Irish Film Review: The Limit Of

 

DIR/WRI: Alan Mulligan • PRO: Taine King, Alan Mulligan, Anthony Mulligan, Tim Palmer • DOP: Daniel Sorin Balteanu • ED: Alan Mulligan, Tim Palmer, Daniel Sorin Balteanu • DES: Lilla Nurie • CAST: Laurence O’Fuarain, Joanne Brennan, Des Carney

 

In Alan Mulligan’s The Limit Of, we are introduced to our lead character James, a distant, meticulous figure, as he runs through Dublin at night, headphones in, ignoring all around him. Immediately, the film’s visuals work hard and effectively to situate James within the wider context of 21st century, modernizing Dublin as we see him run along the Samuel Beckett Bridge and by other recognizable modern landmarks and architecture. And soon, as we cut to the next day when James’ day job is revealed to us, we can see why. James is a banker and the film is, to a certain extent, a kind of state of the nation (or at least state of the city) piece.

James witnesses first-hand the cruelty of his employers to a stranger and then to a loved one. He sits through meetings whose participants could have been side characters in Glengarry Glen Ross, except that their seediness and vile intentions would have overshadowed that film’s main cast.

Indeed, characterization in this film can be somewhat lacking. The bankers in this film, with two exceptions, are just evil. Aside from James himself, characters are generally one-note and their motivations simplistic. In the case of the bankers though, their uncomplicated evil does make it clear the stance this film is taking on the state of 21st century Ireland: banks exert an inordinate amount of control on the lives of Irish people, especially on the sick, elderly, and otherwise vulnerable, and the manner in which control is exerted is entirely avaricious. It is not a nuanced take on the state of modern Ireland, but an admirably bitter diatribe against the impersonal state of modern financial institutions, though it is perhaps a bit undercut by the cartoony, villainous dialogue of characters who run those institutions.

Dialogue and the relationships among the film’s small cast of characters in general are often an issue in this film, which does not aid in the believability of these characters or their plight.  In particular, a sexual subplot involving James which features awkward dialogue with a co-worker and lingering shots of him staring at her groin feels stilted at best and a bit exploitative at worst. That’s not to say that these actors don’t give strong performances. Special praise must go to Sonya O’Donoghue who gives a wonderful performance in the brief time she is in the film. The issue is just that the relationships between characters are not compelling or heartfelt enough to carry the film.

To uncover the real strength of the film we must turn back to its visuals. There’s a coldness to them. We do not often see the Georgian centre of Dublin, but instead see rectangular architecture and cold fluorescent lights. Inside James’ work place, there’s a bleak impersonality to everything around him. Characters are framed against quasi-symmetrical backdrops, often with vertical lines and barriers like thin doorways or bland posters hanging between them, implying a forced distance between people as demanded by institutions that value impersonal control. Interestingly though, these barriers are almost never centred just right. Mulligan seems to subtly emphasize the “quasi” in “quasi-symmetrical” when it comes to his compositions. In these slightly off-kilter visuals, the movie at first appears to be displaying a clear narrative about control, and then appears, upon closer inspection, to subtly resist it. Even as we see overhead shots outside the office building, where we follow the Liffey past rows of impersonal, rectangular buildings, the staid sameness of these buildings actually serves to emphasize the subtle curvature of the river, which resists that sameness. It’s almost as if there is something inherently chaotic here that upsets this narrative of impersonality and control.

These visuals work well to elucidate the film’s themes. As the events of the film progress and James begins to viscerally encounter and resist the injustice of his employer, such visuals remain the most powerful weapon in Mulligan’s arsenal to make his examination of the limits of cold calculation and, eventually, the seeming impossibility of clear narratives of control and justice strike home. I’ll be thrilled to see when Mulligan’s keen visual eye gets married to a script and characters that complement this skill.

Sean O’Rourke

92 minutes
15A (see IFCO for details)
The Limit of is released 5th April 2019

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‘The Limit Of…’ Director Alan Mulligan & Actor Laurence O’Fuarain

 

Ahead of an IFTA screening, Gemma Creagh chatted to the writer/director of The Limit Of… Alan Mulligan and actor Laurence O’Fuarain, who plays James Allen, a man pushed to his limits, and beyond, in a tense thriller set against the backdrop of Ireland’s banking sector.

 

How did the project come about?

Alan: I studied Commerce at NUIG and from there went into banking and finance as an accountant but I became very unhappy. That went on for a few years before I decided to look for something else. I’m from a small town in the west of Ireland and a creative career never really occurred to me. Then, for some reason, I did a 6-week course in the IFA and fell in love with filmmaking. I went out and made a short film that got into a couple of festivals, made another short film while I was still in the bank that got aired on RTÉ – which was amazing. I had an idea for a feature and started to write. That’s when I came to Filmbase and did a writing course with Stephen Walsh. I decided to leave the bank and focus on writing the feature. I thought I’d make it in 2 years. 5 years later here we are with an IFTA screening!

 

How long was the writing process?

Alan: The writing took 18 months in total. People say they write drafts. In my process, because I was new to the craft, I was writing drafts of scenes all the time. So I was drafting certain scenes over and over whereas some others just worked the first time. There was 100 drafts of some parts of it in with 5 draft of others.

