Riders to the Sea (1935)

  |  Short

In this story of Western Ireland, the most famous work of Irelands greatest dramatist JOHN MILLINGTON SYNGE is brought to the screen by Ulsters greatest film director BRIAN DESMOND HURST. ... See full synopsis »

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10 May 2016 | rmax304823
| A Guide To Keening.
A strange movie. It was directed by Brian Desmond Hurst, an Irishman, and the film itself is very Irish both in its setting and its story.

The first thing that's liable to impress a viewer in the way it captures the location, the west coast of Ireland facing the Atlantic Ocean. It's shot in stark black and white, and at these high latitudes the summer sun is bright and scintillates on the waves, but the sun is also low in the sky and even at mid-day casts long dark shadows across the mossy ground. The knolls are covered with grass and dotted with sturdy stone cottages and the wrecked heaps of old temples. The hills run from the white beach up into the cliffs and it looks beautiful and fearsome but, by God, it would be a gripping place to live.

The next thing a viewer might notice is the fact that the movie is so stylized. The staging is almost painterly. The compositions sometimes put three figures together to form an upright triangle, and one thinks of Sergei Eisenstein. The speech is mostly slow and poetic. It's delivered as if the actors were on a stage but the dialog itself is convincing.

The mother is Sara Allgood who has two daughters and two sons. A storm brews and, along with a dozen other men, the sons must retrieve their fishnets from the ocean, so dinghies are rowed out through the crashing surf. One son doesn't return. A body washes up on the beach at Donnegal in "the far north" where the men gather round him, a stranger, and make the sign of the cross and the local priest promises a good Christian burial and send a scout off on horseback to find the dead man's family.

I don't think I'll describe the rest. It's a short sad story and there isn't much to it. There is no drinking or dancing, as there would be in a John Ford film, although there is the loud lugubrious wailing that the locals call keening. It's almost an ethnography, a tribal study done by an anthropologist. It reminds of nothing so much as Flaherty's "Man of Aran."

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