Irish film grew up in the noughties, says Donald Clarke
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.