Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Oscar Film Journal: The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)

Hi there, welcome back to the Oscar Film Journal, here at Enuffa.com!

We're back in the present day, with a look at one of the 2022 Best Pic nominees, Martin McDonough's dark comedy The Banshees of Inisherin, which reunites his two stars from In Bruges, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson.  But unlike McDonough's comedic crime debut, Banshees is a slow, meditative "tragicomedy" that would feel somewhat at home in the Coen Brothers' filmography.

Farrell and Gleeson play former lifelong best friends on the fictional island of Inisherin, during the Irish Civil War.  One day milk farmer Padraic (Farrell) heads over to meet musician Colm (Gleeson) for their daily 2pm ritual of sharing a few pints at the local pub, only to find Colm sitting silently at his cottage, ignoring Padraic.  Agonizing over whether he's done or said something to offend his best friend, Padraic confronts Colm, who tells him he's too dull to spend any more of his remaining time with.  Colm instead opts to focus on composing music and only consorting with people he finds interesting.  When Padraic tries to reason with his friend, Colm tells him that for every time Padraic bothers him, he'll sever one of his own fingers and send it to Padraic's house.  
The story sees this power struggle of sorts play out, with strange and unexpected consequences for both characters, but there's also quite a lot of world building as we're introduced to the rest of this quaint island community.  Padraic lives with his sister Siobhan (Kerry Condon), who tolerates the isolated farmer's life with growing resentment and tries in vain to convince Colm to take him back.  Not helping matters is when Padraic offers to temporarily house young Dominic (a splendidly awkward Barry Keoghan), the village idiot for lack of a better term, after a bout with his abusive policeman father.  Padraic feels genuinely bad for Dominic but Siobhan can't stomach being around him, thanks to his social ineptness and unwanted sexual advances toward her.  

This is a tough film to summarize in terms of plotting, as it's more about capturing the setting and spending time with these rather quiet characters.  The film makes use of stunning landscape photography, shot on location in various coastal Irish spots, immersing us in this peculiar little 1923 world.  Farrell and Gleeson have wonderful, sad, comedic chemistry, and we find relatability in both characters.  On one hand Colm has decided he's outgrown the meandering, shallow conversation Padraic provides, but on the other, how can one just abruptly cast off a longtime friend?  Condon is quite sympathetic as Siobhan, wanting to support her brother but herself weary of this aimless island existence.  Keoghan nearly steals the show as a doofus you can't help feeling sorry for (Dominic's father really is a cruel bastard and poor Dom is just trying to figure out his purpose in life).  All four of their acting nominations are well-deserved.

Like Lost in Translation or Inside Llewyn Davis, Banshees is a methodically-paced, almost empty film, and I mean that in the best possible way.  It captures a mood and lets us in to explore the space along with the characters, amid the playful music of subtly funny dialogue.  And like those films, true to life, there is no neat resolution, but a nonetheless satisfying one.

I give The Banshees of Ishinerin **** out of ****.

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