By Peter Keough
These two films explore the theme of difficult men and resilient, caring women.
The Banshees of Inisherin at Kendall Square and the Boston Common Cinemas. After Sun at the Boston Common Cinemas, opening at the Coolidge Corner Theater on November 4.
Although Martin McDonagh’s raunchy and rousing review of dark Irish stereotypes The Banshees of Inisherin and the exquisite, elliptical palimpsest of Charlotte Wells After Sun don’t seem to have much in common (dense Celtic accents, childhood trauma, water imagery, great soundtracks, damaged extremities), they both explore the theme of troubled men and resilient, caring women .
In McDonagh’s film, Pádraic (Colin Farrell, genius and slow-witted with eyebrows that threaten to run away with his face), hailing from the title fictional Irish island (the film is set on Inishmore and Achill Island on the west coast of Ireland) would at first glance appear to lead a safe and boring life, without slipping into too much macho madness. But this monotony turns out to undo her friendship with Colm (Brendan Gleeson), her oldest and best friend. Knocking on the door of Colm’s cottage one afternoon to invite him to join him in the pub as has been their daily ritual, Pádraic is surprised when his friend ignores him.
He is further dismayed when Colm shows up at the pub and refuses to sit next to him. Did Pádraic do or say something offensive to him, possibly while drunk, and forget about it? No it’s not, Colm tells him, but he won’t explain why he’s pushing him away. Soon their falling out is one of the biggest controversies on the island – which is saying a lot since it’s 1923 and gunfire from the ongoing Irish Civil War can be heard from the mainland on the other water side. Finally, tired of Pádraic’s relentless nagging about the “line”, Colm tells him he wants nothing to do with him because he’s boring.
Not one to take a hint, Pádraic persists. Colm, a fiddler who composes and collects folk songs, tries to explain that at his age he can no longer waste time listening to Pádraic tell stories about the strange things his miniature donkey has eaten (the animals of the distribution tend to eclipse humans) or similar nonsense. He has music to write, deep thoughts to think. He can’t afford to be nice. Do you remember someone nice from 17e century? he asks. Was Mozart nice?
Mozart, as Pádraic’s sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon in one of the year’s standout supporting performances) sweetly points out to Colm, lived at 18enot on the 17the century. It’s a familiar role for her, correcting men, usually her brother, when they’re wrong, stubborn, self-destructive, or insane, while reassuring them that they’re none of the above. But she can’t appease either of them. And as their irrationality intensifies, McDonagh’s narrative extravaganza increases and he falls back on the ghastly, sometimes gratuitous and contrived devices that are his trademark.
Colm tells Pádraic that he’ll cut off his finger every time he approaches him, a strange ultimatum if he really wants to play the violin. When [Spoiler warning] a beloved animal chokes after eating severed fingers, Pádraic swears to burn down Colm’s house. Perhaps it has a metaphorical meaning, and their feud, like that of the “weasels fighting in a hole” in Yeats’ poem “1919,” could serve as a microcosm for the sordid and fratricidal war on the continent – the origin of the Troubles that will plague Ireland for decades to come.
But Gleeson and Farrell fail in the acrid chemistry of their performances in McDonagh’s In Brugge (2008). Their characters are in a similar situation – adrift and idle in a remote and picturesque place. But there is no urgency in their situation, not even a Godot to wait for. They’re hyperbolic Hibernians chattering in dialogue that might have made David Mamet wish he’d kissed the Blarney Stone. Unfortunately, McDonagh increases the artificial and implausible grotesque. Siobhán de Condon, with her depth, her nobility and her common sense, does her best, but men must do what men must do.
At Charlotte Wells After Sun the man, Calum (a superbly melancholic Paul Mescal) must take care of Sophie (a luminous Francesca Corio), his 11-year-old daughter, during a vacation in a cheesy seaside resort. But the roles are gradually reversed.
Offhand details identify the location as Turkey, and camcorders, arcade games, and music (remember the “Macarena?”) establish the time period as the 90s. adult Sophie (filmmaker Celia Rowlson-Hall) as she sorts through old video from the holidays, and a possibly imagined sequence punctuates the film in which she confronts her father found dancing wildly at a rave lit by strobes. to David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure”. The scene, reminiscent of the end of Claire Denis Good work (1999) is haunting, powerful and inexplicable.
Mysteries lurk on the margins of obliquely observed, tenderly banal events. Calum’s forearm is in a cast and he says he broke his wrist in the fall, but no details are given. Was it a fight, an accident, something aggressive or self-destructive? Sophie talks on the phone with her mother and Calum says give her his love. Sophie asks him why he would say that since it seems that he and his wife are separated. And why is he so sad despite his efforts to be good company? Danger haunts time and space beyond the frame, and though Calum struggles to subdue his demons, whatever they may be, through Tai Chi and tourist diversions, he eventually gets drunk, steps out into the night and leaves Sophie stranded and alone without a key to their hotel room.
Meanwhile, Wells fills the screen with mirrors, mirrors within mirrors, camcorder footage, and mirrors within mirrors television screens with Calum and Sophie’s images duplicated but not quite reunited. The two have a strange habit of anointing each other’s faces, and Calum ritually applies sunscreen to his daughter every time they go to the pool, but closeness seems out of reach. Underwater scenes alternate with shots of the sky filled with paragliders like floating milkweed seeds. As in McDonagh’s film, Wells falls back on metaphors pointing to elusive truths about time, memory, and male pathology.
Pierre Keough writes on film and other subjects and has contributed to numerous publications. He had been the editor of the film boston phoenix from 1989 until his death in 2013 and edited three books on cinema, most recently For children of all ages: The National Society of Children’s Film Critics (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019).