EmptyVenue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic -- Much of “Peacefire,” the first feature of a young filmmaker from Northern Ireland named Macdara Vallely, will be familiar to those who have seen working-class kitchen-sink dramas from the U.K. focusing on troubled adolescents, like Ken Loach’s “Sweet Sixteen” or Lynne Ramsay’s “Ratcatcher.”
The difference this time around is that the enemy is not so much economic deprivation -- though that’s always a subtext -- but rather the ruthless gunmen of the IRA. Though derivative in some ways, and not quite up to the level of the above-named gems, nevertheless “Peacefire,” which was adapted from Vallely’s original play of the same title is a solid piece of work that announces the arrival of a promising new talent.
Theatrical distribution, even in the U.K., is likely to be a difficult proposition, though the film may enjoy greater returns in the ancillary market. Television in Britain and Europe is a much better possibility. Festival programrs looking for a believable and emotionally-charged story with a clear-cut plot that contains a welcome undercurrent of politics, seen from a fresh angle, should definitely check it out. One problem that will bedevil any venue or format, however, is the often impenetrable lower-class Irish dialect. Subtitles, while always problematic with English-language films, should be considered.
Young Colin and his buddies are fond of joyriding in stolen cars. When finally nailed by the local constabulary, the youths are offered the chance to become informers against the IRA and all will be forgiven. Colin’s complicity in this betrayal is even more complicated because his father was killed in “the Troubles” a number of years back, when Colin was only a little boy, and his presence is sorely missed.
As with “Sweet Sixteen” and “Ratcatcher,” much of the power of “Peacefire” (a badly chosen title that sounds like an inappropriately jokey pun) comes from the vitally fresh presence of its young male lead, in this case John Travers. And, like “Ratcatcher,” much of its dramatic power comes from quiet, visually poetic moments. One stand-out trick process shot of blurred crowds of people speedily moving past a depressed, stationary Colin, seems clearly borrowed from Wong Kar-wai’s “Chungking Express,” but is no less resonant for all that.
The film is hardly flawless. For one thing, Vallely has got to keep his actors from sadly shaking their heads at the end of every scene. But even cliched moments, as when Colin longingly smells his dead father’s clothes, are reinvigorated when performed by a rambunctious male teenager. The script is solid, straight-ahead meat-and-potatoes stuff that clearly presents Colin’s options when the IRA comes after him, none of which are good.
Production Company: MayFLY Entertainment
Cast: John Travers, Gerry Doherty, Pauline Goldsmith, Gerard Jordan. Screenwriter/director/editor: Macdara Vallely. Producers: Chris Martin, Sarah Perry. Director of photography: Nuria Roldos. Production designer: Konrad Haller. Music: Brendan Dolan. Sales: MayFLY Entertainment.
No rating, 87 minutes.