A Good Woman Is Hard To Find

****1/2

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

A Good Woman Is Hard To Find
"Beautifully observed and with a terrific central performance from Bolger, this is a film that takes a simple story and gives it real power." | Photo: Courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival

Cinematic events like the Fantasia International Film Festival, where this film screened, are a mystery to some. Why would anyone seek out the chance to watch horror when there's so much of it in the world already? For Sarah (Sarah Bolger) it's part of everyday life. Her husband was stabbed to death not long ago and her young son, who was with him at the time, hasn't spoken since. The police are no help, quick to blame her for her own troubles. She was a wee daughter to look after too, and a mother who's still angry at her for every marrying the man she loved, insisting that he was a drug dealer. All Sarah wants is a normal life and a decent chance for her kids, but that's hard to find - even before brash young thief Tito (Andrew Simpson) breaks into her flat and decides to use it as a stash house for the drugs he's stolen from a local gang boss.

Tito is a threat but he's also an opportunity. Sarah figures that she might be able to extract information from him that will help her find out what really happened to her man, and find his killer. But Tito is unstable and dangerous and Sarah is alone in the world. She can't even go to the supermarket without people trying to prey on her. Behind a plot focused on gang violence is an acutely observed landscape of day to day horror, of what it does to people - especially women and those men unable to defend themselves physically - to live in poverty on housing estates that wider society has given up on. Sarah has learned to keep her head down to try and survive. She has been taught to be a victim. The visiting social worker doesn't have to mention it directly for us to recognise the threat that her children will be taken away from her. Even a broken window is assumed to be her fault, her responsibility - there's no meaningful offer of help.

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The steely courage that it takes to fight back in this situation make Sarah an awe-inspiring character to watch - and yet one who many viewers who have lived in poverty will relate to. She's never overblown and there's never any sense of bravado. The terror she expresses as she tries (sometimes physically) to shield her children feels absolutely real. Her natural instinct is to avoid conflict and all forms of related unpleasantness, and when she does what she has to to protect those she loves, we never get the impression that she has undergone a mental shift, that it has become easy for her.

Beautifully observed and with a terrific central performance from Bolger, this is a film that takes a simple story and gives it real power. Director Abner Pastoll builds up the tension masterfully, with most of the action focused around Sarah's small flat, on the ground floor, with glass panelled doors and thin walls - impossible to defend. The complicated relationship between Sarah and her mother is beautifully drawn and even Tito gets his moments of humanity, or at least moments when his naivety becomes so obvious that it's impossible not to pity the person he might have been had he grown up in better circumstances. Entrenched social misogyny has clearly damaged him as well as the women in the film, and is part of a patchwork of learned behaviours that seem to cut short everybody's chances. Everybody seems to have got through life by making ugly compromises, and it's when Sarah finds that she no longer has room for compromise that the film shifts gears.

A worthy follow-up to the underrated Road Games, A Good Woman Is Hard To Find may leave some viewers looking at single mothers on housing estates with a new respect.

Reviewed on: 22 Jul 2019
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A recently widowed young mother will go to any lengths to protect her children as she seeks the truth behind her husband's murder.

Director: Abner Pastoll

Writer: Roland Blaney

Starring: Sarah Bolger, Edward Hogg, Andrew Simpson

Year: 2019

Runtime: 97 minutes

Country: UK, Belgium, Ireland


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