Faith as fact in Knock

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - FILM REVIEWS - TARA BRADY

STRANGE OC­CUR­RENCES IN A SMALL IR­ISH VIL­LAGE

Di­rected by Aoife Kelle­her. Cert PG, gen re­lease, 90mins The folksy charm and tight fo­cus of Aoife Kelle­her’s One Mil­lion Dublin­ers made that film an un­ex­pected (but much de­served) box of­fice hit in 2014. Strange Oc­cur­rences in a Small Ir­ish Vil­lage sees the tal­ented di­rec­tor bring the same dis­ci­pline and ap­proach to the Knock shrine. As with Kelle­her’s por­trait of Glas­nevin Ceme­tery, the tiny Ir­ish vil­lage (pop. 2,000 ap­prox­i­mately) – where, in 1879, 15 lo­cals claimed to see the Vir­gin Mary (and var­i­ous iconic oth­ers) – is in­tro­duced through its res­i­dents and day-to-day rou­tines.

Fr Gib­bons, a like­able and rel­a­tively youth­ful priest, syn­op­sises re­cent his­tory and notes that the num­ber of vis­it­ing pil­grims has dropped since “scan­dals hit the church”. Rather can­nily, he has reached out to New York’s Car­di­nal Ti­mothy Dolan in an ef­fort to at­tract the Catholic di­as­pora.

We meet one of the vil­lage’s “hand­maid­ens”, the descen­dants of ap­pari­tion wit­nesses, and a group of young guys who have walked bare­foot for miles in mem­ory of a dead friend. “That’s how it is has to be done,” shrugs one of the ram­blers.

Faith is not a ques­tion in Knock: it’s a fact.

“The Catholic re­li­gion is the true re­li­gion be­cause we have the mir­a­cles to prove it,” ex­plains one of Knock’s sou­venir mer­chants be­fore reach­ing for a set of rosary beads, com­pris­ing plas­tic em­bryos en­cased in glass teardrops: “If you pray on this

rosary, you save a baby from abor­tion.” He isn’t chal­lenged, nor should he be. It wouldn’t be sport­ing to chal­lenge peo­ple’s deeply held be­liefs in a film that strives for ethnog­ra­phy not dis­course.

Ul­ti­mately, how­ever, this lack of op­po­si­tion makes for en­gag­ing but not en­tirely sat­is­fy­ing view­ing. The ma­te­rial is cry­ing out for a lit­tle more con­fronta­tion and a lot more scope. There is chat­ter about ex­hum­ing the body of one wit­ness – “Sure, she was a saint” – yet, no ref­er­ence to more ra­tio­nal the­o­ries in­volv­ing pranksters and a magic lantern. There isn’t nearly enough about Mon­signor Ho­ran’s his­tor­i­cal cam­paigns, nor about the in­ter­na­tional air­port he founded. Coax­ing IR£6,000,000 out of Charles Haughey? Now that was a real mir­a­cle.

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