MOST MODERN, vaguely formed notions of Ireland view it as home to deeply rooted political strife. The most interesting quality, then, about some of the features debuting at Seattle's fourth Irish Reels fest is how they manage to put that turmoil carefully to the side while slyly broadening its meanings and our understanding of it.
IRISH REELS FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL
runs March 7-10 at Harvard Exit, 911 Media Arts Center, and Seattle Art Museum
Festival opener When Brendan Met Trudy sets the tone with its tale of a 28-year-old na裂whose life is transformed by a woman who's a professional burglar. Though director Kieron J. Walsh can't completely run with it, Roddy Doyle (The Commitments, The Snapper) supplies a subversive script that works equally as comedy and commentary. Using the romantic comedy genre as a springboard, Doyle's screenplay does something that few of its innocuous international counterparts would even consider: It argues that wholly loving someone, and accepting the personal transformation that requires, is in itself a form of social protest and a grand force for change.
That's a theme that weaves its way through the rest of the weekend. Gerry Stembridge's About Adam (with Almost Famous Oscar-nominee Kate Hudson) views a family's seduction by a mysterious stranger as social awakening, while the affair that powers Pat Murphy's Nora is steeped in similar metaphor. The story of the turbulent, very sexual love that liberated both James Joyce (a feverishly good Ewan McGregor) and his unconventional muse and future wife, Nora Barnacle (Susan Lynch), Nora subtly contrasts the personal growth of the artist as a young man with the constraints of the status quo. The film, though lovely to watch, is all measured detail (to flesh it out, see The Trial of Ulysses, a Joyce documentary that also screens Saturday). But Lynch's level gaze speaks volumes about the need for a country and people to stare deeply at their own fears.
With goosey close-ups, quick edits, and a big, bright palette, Dudi Appleton's festival closer The Most Fertile Man in Ireland tries for that same stare. Although its cartoon satire is a bit too broad, what it's looking at still gives the movie some heft. Jim Keeble's script has a virginal lad discovering that he possesses Ireland's most indestructible sperm, which alienates him from his true love and, eventually, puts him in a campy tug-of-war between grasping political factions. "Anything is possible," he discovers, "even love." It's a brash, wildly imperfect romp that, yet again, looks upon romance and sees an entire country with hope.