Man Of Aran

Man Of Aran


Reviewed by: James Benefield

Man Of Aran is difficult to recommend for two reasons. Firstly, it exists in a distinctly dry, realist tradition of filmmaking in which the 'real life' of everyday people is presented on screen. It's not a traditional documentary as there's little commentary, narrative thread or explicit investigation. This means you have to be interested in the 'how' and 'when' of a farmer growing food on a land without soil, rather than anything about the farmer himself. Secondly, a lot of the film is fabricated. The people of Aran, when the film was shot in the Thirties, had long given up much of the stuff we see them doing. Whole swathes of the film, for example, concern shark catching, which hadn't been going on for decades.

That said, there's poetry here. The film does claim to be an account of life on the Aran Islands, off the west coast of Ireland. We see a little boy fishing off the top of a vast cliff, we see the catching of vast basking sharks and we see a lot of the sea. This last point is important, as the landscape is equally as interesting as the people inhabiting it.

Copy picture

And much of this is thanks to the cinematography. The black and white photography is rich and full of texture. The sea is both beguiling friend and foe, a a savage, stormy and uncompromising force. It gives food but, if the inhabits are not careful, takes away life – likewise, the way it's shot is deathly beautiful. Silhouette is used throughout and sometimes the camera is all but taken away by the waves. It's this dynamic, volatile force that, for some viewers, may highlight the relative lack of drama elsewhere.

That said, it's an interesting experiment on how to create a world with an intermingling of fact and fiction. Man Of Aran is perhaps a grandfather to the poverty porn by those, and for those, who relish in, and do not question, a rather dishonest depiction of human hardship. Or, it's a technically astounding, visually beautiful tribute to man versus nature. For me, the jury's still out.

Reviewed on: 08 Mar 2011
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Man Of Aran packshot
Restored documentary about the people of Aran. On limited re-release.
Amazon link

Director: Robert J Flaherty

Writer: Robert J Flaherty

Starring: Colman 'Tiger' King, Maggie Dirrane, Michael Dirrane

Year: 1934

Runtime: 76 minutes

Country: UK


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