BFI London Film Festival


Innocence lost and gems found


By David Hennessy

The BFI London Film Festival got underway last week. With a record 14 Irish films, including Martin McDonagh’s eagerly awaited follow up to In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, there is much for Irish film buffs to get excited about. The Irish World caught three films of Irish interest making very different impressions: Lenny Abrahamson’s What Richard Did, The Sapphires starring Chris O’Dowd and Alex Gibney’s clerical abuse documentary, Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God.

A need to be heard

Taking the case of Fr. Murphy as a specific example, Mea Maxima Culpa looks at the issue of abusive priests and the repeated non intervention of church authorities even when alerted to facts.

What is particularly sickening about the case of Fr. Murphy, a priest based in Milwaukee in the fifties, sixties and seventies, is that he was allowed to abuse deaf and vulnerable students under his care. More sickening than that is that he purposely targeted children with hearing parents who didn’t know sign language, and hence could not communicate anything of their abuse to their guardians. Already with a disability to overcome, the trauma of the abuse leaves a mark on all this film’s subjects and the film contains a confrontation with their abuser of old, now a frail old man but without remorse, saying only: ‘Don’t bother me’.

Unthinkably, Murphy’s superiors, including those in the Vatican were aware of his activities and did nothing to stop it. In looking at the wider picture of abusive priests, Alex Gibney comes to Ireland and notes the case of Tony Walsh, the singing priest who was sentenced to 123 years in prison in 2010. A short clip shows Cardinal Desmond Connell being asked why he did not go to victims of abuse: “I should have,” he says. “But I have so much to do.” This remarkably flimsy answer was met with laughter when screened over the weekend but it was one of few laughs here. It is hard not to get angry while watching it as Gibney’s investigations expose the catholic church as corrupt to the core and, worse still, above the law in some cases.

Discussing the film afterwards, Gibney told of how an interview subject questioned the need for a microphone as he was being interviewed, as he was deaf. Gibney explained that he wanted to capture the emotions of what they were getting out and that is what is good to see here: Their many years of not being heard coming to an end.

Innocence lost

Richard has it all: Only eighteen years old with a beautiful girlfriend and exciting rugby career ahead of him. However, when insecurity, testosterone and jealousy start calling the shots in a moment of madness, Richard’s life will never be the same again. When a boozy night ends with Richard and his mates beating the ex-partner of Richard’s new girlfriend, he wakes up with much more than a hangover when he realises he has killed a man. Played well by Jack Reynor, Richard examines his conscience and is so believable you will find yourself trapped in his hell as he attends funerals, memorial days and garda interviews with no one knowing what he did except two friends and his girlfriend.

The film is based very loosely on true events and the vicious beating to death of Brian Murphy, an eighteen year old, by his rugby team mates in Dublin 2000. The sustained attack, death and subsequent trial shocked leafy Dublin 4 who thought such incidents only happened in less fortunate areas.

The sense of lost innocence is almost palpable as the film goes on but one was disappointed with a slightly unsatisfactory ending but expertly shot and acted, expect to see much more of Reynor and Abrahamson in years to come.

A true gem

The Aussie film The Sapphires will make you laugh and cry in equal measure with much of it down to Ireland’s own Chris O’Dowd. Waking up in his car before working into work with no trousers on, this film must contain the best intro we have seen from O’Dowd yet. His character, Dave, is a down on his luck musician reduced to playing the keyboard for a low rent talent contest in a dingy backstreet bar. However, when three aboriginal sisters with amazing voices take to the stage, Dave can’t help but think these girls are going somewhere and he could take them there.

O’Dowd gets most of the funny lines and delivers him as well as you expect. “That wasn’t terrible. Do you sing anything other than that country and western shite?” He says to the girls on their first meeting. He is reminiscent of The Commitments’ Jimmy Rabbit when he tells the girls they must sing soul and even more so when he tells them he is black on the inside himself: “Hear this black panther roar.”

For the full article, pick up this week’s The Irish World


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