Ir­ish film grew up in the noughties, says Don­ald Clarke

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Opinion -

A mid all the end-of-decade hub­bub, the story of Ir­ish film in the open­ing years of the 21st cen­tury has been some­what over­looked.

That’s un­der­stand­able. Who wants to read an­other puff piece feign­ing en­thu­si­asm for crummy pic­tures about crones fall­ing off dry-stone walls or mis­er­able north­ern Catholics fall­ing in love with even more mis­er­able north­ern Protes­tants?

“You and your ‘he­roes’!” Mairead shouts at her Provo brother in You

and Your He­roes. “You re­mem­ber the auld man from the sweet shop who used to give us bull’s eyes for free? Tommy Wil­son, you called him. And ye mur­dered him and left his wee ones or­phans. You and your ‘he­roes’!”

Okay, that’s a cheap shot. Through­out the grim 1970s and

“Ir­ish crit­ics were re­luc­tant to make even mild crit­i­cisms of a do­mes­tic fea­ture”

even grim­mer 1980s, a tight hud­dle of Ir­ish film-mak­ers worked hard at de­liv­er­ing de­cent work in im­pos­si­bly re­stric­tive cir­cum­stances. Ir­ish fea­ture films were, how­ever, so thin on the ground that, when one was re­leased, the press re­acted as if aliens had been dis­cov­ered busk­ing in St Stephen’s Green.

Re­mem­ber The Courier? If you were liv­ing in the coun­try dur­ing the late 1980s you will re­call Frank Deasy and Joe Lee’s film be­ing treated as a cu­rios­ity of unimag­in­able strange­ness. An Ir­ish fea­ture film? An Ir­ish neu­tron bomb would have been only marginally more sur­pris­ing.

Up un­til the early part of this decade, Ir­ish film crit­ics, aware they were analysing some­thing ap­pallingly frag­ile, were re­luc­tant to make even the mildest crit­i­cism of a do­mes­tic fea­ture.

That’s all changed. Sit back for a mo­ment and con­sider the Ir­ish fea­tures we have seen in cin­e­mas this decade. Think of John Car­ney’s world-con­quer­ing Once. Pon­der

Lance Daly’s hyp­notic Kisses. Maybe you were lucky enough to catch less cel­e­brated re­leases, such as the im­pres­sively gothic

Mid­dle­town or the sat­is­fac­to­rily grue­some Iso­la­tion.

Sure, there were plenty of ter­ri­ble Ir­ish films, but, for the first time, Ir­ish cin­e­mas wel­comed such an ar­ray of re­leases that movie re­view­ers no longer felt any need to short-change read­ers by soft-soap­ing the film-mak­ers. Should we credit the gen­eral rise in liv­ing stan­dards? The avail­abil­ity of cheap dig­i­tal equip­ment? Who knows, but it is now, thank good­ness, a plea­sure to present Screen­writer’s top five Ir­ish films of the decade.

Hunger (2008) Okay, di­rec­tor Steve McQueen is from Lon­don. But no­body sug­gests that Billy Wilder’s early Amer­i­can films are Aus­tro-Hun­gar­ian. A mas­ter­piece.

Adam & Paul (2004) Who saw it com­ing? Some­how di­rec­tor Lenny Abrahamson and Mark O’Halloran, his writer and star, made the wan­der­ings of two heroin ad­dicts into a touch­ing com­edy.

Once (2007) Made for peanuts to while away a few idle months, John Car­ney’s film re­vi­talised the mu­si­cal – and won an Os­car.

In­ter­mis­sion (2003) John Crow­ley proved you could ab­sorb the in­flu­ences of Tarantino while still re­main­ing fresh and orig­i­nal.

Pavee Lac­k­een: The Trav­eller Girl (2005) The nat­u­ral­is­tic ges­tures of Ira­nian cin­ema en­liven Perry Og­den’s sparse tale set in the Trav­eller com­mu­nity.

dclarke@irish­times.com

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