THE BEST IRISH FILMS (EVER!)

Tara Brady and Donald Clarke from the Irish Times have put their heads together to develop a list of what they see as the ‘best Irish films’ (ever!). What’s most interesting however are the insights on ‘why’ they chose the films they chose. Their choice of ‘best’ Irish film ever will probably raise a few eyebrows.
 
Ireland has always been in something of a peculiar situation when it comes to books or movies portraying its country and people. Until very recently – and, to a degree, this still continues – our native stories have been most predominantly portrayed by people who weren’t even from the country, who didn’t have a good grasp of the language or the culture. This occasionally led – and still leads – to situations where these other people (usually well-intentioned) have imposed their own interpretation of what it means to be Irish on us (a situation summed by the term ‘Oirishness’), something that’s usually very different from the reality.
 
It’s really only in recent years that Irish creators have started to define their cultural stories in their own terms and not as others want to see us.
 
Whatever your thoughts however, this is a very interesting list of Irish (and Oirish) movies.
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No sane person will sincerely claim that the ranking of cultural entities is anything other than a sophisticated parlour game.

When it comes to Irish film, however, the debate will invariably focus less on relative placings – whether Garage is better than The Quiet Man – than on how we are defining our terms. Is The Quiet Man Irish at all? It was financed by an American studio and set in a fanciful version of the real nation.

Our rules are looser than some may prefer. Significant numbers of Irish personnel is a factor. Notable levels of Irish funding scores you a few more points on our jerry-rigged scale

When testing a novel for Irishness, we need focus our attention on the writer alone. Colm Tóibín’s The Master may be set in England and published by a British house, but nobody would claim it was anything other than an Irish book. John Crowley’s adaptation of Tóibín’s Brooklyn is Irish as well. But it’s also British and a little bit Canadian. A co-production of the BBC and the Irish Film Board (among others), it quite reasonably competed for awards at both the British and Irish Academies. Few of the films on this list pass the purity test for absolute uncorrupted Irishness.

Our rules are looser than some may prefer. Significant numbers of Irish personnel is a factor. Notable levels of Irish funding scores you a few more points on our jerry-rigged scale. Shooting a film in Ireland gets you a long way down the road, but, as should be obvious, external productions that use the country as a stand-in for somewhere else aren’t getting anywhere with the jury. Neither Saving Private Ryan (Normandy in Wexford) nor The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (the Berlin Wall in Smithfield) was up for consideration.

Decisions also had to be made as to what we mean by a feature film. We settled on a production made for theatrical exhibition that exceeds 70 minutes. Pat O’Connor’s fine The Ballroom of Romance fails on two counts. It is a television production that comes in at 65 minutes. (At the 1983 Bafta awards, it won in the TV section, not the film race). Playing hardball on length, we had to regretfully exclude the early work of Vivienne Dick, Bob Quinn’s legendary Poitín and more recent films such as Graham Seeley and Kevin Brannigan’s The Man With the Hat.

The final ranking is – as all such rankings must be – the creation of a fleeting mood. The order may have been different an hour or so later. It is not, however, a ranking of Irishness. Once a film has qualified it competes equally with all others. Some may reasonably think our top film among the least Irish of the bunch. So be it. Having made the grade, we asked only whether it is better than the rest. The answer today was “yes”. Tomorrow, who knows?

The link is HERE

An Interesting New Irish Movie

Working with Irish stories and such, I follow a number of Irish writers. One of those I usually enjoy is Limerick author Kevin Barry so the recent news of a film based on his Dark Lies the Island is interesting, if unexpected news.

For those not in the know, Barry’s ‘Dark Lies the Island’ is actually a collection of short stories so, collating that into a workable narrative for a visual feature is no mean feat. I haven’t seen the film myself yet but all the reviews suggest it’s probably one that most hibernophiles should at least be aware of.

To rally the different characters and their individual journeys from the short stories into a meaningful central plot, the film is cleverly based around the activities of the inhabitants of the small town of Dromord. Dominated by the vicious Mannion clan (led by patriarch, Daddy Mannion – Pat Shortt) Dromord’s existence swerves into new territory when a mysterious and scarred newcomer (Tommy Tiernan) arrives in town and … buys the local chip shop.

