JDIFF Irish Film Review: Love Eternal


Anthony Assad takes a look at Brendan Muldowney’s second feature, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Ian (Robert de Hoog) is an enigma trapped in a defective human shell. As a child he witnesses his father’s last breath, his bereavement stalls in isolation and he descends into a morbid fascination with his own mortality. Life goes on but death seems to follow him everywhere so that when his mother kills herself he decides it’s about time to end his own life. Just as he has narrowed down the means and the smoke from his car’s exhaust pipe begins to enter his lungs he’s interrupted by a van of individuals that pull over to prep their own suicide. Curiosity leads him towards them and finding the ethereal corpse of a teenage girl sparks a dangerous love affair with the dying and the dead.

If this all sounds a tad grim so far that’s because it is, one would expect no less from an adaptation of Kei Oishi’s necrophilia-laden novel Loving the Dead but the real surprises shine through writer/director Brendan Muldowney’s spirited treatment of the material. A sense of unease pervades through much of these early scenes however and when Ian begins to routinely scope out women on the verge of suicide, so that he can acquire their corpses for company, you could be forgiven for thinking there’s no hope nor humanity to be had.

He props them up around his seaside abode, arranges meals for them, bathes them and even engages in conversation but when they begin to decompose Ian is forced to engage with the real world again to find fresh company. It is in the means to this end, however, that he begins to slowly come out of his self-imposed shell most notably with Tina played tenderly by Amanda Ryan. Her spritely demeanour offsets Ian’s sombre stoicism and their odd couple pairing adds some comedic relief which Muldowney proffers with commendable discretion. They listen to songs on the radio, dine together and drown their sorrows in champagne so that when the time comes, brutal as it is, you get a sense that Tina has imparted some life into Ian and that he has perhaps lost more than he’s gained when only her body remains.

Nature takes its course and Tina is duly discarded when Ian sets his sights on Naomi (Pollyanna McIntosh) who’s struggling to cling to life after her son dies in an accident. Ian is drawn to her energy and her sense of living life on the edge ramps up the size and scope of their scenes adding a welcome change of pace and atmosphere as we wonder to what their pairing will lead.

The fact that Ian pursues women exclusively raises cause for concern initially and the intimate behaviour that follows could easily be construed as sexual objectification.  Thankfully, however, the liberties Muldowney and co. take avoid the pitfalls of the book so that the women in Love Eternal emerge as the real stars and savours of the piece. Their lives and personalities are infinitely more intricate than the patterns of snowflakes or leafs Ian is mystified by and despite their absence they continue to echo through each scene that follows colouring de Hoog’s performance as the narrative unfolds.

With his second feature in the bag, Muldowney continues to breath new life into dark material presenting, from what could easily have become another body horror B movie, a twisted and tender fairy tale about loneliness that is as much concerned with life as it is with death. The whole affair warrants repeat viewings and Tom Comerford’s cinematography and Bart Westerlaken’s elegiac score combine and compliment Ian’s evolution beautifully.

It may upset the squeamish but brave the initial bleakness and you’ll be pleasantly surprised and perhaps even revitalised.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Love Eternal screened on Sunday, 23rd February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).









JDIFF Irish Film Review: The Stag



Richard Drumm joined the party and takes a look at The Stag, which closed this year’s Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Under orders from bride-to-be Ruth (Amy Huberman), best-man Davin convinces his best friend Fionnan (Hugh O’Conor) to have a stag-weekend despite his early reluctance. Everything seems to be in place for a quiet weekend of hiking with a small group of friends until a wildcard appears in the guise of The Machine (Peter McDonald), Ruth’s brother and a significantly more boisterous personality than Davin and co are used to. And thus the scene is set for all manner of hijinks, misunderstandings, nudity and more character drama than you might expect.

There’s a moment early on in The Stag where The Machine first enters the film with his awkward, over-the-top attempts at ‘humour’ and all hope seems to drain from the very screen. Thankfully however, this appears to have been an intentional manoeuvre to wrong-foot the audience as the film almost immediately changes course once the hiking portion of plot begins and everything settles into a much more naturalistic and genuinely funny flow. It is unfortunate that the opening movement of the film is decidedly spotty because once the plot-proper gets going there is a lot to like with The Stag.

