This week’s reviews like to be beside the seaside
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.
12A (See IFCO for details)
The Sea is released on 18th April 2014
Matt Miccuci looks back over his 7 days following Irish film in the sweltering heat of Galway for the Fleadh’s 25th anniversary.
“We borrowed the weather from Cannes,” was this year’s joke at the Fleadh.
Indeed, this could easily be remembered as the ‘hottest’ edition of the festival on account of the weather alone. It was hot, very hot, and the unventilated Town Hall Theatre often felt like one big oven. Yet, the programme was too stimulating to give into the call of the beach and strange urges to build a sand castle.
Of course, the people who decided to spend the hottest days Galway has possibly ever seen locked in a theatre were widely rewarded. Just like every year since its birth twenty-five years ago, the festival showcased some of the best home-grown productions today which in turn represented the good health and ambition of Irish cinema.
Things kicked off to a crowd pleasing start with Roger Gual’s Tasting Menu, a very charming comedy of errors telling the story of intertwining lives at the closing night of a Catalonian restaurant, regarded as the best restaurant in the world. Its theatrical approach aided by a good pace and great timing recalled the works of great names from Robert Altman to none other than William Shakespeare! Just as impressively, it closed with the introverted and reflective drama The Sea, in which director Stephen Brown skilfully made the task of turning the famous John Banville novel based on memory and regret look easy in a compact production complete with refined visual touches and compellingly withdrawn performances by Ciarán Hinds and Charlotte Rampling.
There were many different stories told and a wide assortment of styles and genres presented, but the recession inevitably came out as the prevailing theme. Two films in particular, though very different, represented it directly.
Lance Daly’s Life’s a Breeze, billed as a feelgood recession comedy, saw the return of the working class comedy à la Ealing Studios of Passport to Pimlico. This film is quite entertaining and commercially appealing – this is also the reason why it will probably be among the most successful films shown at the Fleadh during its domestic cinema run.
Alternatively, Out of Here used a much more direct and though-provoking approach to capture the essence of the everyday urban monotony and frustration of the life of a young Dubliner. Donal Foreman’s film is nothing short of praiseworthy for its passive anger and realist approach, as well as a visual style that is beautiful in its simplicity. Foreman also represented the kind of independent filmmaking that Irish cinema should thrive on for the way in which he brought Out of Here together through crowd-funding but also through determination, passion and a will to go out there and really make it happen.
The influence of the recession in the new Irish films could also be seen by the vulnerability of a lot of the lead characters, particularly the male characters. In fact, many aspects of masculinity were revealed in original ways. An excellent example is found in Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy’s hypnotic modern noir Mister John with its wonderfully unconventional character study of a man – played by Aiden Gillen in what is hands down one of this year’s most enchanting and haunting performances – whose troubled family life and misery lead him to re-invent himself as his dead brother’s alter ego in Singapore. The film is driven by a unique brand of mystery, with a hypnotic flow and stunning 35mm photography that enrich the experience and take full advantage of the naturally sinister beauty of a humid Singapore.
Similarly, in the documentary Coming Home, Viko Nikci captures the life of Angel Cordero, a man incarcerated for thirteen years for a crime he did not commit and chooses to examine the man rather than the case by focusing on his struggles as he reconnects with the outside world and his estranged daughter. Nikci’s use of narrative filmmaking photography and Angel’s own genuine magnetism as well as a desire to open up to the camera eye made this film very popular and without a doubt the most touching film of this year’s Fleadh. Indeed Nikci’s film was justly rewarded at Galway, picking up the Best Irish Documentary prize at Sunday’s award ceremony.
One could even read a specific viewpoint on masculine stubbornness and how it threatened to end the world in the gripping documentary, Here Was Cuba by John Murray and Emer Reynolds. Muldowney’s beautifully bizarre Love Eternal, on the other hand, is about a necrophiliac – in fact it may well be the sweetest film that could possibly ever be made about necrophilia.
The horror genre was well represented with Rossella de Ventuo’s Irish Italian production House of Shadows, a film which carries many new ideas and a genuine dramatic depth – both things lacking in the vast majority of today’s horror films – as well as an absorbing performance by Fiona Glascott.
My greatest personal regret is that I didn’t get to see the best Irish feature prize by Academy Award nominee Steph Green Run & Jump, though the positive feedback it received will have me rushing to the cinema as soon as it hits the screens. I also regret missing films like Discoverdale and Hill Street. Yet, in the end it didn’t matter that much, as I felt highly rewarded for the time I dedicated to following this year’s festival and highly rewarded by the quality of the many premieres I attended. So, I think it’s fair to congratulate everyone involved on the organising team who was responsible for yet another exciting Fleadh. But maybe let’s get some air conditioning for the Town Hall Theatre for next year, yeah?
The 25th Galway Film Fleadh (9 – 14 July, 2013)
Sunday, 14th July
Town Hall Theatre
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.