Review: An Klondike

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DIR: Dathaí Keane • WRI: Marcus Fleming • PRO: Pierce Boyce, Eileen Seoighe, Brid Seoighe  • CAST: Owen McDonnell, Julian Black Antelope, Dara Devaney, Robert O’Mahoney, Sean T O’Meallaigh

 

The rich history of the Irish diaspora is tapped into by Abu Media’s new feature film, An Klondike, a bilingual western, which opened at the Eye cinema recently. Directed by Dathaí Keane, it tells the story of three Irish brothers who become involved in the gold prospecting hysteria of the late 19th century in the north-west of the American continent.

The story opens with Seamus Connolly getting caught stealing while working in a Montana mine. He is soon bailed out by his father’s friend Bear, who subsequently gives Seamus and his brothers deeds to a plot near the Klondike River in Yukon territory. Its exact location is protected by a coded map.

Shortly after, Seamus absconds with both valuables, leaving his brothers Padraig and Tom in pursuit. The action moves to one of many fast growing towns of the era, Dominion, where the economy is generated by a thriving gold industry. Seamus carelessly gambles his assets with local businessman, Jacob Hopkins. This leads to a series of altercations between the pair, which culminate in a bloody duel. Hopkins’ father arrives in town and the story moves to Seamus’ purchase of a local hotel with Hopkins’ help.

Meanwhile, Tom, having caught up with Seamus, decodes the map with the help of a Native American and locates the plot nearby. He begins setting up his mining enterprise. A simmering love sub-plot involves Seamus and Kate Mulyran, a Cork emigrant engaged to the Mountie who tries to keep law and order in Dominion.

The realities of the ‘American dream’ for many emigrants are quickly exposed in the film. A scene of Tom blindly hammering a wall of rock evoked the gamble such prospecting actually entailed. With the focus on gold, the theme of greed is inevitably prominent and many characters are motivated by ‘owning half the town’, as Tom puts it.

Seamus’ behaviour is the driving force of the film. His impatience when he arrives in Dominion sets up the conflict with Hopkins. His interest in the Mountie’s fiancé creates the romantic angle, while he constantly antagonises his brother Tom. The economy of a town like Dominion is given sharp focus. Seamus is charged $10 to sleep at a table and sending a telegram can cost even more.

Many of the ’Western’ genre stereotypes are incorporated; guns at the hip, love triangles involving the law, considerable whiskey consumption, the ubiquitous dream of fast cash amongst an influx of cultures. The movie mainly plays out as Gaeilge, which does create a patriotic ‘little Ireland’ feel to the town.

The concept is a fascinating one; three brothers with a map leading to gold in the land of opportunity. The visuals are very impressive, the town construction is convincing and production design is detailed throughout.

An Klondike does get somewhat tangled in its array of sub-plots. While in the context of the film, they arguably contribute to Seamus’ journey, the dialogue and the characters he interacts with could have been drawn deeper. Bear, who initially gives the brothers the map, seemed interesting and deserved further development. Padraig never becomes hugely significant as the film unfolds. More time was needed for a number of key scenes, such as the opening mine robbery and the scheming of Hopkins’ father, whose single-minded material greed called for greater exploitation.

Some of the saloon scenes were enjoyable and might have been integrated better with the overall plot. There was an over-reliance on the familiar ‘Western’ devices and a hesitance to engage with more original techniques of telling the story.

However, An Klondike is a pictorial treat and certainly an excellent effort at drawing light on the Irish emigrants of the region and period. For fans of the genre looking for an Irish  flavour, it is well worth a look.

Martin Keaveney

15A (See IFCO for details)
110 minutes

An Klondike is released 28th August 2015

An Klondike – Official Website

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Review of Irish Film at Galway Film Fleadh: Happy Hour

Happy-Hour-Chosen

Martin Keaveney finds Germans in Kerry keeping it real in Happy Hour, which screened at this year’s Galway Film Fleadh.

 

Franz Müller’s Happy Hour is a German-Irish film depicting the antics of three men nearing fifty who leave their homes in Germany for a holiday in Co. Kerry. Wolfgang, HC and Nic have distinct personalities with enough underlying similarities to bring their adventure to life on screen.

Wolfgang owns the holiday home and is the natural leader. HC is quieter and appears at the outset to be in some form of emotional strife. The younger looking Nic seems carefree and good-humoured. The movie opens with the three skating across an ice rink, and this pursuit foreshadows a youthful philosophy which underpins the rest of the film. Their time in Kerry will be spent partying, picking up women and testing the limits of their friendships.

The chief sub-plot is a well-constructed, although fairly traditional love triangle. Other narrative threads are low key, but do serve to give some depth to the secondary characters. The narrative plays out mainly in German, with some short scenes in English. There is a strong possibility much of the script’s dialogue is lost through the translation and as a consequence, some scenes which appear to have all the ingredients for intelligent drama fall flat.

We never get clear exposition on the men’s backgrounds. The main clues are HC’s depressive persona, Wolfgang’s reluctance toward sex and Nic’s play-making. The film treats the cross-cultural issues of holiday homes, mid-life interactions of both love and friendship and invites reflection on both common ground and differences between Ireland and Germany.

There are aspects of The Three Stooges, yet the comic intensity is often diluted with philosophical meanderings, at one stage the group question their existence on Earth. The director does admirably resist melodrama, the initially flamboyant Wolfgang puzzles new girlfriend Kat with his conservative attitude in the bedroom. The consequences of this situation is the key moment in the film, evoking themes of change and growth. HC is the most realistic creation; self-piteous, bitterly comic and unpredictable. Realism is the best aspect of the production, it verges on documentary style at times, appropriate for many of its concerns.

There is a sensible avoidance of panoramic sweeps of lakes and mountains, as so often appear in Irish-Foreign collaborations. The appeal of the lifestyle is instead reflected upon. Even so, the result is still the stereotypical late-night drinking sessions of depressed quasi-bachelors, deep in loud, dark pubs.

For a limited scope, Happy Hour achieves its goals. While characters are still frustratingly underdeveloped, a decent attempt is made to explore the three men and to an extent, the women they encounter. The realism of the material is superbly drawn and the dynamics of the characters really come to life after the key point in the film.

The subject is probably not a mainstream one and Happy Hour is not likely to reach a wide audience. Those that do find it will be entertained by a piece which comes together well.

 

Happy Hour screened on Friday, 10th July as part of the Galway Film Fleadh (7 – 12 July 2015)

 
Martin Keaveney co-wrote the feature film Cattle Raid, currently in post-production. Recent fiction has appeared in The Crazy Oik, Gold Dust and Agave Magazine. He has a B.A. in English and Italian and an M.A. in English (Writing) from NUI, Galway, Ireland. He is currently a PhD candidate at NUIG where he is researching the John McGahern archive and also writing a novel as part of the course.

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