Scene 22 – Song of the Sea

*Cue smoke machine….spot light centre stage*  “Hi Guys!”, the author say in his best prepubescent voice!….
I think that’s the kind of entrance I’d like this blog to make each week…and yes I have said each week, because I’m back to offer you my weekly brain burps on film that I have watched. I am sorry that I left you alone, and cold in the dark…again…but work got in the way. Saying that I am procrastinating from more work, by writing this actual blog…but…I truly loved this film so it most definitely worth the time spent writing and in fact reading.

Let me paint you a scene as you wind through a landscape populated with fairies, giants turned to, selkies and painfully tormented humans, Song of the Sea enthrals by merging the lines between the common and fantastical. Following on from his Oscar nominated début with Secret of Kells, director Tomm Moore’s second film with his team at Cartoon Saloon, is a far more personal piece.

Song of the Sea is part folk tale, part family drama, as Moore returns to the rich history of Celtic folklore, finding it lurking within the cracks of a broken family. Creating a powerful, yet refreshingly simple twist. Ben (voiced by David Rawle) lives with widowed father Conor (Brendan Gleeson) and his mute little sister Saoirse in a lighthouse. Ben prefers the simple companionship of this sheepdog Cu to Saoirse, for whom in a heartbreakingly complicated ball of emotion, he blames for the loss of their mother. So he clings to the vague, magical memories of her songs and stories as comfort from a cold, soulless father. To make matters worse, their sharp, stubborn Grandma (Fionnula Flanagan) arrives, coming up with the conclusion that only way to fix the family: take the children to Dublin, leaving Conor, and Ben’s beloved Cu behind. Just on cue, the night before their departure, Saoirse stumbles across hidden corners of their lighthouse, finding old family secrets that lie awaiting to be discovered.

Upon their arrival in Dublin, Ben is immediately determined to return, reluctantly taking Saoirse with him. Their journey submerses them into a fantastical, rich of history, myths and legends. *spoliers* There is something so enchanting about the way that the trio of stone fairies are discovered by the siblings in an overgrown roundabout in the middle of the town. The dialogue between the real world and the old world of legend doesn’t just lend itself to wondrous imagery, but also captures the ideas that hold real weight and are the driving forces within the film.

It is evident that Moore and everyone at the studio are proud for it’s Irish origins, honouring it’s folklore and culture, all the while technically taking the influence from 50’s American animation, Japanese anime and ancient Celtic art. Song of the Sea combines all these qualities, interweaving them in a compelling and original fashion. The studio uses every opportunity to take full advantage of the animated medium, delightful telling the story through shapes and symbols. The father, Conor, always hunched, sometimes over a Guinness in a dingy pub, has his sorrow echoed by a giant rock that lies offshore, curled over in an identical manner as if it bears the battering waves. Details like this are typical of the history found in every corner of each frame.

Such resonance weaves throughout the film, and demonstrates a devotion to theme shared with the best of children literature. This is evident as Ben and Satires travel deeper into the past, the world grows ever more fantastical, but not at the expense of the human story. Ben moves with the steely and passionate inconsistencies of primary-school boy, and Saoirse with the quiet, observant and playful demeanour of a real toddler coming to school age. Just like life, everyone is presented as flawed, complex creatures. As the background art enchants with wondrous colour and texture, the character animation is commendably reserved. It is a fantastic technique that the animators, who breathe life into the simple designs, using behaviour that hints each character being the mere tip of a human iceberg.

The reaches its ‘bell’ when the Owl Witch (also voiced by Fionnula Flanagan), bear uncanny echoes to Ben and Saoirse’s own lives. Her Obsession with “eliminating suffering” is an achingly honest mirror of Grandma, who strives, to the point of further damage, to heal. There is a robustness to the deceptive simplicity of Song of the Sea that is reminiscent to that of the great Hayao Miyazaki,with core plots similar to My Neighbour Totoro or Ponyo. Saying this, Moore and his studio contemporaries have made a truly unique world with a distinguished voice. But just like Miyazaki, Moore posits himself that hand-drawn animation in itself has a timeless quality that is impervious to age.

