Seán Crosson witnesses things crumbling in Peter Mackie Burns’ Rialto.

The Galway Film Fleadh moved online this year in response to restrictions imposed during the ongoing Covid-19 crisis. While the usual venues in the Town Hall Theatre and PÁLÁS cinema would of course have been preferable for the screenings (not to mention the post-screening craic available in the Rowing club), the Fleadh nonetheless succeeded admirably in creating some of the distinctive flavour we associate with one of Ireland’s longest running and most enjoyable film festivals. The focus that the Fleadh has established historically as a forum to première and celebrate Irish cinema was very evident across its programme. Some of the finest Irish films of the past twenty years have had their première’s in Galway, including Lenny Abrahamson’s Adam and Paul (2004). The writer of that feature, Mark O’Halloran, had new work featured in Galway with the powerful and moving drama Rialto. Though concering a very different narrative and lead character to that found in Abrahamson’s debut feature, there are nonetheless strong echoes of that film in Rialto, including references to a month’s mind for a recently departed close acquaintance, a moving encounter between the main protagonists and a baby (which provides the emotional heart of both films), and a climactic scene that takes place on Sandymount Strand under the shadow of the chimneys of Poolbeg Generating Station.

The lead character of Rialto, Colm (brilliantly realised by Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) is, however, far removed from either Adam, or Paul. He is a middle-aged man coming to terms with the recent death of his father, the loss of both passion for his wife and his livelihood on the docks, and a realisation of homosexual tendencies that he enacts with a young sex-worker, Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney), with whom he develops an obsessive fascination as his own life begins to come apart.  

As evident in previous works written by O’Halloran, there is a naturalness and normality to the conversations featured throughout, despite the sometimes unusual and challenging circumstances concerned, particularly in the scenes between Colm and Jay. The interactions between Colm and his daughter Kerry (Sophie Jo Wasson) are also impressive in this respect in realising a very real and intimate relationship between father and daughter, often from the briefest of interactions. There is also a creeping intensity to the music (composed by acclaimed French composer Valentin Hadjadj) that accompanies the developing narrative; though never overly intrusive it adds considerably to the overall foreboding sense created by the film for the viewer.

Based on O’Halloran’s play ‘Trade’, Rialto is directed by Scottish director Peter Mackie Burns who brings a sophisticated and patient eye to both the cinematography and pacing of the production. Though most scenes are shot in more intimate interior settings, there is nonetheless a dynamic use of cinematography evident here in the work of British DOP Adam Scarth, particularly in the fluidly moving scenes shot on Dublin’s docks, a space that has perhaps never been as effectively rendered before in fiction film.

Seán Crosson

Rialto  screened as part of the Galway Film Fleadh 2020 (7-12 July).


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