Irene Falvey follows Colin Broderick’s film in which Northern Irish writer Matt Donnelly returns home to Tyrone having not been back for 30 years, to face the ghosts of his past.
A Bend in the River directed by Colin Broderick and starring John Duddy as Matt who journeys back into his past, battling demons he had long since run away from. The film opens with some beautifully lush shots of Irish countryside, green enough to make any expat weep. We get a quick flash of the current life Matt has carved out for himself – a once note-worthy Irish writer living in New York who is no longer able to coast on the success of his book and in desperate need of inspiration. There is a suggestion that he returns to Ireland. The idea comes from Matt’s editor; however, we get the impression that he won’t necessarily be welcomed back gladly into the arms of his native land.
While we can gather that Matt’s return will be more chaotic than comforting; it’s clear that as a writer he is willing to seek inspiration from anywhere, daring to tread on this land full of emotional minefields just to find the words he needs. Hiding away in the house of a local parishioner who has recently died, Matt, with the help of his brother, the local parish priest, sets about the painful process of trying to re-remember the ghosts from his pasts to dreg up some inspiration. Little did Matt know that these ghosts have not yet been buried, the people he has wronged or been wronged by are still present so Matt must face the errors and decisions he made about twenty-five years ago as if a day has not passed.
The isolation sought by Matt as a writer is not to be found in his native Tyrone village. Shots of idyllic rural countryside depict the ideal nature of country life, yet these images are juxtaposed with the social reality of life in this small town: claustrophobia, grudge-holding, and gossip. The villager’s reaction to Matt’s return generally ranges from disapproval to hostility. The people of Matt’s past are no longer the shadowy figures of his memory but live people in the flesh. He must now deal with them face to face; a jilted lover, an abusive schoolteacher, a local man whose fury is fuelled by the violence of the Troubles.
Beyond Matt’s personal history and problems, this film also speaks louder volumes about identity, belonging and the experience of ex-patriation and re-patriation. Matt describes that he belongs in neither America nor in his native country; he will always be somewhat of an outsider wherever he goes. The film doesn’t shy away from the trauma of Matt’s past, nor does it paint the village as a remorseless place without any solace or goodness to be found. The film expertly encapsulates the notion of identity as a sort of hinterland, an indeterminate location which we are always trying to reach but will always be out of the grasp of our full understanding.
Overall, A Bend in The River is a film which delves deep into the emotional landscape of re-visiting the past and demonstrates the effects of a landscape on a psyche. Some spots Matt visits bring back happy memories of childhood while visiting the church and his mother’s grave make him weep for what he never dealt with and has lost. Archive footage of the Troubles also reveals that there is grief far more significant than Matt’s personal wounds that have plagued this land he is revisiting; exemplified by the rage of the local men that feel Matt abandoned them while they had to stay there through the violence. This film is a poignant drama which deals with the power of memory and demonstrates how your past isn’t something that you can outrun but is instead something that can shape your present.
DIR/WRI: Colin Broderick • PRO Julie Ryan • ED: Mike Foott • DOP: Shane F.Kelly CAST: John Duddy, Kathy Kiera Clarke, John McConnell, Brendan Broderick, John Connors, Nicola Boyle, Jacqueline Kealy
A Bend in the River is due for release in 2021 in cinemas and streaming.