Broken Song, the new documentary from Claire Dix does something that I had noticed in another couple of documentaries (Ballymun Lullaby and Pyjama Girls) I have reviewed on my blog: non judgemental, non patronising and letting the subjects speak for themselves. There is an independent spirit not only in financing but in content and form. When these kinds of subjects are approached in television documentaries, there can sometimes be a patronising and tut-tut attitude. This is not the case here. Broken Song is, for my money, the best of the three and the best film I have seen at the Jameson Dublin Film Festival so far.
Broken Song tells the story of a group of young lads who rap. They are predominantly from the Finglas/Ballymun area of Dublin. Git and Costello have a father/son relationship which they both seem to draw on for lyrical inspiration. They also try to mentor some of the younger kids of the area. This isn’t some amateur effort, the songs are lyrically brilliant, the contents reflecting lives lived and dreams that slipped away. But for the most part the songs are positive with the future figuring heavily. Into this comes singer/songwriter Willa Lee, who has a voice most singers would kill for. But he is also a troublemaker and a little bit too lazy. What they all have in common is talent and a sense of humour that comes across in the film with some proper laughs to be had.
Dix delves lightly into their pasts but without reducing the film to working class misery porn which can happen in films such as this. There is serious talent here and just like in Ballymun Lullaby it is a two fingered assault on an unofficial Government policy of ignoring areas of the city where there are drugs or single mothers etc. The cinematography by Richard Hendricks is quite frankly astonishing for such a budget. Shot in beautiful black and white, Dix and Hendricks use the dark and light motif to great effect. The opening shots of the young lads swimming is done in slow motion and is an early contender for shot of the year.
Refreshingly there is no real build up to a big event that they have to do, to make it. At its heart, Broken Song is a simple story well told. And it is all the better for it. It is a deeply humane and heartfelt work, the kind of film that should get a proper cinema release. It is a film that seems to say that it is never too late to turn your life around no matter who you are. And as Ireland continues to lurch from one crisis to another it is quite an emotive and powerful message to send.