Director: Gerard Barrett
Cast: Joe Mullins, Muiris Crowley, Keith Byrne
Running time: 85min
Release: April 12
Most filmic depictions of Ireland fall under one of three categories:
1: Oireland; with Ceilís, Avoca designed furnishings and actors of other nationalities mangling our delightful brogues – P.S. I Love You, Leap Year
2. Comedy caper crime flicks, because we’re all such delightful chancers – Perrier’s Bounty, Man About Dog
3. Gritty depictions of what a lonely, isolating shithole this fair isle can be, both in geography and populace – Garage, Poitín
Pilgrim Hill is very (VERY) firmly in the last category.
Jimmy(Mullins) lives on a hill with thirty or so cattle and his father, a stroke victim he has to take care of. In a nice touch to highlight Jimmy’s loneliness, we never see his father on camera. We just see Jimmy; feeding the cows, milking them and talking to the camera about how his forty plus years have led to this horribly lonely existence, with nobody to talk to and nobody to care about him. This last piece is another very nice touch from first time filmmaker Gerard Barrett, as a conventional voice over would have been maudlin and most likely awful, but Jimmy talking to an interviewer for some unnamed documentary works very well.
His monotonous dredge of an existence is occasionally broken up by Tommy (Crowley), the new Ireland to Jimmy’s old. Tommy’s on the dole, has been for some time and will soon be leaving for “Canada or Dubai…[The] only places there’s work theses days.” Tommy offers some much needed levity in a very grim hour and a half, but he also highlights a contrast between the generations; Jimmy feels obliged to stick around while Tommy’s leaving and having a good time until he does. The younger of us might be better equipped to deal with hardships nowadays, but we’re also a little more callous for it. By contrast, Jimmy has been completely abandoned and sticks it out, whether out of loyalty or some fear of the unknown is unclear.
Much like the dockworkers of The Wire, the abandonment of people like Jimmy should stand as an indictment of us as a nation. Here is a man who represents what used to be the backbone of our country, economically or otherwise. Now he’s a throwback; a punchline about acreage, CAP, or any number of things trotted out to deride an ever-dwindling part of Irish life.
Assuming allegories can be dangerous, but it’s difficult not to see Jimmy as a signifier. Here’s a man whose staunch loyalty to a cruel, ailing father sounds a lot like that of the Irish populace for the past 6-7 years. Cutting the sour old bastard loose would free us, but like Jimmy we sit there and soak it up, knowing with a crushing dread that it’ll never change, and wondering in our lower moments if there was ever a time when we might not have ended up like this.
Making a working national allegory is impressive. Doing so at 24 is embarrassing for the rest of us. Gerard Barrett’s debut is steady and beautifully—if austerely—shot, if a little slow, even at 85 minutes. He also gets a series of incredible performances from largely unknown actors, with Joe Mullins near flawless despite having to do almost everything solo.
“If I died, I think the worst thing would be to meet the person I could’ve been, instead of the person I am.” Jimmy never became the person he could have, that’s his tradgedy. He’s one of hundreds of thousands; that’s ours.
An aside: Roger Ebert was a fantastic human and film critic, even if he plain did not get games. He died this week following a resurgence of cancer he had previously bested at great cost. It’s a striking generalisation, but if you write about movies you probably love him, even when you hated him. Journalism is less for his loss. If you ever have a spare minute, go to rogerebert.com and read the works and thoughts of a master.