The Banshees, a spellbinding Irish tale

Martin McDonagh has constructed a breathtakingly pure film. The Banshees of Inisherin laughs at the absurd but also reaches fascinating depths. Served by two impeccable actors, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, this luminous and dark tale from the depths of the Aran Island speaks directly to the soul with fabulous power.

By Bernard Cassat

Colm (Brendan Gleeson) and Padraic (Colin Farrell) at the only pub on the island. Photo Walt Disney Company

Inisherin is an imaginary island that looks a lot like Inis Mor, the large island of the Aran archipelago, off the coast of Ireland. It is there, in a kind of closed space although it is open to all the violent winds of the Atlantic, that the falling out of love takes place between two men, Colm and Padraic, two pure Irish friends of always until to this month of April 1923 when the film begins. It must be said that life is not folichonne on Inisherin. The beauty of the place, the karstic cliffs, the stone walls which delimit the sunken paths, do not really soften the harshness of the low, dark and isolated houses, that of the climate and above all the rigidity of this society frozen in misery and power of the Catholic faith. And also under the influence of old stories mixing witchcraft and pagan beliefs like the banshees, these messengers from the other world belonging to Celtic mythology.

The meaning of life beyond the banality

Colm suddenly stops responding to Padraic, avoids him and even, at the pub, the only common place, tells him to go to another table. Padraic, a simple and nice guy, doesn’t understand, is deeply affected by it and totally questions himself. He needs an explanation, he wants to understand. Colm explains nothing. Or rather formulates his reproaches in his own way, in few words that Padraic does not hear. A relationship both absurd and essential settles between these two men, which will bring them to the end of their incomprehension. Padraic, with his kindness that will leave no historical trace, will never achieve the immortality of a work of art, which Colm seeks in traditional music.

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Impossible to avoid in this small space yet open to all winds. Photo Walt Disney Company

Colin Farrell (Padraic) and Brendan Gleeson (Colm) had previously been reunited by the same director Martin McDonagh in 2008 in a burlesque comedy, Kisses from Bruges. An incredible couple of truth, they wonderfully embody these two figures of the island community. Deeply Irish both, they didn’t have to force their accent or their deep temperament. Around them, beautiful characters like Padraic’s sister, Siobhan (Kerry Condon), who understands both her brother and Colm, and who especially understands that she has to get out of this sclerotic life. And Dominic (Barry Keoghan), the simpleton son of the only policeman on the island, a totally psychopathic torturer who rapes his son and beats up the inhabitants. And the old witch, the banshee who announces the dead, because there will be deaths, death of men and death of animals very present in this peasant life.

Held end to end

Martin McDonagh, screenwriter before becoming a director, has built a breathtaking story that carries a deep reflection on banality and the power of art to transcend it. The dialogues tell the story, but above all the images. Those of Colm’s house, for example, full of masks, useless and beautiful things that reflect his aspiration for something else. Those in the pub too, a magnificent room where the couple’s relationship becomes social. And then the images of the world behind the arm of the sea, the beauty of the place and the sounds of the Irish war. A film as tenuous as the society it describes, as tight as the relationship between these two men suddenly out of balance, a film which does not let go more than the absurd and magnificent positions of the protagonists. A work of scale as wide as the ocean that surrounds Inisherin, which propels the very small local into the firmament of the global, which through the absurd reaches the essential. Essential.

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More info otherwise on Magcentre: “Our brothers”, two young people murdered by the police in 1986

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The Banshees, a spellbinding Irish tale

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