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

New Irish Horror/Sci-fi/Adventure Film

There’s an interesting new film from Irish Director Neasa Hardiman available in April. Set aboard and Irish fishing boat in the Northern Sea, it offers some fascinating parallels with the practical impacts of infection/epidemiology. Neatly packaged in a horror/sci-fi/adventure-style story akin to Alien or The Abyss, this does seem to be a bit of a film for our times.

I’m not sure how much of an Irish production this is and I haven’t seen the movie as yet but the trailer looks interesting and the international cast give some credible performances (and accents, for once!).

The blurb for the movie is as follows:

Siobhán’s a marine biology student who prefers spending her days alone in a lab. She has to endure a week on a ragged fishing trawler, where she’s miserably at odds with the close-knit crew. But out in the deep Atlantic, an unfathomable life form ensnares the boat. When members of the crew succumb to a strange infection, Siobhán must overcome her alienation and anxiety to win the crew’s trust, before everyone is lost.

You can find the trailer for it here:

Finn (cough) MacCool versus Ming The Merciless

Because I tend to focus predominantly on culturally accurate Irish ‘mythology’, I come across a lot of examples where that mythology ends up being misrepresented or manipulated into something it’s not. This is what we find with the following teaser trailer for a film called “Finn MacCool” (sadly, despite the character’s Gaelic origins, the Gaelic name wasn’t used).

As far as I can tell, the trailer is a promotional piece because the film was never made. This happens sometimes when a movie’s being proposed and talked-up but no funding’s obtained to complete it. 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 and Christopher Walken!) 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 easy – and probably unfair – to mock the trailer as it obviously had a tiny budget and it’s very much a product of its time (I had thought it dated from the seventies or eighties but it was actually prodcued in 2004/2005). The limited budget probably led to the strange hair-dos and dodgy special effects, although the scale of the battle scene is quite impressive. The latter is marred somewhat however, by the way the people who get killed spin off in a pirouette (twirling off to the ground with an enthusiasm they clearly didn’t have when they were fighting). In some ways, it looks as though the battle scenes were choreographed by Ballet Ireland!

It’s harder to be forgiving about the plot however, which seems to involve  Fionn – sorry, Finn – fighting Vikings (who didn’t turn up in Ireland for another 700-800 years after the time period which the Fenian Cycle is usually associated with).

I used to be more cynical but, over the years, I’m actually grown fonder of this piece of this piece film as it’s a useful reminder of how people saw the whole Fenian Cycle twenty years ago, how insecure we were in terms of our own culture and how easily we were influenced in our attempts to adapt our stories to monkey overseas productions. At the same time, I also have to give credit where credit is due, in that at least the producers attempted a more Irish production of our greatest mythological hero.

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

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?