'Older Than Ireland': Film Review

Courtesy of Alex Fegan
An amiable if not quite revelatory encounter with living history.

Dozens of centenarians reflect on the Irish history they've seen.

Opening with the image of 103-year-old Bessie lighting up a cigarette, Alex Fegan's Older Than Ireland tacitly promises to challenge our assumptions about how a nation's oldsters lived past the century mark and what they've learned in their time on Earth. Though never managing to surprise us much, this brisk encounter with the living past has moments of charm and the occasional fresh perspective. Commercial prospects are modest, but in its tour of one-off theatrical bookings, the doc should fare well.

"How does it feel to be 100?," these folks are constantly being asked, and most seem to agree that — with the exception of doing things more slowly than they once did — it doesn't feel much different. Fegan enjoys capturing the little gestures that have been repeated thousands of times in the course of these lives — the handkerchief pulled out of a long sleeve, the grooming rituals — and he admires the ways in which some of his subjects ignore doctors' orders: "I never ate a vegetable," says Kitty.

His bigger focus, though, seems to be a mosaic-style look at Ireland from the teens or twenties to the present day. We get stray comments about the "brutes" who ran schools back when these men and women grew up, hear anecdotes about war, and visit with Jimmy, who witnessed 1920's Bloody Sunday firsthand.

We also hear of social mores — of first kisses and of sneaking "a snoggle in the ditch" — and of the historical developments that mattered: The washing machine, we are informed, was the best thing ever. But the movie's cut-cut-cut technique keeps us from getting to know any individual onscreen very well. The closest we get is toward the end, as talk inevitably turns to the loss of spouses and contemplation of one's own demise. Though some have been waiting patiently on the Grim Reaper for several years now, others seem to have decided he has forgotten all about them.

Venue: Cinema Village
Production company: Snackbox Films
Director-screenwriter-editor: Alex Fegan
Producer: Garry Walsh
Executive producer: Keith Potter
Director of photography: Colm Nicell
Composer: Denis Clohessy

Not rated, 80 minutes