By Steve Guntli
March is the time to celebrate all things Irish, and these three unheralded gems encapsulate the best of the Emerald Isle.
Felicia’s Journey (1994)
By William Trevor
William Trevor’s sad, quiet novel follows two lonely characters at a crossroads. Irish girl Felicia is 18, and recently made pregnant by a boy named Johnny, who she believes is in the British army.
Felicia’s father, furious that she would consort with a British soldier, kicks her out of the house, so she leaves Ireland to search for Johnny in Birmingham, England. It’s there she meets Mr. Hilditch, a quiet, middle-aged businessman who takes pity on her and offers to help her find Johnny. Little does she know Mr. Hilditch is a serial killer, with a history of preying on teenage girls.
The synopsis sounds like the recipe for a horror thriller, but part of the appeal of “Felicia’s Journey” is in the way it frequently subverts expectations. Trevor isn’t interested in exploitative set pieces or cheap thrills. Instead, the novel is a melancholy character study of two people the world has overlooked searching for a modicum of happiness.
Trevor asks us to sympathize with the deeply disturbed Mr. Hilditch as he struggles to find his better angels, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll be successful. Any eeriness stems from Trevor’s refusal to pass judgment on Hilditch, even as he reminisces about the grisly fates of the girls in his “Memory Lane.”
In Bruges (2008)
Directed by Martin McDonagh
The movie may be set in Belgium, but “In Bruges” is an Irish production through and through. Like most Irish films, it’s infused with themes of religion and regret, but with a crackling wit and energy burning beneath the surface.
Colin Farrell plays Ray, a rookie hit man for the Irish mob, who is spirited away to Bruges, Belgium, after a job goes tragically wrong. Brendan Gleeson is Ken, a veteran gangster, tasked with babysitting the distraught Ray during the pair’s time in Bruges.
While Ken is enchanted by the town’s picturesque landscapes and rich history, Ray would rather be anywhere else, a point he reiterates early and often, to increasingly hilarious effect. Meanwhile, the boys’ foul-mouthed mob boss Harry (an unhinged Ralph Fiennes) has decided Ray’s mistake has done too much damage, and wants Ken to eliminate him. Ken, who has grown quite attached to the younger man, must decide where his loyalties lie.
“In Bruges” benefits from wonderful performances and one of the best screenplays of the last 20 years. The film vacillates seamlessly between hilarious and heartbreaking, making you laugh out loud at a well-timed one-liner one minute and sucker punching you with a blast of shocking violence the next. It’s a very dark movie, and maybe not for everyone, but it’s impeccably acted, brilliantly written and layered enough to make it endlessly re-watchable.
The movie “Once” could have easily been my movie recommendation this month, because it’s an absolute gem of a film. But the soundtrack is what really sticks with you, and it stands beautiful on its own merits.
The film is a musical built around the budding relationship between a struggling Irish street musician (Glen Hansard of The Frames) and a beautiful Czech cleaning woman (Marketa Irglova), who bond over a shared love of music. Like the film itself, the soundtrack is beautiful, heartbreaking and bittersweet.
“Falling Slowly” is the album’s masterpiece, and it’s not hard to see why it won the Oscar for best original song. A delicate, lilting love song, “Falling Slowly” builds in power and emotion without feeling forced or melodramatic. As good as that song is, though, plenty of other brilliant tracks benefit from being on an album, as they may have been overshadowed or underplayed in the film: Hansard’s heartbreaking “Leave,” Irglova’s lovely, minimalist “If You Want Me” and the rousing, folksy Irish ballad “Gold” by Interference.
Each of these titles is available at the Blaine Public Library. To reserve a copy, visit the local branch or go to wcls.org.