Scene 10 – Glassland

As an avid reader of my blog would know I am a keen advocator of all things Irish film related…well the good stuff at least. This weeks movie is no exception with the newly released Glassland. Glassland sees the return of Gerard Barrett for his second feature, featuring solid performances from both Jack Reynor and Toni Collette as a dysfunctional mother and son living in a lower-class area of Dublin. Tearing their world apart together; the pair go back and forth between a romanticised version of mother and son and a fragilely delicate woman taken over by an illness she cannot control and a carer.

The powerful opening of the film tells the audience exactly what they are in for; John (Reynor) wakes, wanders the house looking to see if his mother, Jean (Collette) is home, adds water to a  near empty bottle of milk so that he can have breakfast before going about his job as a taxi driver. When he returns, his mother still not home so he goes to bed. He wakes up the next morning to find her in her own vomit, and rushing her to A&E because she isn’t waking up…

The doctor explains, after a some pretty harrowing scenes that she is slowly killing herself with her drinking, and will need a liver transplant if she continues. It isn’t until the following morning, where John has brought his mother home and tucked her into bed, that the audience really see the full destructive power of what is going on in their household…

Jean wakes in search of bottles of alcohol, which John has previously gotten rid of, and she destroys everything in her path to find it. She tears apart their kitchen, throwing dishes violently to the ground as well as screaming in an almighty rage as John films the whole episode to show her later on….Now I know we are just finished with Oscar season, but for this scene alone I would give Collette for this year regardless of what comes out in the next year….it is that believable. 

John then goes back to his bedroom before Jean, who has calmed down now, comes to see him. He asks who is going to replace the plates and Jean shrugs her shoulders in a naive, childlike way… he precedes to tell her; “ He will wake up, work his arse off all day just to bring a little money home so he can replace the plates so that they will have something to eat from”…seriously heavy stuff. And this is all within the first 15 minutes of the film!!!….things can only get better right?!

So throughout the rest of the film John goes about trying to save his mother and in another striking and forceful scene, whilst sitting in his taxi, John screams that this woman he is now living with is not his mother. She has gone somewhere else and he doesn’t like the person she has become. It’s an incredible and interesting juxtaposition to the scene earlier where she screams about being left alone. It seems that as though it takes a moment of loud madness for the pair to get through to one another. It also shows a heartbreakingly-bleak side to John, who spends most the film trying to look after his mum but at this point, as it seems he is all but ready to give up on her and leave her to die. When he learns that the only other option left for her is to go into a rehab facility, he must both finding the money but also getting her to admit herself….it’s like being stuck between a rock and a the rock!

Alongside this emotional and evocative story are several side story lines, all of which add to the intensity and claustrophobia of this brilliant captivating drama. Jean has another son, Kit (Harry Nagle), who was born with down syndrome and currently lives in a home nearby. He is celebrating his 18 birthday and the only thing in the world he wants, is the spend time with his mum but Jean has no intention of seeing her son…. She explains why to John during their most intimate scene…but I won’t spoil it here. Here answer makes you immediately question, does this make her a bad mother? But Barrett brilliantly written script shows, there is so much more than meets the eye….

John’s friend, Shane (Will Poulter) also has his own issues. He fathered a son after a one night stand and now the mother won’t let him see his child despite paying child support each month. His frustrations are furthered by his relationship with his own mother, who seems quite overbearing as only an Irish Mammy can be.…hilariously so at some points. Shane is rude and disrespectful to his mother, which plays cleverly against John’s own relationship with his mother.

Glassland is yet another example of the excellent, powerful, intense and revelatory cinema coming from Irish cinema. Both Reynor and Collette are simply incredible, with two of the most powerful performances of the year….and the year is only beginning. Truly, their performance are incredible. I wouldnt have been the biggest Raynor fan, seeing him in What Richard Did..and not thinking that much of him in the role…it wasn’t bad…but just didn’t grab me.  The chemistry between the both of them is undeniable. For the main story alone, Glassland is a careful exploration of addition and love, but it also highlights Barrett as a writer/director star to watch out for…