The most refreshing aspect of the film is that at no point does it feel the need to descend into lazy, tired ‘paddy-wackery’ style humour like almost every other Irish comedy. There are no jokes where the punchline is just ‘listen to how thick their accent is, isn’t that hilarious?’ or ‘oh, aren’t colloquialisms from rural Ireland just delightfully quaint?’ No, The Stag (for the most part, anyway) places its emphasis on clever writing and some quite amusing, smaller set-piece gags. There are a few jokes of the low-hanging-fruit variety that fall decidedly flat, like the previously mentioned first appearance of The Machine, but they’re largely in the first act of the film before the characters actually get into the countryside.

It is odd how everything about the film only seems to fall into place once the hike begins because on top of the humour settling in, the cast do too. Andrew Scott is of course the main focus and he doesn’t disappoint. Naturally it’s near-impossible not to have a smile to yourself at seeing ‘Moriarty’ being a best-man but the novelty quickly wears off and over the course of the film Scott demonstrates his range definitely extends further than just playing consulting criminals (admittedly the fact that Scott is playing a college professor in this certainly didn’t help shake off said novelty.)  The rest of the cast are equally fun to watch and share a convincing chemistry together, especially in the more dramatic moments. The real praise should, however, go to McDonald. For what looked on the surface to be one-dimensional, insufferable, ‘wacky’ character, he brings an impressive level of control to his performance as the slow reveal of what is ultimately the most tragic character in the film.

Sadly, the film slightly falls apart in the final ten minutes once the story moves back to Dublin. After doing a surprisingly good job of setting up and expanding upon a lot of issues with modern Ireland and Irish society (financial problems, the very guarded nature of Irish masculinity, older generations’ inability to accept the normalisation of homosexuality in a modern society, etc.), it almost seems like we’re about to get a somewhat ambiguous ending that doesn’t resolve any of these rather large and complex issues. Indeed, there’s a shot of Scott walking through a field that would have been an ideal place to finish. But instead the film goes on to show the wedding and over the course of that scene resolves practically every source of conflict or distress that had previously been mentioned. It’s disappointing because many of these issues don’t have simple solutions and it felt like it would have been enough for the film to merely draw attention to, and have a small discussion about, them. Instead we get an almost unbearably saccharine ending which feels out of place with the more naturalistic and grounded nature of the preceding half an hour or so.

On the whole though this is still a genuinely amusing film which, despite taking a little time to find its feet, settles into a comfortable and nicely heartfelt comedy that far exceeds a lot of recent Irish attempts at such broad humour. For a film that purports to be about modern Irish issues, it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t quite have the resolve to end at a more natural point and be content to have merely created a dialogue on those issues. The final scene wraps things up a bit too neatly and is in danger of trivialising some of the good work that came before. However, this doesn’t necessary detract from the comedy itself and so will likely be a moot point for most people.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The Stag screened on Sunday, 23rd February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).


JDIFF Irish Film Review: The Devil’s Pool: Madness, Melancholia and the Artist


Emma O’Donoghue checks out Cecily Brennan’s part documentary, part dramatised art-piece which investigates the connection between madness and artistic creativity.

‘We misunderstand madness and we misunderstand creativity.’
Cecily Brennan

Directed by Irish artist Cecily Brennan, this part documentary, part dramatised art-piece explores the supposed link between artistic creativity and insanity – the tension between order and disorder. It interweaves snippets of interviews on the subject of art and madness with emotive scenes of a young artist ‘Paul’ (played by Marty Rea) struggling with the onset of a full mental breakdown.

Though short (35 minutes), The Devil’s Pool is a potent mix of visceral intensity and cerebral stimulation, raising many questions and inviting the audience to examine their own attitudes towards the subject matter. Dr Simon Kyaga of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm discusses studies that have been done on incidents of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder among the creative professions, while Prof. Patricia Waugh of Durham University explains how, throughout history, artists seek expression through the ‘breaking of habits’, yet this has always been seen as threatening to bourgeois society. Playwright Frank McGuiness and poet Paul Muldoon speak about the illusive idea that embracing insanity might somehow ‘unlock’ new levels of creativity previously unknown to the restrained and conformed mind.

These fascinating interviews are intersected by scenes of Paul in a white space – some unknown place in the pit of his mind. He desperately tries to take control of this space by carefully drawing thick ruled lines on the walls, with the words ‘I am not going mad. I am in control’ written on them. But Paul cannot find the words to express his inner torment, nor can he contain the sloshes of black paint that swirl around his feet, devouring and blackening this clean, white place. There is something inescapably grim about these scenes. They overwhelm the senses by providing a visual representation of the frustratingly slippery and painfully isolating world of insanity – that ‘unavoidable darkness’.

