the docks but also in Mackie-Burns’ direction. His screen time with other characters is limited as the camera follows Colm’s ever-deepening descent; one you feel he mightn’t recover from. Location also serves as a reminder of the life that haunts him. Especially his neglect of care for his mother living alone in his familial home in Rialto. There is a past there that torments his present and future.
Colm’s descent is innately-encapsulated in Vaughan-Lawlor’s performance and commitment to this character. Colm’s appearance worsens and his beard is growing, much like his dependency on alcohol, and Vaughan-Lawlor offers a performance that heightens worry about the character’s survival. He struggles to assist with his mother’s grieving for a father he hated and his own son also hates Colm as a father. O’Halloran’s script focuses on these masculine difficulties, but as sexuality is explored, we see how traditional masculine stereotypes become threatened. Jay’s sexuality is presented as fluid; albeit by necessity. He’s fathered a child to a woman whose father insists on money from him and he admits he’s received income from pleasing closeted men since a teenager. Jay embraces it, especially for monetary pleasure, compared to Colm who nervously approaches a new idea of his sexuality. Tom Glynn-Carney also offers a terrific cocksure performance as Jay with a Dublin accent to be commended.
Whilst this approach and challenge to masculinity is worthwhile, the film’s female characters are intentionally or unintentionally ignored. Colm and his wife Claire (Monica Dolan) are a mismatched couple, potentially signifying his own reluctance of his true sexuality, yet her character is mostly shunned aside for her husband’s issues. Colm’s mother is then presented as an almost grieving-nuisance; one which he and his sister are reluctant to care for. There’s a female character connected to Colm’s father with a backstory the film leaves to you to decide and it feels like an unnecessary narrative footnote at the expense of another female character. There is grieving and suffering throughout but the film almost completely ignores female hardship instead of utilising it within the narrative.
Despite this, and an often on-the-nose score, Rialto is a very impressive film. Its minimalism and ambiguity should be commended and Mackie-Burns has utilised O’Halloran’s script to make it cine-realistic but also very natural. The cinematography by Adam Scarth is remarkable at capturing both Colm’s isolation as well as the small chances of hope for Colm with its rich and textured colours. O’Halloran has a deft touch at writing crises of masculinity and Colm’s overly-apologetic nature saying “sorry” so many times is then brought to life on-screen with a tour-de-force performance by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor.
Rialto may prove to be divisive with audiences but it’s an impactful piece of filmmaking that will linger in your mind for days and days upon viewing.
Rialto screened on 6th March as part of the 2020 Dublin International Film Festival.
Rialto is released in cinemas 8th May 2020.