In Memoriam 1942 – 2013 “Roger Ebert loved movies.”

RogerEbert.com

Thumb_sea_of_trees_ver5

The Sea of Trees

The Sea of Trees uses depression, cancer and suicide as manipulative devices to tug at heartstrings instead of offering even the slightest insight into the…

Thumb_dont_breathe

Don't Breathe

Don’t Breathe gets a little less interesting as it proceeds to its inevitable conclusion, but it works so well up to that point that your…

Other Reviews
Review Archives
Thumb_xbepftvyieurxopaxyzgtgtkwgw

Ballad of Narayama

"The Ballad of Narayama" is a Japanese film of great beauty and elegant artifice, telling a story of startling cruelty. What a space it opens…

Other Reviews
Great Movie Archives
Other Articles
Blog Archives

Reviews

Dancing at Lughnasa

  |  

The story, based on the award-winning play by Brian Friel, tells of the five Mundy sisters, who live in a cottage in rural Ireland in the 1930s. One has an out-of-wedlock son, Michael. As the film opens, they receive a visitor: their older brother, Father Jack, who has returned in retirement after years in Africa. He is not quite all there; his eyes wander and he loses the drift. The equatorial sun and the lure of African customs (shown in the movie's opening credits) have worn down his Catholic beliefs, and after inquiring about his young nephew's father and discovering there is none of record, he suggests cheerfully, "I'd like you all to have a love child!" This does not go down well with Kate Mundy (Meryl Streep), a schoolteacher, firm and unyielding. It becomes apparent that the five women and the boy have been living in such close quarters for so long that only silence and routine make it bearable. One sister smokes all the time. Rose (Sophie Thompson), simple-minded, moons for a married man. Christina (Catherine McCormack), Michael's mother, waits too patiently for periodic visits from her dashing lover Gerry (Rhys Ifans). He roars up on a motorcycle, charms her, dazzles his son (Darrell Johnston) and then roars off again--to fight against Franco in Spain, he explains.



The story is narrated, years later, by the adult Michael. He sees the surfaces, and we are meant to see beneath them. We see that Rose yearns to lead a life of her own, that Christina can feed for months on the memory of a kiss, that survival for Kate consists of keeping everyone's real feelings under her fearful discipline. The arrival of Father Jack disturbs this delicate balance, ending the past and beginning the present.

Played with sad charm by Michael Gambon in a performance deliberately vague and well-meaning, Father Jack is a man whose mind, long baked by the sun and cured by alcohol, has brought Christian and pagan ideas together into peaceful harmony. And indeed the Africans dancing around their tribal fires in the opening credits are mirrored, in Ireland, by the annual pagan festival of Lughnasa, held up in the hills, also with bonfires. Rosa runs off with her fellow for a night of freedom, and we suspect she finds the courage. He's in the old dramatic convention of the madman who speaks the truth.

At the end of the film, everyone dances. This time, it is to the radio, and the dancing is more sedate, but the suggestion is that the Mundy sisters have somehow been able to let out their breath at last, to end the fearful, rigid stillness that enveloped their cottage. Michael, the narrator, remembers that time of the dancing many years later, and it is his memory that drives the story. But it is all memory and no drama. Onstage, they dance, and they are dancing now. On film, somehow, they are dancing then. It is not enough.



Popular Blog Posts

Hollywood Gave Up on You: The Summer Movies of 2016

A look back at how this summer's best offering, Netflix's "Stranger Things," makes the failure of this season's block...

Who do you read? Good Roger, or Bad Roger?

This message came to me from a reader named Peter Svensland. He and a fr...

Dirty Politics May Ruin Distribution, Oscar Chances of Phenomenal "Aquarius"

Pablo Villaça reports on the sad status of Brazil's government and its possible effect on a phenomenal new film from ...

The Top 11 Female Film Characters of All Time

All month, the Alliance of Women Film Journalists has been counting down the top 55 female film characters of all tim...

Reveal Comments
comments powered by Disqus