Having recently started vet school, a student named Rose (Ann Skelly) decides to try and find out the truth about her biological parents. Meeting Ellen (Orla Brady) leads her to Peter (Aidan Gillen), and the truth and horror of the past collide head-on with the present for all three.
There is a sense of mystery and a puzzling quality to ‘Rose Plays Julie’ that one becomes immediately and totally enchanted. The film opens with a school where students hang around nonchalantly. The idea that something darker is happening is indicated by the topic of their first lecture: the euthanasia of healthy animals. What follows appears to be flashbacks to a policewoman shooting a young girl, but she turns into a vampire, and it turns out to be some kind of movie.
We are perplexed but fascinated when Rose goes to meet the policewoman, who is in fact an actress, going so far as to pretend to be someone interested in buying her house. This isn’t the first time Rose has played a role in ‘Rose Plays Julie’, and it seems her adaptation of different roles is linked to her fragmented sense of identity. She feels that she lacks fullness because she does not know her birth parents and, at one point, reflects sadly on the day she found out she had been adopted. What follows is a frank and difficult conversation with Ellen. Then, when Peter steps in, the feeling of suspense is both frightening and overwhelming.
Ann Skelly, who previously ran the beautifully photographed but bizarre Irish indie ‘Kissing Candice’, is simply stunning here. Orla Brady is also excellent and Aidan Gillen continues to be a master at playing cruel and manipulative men. There are some great Irish themes that are touched on here, and yet that has a lot to say about gender inequality and #MeToo as well.
Stephen McKeon’s soundtrack is excellent and Tom Comerford’s cinematography is fantastic, with the music and visual language of “Rose Plays Julie” proving vital elements of the story. One is struck by the deep emotion of the film as its story of trauma and sexual violence unfolds. While the ambiance is totally immersive, it is also spellbinding. This is a standout feature from the team of writer-directors Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, and should be watched – and subsequently discussed – by everyone.