Movie Review: Arracht – Irish Film Festival
Writer and Director: Tom Sullivan
An Irish Famine movie may seem like an expected pick for the 10 opening galae The Irish Film Festival returns to London after a two-year hiatus, but lead filmmaker Tom Sullivan, moving from actor to writer / director, looks at this dark period in Irish history from a slightly different perspective. Explore the nomadic way of life caused by famine and loss of land, Snatcht – which translates to monster – is an intense and skillfully done story of human reconnection.
Farmer Coleman Sharkey refuses to pay rent as potato blight begins to affect his crops and facing his English landlord with friends including the unpredictable Patsy, it turns out a fateful night that has haunted Coleman for two years. Now living alone in a day-to-day existence, Coleman reaches his lowest point, but meeting Kitty, a sick child in need of his help, a vital relationship develops.
Sullivan’s film begins as a relatively straightforward period drama that captures the peasant family way of life and contrasts with the wealthy English mansion, following a familiar line between good workers and the bad landlord that makes matters worse. But quickly, Sullivan completely changed course and Arracht flourishes when it becomes a more intimate survival story of a starving man in an inhospitable environment just trying to stay alive and wondering what is left for him to go through.
The landscape is a character in its own right; the craggy boulders and boulder-strewn hills that Coleman tries to cultivate and, later, the arid cave dwelling accessible only by the sea which represents the limits of its existence are both forbidden and magnificent, distilling the political and political context. wider famine in this personal trauma. The visual drama in these scenes comes from this clash of elements and the might of natural forces against which humanity seems both small and defeated.
The film only suffers when it returns to the retribution plot in the final section that tries to tie the ending to the previous preamble. Why Patsy (Dara Devaney) continues to pursue this given that the events of the night at the owner’s house are a bit confusing, at least not explained well enough on screen, so this section of the movie feels too rushed, a need to force a conclusion rather than spring from the character’s behavior and purpose.
Dónall Ó Héalai lost weight to play Coleman, physically engaging in the visual impression of famine that Sullivan captures in detail. Coleman’s progression from happy family man to lonely and grieving creates the most powerful moments in history and Arracht is at his best and most poetic when Ó Héalai wordlessly expresses the reductive nature of his new life, tempered by a gentle heartbeat that somehow forces him to continue living, supported by the arrival of resilient Kitty (Saise Ní Chuinn).
Arracht feels both calm and substantial, Sullivan’s very personal portrayal of famine truly connects audiences at this defining point in Irish history through these characters and the relationships they develop in a ruthless personal and natural landscape.
Arracht was screened as part of the Irish Film Festival from November 17-21.