Given the unwieldy provenance, this film could have been a disaster but, fortunately, Kevin Barry’s screenplay is supported by a very able director (Ian Fitzgibbon – who did Perrier’s Bounty) and cinematographer Cathal Watters (Papi Chulo). As a result, most reviews to date indicate that although unwieldy at times, the final product works. The trailer is quite gorgeous and, overall, the story is intriguing.

If you’re interested in Irish movies, you can find the trailer here: Trailer

Finn (cough) MacCool versus Ming The Merciless

Because we specialize in culturally accurate Irish ‘mythology’, we come across a lot of examples where our culture is misrepresented (or manipulated to be something it’s not) but one of my absolute favourites of this whole “Oirish” genre is the following trailer for a film called “Finn MacCool” (they couldn’t even get the name right!). This regularly turns up on You Tube and other sites.

As far as I can tell, the trailer is actually a promotional piece because (fortunately) the film was never released and, possibly, never completed. This happens sometimes when a movie’s being proposed and talked-up but the funding is never actually raised. It’s also unclear as to whether this was an Irish movie or one made by an overseas company – so if you know please give me a yell. Either way, though, you have to give the producers credit for using Irish actors (or at least someone who can successfully put on an Irish accent – not looking at you, Tom Cruise!) although the Ming the Merciless character who plays … actually, I’m not entirely sure who he’s meant to be, does seem a bit miscast. Having such a strong Dublin accent several centuries before Dublin ever came into being, well….

It’s also easy -if unfair – to mock the movie as it looks to be very much a product of its time (seventies or eighties, at a guess). There’s plenty of commentary (in the comments) on the long hair, the terrible special effects, the fact that Fionn – sorry, Finn – is fighting Vikings (who didn’t turn up in Ireland until the 8th century) etc. etc. My personal favourite is the way that people killed in the battle scenes do this amazing kind of pirouette when they die, spinning off to the ground with an enthusiasm they clearly didn’t have when they were fighting. Honestly, it looks as though the battle scenes were choreographed by Ballet Ireland – it’s that good!

But I’m only joking. I’m actually very fond of this piece of film as it represents how people saw the whole Fenian Cycle back in the seventies, how insecure we were in terms of our own culture and how easily we were influenced in our attempts to monkey others.

There was a rumour going around two years ago about a movie on Cú Chulainn being developed by Michael Fassbender however that now seems to be languishing in “development hell”. Maybe in a few decades, we’ll have something to compare with this trailer!

The Poor Mouth

If you get a chance over the Christmas period, you might want to wallow in your “Irishnessness” with the animated satire of Flann O’Brien’s 1941 novel ‘An Béal Bocht’ (The Poor Mouth) which premiered last year at the Galway Film Fleadh.

Flann O’Brien’s original tale was actually a fond piss-take of Irish autobiographies like Peig Sayers’ “Peig” and Tomas O’Criomhthains’s “An t-Oiléanach” (The Islandman) which were forced down every Irish schoolkid’s throat for decades following independence. Mercifully, that’s stopped now, although I’m sure many of you will have shared that particular ‘pleasure’!

In terms of plot, the story concerns the erratic life of Bónapárt Ó Cúnasa (Bonaparte O’Coonassa) who lives in an isolated part of Ireland called Corca Dhorcha where it’s always raining and everyone lives in abject poverty (but speak the purest and “learned smooth Gaelic”!). The film stars Seán Misteál, Donncha Crowley, Tommy Tiernan and Bob Quinn. A pretty decent cast.

The book was absolutely hilarious and it’ll be nice to enjoy the film version poking fun at all the associated childhood baggage.

You can find the trailer here: Irish Movie An Béal Bocht

An Irish Adventure Story with Cultural Depth

I’m always a bit wary when new films, books or games that use Ireland or Irish culture as a core part of their story are released.  Many of these tend to target the “Oirish” market (the overly romantic Irish-identity market that flows from the Irish diaspora) or the “Celtic fantasy” market, which joyfully whips key elements of Irish/Gaelic culture and uses them out for context for entertainment purposes. Overall, it’s rare enough for Irish creatives to have genuine control of a large budget production, not to mind one that actually reflects their culture with any degree of accuracy or authenticity.

