'The Image You Missed': Film Review | Rotterdam 2018

A son finds his filmmaking way in the shadow and the name of the father.

Donal Foreman's autobiographical essay on the legacy of his radical father Arthur MacCaig was a warmly received premiere at the Dutch extravaganza.

The medium of cinema is used to tackle painfully unfinished family business in The Image You Missed, Irish multi-hyphenate Donal Foreman's deeply personal essay-film examining his estranged dad, the firebrand cineaste Arthur "Art" MacCaig. Premiering in a sidebar at Rotterdam, this elliptical compendium of archival and newly shot footage quickly became a "buzz" picture among the event's more ardently cinephile attendees.

The U.K.-U.S.-Ireland-France co-production has already nabbed several festival bookings in the months ahead, and the involvement of maverick auteur Philippe Grandrieux and esteemed critic/curator Nicole Brenez as executive producers will doubtless yield further high-profile engagements for this engaging and quietly rewarding affair.

Foreman's follow-up to well-reviewed fictional feature Out of Here (2013) appears under Grandrieux and Brenez's wordy banner "It May Be That Beauty Has Reinforced Our Resolve," the title of the French director's 2011 documentary on controversial Japanese maestro Masao Adachi.

MacCaig is these days much lesser known than his Asian comrade-in-arms, but the New Jersey-born, Paris-based leftist enjoyed considerable exposure a few decades ago in the wake of his proudly partisan agitprop reportage on Northern Ireland's "Troubles," The Patriot Game (1979). Festivals selecting The Image You Missed should certainly try to seek out a screenable copy of MacCaig's succes de scandale.

Working as his own editor, Foreman interpolates numerous excerpts from his father's globetrotting oeuvre (10 cinematographers are credited), all of which was uncompromisingly dedicated to chronicling and celebrating class struggles. These brief clips buzz with MacCaig's angry fervor and pay tribute to his skills at capturing the atmosphere of the places and times in front of his lenses: his still-photography is also, on this evidence, exceptional.

Foreman's own approach is much more measured, calm and (relatively) conventional, his output — up to this point, at least — evidently much less politicized. The apple, for once, seems to have fallen a long way from the tree, though this may well be a result of MacCaig and Foreman having had very little contact over the years (the two did meet up shortly before the latter's sudden death at age 60 in 2008).The Image You Missed, which actually begins with Foreman narrating a letter to MacCaig ("Dear Arthur..."), is clearly on one level intended as a kind of cine-therapy, a means by which the director can come to terms with what he evidently now, nearly a decade after MacCaig's demise, sees as a crucial absence in his life.

The specific circumstances of the MacCaig/Foreman family breakup are only glancingly addressed, perhaps out of consideration to Foreman's still-living mother Maeve Foreman (to whom the film is dedicated "with infinite gratitude"). Maeve Foreman, whose uncle Sean was also a filmmaker — and perhaps a more direct artistic influence on his great nephew than his dad — remains a relatively shadowy presence here.

The picture's third (and final) section begins in a way which suggests that Brennan is about to move front-and-center, but then Foreman gets diverted by the charismatic figure of longtime IRA bigwig Gerry Adams — typical of a work which oscillates, sometimes waywardly, between the tender private realm and the very public matter of Northern Irish politics over the last 50 years.

Indeed, The Image You Missed arguably functions most effectively as an impressionistic primer on tumultuous Ulster affairs during and after the Troubles, providing vivid glimpses of a violent epoch whose controversial repercussions continue to periodically reverberate across the British Isles and beyond.

Director-screenwriter-producer-editor: Donal Foreman
Executive producers: Nicole Brenez, Philippe Grandrieux
Cinematographers: Sean Brennan, Donal Foreman, Piers McGrail
Composers: Michael Buckley, Ohal Grietzer, Christopher Colm Morrin
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Deep Focus: Regained)
Sales: Donal Foreman (donalforeman@gmail.com)

In English
73 minutes