In a brief Q&A after the screening, Cecily Brennan said, ‘we misunderstand madness and we misunderstand creativity’. Throughout history, the greatest problem for the artist is that there has always been a dangerous allure and romanticism surrounding the notion of being driven insane by your art, when in fact there is no art in madness. In melancholy, despair and insanity there can be no illumination, nothing can be created. As Paul Muldoon explained, artists like Sylvia Plath were ‘driven mad by the myth’, believing that transcending sanity was a door to true art, when in fact this is nothing but an insidious fallacy.

This is a provocative piece of Irish filmmaking that delves into the dark recesses of the mind in an effort to extract some insight. It daringly explores a side of art that is often discussed, but seldom understood.

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The Devil’s Pool: Madness, Melancholia and the Artist screened on Tuesday, 18th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).



JDIFF: Irish Film Review – No Limbs, No Limits



Ailbhe O’ Reilly checks out Steven O’ Riordan’s documentary which tells the extraordinary and awe-inspiring life story of his sister Joanne O’ Riordan.

Joanne O’ Riordan first appeared on the national stage by confronting Taoiseach Enda Kenny about cuts to disability funding before the general election. Since then her positive attitude and eloquence has impressed people from Ireland to the floor of the UN. Joanne is one of only seven people who suffer from the physical disability called Total Amelia, which means she was born without limbs. Joanne’s brother Steven directs the documentary and it certainly benefits from his closeness to his subject.

The documentary has a very positive and uplifting feel to it, focusing on how Joanne has overcome her disability to live a life much like her friends and siblings. We see her day to day life living with her parents, eating breakfast, getting ready for school and all the while joking with her family and friends. Steven takes the time to film Joanne’s daily chores and how different daily tasks are for her. Joanne makes a visit to the UN to speak to a group of technology experts about how technology has helped her daily life; here we see her unique personality and power to capture an audience.

The familial connection helps show Joanne’s personality and captures why she has been such a hit and inspiration to many people. The most poignant part of the film is the interviews with Joanne’s parents. We hear about their anguish and fear when Joanne was born and their struggle to bring her up against the odds. We do not see if Joanne has bad days or worries much about her future, maybe this is because she is always positive or perhaps it is the chosen tone of the film.

Either way, No limbs, No limits is inspiring to anyone who watches it and it gives us a brief glimpse into how challenging some people’s lives can be.

Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

No Limbs, No Limits screened on Saturday, 15th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).


JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Short Film


Lynn Larkin checked in on the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival’s selection of  Irish short films.

Friday the 14th was all SHORT of romantic. Valentine’s day started with a selection of short films at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival and I was romanced by not one, but eight fantastic Irish short films. Each short film had a wonderful scene of something much bigger than the tiny clip-it we were lucky to catch a glimpse of. They all left me intrigued and longing for more, perhaps a feature film in the making? Playing to a full house in the Light House cinema, filled with a sense of anticipation, the lights dimmed and a soft russell of popcorn munching began. Our Valentine’s treat was a quick romp with comedy and drama filled with a foray of emotion.


Breakfast Wine
Director: Ian Fitzgibbon
Writer: Kevin Barry
Running Time: 11 minutes
Starring Ruth Bradley, Dylan Moran and David Pearse. A young woman makes an appearance into a country town pub much to the pleasant surprise of two alcoholics who are solely responsible for keeping the small bar running. Boozing and chatting the night away revels her past is coloured with lifetime of experiences. This short feels like it was taken from a feature film and placed into the line-up. It’s an interesting place to start and finish a short and it definitely makes you wonder what happened next?

Director: Mairtín de Barra
Writer: Matthew Roche
Running Time: 13 minutes
Atrophy examines the sacrifices made in the name of development, and the effect they have upon people. A tale of old versus new, loss, friendship and an old farmer and his dog. I have to admit I had a lump in my throat while watching this film, meaning it was successful in tackling the topic at hand. This little film will pull at your heart strings and make you want to call your granddad more often, which makes things a little difficult for me, considering, they’re both dead.

Director: Louise Ni Fhiannachta
Writer: Anton Beag Ó Colla
Running Time: 11 minutes
The First Holy Communion is fast approaching but as an atheist, eight-year-old Rúbaí refuses to be a part of it. Rúbaí faces emotional blackmail, religious and philosophical debate and out and out intolerance in today’s supposedly diverse and modern Ireland. Rúbaí is a super funny Irish short that deals with some real drama. Oh to be an eight-year-old atheist fuelled with wit and knowledge and a blunt tongue. I really enjoyed this film. I don’t know what else to say, other then go see this film, you’ll love it.

