The Plot: John (Donall O’Healai) is a young farmer whose mother has just died. Now left with his family’s property, he’s come into some money. He’s offered even more by a windfarm development which is buying up the local land, but unsure of what that means for the future John is holding out. After being assaulted because of this, he finds himself in hospital where he strikes up an attraction with nurse Siobhan (Fionnuala Flaherty). For the first time in his life, John will need to look out for himself…
The Verdict: There’s definitely something in the rural Irish water, as it’s springing forth a whole raft of Irish-language feature films. Previously few and far between, we’ve had Arracht and Doineann recently, with the acclaimed An Cailin Ciuin due later this year. Now it’s the turn of Foscadh or Shelter, the second feature from Sean Breathnach. It’s a muted but singular affair set in rural Ireland, showing a character arc progression that rings true. Adapted by Breathnach from Donal Ryan’s novel The Thing About December, it focuses on a young farmer who comes out of the shadows of his late parents to find his own way in life. He also has to come out of the sheltered life he’s had so far, making a new friend in hospital and discovering the world of women with him. John is not a worldly man, but now that he’s truly alone it’s time for him to embrace the world and let it embrace him in turn, whether for good or bad.
John is written on the page as something of a quietly-spoken mystery and for the most part, lead actor Donall O’Healai plays it as such. In a sense, other characters he encounters over the course of the film project their thoughts about him onto his relatively blank slate. One character says that John must stop living like a ghost, while Siobhan – the nurse he gently falls for – says there’s something about him and indeed there is. He very much lives in his head, absorbing the newly-discovered world beyond his farm but not quite expressing how he feels about it. The audience is on his side as he faces pressure from all sides including the windfarm development who want to buy him and his land out. It’s not so much that John is standing in the way of development, but development is standing in his way as he navigates through this new crossroad in his life. Shelter may not necessarily lie in his family home anymore, his anchor up to this point.
This is where the film is at its strongest, watching John slowly emerge into the world and learn how to deal with it on his own terms. O’Healai works well to capture that innocence and yet acceptance that change is needed after 28 years of having a solid support structure. He must find a new anchor, wherever that leads or whomever that is with. Breathnach seems less sure though of how to develop the supporting characters and how their stories reflect on John’s own story. In particular the potentially life-changing character of Siobhan, John’s first lover, is under-developed to the point that her story dissipates. There’s enough narrative and good work by the actors to take the story in an interesting direction, but once he gets there Breathnach doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Still, there’s enough of the good stuff to hold one’s attention, including an authentic depiction of rural Irish life in Connemara and the lonely lives of bachelor farmers who must look to the future rather than the past or the present. Foscadh is a mostly worthy contribution to this intriguing trend of films in the national language.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
Foscadh (Ireland / 16 / 93 mins)
In short: worthy
Directed by Sean Breathnach.
Starring Donall O'Healai, Fionnuala Flaherty, Cillian O'Gairbhi, Macdara O Fatharta.