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Troubles Every Day

Sarah Manvel/Critic's Notebook

An outsider to the Irish film industry would be surprised at the depth and breadth of work available at the 26th Galway Film Fleadh. Held over five days and six nights every July in the largest city on Ireland’s west coast, the Fleadh (pronounced “flah,” Irish Gaelic for festival) brings together new and old talent in one place to act as a doorway to the global scene. Since its winning short automatically becomes eligible for Oscar consideration, the festival is able to punch considerably above its apparent weight.

The bigger-than-expected size of the Irish film industry is something that the organizers are keen to emphasize, especially in regards to how the rest of the Irish economy continues to struggle. This sense of struggle was apparent in most of the year’s major screenings, such as Don McKellar’s “The Grand Seduction,” about a remote Canadian community which can only secure a factory and the resulting jobs for all if it can convince a doctor to move to their little town. Starring Brendan Gleeson and Taylor Kitsch with a scene-stealing supporting performance from Gordon Pinsent, the movie draws a clear connection between decent work and self-esteem but badly fumbles a subplot around a bribe. However, its droll depiction of sex among the over-50s manages to maintain a jolly tone that had the audience laughing along in rueful recognition. The opening film, “Begin Again,” is equally cheerful. Starring Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo against type as a heartbroken songwriter and the producer who convinces her to put her music out there; it’s a love letter to New York, how music can bring out the best in people and how that helps people bring out the best in each other.

Andrew Schwartz/The Weinstein Company

That jolliness was missing from most of the rest of the full-length movies which screened at the festival. “The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” uses a glossy veneer to disguise a bleak and largely cynical tale about an old man who finally stops being an angel of death. “Young Ones” — an Irish-South African co-production with an international cast and whose excellent C.G.I. work was done in Dublin — was another bleak story about how a lack of water shapes lives in the American West of the near future. “Patrick’s Day,” co-winner of the Best Irish Feature prize, tells the story of a young, mentally ill man (a charming Moe Dunford) who is caught between his overprotective mother (a wonderful Kerry Fox) and the despairing flight attendant he loves (Catherine Walker). The movie stumbles badly in its second half, when the women are swallowed by feminine clichés to unbelievably join forces against Patrick, but manages to depict clearly people kicking hard against the boxes their lives have put them in.

But best of all is “Glassland,” an extraordinary kitchen-sink drama which had its world premiere at the Fleadh about a decent young man (Jack Reynor, also in “Transformers: Age of Extinction”) whose life is blighted by his alcoholic mother (Toni Collette, smashing it). The screening was introduced by a government minister, Jimmy Deenihan, who until that morning had been the Irish Minister for the Arts but who had lost that role in a cabinet reshuffle. He gave a lovely speech about how proud he was that he and the director, Gerard Barrett, had attended the same school and then amusingly name-dropped his connection with Michael Fassbender’s parents.

Sarah Manvel/Critic's Notebook

After the screening, Mr. Barrett got up and spoke about how his wish with the film was to examine family relationships in a fractured modern Ireland but also to bring an international outlook to Irish cinema by casting “foreigners,” which caused laughter in the audience and Will Poulter (Kenny from “We’re the Millers”), also in attendance, to pretend to storm out. Both Messrs. Reynor and Poulter spoke movingly about their interest in doing movies like “Glassland.” They both recognized their luck in being part of bigger movies which have been seen by millions of people; but for them both, they feel their key interests are in playing characters which have integrity in stories worth telling. And as such, “Glassland” is a movie which deserves to be championed.

Quite a lot of people feel that the Galway Film Fleadh equally deserves to the championed. It hosted masterclasses by Brenda Fricker, Fionnula Flanagan and its chairperson is Kate O’Toole (daughter of Peter). And everyone involved in the festival is clearly interested in doing the best he or she can for the Irish film industry. But the Fleadh does suffer a bit from its local focus; the assumption is that everyone knows the location of the screening venues already, or where everyone goes out for a pint afterwards (the Galway Rowing Club, around the corner from the Town Hall Theatre, where it has a heated marquee and a delightful location on the River Corrib). Most of the nonindustry attendees are film buffs who live in the area and are starved of seeing newer or independent releases anywhere other than their laptops.

Although Ireland is changing — and not just in its movies — even five years ago it would have been virtually unthinkable for a movie about abortion (“Obvious Child”) to win the prize for Best International Feature. But it remains a fact that “Glassland” is the first Irish film for Michael Smiley (from Northern Ireland but based in London). And it remains a fact that a great deal of film commissioning within Ireland (as it is elsewhere in Europe) is based around making — to paraphrase the television show “The League of Gentlemen” — “local films for local people.” The astonishing global success of “Game of Thrones” — which is largely shot in Northern Ireland — has of course not gone unnoticed by their counterparts to the South; and there is a push to develop spaces into studios of the size which brought HBO to Belfast. Ireland as a whole recognizes that film is not just a tool for telling stories, but it is an industry which creates jobs and strengthens economies. With a slightly broader and fresher outlook, it could do an even better job of throwing its weight around.


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