Director: Cathy Brady
Writer: Cathy Brady, Sarah Woolner
Running Time: 20 minutes
Mary wakes up on the sofa with a banging headache. Her morning routine is interrupted by a persistent reporter. She is a broken lost soul that has suffered a devastating life tragedy. But this morning is the morning she decides to deal with what has happened. Morning is a truly gripping drama. Brady has managed to give a sneak peek into a world no one would ever wish to experience.

Uisce Beatha
Director: Shaun O’Connor
Writer: Tadhg Hickey
Running Time: 8 minutes
Set in 1912, Uisce Beatha is the true story of Tom, a young man who leaves his home in rural Ireland to cross the ocean on the ill-fated Titanic. But a night of celebration beforehand results in a twist that will affect Tom’s fate drastically. Does everything in life happen for a reason?

The Ledge End of Phil (From Accounting)
Writer-director: Paul Ó Muiris
Running Time: 6 minutes
An animation about a man called Phil who is forced to take a look at the life that he has been ignoring and neglected for so long. With nowhere left to turn he has no choice but to take a giant leap into the unknown. It’s fly or die.

Writer-directors: Tom Sullivan, Feidlim Cannon
Running Time: 15 minutes
A heartfelt story about a mechanic fed up with what life has dealt him but finds consolation and peace in ageing gracefully.

4 Bhanríon
Director: Vittoria Colonna
Writers: Vittoria Colonna, Eoin Rogers
Running Time: 15 minutes
4 Bhanríon (4 Queens) is a black comedy about four elderly sisters who play a game of poker to decide who will take care of their elderly mother. Proving that blood isn’t always necessarily thicker than water, not while one sister might get stuck looking after their wheelchair-ridden mother. However, sometimes life doesn’t work out the way it’s planned.


A couple of the short films that stood out for me were Louise Ni Fhiannachta’s Rúbaí and Mairtín de Barra’s Atrophy.

Rúbaí had an exceedingly good storyline entwined with some comedy and heartfelt drama. The acting was fantastic and the dialogue was very well thought-out. A definite must see for all age groups.

Mairtín de Barra’s Atrophy storyline is very current and one that I’m sure will resonate with a lot of people. The acting from Pat Deery is so expressive and endearing, proving the strength and talent of Deerly’s ability as an actor. De Barra made a fantastic choice in casting him.  The set captures the life of the old man perfectly. Everything about this short film was very well executed.  Another short to add to the list of must sees.

All in all it’s apparent that the Irish film industry is safe in the hands of the new and emerging Irish talent that are storming through the film festival circuits. And of course, they made my Valentine’s super pleasant and even managed to give my heart a little flutter.


Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

JDIFF’s selection of  Irish shorts screened on Friday, 14th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).


JDIFF: Irish Film Review – The Food Guide to Love


David Prendeville chews over The Food Guide to Love, which screened at the 2014 Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

Oliver (Richard Coyle), a successful celebrity chef, is far less successful in his love life largely due to his treatment of women. He can never have a relationship that lasts longer than six months mainly because he is a selfish, shallow misogynist. After Oliver is thrown out of one relationship along comes fiery Bibiana (Leonor Watling). They begin a tentative relationship that eventually turns into something very serious for both of them. But can it last? While Bibiana is interested in politics and art, Oliver seems only to care about himself and food. Oliver encountering an old crush from primary school in Georgina (Jade Yourell) and Bibiana’s interest in a political activist (David Wilmot) adds further complications to proceedings.

This light, silly romantic comedy attempts to recall classic screwball comedies, not least, in the admirable feistiness of its lead female character. The film struggles tonally, particularly initially, as it attempts to translate this type of comedy onto its Irish setting. Early scenes between Coyle and Watling jar somewhat. The film’s major flaw, however, lies with the fact that the lead character Oliver is such a deeply unlikeable character. In a film with as broadly comic a sensibility as this there is something that doesn’t sit right about having such a deplorable male lead. To be fair, the film-makers do establish a certain depth to his character towards the end in an emotional scene involving his father, which is heartfelt and well-played. However by the end of the film you don’t really feel as if there has been any great change in the character’s outlook or behaviour. The film lacks the sardonic or cynical edge required to pull off having these sorts of moral complexities to its characters.