We didn’t make many changes once we all sat down – some dialogue here and there. It was more that we dropped parts…

 

Laurence: The first three weeks we just went over the script over and over again. And we just kind of trimmed the fat and cut it down to what it needed to be.

 

Alan: The dialogue is quite sparse in it. The character James Allen is a very controlled silent type of guy. When he does say something it means something – in the style of Drive and Shame.

I remember sending Laurence a scene and he rang me saying that his character didn’t need to say this and this and this. And I said I know. This is what I want the character to be thinking but I haven’t figured that out yet. We needed to sit down and figure out what he has to say. That’s how we worked together. I was writing everything the character would say as if it was a very heavy dialogue film and he was a very open type of person. Then Laurence would say right I only need to say this line and this…

 

Laurence: He was doing my job for me really. Thanks for that!

 

Sounds like it was quite a collaborative process then.

Laurence: Yeh. We worked on it for a long time before we got to shoot – 9 months. It was great because when it came time to shoot we were totally prepared when our feet hit the floor.

 

Alan: And it meant that because it’s made for 30,000 euro and we shot it for about 16,000 we didn’t have time to redo things. It was very intense, so it was a lot easier to get the takes. Even if we changed something on set, Laurence knew the character so well he could adapt. We weren’t learning the character as we went along. Once we got into shooting everyone knew their characters because they had been meeting with me for so long and they ‘d been doing so much work by themselves.

 

And how long was the shoot?

Alan: 17 days. It was tight. Great fun though and everyone did really put in the hard work, which was amazing. I guess me not being from a film background it was a real experience to see everyone working late and long hours and putting everything into creating this stuff. It gave me real inner joy to see everyone working for that creative common goal. I remember banking and if you said to someone, I’m doing a financial plan, everyone come over to the house and we’ll work on it through the night… it doesn’t happen, I guess, this level of commitment.

 

Laurence, tell us a little bit about James Allen, and what it takes to embody a character like that.

Laurence: For me, with James, I just found he was more a boy than a man. What interests me with characters is their connection to everybody else in their life,  their connection to the environment and how they see it. James is very controlling. He’s very regimented. In a way, that’s the kind of key to his headspace – that he doesn’t tip over… but he’s not in control. The connection he has most with anybody is his mother, which I can relate to – well Irish men and their mammies… y’know! I tried to integrate that into him as well. I tried to find James within me and then bring that out and then obviously work with the direction from Alan, what his visions were of the character and then go on set and try to be open to anything that happens within the take.

 

Sarah Carroll, who plays Alison, was excellent. How did she come on board?

Laurence: I remember, once I’d been cast, Alan asked me to help him out with a couple of the other characters that he wanted to cast. He showed me Sarah in Trust, a short he’d done with her. She was fantastic. She fit. I remember we did a couple of readings and it was pretty much straight away. She was amazing to work with.

 

There was a great chemistry and she had a certain intensity herself that she brought to the role., That was interesting to watch and good for a female character. They can sometimes be written quite flat.

Alan: The same thing again. There’s not much dialogue so the performance of seeing this person is lost and hurt and isolated and feeling a lot of the same things James is – but she’s in touch more with her emotional side. I always say in my head that she’s the heart of the film for me. I think that she is capable of saving herself. I don’t think James is. He’s capable of controlling himself and continuing forward but in terms of saving himself and being happy, he relies on someone else to do that for him, which would have been his mother. And then maybe Alison replaces his mother.

 

What can you tell us about your influences and the style you brought to bear on The Limit Of…?

Alan: I enjoy European cinema, so it would have influenced me a lot. The Danish director Nicolas Winding Refn… Drive is one of my favourite films. I love the style of the visuals and music. And that precise framing and colour scheme he uses to match characters. I wanted that with The Limit of… Like with Alison wearing a green cardigan throughout the film at different stages – it’s an earthed colour and green is a dominant colour in the house which makes her feel like she belongs.

The cinematographer Daniel Balteanu, who I worked with on Trust, was heavily involved in the style of the film. He was sending me pictures of paintings and that influenced certain framing, certain colours and the lighting we used to create particular moods. Again, that was intense prepping for a few months before shooting.

And, I was saying this all through rehearsal, James Allen has to be still. The camera movement has to be controlled and reflect the whole vibe and tone  of the film – and James Allen is the film, so they have to connect with each other. There are only 2 or 3 hand held shots in the film. I wanted that controlled feel to it.

 

 

The Limit of… screens on Monday, 18th December as part of IFTA Academy Members VIEWING SEASON Screening  

The Limit of… is submitted in the following categories:

Best Film
Best Director: Alan Mulligan
Best Scriptwriter: Alan Mulligan
Best Lead Actor: Laurence O’Fuarain 
Best Supporting Actress: Sarah Carroll
Best Original Music: Stuart Gray 
Best Cinematography: Daniel Balteanu 
Best Costume Design: Paula Fajardo 
Best Editing: Alan Mulligan
Best Production Design: Lilla Nurie
Best Sound: Nikki Moss, Ian McIntyre, Barry Reid

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1G6vvLUijM

 

 

Use of recurring imagery within the film to tell story:

 

 

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