Category Archives: Imaginary Irish Cinema

#236 – Herself

(1978, Ire, 100 min) Dir Fergal Kerney. Cast John Conlon, Marina Wheeler, Conan O’Connell.

Young Jimmy’s being brought up by his father in small town Ireland, his mother having died when he was a small boy. Apart from this his childhood is pretty run of the mill – he’s bored in school, fishes in the local river, reads comics in bed by torchlight while his drunk father sleeps in front of the television. Then one morning he comes downstairs to find the Virgin Mary in his kitchen, preparing a fry for Jimmy and his father while in her full blue and white regalia and he can’t believe his eyes. She dispenses a few words of wisdom, a few of encouragement, and once the food is cooked makes off, up through the kitchen ceiling, leaving Jimmy’s dad to come in, impressed with his son for having knocked up breakfast for his hung-over father. Of course Jimmy says nothing and spends his time from then on longing for her to return. He also takes to carrying a picture of her around with him which is of course discovered by his schoolmates who take the mickey out of him for “fancying Jesus’ Mammy”. This gets back to his schoolteachers and there’s a hilarious scene in which the local priest attempts to split the notion of romance and the love of God without mentioning divinity and carnality in the same sentence. A sweet and inoffensive wee film that was nonetheless banned in its home country for some time.

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#214 – Nagarhole Elephant Dreaming

(1976, Ire/Fr/Ind, 64 min) Dir Daniel Dermot McBurton.

As he tells it in 1927 the struggling and wholly unsuccessful painter Daniel Dermot McBurton, then the same age as the century, had a dream in his decrepid Dublin basement flat. In his dream he was sitting outside a coffee shop in Paris having just sold his first painting. Upon waking and with nothing to lose McBurton promptly sold everything he owned bar the clothes he stood in and his paintings (which no one wanted anyway) and bought himself passage to France where his dreams promptly came true despite not speaking or understanding the language. Thus a lucrative career was born, first in painting and then in film. In 1972, when he was still the same age as the century and at a time of creative plateau, he had a dream of an elephant in India. When this elephant was hurt McBurton himself was hurt. Upon waking he decided that he no longer had anything to lose, left his third wife and sold all his possessions and moved to Western India close to what was then the Nagarhole wildlife sanctuary and is now Nagarhole National Park. Despite once again being in a country whose language he neither spoke or understood he assembled a film crew and recorded, without plan or narrative, the world he now found himself in. In the process of making the film he found Emai the elephant, who he claimed to identify from his dream and whose life he believed was inextricably bound to his own. Unfortunately the resulting film, Nagarhole Elephant Dreaming, wasn’t the success that resulted from his earlier dream – it showed in Cannes to overwhelming disinterest though years later it’s plotless exploration of the land proved an influence on ethnographical documentarians such as Pascal and Filipe of Access Road anti-fame. Either way McBurton didn’t care – he died happily ten years later, in 1986, still as old as the century. Coincidence or not and unbeknownst to McBurton, he also expired within an hour of Emai’s death in Nagarhole National Park.

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#181 – Noble Journey Home of the Spaniard Francisco, The

(2013, Sp/Ire, 110 min) Dir Phil Neeson. Cast Antonio Banderas, Domhnall Gleeson, Colm Meaney, Pat Shortt.

Historical black comedy loosely based on the life of Francisco de Cuellar, who survived the sinking of his ship during the Spanish Armada washed ashore on the west of Ireland in County Sligo and had to make his way across the country to get back to Spain. Banderas is Francisco (last name withheld to allow for artistic license), a captain in the Spanish navy who wakes to find himself beached with the wreck of his ship about himself and his compatriots either being eaten by ravens and wild dogs or being looted by the locals. He hides until the cover of night when he can steal out and try to make his way across this unfamiliar land where nobody speaks his language. He is robbed by bandits who steal the only thing he has – his clothes. Naked, he makes his way to a sympathetic farmer’s house – they lend him clothes so that he make his way unnoticed (for they are sympathetic to anyone who would wage war on the English). Upon making his way he is set upon once more by bandits – once again his clothes are lost. Such is his ‘Noble Journey Home’. A further step up in budget and ambition from director Neeson following the impressive Ti Fac and Father Faith. Banderas is excellent also, displaying once again his seldom deployed comedic talent, and the decision to retain the language barrier leads to some fantastic comedy moments.

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#103 – Dark Watch, The

(1996, GB/Ire, 105 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Bob Hoskins, Stephen Rea, Bronagh Gallagher.

Belfast, 1974. Joe Wilson is the head of the Dark Watch in Northern Ireland – a secret regiment deployed into warzones on behalf of the British army to spread superstitious fear. He’s an older man now, a veteran of service against the Mau Mau in Nigeria and various unspecified deployments in South East Asia. Now he’s using the popularity and the scandal of the recent films like The Exorcist, Rosemary’s Baby and so on to leave evidence of black magic and witchcraft in the bombed out buildings of Belfast and Derry, to instil fear into the population and make them think twice about going out at night. Unfortunately for him this means that Wilson himself is out at night with three decades worth of ghosts in his head. Is this why he’s seeing the devil in the shadows of burned out buildings? Is that why he hears the sound of hooves following him down the empty streets? A fantastically atmospheric chiller with a cracking performance from Hoskins that has the advantage of being filmed on the streets of a Belfast still divided by conflict and marked out O’Driscoll, following the also excellent The Peat Cutters, as a director worth watching. While dismissed by many a critic at the time for the absurdness of it’s premise it has been found, in recent years, to have had a greater basis in fact that might have been supposed.

