‘Banshees of Inisherin’s’ Anti-Romantic Portrait of Ireland

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Photo: Photos of the projectors

The Banshees of Inisherin is a spectacular breakup movie, in that it’s about how impossible breakups are when you live in an island community where there’s nothing to do but shoot shit. Turning shit up is pretty much all Pádraic Súilleabháin (Colin Farrell) and Colm Doherty (Brendan Gleeson) seem to have done for years, with a two o’clock stand-up date at the pub where they seem to have spent most of their life. on the fictional Irish island of the title. But when the film begins, Colm has decided to disturb the universe. When Pádraic comes to call Colm’s little seaside house at the usual time, the man he had always considered his best friend refuses to answer the door or recognize him from the window. There was no disagreement to cause this schism. “I don’t love you anymore,” Colm says emphatically when Pádraic finally finds him. Pádraic even struggles to understand the new status quo, and it’s hard to blame him. Much of the dark comedy of The Banshees of Inisherin comes from the absurdity of someone insisting on sitting on the other side of the pub now, although in a world as constrained as the characters are, that amounts to a genuine and painful act of betrayal.

The last time Farrell and Gleeson were in a movie together, they were talkative hitmen in Martin McDonagh’s 2008 film debut In Brugge, and it was McDonagh who brought them together again here for a feature less motivated to show off, and better for it. It’s the best thing McDonagh has ever done for the screen, a work of deep melancholy and deeper spite. It was conceived and written for the screen, but McDonagh will always be a playwright first, and it’s always driven by long exchanges of the mellow, secular, philosophical dialogue that is his signature. It’s in many ways a film about conversation and whether time spent doing nothing in the company of others is the main thing of life or a distraction from what’s important. Pádraic starts out as the more likeable figure, but Farrell plays his flattering persistence and sheer stubbornness in the face of any change so well that you begin to understand why anyone might want to walk away from him. Gleeson, his great head bowed as if under the weight of an enormous crown, exudes Colm’s iron will to go his own way. He wants to focus on the music he sees as his only chance to leave a mark on the world, but his will to be left alone is so strong he swears he’ll start chopping the fingers off his fiddling hand. every time Pádraic comes to see it – and thinks it.

The Banshees of Inisherin takes place in 1923, which is mainly due to the fact that the Irish Civil War is in its final days and cannon bangs are occasionally heard from the neighboring mainland. The conflict matters little to the islanders – the local constable, a bloated bully named Peadar Kearney (Gary Lydon), talks excitedly about taking a paid gig to help with the executions there for the day while unable to stay right that he would kill, and in whose name. But McDonagh implies a greater resonance between the not-so-distant battles and the personal conflict at the center of his film, as if Pádraic and Colm’s inability to defuse were indicative of a common cultural character, a willingness to dig down down and hold on and don’t let the hurts of the past go away. Colm, who is nursing an existential melancholy (“How’s the despair?” the priest asks him during confession), seems quite capable of displaying a dark side. But it was Pádraic – a simpler man (there is some debate over whether he is “dull” or “nice”, as if those qualities were mutually exclusive) who had settled for his pints, the cottage which he shares with his sister Siobhán (Kerry Condon), and the miniature donkey he continues to let in despite Siobhán’s protests – which turns out to have an apocalyptic streak.

The Banshees of Inisherin it’s like watching two cars slowly embark on a collision course ending in an accident that would be easily avoided if one of them gave way. But it’s also a caustic masterpiece of anti-romanticism, a counterpoint to every starry-eyed screen portrait (often done by an American) of rural Ireland as a verdant sanctuary of close lore. , quirky characters and a more authentic way of life. The Banshees of Inisherin starts by panning his camera over a brilliantly green landscape crisscrossed with stone walls, then shows a rainbow lurking behind Pádraic as he continues on his way. But life in Inisherin is so circumscribed and stuffy that it seems to destroy every character from the inside – not just Pádraic and Colm and their petty but ever more intense duel. Siobhán, a bookish bachelor, lives an existence of intense loneliness, while Dominic (a tragicomic Barry Keoghan), Peadar’s semi-wild and regularly beaten son, is a figure of despair in the guise of a clown. There is no sense of intimacy in the closeness of the locals, just pettiness in their grudges and claustrophobia in the way the shop owner at one end of the island barks for news of the other side. The main thing that roots them where they are is not connection, but stubbornness. The war that erupts between Pádraic and Colm is fueled not just by the pair’s respective intractability, but by the understanding that it gives them purpose and something to do.

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