Venice Dispatch – Banshees of Inisherin – Awardsdaily

Good storytelling has magic, and when Martin McDonagh tells you a story, you know you’re in the hands of a true magician. His latest, THE BANSHES OF INISHERIN, is a sweet, funny, poignant and enchanting ode to the people of Ireland. It transports you to a place and a time, introduces you to a cast of lovable characters, and contains a profound message about the meaning of life. Those 109 minutes have flown away.

Set on the fictional island of Inisherin off the coast of Ireland in 1923, as civil war raged in the country, the film stars Colin Farrell as Pádraic and Brendan Gleeson as Colm . Pádraic is a kind and positive guy who is… let’s not say the brightest bulb in the box. As well as doing some light farming, he spends his time at the pub, particularly with his thoughtful and more mature musician pal, Colm. In fact, we catch him picking up Colm for a pub visit in the film’s opening scene. As he happily points out to the older man, it’s two o’clock.

Only this time, Colm turns him down. And as he later clarifies, he never wants to see or speak to Pádraic again. Bewildered and hurt, Pádraic tries to understand his best friend’s sudden change of heart. He consults with his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon) and other islanders, including the bum Dominic (Barry Keoghan), even sends the priest to do his bidding. But that only strengthened Colm’s resolve to end their relationship, leading him to declare that he’ll cut off his finger every time Pádraic comes looking for him. Things escalate as Pádraic attempts to salvage this friendship; meanwhile, many characters come to understand their plight on the island and react in hopeful/desperate ways.

The first hour or so of the movie is endlessly endearing and hilarious. McDonagh populates Inisherin with memorable characters who form an ecosystem of alcohol-fueled gossip. There’s the cheerful bartender, the nosy grocer, the bad-tempered policeman, the possibly gay priest, and the witch Mrs. McCormick. In this island community where time stands still and nothing ever happens, someone who refuses to talk to their best friend is big news and everyone feels involved. Written with comic precision and a distinct Irish voice, the script perfectly captures the barely concealed curiosity and eagerness, the rough good humor of a people. It also brings the two leads to life in a compelling way, where Pádraic’s genuine bewilderment bounces off Colm’s thoughtful and inscrutable resolve. The dialogues jump off the page and you can’t help but fall in love with these often rude, probably drunk, always genuine people.

The story takes a decidedly serious turn in the last act. Without going into great detail or pretending to know the point McDonagh is trying to make, the film struck me as a reflection on what is left after a life lived. Is a legacy of artistic creation worth more than the memory of having been an honest person? And if a man has lost his decency, does the greatness of his achievement still mean anything? I also find the portrayal of what happens to Siobhan and Dominic inexplicably moving. Maybe the movie isn’t about a row between two pub buddies after all, but about the petty grudges and bitterness it symbolizes that characterize life in a place where the most cursed priest and policeman beats his own son, where everyone is busy doing nothing, just staving off the inevitable. The question is therefore whether we have the chance and the courage to do something, to change our own destiny.

McDonagh’s direction is eloquent and efficient, effortlessly bringing the gripping comedy to a dramatic ending. Farrell and Gleeson are both fantastic. They have kind of an inverted character arc as Pádraic and Colm go through their own changes, and they’ve both pulled it off. Farrell proves he hasn’t lost his acting skills. Bewilderment, outrage, or awkwardness in his dealings with Siobhan and the others is comedic gold. And when something terrible happens in the third act, the heartache and the bitterness it brings bear the brunt of this intense finale. Gleeson is an incredibly watchable actor. There is nothing fragile or unreal about him. His very presence—from his face to his posture, from the way he speaks to the way he walks—gives the film an anchor of humanity to stay grounded no matter the changes in tone. Supporting players Cordon and Keoghan are also excellent, each so naturally winning that they contribute significantly to the fullness of the narrative.

Thanks to Ben Davis’ textured, beautifully lit cinematography and breathtaking Irish scenery, the film looks incredible. And thanks to Carter Burwell’s whimsical, xylophone- and harp-centric score, it sounds like a dream. The 79th edition of the Venice Film Festival is shaping up to be one of the strongest in recent memory and my list of films that I can’t imagine going home empty-handed is growing. Farrell and/or Gleeson now join Brendan Fraser as bona fide candidates for the Coppa Volpi. And McDonagh is a real possibility for the script/director. The race is definitely on.

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