Arracht

****

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Monster
"This is chiefly a character study of one man's humanity in the face of grief but it echoes the wider trauma of a nation that was decimated by hunger." | Photo: Courtesy of Tallinn Black Nights

You can smell potato blight before you see it - and there's more than one sort of trouble in the air for Colmán Sharkey (Dónall Ó Héala), a peasant farmer and fisherman in the mid-1840s as the Great Famine looms.

Also blown in from the sea, is former naval man Patsy (Dara Devaney, who is pulling double duty in world premieres at this year's Tallinn Film Festival, with his role in Finky), although whether he left his berth at sea by honorable discharge or desertion is unclear. Colmán offers him a roof over his head and work but gets more than he bargained for in return, as Patsy seems much less willing to accept the English landowners' demand for higher rent despite the failed crops.

Copy picture

To say much more about the story of this tightly worked Irish-language film would be to spoil the atmospheric tale Tom Sullivan - making his feature debut with Arracht (Monster) - carefully crafts on the windswept crags and islets of Ireland's west coast. The sea plays a big role, flat and grey and implacable, with cinematographer Kate McCullough emphasising its enormity by keeping her camera low to the water. It will become a constant for Colmán, too, offering a means of escape - either temporary or permanent - and a source of food, particularly important once he ends up with a young girl, Kitty (Saise Ní Chuinn), in tow.

This is chiefly a character study of one man's humanity in the face of grief but it echoes the wider trauma of a nation that was decimated by hunger. Although not overtly political, there's no mistaking who the bad guys are when the English lieutenant (Michael McElhatton) considers Colmán's request for lower rate and muses, "Crops have failed before and the mortality rates have been perfectly acceptable".

Sullivan sustains the mood, which thanks to the practicality he imbues Colmán and Kitty with - emphasised by strong performances from both actors - is bleak but robust enough to avoid becoming maudlin. The scoring, too, is assured and restrained, with the sounds of the waves allowed to make their presence felt. And feel them you do, echoing Colmán's loss.

Reviewed on: 30 Nov 2019
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In 1845, a fisherman ends up on the run for crimes he didn't commit.

Festivals:

Black Nights 2019

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