Film In Dublin concludes its coverage of the 2016 Fingal Film Festival with reviews of two of the films screened during the weekend: coming of age story South and documentary Atlantic.
There is a rich vein of stories to be found in how music can help us forge emotional connections, a vein that’s been tapped with great success in the past by Irish films in particular. Perhaps our nation has the perfect mix of loving music and not loving forging emotional connections. Regardless, the same idea provides an emotional core to South, a film about a shy young man left reeling after the death of his father, with whom he had formed a strong bond through music.
Tom doesn’t have any friends and is too consumed by stage fright to have ever performed in public, but after his father’s death he opens up to others out of necessity; hitchhiking from Galway to Dublin to meet the mother he hasn’t seen since he was a toddler. After a series of mishaps he meets Jess, a slightly eccentric girl who agrees to drive him the rest of the way and helps to bring him out of his shell. ‘Sensitive guy meets kooky girl’ is something that’s been done again and again, but the performances by Red Rock and A Date For Mad Mary‘s Darragh O’Toole and Emily Lamey are suitably charming. They’re archetypes but with a natural feel and good chemistry together.
O’Toole stands out playing the innocent and emotional character of Tom, never wallowing in his misery but visibly lost without his dad and conflicted about seeing his mother. On screen he’s well capable of getting the story across, meaning that every instance of his narration could be cut without the film losing anything. With several instances of his voiceover explaining what just happened and a couple of montages, the film takes some shortcuts when it doesn’t really need to. The second film by director Gerard Walsh, South is a straightforward and endearing watch.
At 106,460,000 square kilometres, it’s fair to say that the Atlantic Ocean is fairly vast. The scope of Atlantic, the new documentary by director Risteard O’Domhnaill (The Pipe), is similarly far-reaching, looking at the issues effecting three areas reliant on the ocean’s resources: the west coast of Ireland, Newfoundland and Norway. With O’Domhnaill examining both fishing regulation and oil drilling across these three communities, Atlantic struggles to cover everything.
With stern geography teacher narration provided by Brendan Gleeson, Atlantic shifts focus regularly, looking how each community has been effected by fishing regulation and the chase for oil, and the further impact of the latter on the former. The parallels between Ireland and Norway are easier to draw, with Ireland in the EU and Norway out. The stories from Newfoundland aren’t less worthy but they are similar and there comes a point where Atlantic cuts again from one location back to another without much sense of the narrative progressing.
The argument can be made that it’s a good thing for a documentary to leave a viewer wanting to know more rather than thinking they already have all the info they need, but it can be difficult to draw a conclusion from Atlantic when the outrage has to keep being juggled between Irish politicians, big oil companies, unfair EU regulation and more. The stories of dying communities are poignant, but before we really get to see one community we’re on to the next. Maybe Atlantic needed more time to flesh out all three narratives or to lose one in aid of the others, but as is it’s well-intended and informative but thinly-spread.