Life Of Riley


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Life Of Riley
"It is a film made hard to read, hard to endure."

Shaun Hughes' film is bleak. Not just David O'Connor's black and white camera, David McKeitch's visceral sound, but tone, direction. No less powerful for it, indeed potentially more harrowing for that level of artistic abstraction. We are given the luxury of looking away, but not everyone has that.

This is a struggle. Conor's specifically, a role of no small intensity by Conor McCarron. He's been a delight to watch in a variety of roles over the years, though he's nigh unrecognisable here. The same seam is struck that helped him carry For Those In Peril and others but beneath beard and bruise it shines differently. There are near enough no others, Chouffe Paws as the eponymous canine, GSFF prize-winning director James Price as "violent man". Price has directed McCarron on a few occasions, but the snarls and whimpers here surround implications of violence created in the edit. There's another role but to name it would be to shed light where the film, at least initially, wants mystery. That's something it shares with at least one other of Hughe's oeuvre, 2013's CariƱo might be in a deeply contrasting Iberian hypercolour but bleakness is a taste, not a palette.

A personal bugbear is the use of a high and keening feedback tone in film to signify something approaching distress. Not because of its inaccuracy but the opposite, the echo of tinnital torment. The sun harsh through the leaves and the press of traffic. The stuck chocolate of a long drunk cappuccino resolute against the cold water of the stream, the broken nose similarly resistant to change. This is a small work, footsore and slogging but not pedestrian. Its complex chronology is bound up in its other difficulties. It is a film made hard to read, hard to endure. In the aftermath of cruelty one might seek solace but it is here in short supply.

The intersection of poverty and opportunity cost is a difficult one. I'm hard pressed to think of another film that so efficiently depicts misery. In five minutes and a few breaths there is a sense of hope extinguished. Shown at 2022's Glasgow Short Film Festival I was lucky enough that I saw it alone on my sofa through the online portal. I do not think I could have stood to see it in company, as while it wrenches as viscerally as programme-mate Too Rough it does not have the same sense of comfort.

One of the most uncomfortable screenings I have ever attended was of a film called Behaviour in Edinburgh, to the point that as fond of that film as I am, the tale around it sits more prominently in my memory. Here at least the cold comfort of solitude is that I had the chance to consider it as a thing itself. Too Rough does not hold your hand (though hands are held) as it depicts human nature at its worst, but it at least has the kindness of kindnesses. Life Of Riley chooses what may be the easier course, to curse in darkness rather than light a candle. That does not mean it is not good, indeed its power comes from quality of performance and its depiction. To languish though in the enveloping waters of sadness is a cold embrace, not a welcoming one. One can appreciate austerity of hope, the iciness of nihilism, but warmth is sometimes wanting.

Reviewed on: 11 May 2022
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A headstrong homeless man must take responsibility for his own actions after his dog is hurt.

Director: Shaun Hughes

Writer: Shaun Hughes

Starring: Conor McCarron, James Price, Joma West

Year: 2022

Runtime: 5 minutes

Country: UK


GSFF 2022

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