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The glass may be half empty but it will contain good whiskey. I write film reviews for http://www.scannain.com/ , say hi and we can debate films forever and ever and ever...... Warning this blog may contain more than just film talk.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Film Review - Pyjama Girls (2010)

There is a point about 15 minutes into Maya Derrington's feature length documentary Pyjama Girls where children are playing outside in a Ballyfermot street. The camera frames them in the garden with the corner of the frame taken up with the bonnet of a red car. It is an icy day and scraped into the ice on the car are the words 'fuck you'. The two kids come out of the garden and go over to the car. One matter-of-factly reads out the message to the other and they both giggle. The black (or some would say Irish) humour is what takes Pyjama Girls out of the category of misery doc to something much more interesting and fulfilling.

The story primarily concerns two teenage girls, Lauren and Tara. Initially the film is about their friendship and its importance. This is followed by them, and their friends, wearing brightly coloured pyjamas in public and showing them shopping for them in city stores. However, like all good documentaries the title is a little misleading. The story of the pyjamas may well be a way in to these girls’ lives but the stories told within those lives, is where the heart of this film lies. The pyjamas themselves are no different than a punk rocker’s mohawk or a hippie’s colourful jumper: a way of shocking the world outside of your control. That the country decided to get into a bit of a state about this (heard in radio snippets in the film) says more about slow news days than anything else.

The real story here concerns the tragic background of Lauren's family: split apart by a drug addict mother (not seen in the film), her life up to this point has been one of being moved around to different family members. Lauren talks about living with her grandmother and the frightening manner of meetings with her drunken mother with a thoughtfulness and maturity that belies the fact that she has been expelled from school. Wasted potential like this is perhaps the saddest tragedy of this film. There are some really tense and terse scenes within the film itself. Unseen fights with groups of other girls are bragged about while standing endlessly outside of supermarkets. There is a family scene when Lauren's younger sister is painting Lauren's fingernails and the subject of their mother comes up. This scene is really moving as it is clear how fragile they all are, full of emotions unspoken just beneath the surface.

This is a terrific documentary. It touches on various important subjects such as loyalty and friendship. It also obliquely mentions one of the greatest tragedies of the late 20th century in Dublin, the effects of which are still being felt by both Lauren's and her mother’s generation: namely the decimation of the inner city of Dublin by heroin. That story itself would take another film to tell. The style of the film is quite dreamy with blurred visions of night time Dublin placed alongside a jagged and suitable electronic score. The major plus here is the light and objective direction by Derrington. She lets these girls tell their stories without judgement or condemnation. She leaves it up to the viewer to make judgements. In the end the pyjamas do become very important in one way. They are a blooming of hope in riotous colour in a very bleak and dreary world. That in itself is enough reason for their existence.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Film Review - In Bruges (2008)

Bruges, a most genteel of Belgian towns, becomes a form of limbo for Ray and his more experienced colleague Ken in Martin Mc Donagh’s In Bruges. Their penance for what has happened is a prolonged stay in this town. They are both professional killers and a botched job means they have to lay low for awhile and await instructions from their boss Harry. The feeling of limbo and awaiting judgement is reinforced by how they spend their time in Bruges which includes a visit to see Hieronymus Bosch's painting The Last Judgement.

Limbo is the right word to use here as Ray and Ken are deep in guilt, atonement and forgiveness. This is quite a deeper level of film than is promised in the quite breezy trailer which seemed to promise an action comedy. Perhaps this shouldn’t be too surprising with Mc Donagh being behind acclaimed dark plays such as The Leenane Trilogy and the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter. The two films share an actor in Brendan Gleeson, here playing the older and more experienced Ken. He is a kind of father figure to Ray (Colin Farrell, never more charismatic) who is barely holding it together after the botched killing. To Ray, being banished to Bruges is part of their suffering whereas Ken uses it to quietly assess his life and how he has lived it. They essentially become classic Irish tourists abroad, staring at the sights and going to pubs as much as possible as they wait for the call from Harry (Ralph Fiennes).

Fiennes is a revelation when he finally shows up in the film. Channelling the same kind of energy that Ben Kinsgley used in Sexy Beast Fiennes is both frightening and very funny. He loves Bruges (‘it’s a fairytale’) and there is a terrific long take in which he talks to Ken about Bruges and in which Ken has to lie about how much Ray loves it. This scene works beautifully in both a funny and tension filled way but moves into much darker territory when Harry starts to refer to Ray in the past tense. The character of Harry is important to the themes of this film. He represents a kind of skewed morality which is played out by him in the film’s dénouement. He believes in an eye for an eye, while Ken believes in forgiveness and second chances. Ray is caught in the middle, a man lost amidst his own guilt.

The cinematography is quite beautiful in this film although to some degree it would be hard to fail with a beguilingly beautiful town such as Bruges. The acting is excellent, with Farrell in particular showing with proper direction and characterisation an astounding performance can be coaxed from him. He has never been better. Fiennes and Gleeson are as reliably excellent as ever.

There is also one of the most effective uses of a song to have been committed to film. The song On Raglan Road sung by Luke Kelly and The Dubliners is used to quite astonishing effect in this film. It would be criminal to give away more. Suffice to say it packs an emotional wallop.

This is a long way to go about saying that In Bruges is a superb film. Full of some of the best dialogue we have seen in an Irish film since The Commitments, In Bruges is a brash and confident film debut from Mc Donagh. That it is blackly funny is to be expected from as confident a writer as Mc Donagh. But underneath all the jokes, action and swearing beats a heart and it is this that is the surprising element. There is an emotional core to the film, particularly in Farrell’s performance that brings unexpected depth to, what on the surface, feels like a standard genre film. This is proper filmmaking and there is genuine excitement as to what can be expected from Mc Donagh in the years to come.