The description of a film as a masterpiece is to some degree damning it with faint praise. There are maybe only a handful of films that are able to stand up to being repeatedly called a masterpiece in film history. Indisputable classics such as Citizen Kane, The Godfather and Casablanca are usually rolled out when the lists of the best films ever are made. It is hard to argue with the merits of these films yet there will always be people who will say they are overrated, dated etc. This is a good thing to be honest, the debate on what does or does not constitute a great film keeps alive the discourse that true film fans crave. But there are also films such as The Shawshank Redemption, Star Wars and Drive which are called masterpieces which are not. Good films yes, but masterpieces no. Again this all opinion but the word itself brings a certain expectation. The ease in which the word is used threatens to reduce the effect of the word itself. Use it wisely as it should mean something amazing, a film that transcends its genre or its own National Cinema. In real terms, bring it to the table very rarely.
In terms of our National Cinema the word masterpiece has arguably yet to see the light of day. That is not to say that there have not been great Irish films. Titles such as My Left Foot, The Butcher Boy and The Crying Game are certainly great films but the word masterpiece in an Irish context is still quite elusive. Given the last review I did was the truly dreadful P.S. I Love You, there was a dire need in me to watch something that could banish the memory of that film. The idea that the next film you review could be a masterpiece is one that makes doing this blog a labour of love.
Lenny Abrahmson's film Garage stars Pat Shortt as Josie, a seemingly simple minded man in a small Irish village. He looks after a crumbling garage on the outskirts of the village. At the beginning of the film the only relationships Josie has are the occasional repeat business truck driver and the guys who frequent the locar bar where he drinks. The owner of the garage, Mr. Gallagher (John Keogh) brings a young lad David (Conor Ryan) to help as he extends the opeing hours over the summer. This is the push off point for a quite startling drama
Without wishing to revert to hyperbole, it is hard to get away from the idea that Garage may well the be the best Irish film ever made. Abrahamson and co-writer Mark O'Halloran have fashioned epic drama from the smallest of stories. It is a film about about that most universal and vital of needs: the need to make a real connection with other people. Josie emits a desire to end his loneliness as he goes about the routine of his days. They consist of garage, home, pub and home. Endlessly repeated. There is thehope of connections with the girl who works in the local shop, Carmel (Ann Marie Duff) and the guys who frequent the local pub. But to all these people Josie is essentially invisible and if seen at all it is only with either pitying or mocking eyes. The real potential for friendship is with David and it is this relationship that steers the film towards its climax.
It is a wonderful feeling seeing a film that so deftly avoids all Irish clichés. Not once does the film resort to any paddywackery. This is to be somewhat expected considering one of their previous films, Adam and Paul generally avoided the clichés of a film about drug addicts. Abramson and O'Halloran treat the people in Garage in an incredibly humanistic way. These are real people and their lives matter. Shortt is simply a revelation as Josie, the glue that holds the film together. There is a great supporting cast but this is Josie's story and Shortt breaks your heart here. There are some beautifully judged scenes which would be a shame to spoil here. Suffice to say that they are small moments in the film that reveal aching truths.
Discovering films as good as this is the reason I started this blog. To be unequivical, Garage is a masterpiece of not just Irish film, but of film in general. This is the standard by which Irish film has to be measured by if it is to take its place on a worldwide stage. Now that I have used the M word, it is time put it away. I will wait and dream about the next time I can use it.