Following the death of his mother, John Cunliffe (Dónall Ó Héalai) finds himself alone after living a sheltered existence for much of his life. However, when he is brutally assaulted and ends up in the hospital, he begins to forge a bond with another patient (Cillian O’Gairbhi) and a nurse (Fionnaula Flaherty), though his complete lack of social skills hinders him. prevents you from recognizing the dangers. before…
Although recent years have seen the production of Irish filmmakers shift to genres like horror, comedy and crime, one thing that is generally assured year after year is a rigorous and robust examination of isolation in communities rural. Gerard Barrett’s ‘Smalltown’ TV drama covered that, and now Sean Breathnach returns with ‘Foscadh’, setting the story sparse in the Connemara wilderness with a script spoken in Irish throughout.
“Foscadh” follows John Cunliffe, played with brooding intensity by Dónall Ó Héalai, as he tries to find his way for the first time in his nearly thirty years after the death of his elderly mother. He has absolutely no idea what to do, and when he is violently attacked without provocation by someone in the city, he ends up in the hospital and forced into solitary confinement. During a large part of the film, the character of Ó Héalai speaks very little but he is a constant presence. It’s a credit to his performance that he’s able to do so much with so little on the page, but very often ‘Foscadh’ proves a little frustrating.
Much of the story unfolds at a chilling pace, and the character of Ó Héalai never seems to shake himself into action, instead tucking his chin in and looking away from anyone who tries to address him. There’s a long sequence towards the end where the full extent of his inabilities are laid bare, and you realize just how immune he is – from where the film takes its title -. Sean Breathnach’s script is more than happy to let the awkwardness sit, and the spaces between people speaking can stretch out for what feels like minutes. However, this silence is reflected in the decor.
Connemara is just as much of a character as anyone else, and the way cinematographer Colm Hogan captures him in his lens makes him look as gorgeous and resplendent as you’d expect. The stillness of it and the rolling mists are a stark contrast to the lackluster interiors, not to mention how the sound design makes them more powerful. When Dónall Ó Héalai’s character stands on his fields, there is a natural silence that feels completely natural, but inside his house, when Cillian O’Gairbhi’s mouth is sprawled on the sofa, it is is gritty and obnoxious – just like his character. Likewise, even when a relationship is in its infancy with Fionnula Flaherty, you feel like she is doomed from the start due to her incompetence and inexperience.
Cleverly, Breathnach’s script doesn’t play it for laughs and isn’t shown with any innocence. It’s almost as if the character of Ó Héalai had simply allowed others to speak for him for so long that he barely knew how to form a sentence, let alone make decisions about his future. Anyone who has lived in the Irish countryside probably knows someone like that; a kind of quiet eccentric who lives on a precious piece of land but lives simply and in solitude. ‘Foscadh’ dares to cross the threshold and examine the silent desperation of it all.