It is said that a friendship finds its greatest quality in understanding and being understood. But if someone suddenly wants to break that friendship with you, what to do? Resign yourself and turn the page? Try to convince or persuade? This subject, among many others, deals with ‘The Banshees of Inisherin’, the new film by Martin McDonagh. After passing through the Venice and Toronto festivals last year, where it won the occasional award, the film is running as one of the big names in the race for this year’s Oscars.
The Anglo-Irish director began to be known at the end of the 90s for his violent and grotesque plays until, in 2004, he made the leap to cinema. He debuted with the short ‘Six Shooter’, which won him the Oscar for best short film. Since then, he would direct only three films, ‘Hiding in Bruges’, ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and ‘Three Billboards on the Outskirts’, the latter being the one that earned him true recognition from the public and critics worldwide. However, thanks to these three works he has achieved carve out his own style, where he addresses tremendously serious and profound issues through black comedy drama and human baseness. In addition, it has allowed him to have a series of fetish actors who appear recurrently in his work, such as Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell or the two protagonists of ‘Inisherin’s Banshee’.
For his new film, McDonagh has recovered the two main faces of his debut film, Colin Farrell and Brendan Gleeson, who play Pádraic and Colm, two lifelong friends who one morning find their relationship plunged into catastrophe. Colm no longer wants to be Pádraic’s friend, and that means an apocalypse for the latter because he doesn’t understand his life without changes and, above all, he doesn’t understand his life without his friend. Starting from this simple and unequivocal premise, the film takes some surprising directions when Pádraic tries to win back his friendship and, when he fails, Colm issues him an ultimatum. This will bring consequences not only to the couple of ex-friends, but to the entire island and, especially, to Pádric’s sister, Siobhán (Kerry Condon), and the young man with problems from the town, Dóminic (Barry Keoghan).
If we put the new McDonagh on a scale, drama and comedy would remain in the most absolute balance. ‘Inisherin’s Banshee’ is a dramedy in all its splendor, in the strictest sense of the word. Supported by some immense Farrell and Gleeson (which if they are not nominated for an Oscar would be a new outrage for the Academy), the film runs as free as it grips, as hilarious as it is metaphysical, as depressing as it is hopeful. It is, as was the case with his previous works (especially with ‘Three billboards on the outskirts’), a kind of contemporary and contradictory film noir that encompasses both black comedy and the most classic and traditional melodrama.
It’s not just a clash of shades, it’s Pádraic and Colm enter into a small war of understandings, of philosophies, which ends up being disastrous for both of them.. Colm, an old violinist, is more concerned with composing and transcending musically than with throwing his time overboard wasting it on banal conversation that is nothing more than empty chatter. However, that empty chatter is all Pádraic has got, a lonely and limited farmer who sees his world turn upside down when his longtime colleague tells him something painfully simple: “I do not want to be your friend anymore”. It is in this fierce contrast that the film finds its raison d’etre, its vital possession.
And it is that, in a totally globalized and interconnected world, ‘Almas en torment de Inisherin’ comes to defend physical closeness, face to face, introspection, analysis of loneliness. The tiny and simple life of two Irish friends who live on a remote island lost by the hand of God is shaken by the artistic and musical sacrifice of one of them, which could be reminiscent of ‘Whiplash’ and ‘The City of Stars’ : La La Land’ by Damien Chazelle in terms of theme, but with a totally different approach. However, McDonagh advocates building a message that confronts him: the little things, the kind gestures, is what is truly worthwhile, and what transcends. As Bilbo Baggins would say: “There is nothing wrong with celebrating a simple life”.
The importance of time and place
Another point in favor of ‘Inisherin’s Banshees’ is its brutal nature. Although it is an invented place, it is mostly inspired by Inishmore, an island in Galway Bay, west of Northern Ireland. The breathtaking landscapes, together with a beautiful music by Carter Burwell, serve to give an extraordinary and majestic personality to the film’s setting. The picturesque and intimate little town may seem very welcoming, very exotic, but its remote geographical situation and its few commercial or employment possibilities further increase the desperate feeling of existential emptiness that devastates the souls of all the inhabitants.. From the most educated, such as Colm and Siobhán, to the most unfortunate, such as Pádraic or Dóminic, all personalities end up feeling bored, drowning in a society without a future, peacefully boring. Although, on the next island, a stone’s throw away, the full height of the Irish Civil War in 1923 (just after the Irish War of Independence) could still be heard as a warlike backdrop, further underscoring this war Fratricidal both on a small and large scale, and drawing a certain nostalgia that could seem autobiographical if we consider the Irish nationality of the director’s parents.
However, ‘Inisherin’s Banshee’ is far from any kind of self-written biopic, now so fashionable among Hollywood directors that it has even caught up with Steven Spielberg with his next ‘The Fabelmans’. But, although he does not tell about his life, McDonagh does manage to brilliantly capture a perfect setting, very precise and concise, reminiscent in intentions of ‘It was the hand of God’ by Paolo Sorrentino or, precisely, ‘Belfast’, by Kenneth Branagh, closer to this for obvious reasons. Regarding the theme, has many rural-comic reminiscences of John Ford’s ‘The Quiet Man’, in regards to men incapable of understanding each other in any other way than by getting drunk or hitting each other although it also treats social harshness in a similar way to ‘This is England’: a gang of brutish men, crooks, simpletons, but at the same time honest, sincere, without an iota of evil.
In summary, Martin McDonagh repeats his tragicomic formula that worked so well for him in ‘Three billboards on the outskirts’ but adding some chiaroscuro tones latent also in his other two films. A true marvel, reflective and laughable, which sends us a necessary message and, at the same time, distances itself from the conventions that would ensure a better place in the prize race. One of the best movies of the year.
The best: The impressive Farrell-Gleeson acting duel, the Irish setting and the contradictory psychological subtext.
Worst: Some reactions of a specific character can be too exaggerated and that weighs down the final reflection of the film.