The dislikeable nature of the lead character and his actions lead to some bizarre, supposedly comic scenes such as him being tempted to cheat on Bibiana by a woman completely smeared in chocolate. The aftermath of this scene in which Bibiana discovers Oliver’s chocolate smeared clothes does not know whether it wants to be moving or funny and it ends up being neither. While the idea of consistently relating the film’s events and it’s themes to food, given that food is only thing Oliver possibly loves more than himself, is not a bad idea the film-makers struggle to use it in the right way. Is the food motif supposed to be comic? Or is there supposed to be some weight (pardon the pun) to the relating of Oliver’s obsession with food ton that of his love life? As the film progresses, food becomes a means of power struggle in Oliver and Bibiana’s relationship, with her becoming a vegetarian. Once again, while this could have been an interesting idea it ends up feeling forced and rather inconsequential.

The emphasis on food also lead to some scenes which simply misfire- a recurring joke about Oliver’s father’s coddle- is more disgusting than it is funny. Nevertheless there are things to commend in the picture. Dublin is beautifully photographed throughout. The directors Dominic Harari and Teresa Pelegri bring a foreign eye to the city and it’s nice to see such a modern, progressive depiction of Dublin on screen. There are some enjoyable supporting turns from Wilmot, Simon Delaney and Bronagh Gallagher. It is also pleasing to see that in an age in which the romantic comedy is such an unfashionable genre in the cinema that filmmakers are, at least, attempting to go back to basics and call to mind a style of filmmaking in the screwball comedy that is all too rarely visible in the modern era.

For viewers hungry for something substantial this film is unlikely to satisfy but it has the odd ingredient worth savouring.


Click here for further coverage from the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The Food Guide to Love screened on Monday, 17th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).


JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Stay


Stacy Grouden reports from the screening of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay.

The title of Wiebe von Carolsfeld’s latest drama Stay suggests a longing, a desire for stasis and stability, and follows its cast of characters as they seek to get somewhere they can comfortably remain. If your gut reaction to this is that the quest for equilibrium for the sake of equilibrium seems antithetical to drama, you might be on to something.

Adapted from Aislinn Hunter’s 2005 novel, Stay opens with Abbey (Schilling), a young Canadian ex-pat, who lives by the sea in Connemara with her older lover Dermot (Quinn), a former Archaeology professor with a troubled past. When Abbey discovers that she’s pregnant, she returns to her native Montreal to reassess her life, uncovering some painful truths about her parents in the process. Meanwhile, in his ‘home at the end of the world,’ Dermot, an unwilling candidate for fatherhood, distracts himself by helping a recently-returned single mother (McGuigan) adjust to her new life, as well as enlisting a mitching schoolboy (Keoghan) to build him a fence.

While this is very much marketed as a drama about a May-December romance in crisis, writer/director Von Carolsfeld has described this as more of a story about a number of the residents of this barren Connemara periphery looking for a place to stay, to call home.  Indeed, the subjects of this introspective epistemological quest are well-chosen; along with the clichéd ‘man in his 50s having a mid-life crisis,’ shifting the focus to a pregnant 30-something, a teenage boy, and a mother of a newborn potentially offers a variety of interesting results and opposing perspectives as to where each character sees themselves going – or staying – in life. The fact that they all come to seemingly very similar conclusions, however, is disheartening. It feels more like a generic narrative wrap-up than a fully-satisfying conclusion.

Von Carolsfeld does some interesting things with language and geography, neatly contrasting the chic urban French-Canadian Montreal with the Connemara Gaeltacht giving each locale a separate, multi-sensory identity. Yet this representation of Ireland, while thematically connected with Dermot’s narrative, is questionable at best. Even as the romanticisation of this bleak rural landscape is mocked within the world of the film itself – as Dermot expresses his disgust at the ‘Idyll by the Sea’ cottage development proposed by his neighbour – it clings to the rustic, outdated view of Ireland, at least this part of it, as a retreat from modernity. While Dermot’s self-imposed exile from Dublin is certainly complemented by his surroundings, details like JFK paintings in badly-weathered houses where the dead are waked in their own beds clutching daisies give the film a stage Irishness that is not altogether comfortable for a contemporary Irish viewer to experience.

The performances in Stay are rather uneven. The most convincing come from the young Irish cast members, Barry Keoghan and Nika McGuigan, who subtly infuse their light and aimless conversation with a keen sense of how lost and adrift youth make sense of the world. While leads Quinn and Schilling have both proven capable of low-key performances in the past, and each have quiet, graceful moments in this film, there are times when conversation between the two sounds less like a call-and-response, than two actors merely reeling off their learned lines. This hit-and-miss chemistry expends to most of the rest of the cast, with even the father-daughter relationship enacted by Schilling and Michael Ironside appearing even more strained than that between their characters. Some weak scripting and awkwardly-forced exposition only further detracts from the naturalistic tone a modernist film like Stay – heavy on personal relationships, light on plot – requires to work.