I was pretty stoked then, when I finally got around to watching Lance Daly’s “Black 47”, a film that had been on my peripheral vision for over eight months prior to its release. At the time, it had struck me as a bit odd to choose two Australian actors for the main roles and the thought of a commercial release around something as culturally sensitive as An Gorta Mór (The Great Famine) seemed incredibly insensitive, particularly given the British Channel Four’s misjudged attempt (in 2015) to do a comedy series based on that traumatic period. Fortunately, all baggage aside, “Black 47″confidently and competently stands on its own.

A grim, broody “Irish Western” and revenge thriller, “Black 47” follows the adventures of Feeney, an Irish soldier who deserts the British army in Afghanistan and returns home, only to discover the true scale and effect of colonisation. Learning of his mother and brother’s death and observing first-hand the evidence of his family being allowed to die in squalor and misery, Feeney ends up opposing the people and the administration that has allowed this to happen.  Repurposing the military skills gained in Afghanistan, Feeney follows a trajectory of violent opposition to the landlords, land agents and their constabulary, becoming an almost “Rambó Gaelach“,  an implacable force of justice against the rampant greed and cultural prejudice of that period. Soon, a ‘posse’ consisting of reluctant English hunter, Hannah (Hugo Weaving), and Pope (Freddie Fox), a fanatical British officer and Empire enthusiast, are set on his trail.

Fortunately, the movie is not just a simplistic revenge thriller. The Australian actor James Frenchville is impressive as the brooding Feeny, his immense physical presence and ready use of Irish language adding real depth to his character, but the real strength of the narrative is the cleverly-woven social commentary provided through the supporting characters. Conneely (Stephen Rea), a wry translator hired by the pursuing party, serves as an excellent foil to the over-privileged and obnoxious Lord Kilmichael (Jim Broadbent) who frequently releases statements such as:

‘Soon, a Celtic Irishman will be as rare in Connemara as is the Red Indian on the shores of Manhattan.’

When Kilmichael boldly states:

“I love this country. The scenery. You peasants are all the same, no appreciation of beauty. “

Conneely slyly replies:

“Beauty would be held in much higher regard, sir, if it could be eaten.”

It’s the wry and insightful gems like these, hidden throughout the script that give this movie it’s real resonance. That, the smattering of Gaeilge, the historical accuracy and the melancholic but beautiful scenery of Connemarra.

Overall, Black 47 can be enjoyed as a simple action movie but there really is much more going on than that. The film also serves as a subtle reminder of the ongoing cultural-PTSD that pervades Irish society as a result of 300 years of colonization and why most Irish people speak English today.

You can find the official trailer here: Black 47

 

 

 

An Historical Irish Revenge Thriller

For those with an interest in film, an interesting ‘Irish film’ premiered at the Berlin Film Festival in February this year and although I’ve been keeping an eye out for it on the international scene, it seems to have pretty much disappeared beneath the radar. Entitled ‘Black 47,’ it refers of course to 1847, the nadir of The Great Famine – An Gorta Mór.

Irish films based on An Gorta Mór are pretty few and far between (I can’t actually think of any), probably because as a tragedy and cultural injustice so epic in scale, the topic is still a somewhat sensitive subject, at least for our older population.

Fortunately, director’s like Lance Daly are young enough to avoid the worst of that burden so it’ll be interesting to see how he manages to balance that interaction between respect and voyeurism.

Daly was smart enough to approach the topic through the medium of a historical thriller/revenge movie – the plot basically concerns an Irish soldier who deserts and returns to the west of Ireland to seek revenge during the famine. Interestingly, Daly chose two Australian actors in the two major roles (Hugo Weaving and James Frenchville). The latter – in the attached scene – speaks pretty good Irish but I must admit I’m curious as to what it’ll turn out like.

Has anyone seen it?