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#95 – Father Faith

(2011, Ire, 109 min) Dir Phil Neeson. Cast Pat Shortt, Phil Neeson, Isaach de Bankolé.

Fathers Jimmy Faith (Shortt) and Mickey Batt (Neeson) are new arrivals from Ireland in the fictional African country of Chango-Monin (which is, geographically, “out the west, like Galway.”), both there for reasons hinted at but not specified during the film. While Batt is perfectly content to stay there, Father Faith is desperate to get back to his home country to the point where he greets every new convert by running from the building and back to his lodgings where he can call ‘The Head Office’ and ask whether, since he’s found another new soul for the Lord, he can come back. The answer is always no. Will he ever find a reason to stay? Will he ever come to love the locals, who he hates without pretending otherwise? A pretty scabrous film with no love in evidence for the institution of the church – it makes Father Ted look like The Fluffy Bunny Show. Good performances from Shortt and Neeson (here also directing his second feature) can’t disguise the awfulness of the characters and your feeling for the film will depend on you ability to spend close to two hours in the company of such a pair of corrupt, racist clergymen. Special mention must go to de Bankolé who is hilarious as their local colleague who spends the film pretending to like them through gritted teeth.

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#91 – Peat Cutters, The

(1992, Ire, 91 min) Dir Fintan O’Driscoll. Cast Stephen Rea, Colm Meaney.

Bluff, bolshie Pat (Rea) and quiet, thoughtful Michael (Meaney) are peat cutters in the West of Ireland beginning another day’s shift in the bleak midwinter morning, the uniformity of the grey sky overhead mirrored by the open vastness of the bog around them. Their day is only just begun when Michael turns over a sod to find the leathered face of a long dead bog person within. As there’s nothing they can do with the body until they’re picked up at the end of their shift they leave it in the ground where they found it and go back to their work. Pat laughs off their find but Michael seems shaken by it and takes to speculating about it. Then he starts to talk about a figure, just on the horizon, that Pat can’t see and Pat can’t laugh that off. A spooky little number that gives away little and uses its location, which is like a blasted void or like limbo, to its fullest with director O’Driscoll – who is best known in the theatre – showing a knack for image making alongside his expected strengths with the actors. It’s refreshing to see both leads playing against type too, apparently as a result of a last-minute switch the week before shoot started.

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#25 – Ti Fac

(2009, Ire, 84 min) Dir Phil Neeson. Cast Phil Neeson, Patrick O’Shannon, Aoife MacMurrough.

Irish mockumentary about a Gaelic language wannabe gangsta rapper who tours the Gaeltacht of the west of Ireland plying his wares and being very street. This is very much in the Borat vein of things with lead actor Neeson (of the occasionally controversial late-night comedy group The Black and Tans) actually touring the far west of the country in character between staged comedy moments to regale audiences with his hits Slán go Fóill, Dia Dhuit/Dia is Muire Dhuit and Cá Bhfuil an Leithreas? In case you’re not in the know these songs are composed entirely in the most basic Gaelic (the titles meaning, respectively, Goodbye, Hello and Where’s the Toilet?) which means Ti Fac is either run out of town as the charlatan he is or finds his hosts straining to retain their civility in the face of it all. The film’s climax is a performance from his compatriot, the oafish Lig Dom, with his grotesquely offensive rap opus Níl ach Braon Beag Fola Ort (which translates as There is Only a Little Blood and whose meaning I’ll leave to your imagination). You’ll get more from the film if you’ve a working knowledge of the language but it’s not essential. Funny stuff even if the point of some of the mockery, beyond the bravado of it all, seems a little less than clear.

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#1 – Bread on the Wind

(1932, Ire, 32 min, b/w) Dir Seamus de Pascal.

A kind of realist/surrealist documentary that suggests Buñuel on holiday in Sligo, the mysterious (and pseudonymous) de Pascal serves up a horse’s lucky gold shoe (he won’t plough without it), a village of blind crones stitching frocks for cigar smoking clergy and – in the most astonishingly realised vignette – a family using a beached Spanish galleon as a house complete with their washing strung between the masts to dry and children sleeping in the barrels of its long abandoned cannons. Despite the fancy on display de Pascal – here helming his only film – never shies from the squalor of rural Ireland in his time. The film ends with a hilltop family, scanning the horizon for the flock of loaves suggested in the title but doesn’t reveal whether this is a hunger fuelled delusion or whether this is an Ireland so poor that even the bread migrates to warmer climes.

Twitter: @MadeUpFilms