Kimberly Reyes was at Sundance and caught John Carney’s Flora and Son and Laura McGann’s The Deepest Breath.
Irish film is having a moment and it couldn’t be more fun to watch! From The Banshees of Inisherin’s impressive awards show recognitions to The Quiet Girl and Paul Mescal’s devastating performance in Aftersun being recognized with Oscar nominations, 2022 will certainly be remembered as one of the strongest for Irish cinema. I recently came back from Sundance and can attest to the fact that 2023 looks to be another banner year for Irish creativity on screen.
I saw the premiere of Flora and Son in Park City and it was some of the most fun I had at the festival. Written and directed by John Carney (Sing Street, Once), the musical (of sorts) stars Eve Hewson (daughter of Mr. Paul Hewson), Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Orén Kinlan, and Jack Reynor.
Hewson’s breakout performance as a single mother (Flora) raising a petty thief while trying to woo her ex-husband (Reynor) back through music will surely bring her mainstream recognition. Luckily, as Irish music royalty, she has the pedigree to deal with the sort of fame that now seems inevitable for the 31-year-old.
Gordon-Levitt convincingly completes the love triangle between Hewson and Reynor as Flora’s guitar teacher. While pitch-perfect in execution, the love stories feel slightly unsettled until the exquisite final scene of the film which clarifies that the entire project is actually a love-letter to working-class Dublin. Fans of Sing Street shouldn’t hesitate to see this hilarious and infectiously melodic flick.
Apple reportedly shelled out 20 million to acquire the film, the company’s biggest Sundance Film Festival deal since they acquired CODA in 2021 (a film that became the first streamer to win the Best Picture Oscar.)
The other Irish premiere I had on my list was the extreme sports documentary The Deepest Breath. In this unique project filmmaker Laura McGann (who has directed numerous documentary projects for RTÉ, Sky, PBS, BBC, Lonely Planet, and UTV) weaves together the stories of two free divers in a suspenseful love biopic in which viewers have no idea how things will end up or who will even survive until the very final scenes.
Free diving is a dangerous sport in which divers compete to see who can reach the deepest underwater depths in one single breath, without the use of scuba gear. In exchange for the euphoria, the quiet, and the calm of the deepest waters, free divers are often subject to blackouts upon ascent, as oxygen-less diving takes a heavy toll on the lungs and the brain.
Following Alessia Zecchini, an Italian diving phenom, and Stephen Keenan, a thrill-seeking Irishman, as they fall in love with the sport and each other is as entertaining as it is informative. Besides taking the audience into gorgeously shot, underwater abysses without any of the free-diving risk, McGann’s careful and deliberate pacing allows viewers to experience one of the craziest extreme sports at the pace of a regular drama feature. The film is also an interesting case study into the types of personalities that are attracted to extreme danger and competition, as well as a shocking rendering of the beauty and consequences of that lifestyle.
Netflix acquired the movie last December and has not yet set a release date.