Taking an interestingly decentred approach to some complex themes of intimacy and belonging, Stay undoubtedly has its moments and great potential for something more, but ultimately doesn’t build a world in which one would wish to linger.

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JDIFF: Irish Film Review – Calvary


Donnchadh Tiernan checks out John Michael McDonagh’s Calvary, which opened the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival.

The opening line of John Michael McDonagh’s sophomore effort packs such an almighty punch it would be a shame to divulge it here. As a quote from Saint Augustine on the poetic implications of the titular hill fades to the candlelit visage of Brendan Gleeson’s central priest a line of dialogue is delivered with enough weight to shake any audience of expectations for a would-be sequel to 2011’s The Guard. The dialogue of the anonymous confessor continues to outline what will be the framework within which the film will play out; in seven days, having spent their childhood being raped daily by a priest, the faceless victim will shoot Gleeson’s priest, plainly because he, a good priest, being murdered will send a greater message. When Gleeson leaves the booth he seems to know who has threatened him. We, however, do not, and the film commences.

The prime action of the piece is made up of Gleeson’s interactions with locals; characters played by the greatest assembly of Irish and British acting talent since Intermission: Pat Shortt as a Buddhist publican; Dylan Moran as a socially estranged property developer; Chris O’Dowd as the butcher; Kelly Reilly as Gleeson’s suicidal daughter from a pre-orders marriage; Aidan Gillen as an atheistic, nihilistic doctor. The list actually does go on but to give everyone worthy of shout-out here their just deserts would evolve this review to a novella. Everyone available seemingly wanted to appear in this film and once one sniffs out the marrow of the meandering plot it is easy to see why.

The first act of Calvary is the segment that requires the most salt in viewing. What might be biting satire or critique is diluted with Fr. Ted jokes as they might have been written for HBO. McDonagh being cut from the cloth he is the dialogue and structure is ever a comment on the medium and genre itself, in this case such thematic stuff as Song for a Raggy Boy or Sleepers, but considering both the setting and the opening this does not seem enough. As a matter of fact, until Gleeson’s church is burnt to the ground midway through (as seen in the trailer and on the poster), it seems as though the writer-director is shying from the route he initially gestured towards. Then, as flames flicker against the night, the second act reveals a darker side of The Guard’s wry wit and the film dives headlong into murk the previous film only hinted at.

What transpires in the film’s remainder is often heavy drama and is a credit to its cast, particular credit due to Domhnall Gleeson and Chris O’Dowd, the former stepping out of his father’s shadow while sitting across from him, the latter whom will surely be hearing meatier dramatic scripts whacking his hallway floor more regularly in the coming months. This film’s heart, soul and muse, as with The Guard, is undoubtedly the masterful Brendan Gleeson, who communicates the bitterness and flickering hopes of a dying faith with dark weary eyes and reserved gestures.

Any flaws here are minor and aesthetic. The rent-boy Lucky Leo is one caricature too far and Dave McSavage playing a bishop carries too much weight as a cultural reference to work alongside the more serious tones surrounding the role. The cast of characters is, overall, too large to justify and trying to keep up with them at times muddles the plot. Thankfully, McDonagh’s agenda is so potent and engaging that its confidence propels viewer attention along with it at far too ardent a pace to linger on such minor foibles.

With Calvary, McDonagh has completed the sentence he began to utter with The Guard. As an already evident auteur, he loves Ireland (as clearly evidenced by the glorious landscape shots throughout) and despises such Irish institutions as middle-management, bitterness and mob-rule. Were he a pamphleteer, which on a certain level he undoubtedly is, his prime target would be Joe Duffy’s listenership and high-ranking church officials in equal measure. In fact, there is such ample critique of Irish society in the third act it feels as though two films in he may have made his magnum opus. On immediate reflection, not only do I wish to re-watch Calvary soon but I believe it will prove as much of a necessary watch for at least one generation to come as it will be a gripping, funny and moving one for audiences this year. Once again, McDonagh has produced a work impossible to pigeon-hole into any genre, except perhaps “Essential Viewing”.



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Calvary screened on Thursday, 13th February 2014 as part of the 12th Jameson Dublin International Film Festival (13 – 23 February 2014).