A for­bid­den tryst with a twist in the tail

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

SANC­TU­ARY ★★★★

Di­rected by Len Collin. Star­ring Kieran Cop­pinger, Char­lene Kelly, Robert Do­herty, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Con­nolly, Frank Butcher, Pa­trick Becker, Jen­nifer Cox and Va­lerie Egan. Cert 15A, gen re­lease, 90mins Larry (Kieran Cop­pinger) and So­phie (Char­lene Kelly) are in love and keen to book into a ho­tel for some alone time. Trou­ble is, both par­ties have in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­i­ties and, un­less they are mar­ried, alone time is likely in breach of Sec­tion 5 of the Crim­i­nal Law (Sex­ual Of­fences) Act, 1993 – an Ir­ish law that was only re­pealed this year.

On a group trip to Galway, their sym­pa­thetic care worker Tom (Robert Do­herty) is en­trusted with the con­tents of Larry’s piggy-bank. He books the cou­ple a ho­tel room while his other charges run amok. Amid var­i­ous ca­pers, Sandy’s (Emer Macken) crush on Peter (Michael Hayes) makes for a stand­alone screw­ball com­edy, and Wil­liam (Frank Butcher) and Matthew (Paul Con­nolly) could eas­ily have wan­dered out of a Roddy Doyle novel.

In cin­ema, in­tel­lec­tual dis­abil­ity of­ten trans­lates into big hammy per­for­mances ( Ra­dio, I Am Sam) or mis­un­der­stood su­per­pow­ers ( Rain Man,

The Ac­coun­tant). With a few ex­cep­tions – no­tably Down syn­drome stars Pas­cal Duquenne and Chris Burke – it re­mains un­usual to see the in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled on film, so a film star­ring nine such ac­tors is ex­cep­tional.

Don’t be fooled by the su­per­fi­cial wor­thi­ness of the project, or, in­deed, by the knock­about hu­mour. Sanctu

ary, an adap­ta­tion of the theatre play of the same name by Chris­tian O’Reilly, is cun­ningly cal­i­brated to re­sem­ble a light-hearted com­edy, re­plete with dress-up scenes, hell­rais­ing and a sex­ual romp. Rus­sel Gleeson’s free­wheel­ing cam­er­a­work, Joseph Con­lon’s twin­kling score, and Sonja Mohlich’s play­ful de­signs all am­plify the frol­ic­some an­tics.

Against this, there’s dark­ness and grav­ity lurk­ing in the ma­te­rial. Watch and try not to wres­tle with the film’s im­pli­ca­tions re­gard­ing au­ton­omy and in­de­pen­dence. What if the laws we have con­structed to pro­tect the vul­ner­a­ble de­hu­man­ise them? What if they – and we – in­fan­tilise the in­tel­lec­tu­ally dis­abled?

Kieran Cop­pinger in Sanc­tu­ary

“I never thought of them that way,” says the ho­tel re­cep­tion­ist of Larry and So­phie: “They al­ways seem so full of hugs.”

O’Reilly’s script has been writ­ten around the ac­tors so the en­sem­ble is par­tic­u­larly strong. This may be Len Collin’s fea­ture de­but, but the Hus­ton School grad­u­ate is an in­dus­try vet­eran with an im­pres­sive his­tory of TV screen­writ­ing cred­its ( East

En­ders, Ca­su­alty). That ex­pe­ri­ence tells in ev­ery care­fully con­structed, com­pas­sion­ate, com­i­cal scene.

Sanc­tu­ary has won ma­jor awards at the Dublin In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val, the Galway Film Fleadh, and the New­port Beach Film Fes­ti­val. Go see why.

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