The distribution of Irish films is worthy of an article in itself. We have all read of Irish films being premiered successfully at festivals around Ireland and the world. Buzz is generated and then, almost forgotten they appear in our cinemas sometimes after a year or more (Death of a Superhero, Grabbers). Others are released in cinemas but never find their way to DVD (Snap). Indeed I Went Down (1997) was only released on DVD a year ago after the success of The Guard. The curious thing is that these are not bad films that we are talking about. If it was some appalling Adam Sandler vehicle we could understand not releasing it. But if we are ever to get Irish people interested in Irish films we need to have them out there and visible and with greater speed and regularity. We have all of these distribution issues and along comes an even more curious case, Ivan Kavanagh’s Tin Can Man.
This is a film, much to my shame, I knew very little about. I was aware that it had been screened at the Dublin Film Festival to some acclaim in 2012. After further research I discovered that it was made in 2007. I found it surprising that a film is shown at a festival five years after it is made. What is even more surprising is that it still does not have a distributor in 2013. Rarely does a film have a shelf life of six years and then turn out to be anything other than bad. One that springs to mind is Kenneth Lonergan’s Margaret which despite a troubled gestation period of six years was quite excellent. But it is a lot easier to get on the cinematic radar when your film includes Mark Ruffalo and Matt Damon and it has Martin Scorsese as an editor. The fact that Tin Can Man has a tiny budget and is shot in black and white does not help its cause. The fact that Tin Can Man is quite superb is both miraculous and a testament to the low budget filmmaking being done in Ireland with almost no support.
The film stars Patrick O’Donnell as Pete, a classic down on his luck type. Unhappy in his job, he is also about to be dumped by his girlfriend. Sitting at home alone in his apartment one night there is a knock on the door. Reluctantly answering he is met by a man who tells Pete that he is in need of a phone as there has been an accident. Meek by nature, Pete lets him in to use his phone. This man who calls himself Dave (a superb Michael Parle) proceeds to get involved in Pete’s life from here on in. Pete’s quiet nature, his fear and sense of terror leads to situations of mounting psychological horror. Indeed the film plays out in a series of scenes that seem weirder than the previous one.
Tin Can Man is a film that wears its influences on its sleeve. To put it in lazy tag line terms it would be this: David Lynch by way of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre filtered through the domestic social realism of Dublin. There is a magnificent scene at Pete’s dad’s house which calls to mind the tag line mentioned. It is a classic Irish father/son problematic relationship that is given extra impetus by the presence of Dave there. Indeed, it briefly touches upon dramatic tropes such as alcoholism and the fear of a dad of an older generation that his son might be gay. This scene is a mix of Mike Leigh via Ben Wheatley and is superbly staged and performed. What makes it blackly funny is that his dad’s fears are the least of poor Pete’s problems.
The sound design is stunning for such a low budget film, drowning it in a soundscape of minimalist piano, loud, quiet, loud voices and off kilter music. This all comes together to really drive home the madness of the narrative. Parle and O’Donnell are both very well suited to their roles and play them perfectly. The claustrophobic cinematography by Colin Downey makes full use of the black and white film to throw shadows all over scenes. This works particularly well in the grubby close-ups of the main characters.
Tin Can Man is a film that will not be for everyone. But there surely must be room in our art house cinemas for a film as stylish and manic as this one. The sad feeling here is that if this film was made by a European filmmaker it would have been released in our cinemas five years ago. In an era such as this when so much dross is released in multiplexes a film this good should be seen on the big screen. Alas, it is an Irish film - so expectations are lowered and distribution is all but impossible. We can but hope.