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The Banshees of Inisherin

*****
2022

‘…The Banshees of Inisherin is a straight-up masterpiece, and one that offers a striking moral for the fake news era and beyond…’

‘I’m not trying to be nice, I’m trying to be accurate’ explains a sage character in Martin McDonagh’s fourth film; accuracy is one of the virtues of McDonagh’s peerless gift for dialogue and character. Set in rural Ireland circa 1923, it’s the story of a feud between two men; Colm (Brendan Gleeson) is a musician who likes to play his violin down the local pub. The other Pádraic (Colin Farrell) is a pal who, as a result of behaviour we never see, Colm decides he can no longer continue his friendship with; the resultant dispute, bloody and unfortunate, makes up the body of the film.

The Banshees of Inisheran recalls Herman Melville’s seminal text Bartelby the Scrivener, in which a young man refuses to work for reasons he refuses to state. So it’s never clear exactly what triggered Colm to change his mind and behaviour when it comes to Pádraic; Colm simply claims his friend is dull, and reserves the right to rescind his friendship. But Pádraic won’t take no for an answer, and escalates the feud; it’s equally unclear exactly why Colm escalates things so dramatically by promising to chop off one of his own fingers for each time that Pádraic approaches him, but that’s where McDonagh’s narrative goes, and the consequences are both unexpected and tragic.

As in his splendid play A Behanding in Spokane, or in the popular film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh fashions a central conflict in which a character has a bone that they simply won’t let go of; whatever Colm and Pádraic’s friendship was, and vestiges of it remain in moments of unexpected tenderness between the two, Colm is determined to end it with immediate effect. Gleeson and Farrell clearly relish the strength of the material, which seeks to reveal that when it comes to argument, mountains and molehills have the same basic structure. And Kelly Condon has a striking role as Pádraic’s sister, who sees clearly that the traditional battle-lines drawn between Irish men in a remote community leave no place for her practicality or common sense.

Nothing lasts forever, and McDonagh’s canny writing captures the fragility of life amongst remote greenery; a community that thrives on gossip and news, from the enquiring post-mistress to the over-avuncular police presence. There may be no Banshees in Inisherin anymore, but the men who survive them don’t care for war or politics; they’ve got enough on-going conflict inside their heads to fuel them to the grave, early or not. While shirking all the trappings of virtue-signalling, issue-based drama, The Banshees of Inisherin is a straight-up masterpiece, and one that offers a striking moral for the fake news era and beyond; ‘some things can’t be moved on from’ says Colm, and on reflection, he’s right to say it.

The Banshees of Inisherin hits cinema screening in the UK and US from Oct 21 2022.

Thanks to Disney UK for advance big screen access to this film.

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  1. I was more in the nope category. I thought it was increidbly uneven – a sheepdog straight out of Disney who can whisk shears away from their demented owner; a pony that chokes to death on a finger; the said digits clearly bouncing off a door but somehow having enough life left in them to make their way round the cottage; the double act in the pub; Farrell’s all-singing all-dancing eyebrows; the village idiot too idiotic by far; the fairy tale pub where nobody ever had to pay. I got all the male repression and clearly Gleeson is on the verge of a nervous breakdown, even confessing despair to the priest, and the hints of endless vendetta. I liked the depiction of remote rural life and the sadness of arid emotional existence. And if you’re going to go all Ingmar Bergman on us you don’t have to explain every action. But it was way too long and I wished McDonagh had handed his screenplay to someone else who could stop the movie sliding all over the place.

    • Tough crowd. I didn’t think realism was important to what was essentially a fable. It’s certainly not going to be for everyone, but I love the dialogue and the writing and was blind to the faults you describe. Maybe the idea of making a stand on not stoically listening to rubbish resonated with me…

      • I got the fable element and it could have emanated from the dark minds of the Brothers Grimm not as translated by Disney and while the dialogue was good in parts I felt that a good chunk of it was just someone repeating what someone else had said maybe in case we were too dumb to get the point. Didn’t feel it had the verve of Amsterdam.

        • Different kind of movies to be sure. I always feared that McDonogh would got the way of Guy Ritchie via Father Ted. But the period setting made this timeless for me, the avoidance of any specific political context was also a novelty, and that sliding, set-in-motion inevitability of it provides some real atmosphere. He chooses his words carefully, and like Gleeson’s character, seems frustrated at those who use them carefully.

          We fully agree on Amsterdam.

          • It seemed to me like an awkward allegory for the current Troubles. We heard explosions across the border and even when Gleeson effectivley apologised Farrell would not accept it, determined to continue the feud. This was Man of Aran atmosphere, sure miles away from The Quiet Man but not so different from any rural film made with a discerning eye. It’s the Quiet Man in a way, the man of non-violence goaded into action.

  2. Like Brendan I too am feeling the need to dedigitise.
    And since it apparently only hurts a little bit for a short while, why not give it a go? Nothing a good old dog lick wouldn’t fix!

