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GALWAY — Other people’s intentions to kill themselves put a noose around an estranged young man’s plans to commit suicide in Love Eternal, a blackly comic tragedy and macabre melodrama rolled into one.
For his second feature, Irish writer-director Brendan Muldowney (Savage) transposes Japanese author Kei Oishi‘s novel Loving the Dead to Europe and casts lanky, soft-spoken Dutch actor Robert de Hoog (an International Emmy nominee for the Jewish skinhead-drama Skin) as the withdrawn protagonist. Both the film’s theme and tone are somewhat unusual but Mulroney’s mostly got a firm rein on the complex material and is greatly aided by not only an intriguing lead turn but camera and music contributions that help establish the right, shifting moods throughout.
This English-language Galway Film Fleadh premiere, an Ireland-Luxembourg-Netherlands-Japan co-production, will appeal to international festivals looking for offbeat material and has an outside chance of theatrical bookings, especially in Europe and the Land of the Rising Sun.
Ian (de Hoog) is a ginger-haired loner who finds himself alone in the world at 26. As a child, he watched his father die and found a female classmate who’d hanged herself. He subsequently and indefinitely locks himself up in his room, describes himself as a “defective human being,” and starts frequenting suicide forums online. When his mother also gives up the ghost a decade later, he’s ready to follow up all that death in his life with his own.
However, when Ian drives into the woods, where he plans to kill himself by inhaling the fumes from his car’s exhaust pipe, something peculiar happens: A large van with an entire family on board pulls up behind him and they beat him to the finish line by killing themselves first. Muldowney stages this scene very carefully, from the composition of the shots to the sound cues, and he’s able to wring maximum effect from this pivotal sequence, which is not only darkly and almost uncomfortably comical but also tragic and somewhat disturbing.
Furthering the sense of self-imposed isolation, Ian is exclusively heard in voice-over for the film’s first half-hour, before he’s allowed to finally speak as he finds himself opposite the girl he rescued from the van and took home — though she’s dead by the time he arrives there. Significantly, “I need you” are his first words in 10 years.
It’s a very fine line between necrophelia and the sense of warmth and desire that Ian seems to want from his dead female companion, and the writer-director finds just the right tone for the potentially uncomfortable material, which chooses a perspective close to the needy but world-weary Ian, who’s not used to interact with anyone and who has become more comfortable with the dead than the living.
Instead of thinking about his own death, Ian actively starts to hook up with others who are contemplating suicide, which, ironically, teaches him how to interact with other living beings. Though there are a couple of false starts in his attempts to forge a friendship — somewhat absurdly and amusingly leading to an expanding area of his garden being taken up by burial mounds containing the suicidal people he tries to befriend — he finally finds his match in the statuesque Naomi (Pollyana McIntosh), whom he overhears talking about her death wish and he then carefully woos. She’s even already dressed for her own funeral, as costume designer Isabelle Dickes has given her a dark Goth chick look that matches her straight, raven-black hair.
The crystalline camera-work of Irish cinematographer Tom Comerford (who has worked on Muldowney’s previous projects, including several shorts) and the ethereal and occasionally atonal score of Dutch composer Bart Westerlaken both help suggest the myriad thoughts and doubts that the not very loquacious characters have, while Westerlaken’s music is one point even daringly equated to life itself, as the polymorphous rhythm suddenly gets down to basics and then falls away entirely when a character stops breathing.
Though the obsession with suicide and ritualized death remains extremely Japanese, Muldowney has clearly set the story in Europe, though the film’s frustratingly vague about the exact location, with police cars and license plates, accents and locations all a bit of a contradictory jumble. Thankfully, the complex emotions of the characters always feel recognizable and true.
Venue: Galway Film Fleadh
Production companies: Fastnet Films, Red Lion, Rinkel Films, T.O. Entertainment
Cast: Robert de Hoog, Pollyanna McIntosh, Amanda Ryan, Emma Eliza Regan, Aiden Condron, Declan Conlon, Daniel Reardon, Tom Leick, Frédéric Frenay, Patrick Hastert
Director-screenwriter: Brendan Muldowney, screenplay based on the novel Loving the Dead by Kei Oishi
Producer: Conor Barry
Executive producer: Macdara Kelleher
Co-producers: Pol Cruchten, Jeanne Geiben, Ray Lamiya, Lindsay Newman, Reinier Selen
Director of photography: Tom Comerford
Production designer: Owen Power
Music: Bart Westerlaken
Costume designer: Isabelle Dickes
Editor: Mairead McIvor
Sales: Reel Suspects
No rating, 97 minutes
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