Starring Dónall Ó Héalai, Saise Ní Chuinn, and Dara Devaney Arracht is an Irish film telling the story of a man during the Famine.
Arracht is set in 1845 in Connemara and follows Cólman Sharkey (Ó Héalai). He’s a farmer and a fisherman who takes in a new man by the name of Patsy (Devaney) to help out around the farm. This is on the eve of the famine as Patsy describes how a rot has spread across Ireland since he has come back from the Navy.
On top of this, the landlord of the property simply dubbed the lieutenant (Michael McElhatton) has decided to stick up the rates of the whole area. This puts further strain on the community and on Cólman and his young family. While trying to come to some kind of agreeable arrangement misfortune upon misfortune compounds upon Cólman and the film fast forwards to two years later where the audience is introduced to not only a very different Cólman but also a very different Ireland.
Arracht means monster
I knew nothing about Arracht when I sat down to watch it but I can say hand on heart I’m very happy to have seen it. The story of Cólman is a reflection of the story of Ireland. Before the famine ravages his life he is content, he lives a happy life with his family, he has come to an understanding with the English and he is a respected member of his community. Then the Famine hits and his world shatters around him. Much like what happened to Ireland he is a husk of his former self.
This, however, is not a film about despair but about the strength and determination of the human spirit. It also shows that even in the darker times in history we always found a way to survive.
This is director Tom Sullivan’s first outing with a feature film (he’s had other work as a writer and director on short films over the years) and it shows. There is a naivety to his shots, a sense that he wants to pull out all the poetic beauty of Ireland and if it wasn’t so indulgent at times, shots lingering for a little too long, he would succeed far better than he does.
If I’m being honest though that is a nitpick on my part. I just felt the film meandered in its final act not sure whether it wanted to have a villain or tell a simple story of the spirit and the people of Ireland surviving the Famine.
In the end, Tom made a choice and in my opinion, it was the more clichéd of the two options available.
That, however, is one of the few issues I had with Arracht. There are other issues which clearly come from the fact that Arracht is not a multi-million dollar blockbuster so when there are fights or wounds they don’t look particularly impressive.
The cast is phenomenal. Ó Héala dominates the camera with his presence. It’s impressive and I was drawn into the film by his performance. Halfway through the film, we meet a young girl by the name of Kitty (Ní Chuinn) and together they bring further humanity to this wonderful film. There are other bit players but in my opinion, when it wasn’t Cólman or Kitty I was less engaged.
Now what makes Arracht so engaging and perhaps puts a bias on this review is that it is 95% as Gaeilge. That’s right folks this is the first of hopefully many films to come that shows off our underutilised and honestly underappreciated language.
The fascinating aspect of Arracht was that as I listened I began to remember words from school and there was a connection there that I can’t quite quantify.
Couple this with stellar performances from the lead duo, a first time director that shows promise and a moment in history that made Ireland what it is today and you have a recipe for a memorable night at the cinema.
Be sure and check out Arracht and stay tuned to Scannain for more reviews, news in the Irish film industry.