    • I’m not sure I’d go down the full route. Wouldn’t it be enough to threaten to cut off fingers rather than flinging them at a front door. McDonough does have a track record of this stuff; the suitcase of severed hands in Behanding in Spokane. I need my digits for typing. So will have to find some other bargaining clip…

      • I watched it last night after lots of top reviews (which can be a bad sign), but really struggled… the comedy in the opening segments I think he was aiming for wasn’t hitting for me… too cliched, like a bad episode of Father Ted.
        Colin Farrell I just couldn’t believe as a bumpkin, although he’s better later on.
        Once the fingers started flying the film lost me completely. I mean Gleeson is obviously a great actor but when a character does this and then carries on just walking around with the same face on… even if the idea is that he’s in such internal pain that nothing shows. No-one ever heard of sepsis?!
        Those are not characters, they’re walking metaphors, the sort of thing that might work in theatre but falls flat in cinema.
        And yet more of the directors ‘orrible priest fetish too.
        Nice idea for a story but this is not a cinematic director.

        • It’ll be a hugely devisive film, that’s for sure. For full disclosure, I’ve seen most of McDonagh’s plays, and I’m a big fan. I get the walking metaphor thing, and I’m sure many will be frustrated that we never really see what the beef between the men is, which is kind of the opposite of what we think cinema is. However, I will take issue with you on one point; there are no bad episodes of Father Ted. Fact!

          • I like that we don’t see what the reason is, I don’t think there is one necessarily, he just has decided no more friendship.
            I think what I mean to say is it’s in the camera movement and editing and so on. I think that’s where he could improve but hey what do I know. I’ve been watching lots of Kurosawa recently so maybe my standards have been artificially raised.
            But some of those scenes do drag a bit and I wanted to scream ‘Just play the f****g note!’

            • Kurosawa sets a high bar to be sure.

              The Father Ted comparison has stuck with me; I’ll wager some wag will recur a screener of Banshees to look like an episode of that classic sitcom. McDonagh makes a virtue of dragging things out, so a bitter feud like this is neat and drink to him. I spend my life shouting ‘get on with it’ during films, but I feel on this, the dragged out nature of the conflict it burnt into the presentation. I do think this will be unlikely to pick up awards, because that approach will put many viewers off. I saw it at 9.30 on a Monday morning, which probably helped, I wasn’t looking for anything else but to surrender to a shaggy dog story. And it was a shame about the dog, another scene that will enrage casual viewers.

  3. I raise a finger to the movie’s director…guess which one? The only key he knows how to play is despair, despite his admitted (as u say) ‘gift for dialogue.’ A terrible black parody of so many Irish things… Colm (Nero) wants to fiddle while Ireland (Rome) blazes, and like Garbo wants to be ‘let alone.’ Padraic wants the opposite, inviting his mini donkey into his home as a pet. I wanted to hear the guy from The Commitments sing ‘try a little tenderness’ but only heard a harpie, not a keening banshee. Sure, u can unfriend someone for being dull, and confess you aren’t gay, and threaten to mutilate your body, or jump off a cliff… However, not being able to move on, change your position in the lumpy carriage so you can be bruised in a new place, is a sentiment that makes me give a banshee scream AND a wolf howl. Colm deserved a swift kick. He’s the real ass.

    • A potentially divisive text…but I’m sticking with Colm’s sentiment. In the era of Facebook friends that you can’t shake, and a news cycle that constantly tells us to ‘move on’ to the next story and forget what you just saw, that has to be a time for digging heels in and saying ‘enough is enough’ and making this the hill of beans that you die on. Colm behaves abominably, sure, and I wouldn’t do what he does; it’s beyond extreme. But not every character is a role model, and Colm is exercising a freedom that we all should have; to be his own person, and not to let society tell him what he can and can’t do. That’s got a specific resonance in Ireland, but also should strike a chord round the world. Colm isn’t alone, he’s still down the pub with his friends, he just saw his bond with Padraic and decided he wants to undo it. Friendships should be prized, they’re rarely thhings that last, and we should cultivate the good ones and step away from the bad ones. Removing appendages is not something I’d recommend, but at least fictional characters can take it…

    • Same sh*t, different day.

      No, they’re different characters. 1923 takes place before now. Fact!

        • Yes, it’s set in the same metaverse. Bredndan Gleeson plays the same character he did in Paddington 2, and Colin Farrell reprises his role from Miami Vice. Barry Keoghan’s role links this to The Eternals, which is a direct sequel to this.

          Did you take your oven-gloves back to the shop?

          • Nope. I knew what they were when I picked them up. They were also the only gloves I could get, were cheap, and I figured they’d work well enough. I’ll get a better pair if needed.

            Barry K. would kill this one for me. Might have to pass. Unless he’s wearing his silly Eternals get-up.

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