My dreams are not dull
For my soul soars high and burns deep
Yet my mind gets stuck
In the mud of mediocrity
Last weekend, when I came out of seeing Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio, I thought I’d seen the best film of the year. A film after my own taste: full of humanity, darkness, innocence, heartbreak, but a film also deeply anchored in real history. Last night, as I came out of seeing Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, I wiped off my tears and said with conviction this time: this is the best film of the year. It will win all the Oscars so we might as well pack up and go home. It’s done. McDonagh’s the best.
I’ve been a fan of Martin McDonagh for a long time. While most of his films are excellent, great rewatchable bundles of dark laughter, they almost never let one forget how clever they are, sometimes to the detriment of the emotional angle. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri for instance basks in self aggrandising jokes until we have to capitulate and admit that it is a good film and Martin McDonagh is a great writer-director who can tell incredible stories in an unique way. It is a fact. But it is not poetry, it is a skit. We care about the grieving mother, but then we go home and forget about her. Not with The Banshees though…
The Banshees of Inisherin is poetry, philosophy, humanity, everything that exquisite cinema ought to be. Every frame, every line of dialogue, every arch of the eyebrow on the part of each member of this excellent cast, is both heart-wrenching, gut-punching and uproarious in equal measure.
The story is simple: the unravelling of a bromance. Out of the blue, Colm (Brendan Gleeson), turns to his best friend Pádraic (Colin Farrell) and says in no uncertain terms that the friendship is over. Hilarity, heartbreak and surreal horror ensues, in classic McDonagh fashion. What makes this story stand head and shoulders above all the other McDonagh fairy tales, is the pacing. The story has time to breathe, to let us gather our thoughts and understand the characters we are presented with on a more emotional level. The characters are given time to grow right before our very eyes and it is a sight to see. The cinematography helps a great deal too, as we are enchanted by breath-taking rural Irish landscapes as well as beautiful indoor composition, worthy of a Rembrandt or a Vermeer.
The music infuses itself underneath our skin, as if to give the story another layer of emotional nuance. It accompanies the cast performance in a joyous yet distressing dance of life and pain.
Now, the cast! We had been delighted by the great chemistry of Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell with another McDonagh tale of relationships gone wrong with In Bruges. Here, the two actors take it up a notch. Their delivery is impeccable, the angst, innocence, inner turmoil so palpable that made one want to reach out and give them both a hug, then bang their heads together until they made up.
Kerry Condon is an actor of incredible beauty and great emotional intelligence that emanates from the screen. Her Siobhan is tactful, wise, resilient and loving, making her relationship with her brother Pádraic all the more human and all the more endearing.
Saving the best for last: the village idiot, represented here by Barry Keoghan’s Dominic. Except that he’s the wisest of the lot, the funniest and the most innocent. Barry Keoghan steals every scene he’s in, which is a difficult feat when playing against such actors as Gleeson and Farrell. And yet his sensibilities are presented to us with the utmost care and love. We shall cherish them.
Special mention to Jenny the donkey and all the other beautiful animals who have helped make this film such an unforgettable piece of cinema. I’ll now go wipe my tears once more and prepare myself to see it again.