June 4, 2023

Film review: Stunning scenery can’t save ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’

“Banshees of Inisherin” was directed by Martin MacDonagh and stars Colin Farrel (Padraic), Brendan Gleeson (Colm) and Kerry Condom (Siobhán). (Searchlight. Ireland. 2022.)

This tragicomedy takes place in the mid-1920s, in the fictitious island of Inisherin – of beautiful coastline, tall stones and extraordinary landscape. The real location is the Aran Islands, the West of Ireland.

In poor Inisherin, everybody knows everybody, and it’s been that way for generations. People live and die uneventfully and it’s there that brotherly friends Padraic and Colm live. Siobhan, sister of Padraic lives in the same house.

The country being strongly catholic, it’s not a surprise to find the statue of the Virgin Mary at the entrance, the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in another room and an omniscient vicar who knows each parishioner very well, by means of their weekly confessions.

The local pub is the main point of reunion. One day, Colm a fiddler who plays folk music, comes to the realization that life is limited, and that he has been wasting time, on thousands of dull conversations with Padraic.

Colm reasons that 50 years from now nobody will remember him, but somebody might remember his music. He finds solace in history: although Bach has lived centuries back, his music is still alive. So, from now on, Colm will focus on music and stop talking to Padraic. 

Perplexed with the impromptu decision, Padraic wants an explanation. He chases Colm and begs an explanation. Colm is firm. His decision is irreversible. Things become tragic when Colm tells Padraic that he will cut one finger every time his former friend looks for him. Things turn bloody.

The film lacks veracity in several instances; for example, Padraic’s inexplicable obsession in rescuing Colm’s friendship, the death of his dear donkey Jenny choking with Colm’s finger and the fiddler’s inexplicable life-as-usual, drinking and playing music, even after having cut one finger – and the other.

The variety of shots – high and low angles, close-ups, medium shots – capture well the natural beauty of the island. At times, the soundtrack based on Irish folk vocals and harp cord progressions feels sublime.

Winner of several awards, Venice and Toronto film festivals among them, “The Banshees of Inisherin” had enthusiastic reviews in Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritics. Others were not that enthusiastic: to Mick LaSalle (The Houston Chronicle) the script “feels like a writing exercise that got out of hand;” to Pulitzer winner Mark Feeney (The Boston Globe), at times, the film was “a short story trying to be a novel.”

In fact, the photography is great and the mise-en-scene outstanding, but that might not be enough to label “The Banshees of Inisherin” as extraordinary.

Jesus Zaldivar

Jesus Zaldivar, contributor to The Commuter, is a Media Production student at NCC. Previously, he conducted biomedical / environmental research in South America, Europe and six states in the U.S. (Contact: jesus.zaldivar@student.northampton.edu)

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