Cinema Review: The Sea

Ciarán Hinds in a still from The Sea

DIR: Stephen Brown  • WRI: John Banville  PRO: David Collins, Michael Robinson, Luc Roeg • DOP: John Conroy • ED: Stephen O’Connell • MUS: Andrew Hewitt • DES: Derek Wallace • CAST: Bonnie Wright, Ciarán Hinds, Natascha McElhone, Rufus Sewell

Max Morden, grieving the loss of his wife Anna, returns to an Irish seaside village where he spent summers as a child. He struggles to finish a book about the painter Pierre Bonnard, but the village provokes memories of the summer when he met the Grace family, the children Myles and Chloe, their parents Connie and Carlo, and Rose, the children’s young governess. Anna’s slow death from cancer continues to haunt Max.

 

John Banville adapts his 2005 Man Booker prizewinning novel. Some of the book’s more literate pleasures, such as Banville’s playful punning and concern with the meaning of words, gives the dialogue a pretentious feel, Anna’s musings on the word “patient” and the recurrence of “stranded” being two obvious examples. While the screen provides an excellent medium for flitting back and forth through time, Banville’s adaptation fails to capture the uncertainty and unreliability of Max’s meditations that pervade the book. The filmmakers try to capture something like this with characters speaking their lines off-screen while their on-screen mouths don’t move, presumably reflecting that it’s Max’s memory we’re seeing and hearing. It’s a challenging task to bring such fiction to the screen; this adaptation has lost the structural complexity of its source but remains faithful to its emotional core.

 

A notable cast brings Banville’s fascinating characters to life. Ciarán Hinds, with his craggy face, impresses as the dilettante, worn by his experiences and troubled by his memories. Charlotte Rampling gives Miss Vavasour appropriate mysteriousness, while Sinéad Cusack ably takes some of the more memorable lines as the dying Anna. Rufus Swell’s swaggering turn as Carlo Grace brings an enjoyable roguery, enlivening the film’s grim mood. Unfortunately, the younger cast lacks experience and conviction to give meaning to the subtext of their scenes.

 

The title, of course, means there are frequent shots to the beautiful briny, and water recurs as a motif, as in Anna’s bath and bleak rain on a window. DOP John Conroy’s lighting patterns give Max’s childhood memories a warmer glow than the dark blue and grey hues of scenes set in the present. The camera moves frequently when static shots or long takes might have given the viewer time and space to meditate and interpret such Max’s memories, as we might do when trying to assimilate Max’s ruminations in the book.

 

At one point, Max chides his daughter for being of the generation who believe that “everything’s explained, everything’s accounted for”. References to Pierre Bonnard, the painter, make more sense if you know that his later works reflected his desolation following the death of his wife. The character Blunden has an uncertain past. He says he’s retired from the army but he have been active in Belfast. Anna’s past relationship with Serge troubles Max. The young Rose’s relationship with Connie Grace plays out on the sidelines in much the same way as many different possibilities and strands running through the film emerge and recede, just like water washing up on the seashore. It’s difficult to make a success out of the ephemeral in a medium that makes things visible, but director Stephen Brown, in his feature-length debut, makes an adequate, if not entirely successful, attempt.

John Moran

12A (See IFCO for details)
86 mins

The Sea is released on 18th April 2014

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS3o0Rq9Zk8

Share

Irish Film at the Galway Film Fleadh preview: The Sea

the_sea

The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)

The Sea

Sunday, 14th July

Town Hall Theatre

20.00

The Sea, directed by Stephen Brown and based on the Booker prize-winning novel by John Banville, will close out the 25th Galway Film Fleadh this Sunday. Produced by Dublin-based Samson Films, Ciarán Hinds leads an impressive cast as a widower returning to the seaside resort where he spent summers as a child. The setting for the novel, Wexford, was the location for much of the principle photography.

It is director Stephen Brown’s first feature, and he has been working in TV since he made his last short, the successful The Curious, 18 years ago. Stephen spoke to Film Ireland saying that he was “honoured that The Sea will be shown at the Galway Film Fleadh and that it is recognised as an Irish film. In making it, Ireland has come to mean a lot to me. I found a poetic resonance in the way words are spoken and I found an exacting beauty in the landscape and weather which, all combined, gave me a powerful set of materials to work with. As an Englishman whose contact with Ireland feels like a delight and a beginning, I hope Galway enjoys my movie. Thank you!”

Ciarán Hinds, fresh from the successes of Game of Thrones, Harry Potter and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, heads up a cast that includes Natascha McElhone (Californication, The Truman Show), Charlotte Rampling (The Duchess), Rufus Sewell (The Illusionist), Sinead Cusack (Eastern Promises, V for Vendetta), Bonnie Wright (Harry Potter) and Ronan Keating’s daughter Missy Keating.

The Sea tells the story of Max Morden who returns to the seaside resort where he spent his childhood in search of peace after the death of his wife. After finding lodges at a boarding house run by the frosty Miss Vavasour, his trip begins to dig up ghosts from his past. His mind returns to the idyllic and eventful summer when he met the Grace family. As Max returns to memories of this unconventional family, and of his departed wife, he will also uncover a distant trauma long forgotten.

Tickets are available to book from the Town Hall Theatre on 091 569777, or at www.tht.ie.

Share