Irish-language drama Arracht, a powerful and low-key film

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ARRACHT (15, 89mins) Drama, thriller. With: Dónall Héalaí, Saise Ní Chuinn, Dara Devaney, Conal Céidigh, Seán T Meallaigh, Siobhán O’Kelly, Elaine O’Dwyer, Michael McElhatton, Peter Coonan
Director: Tomás Ó Súilleabháin

A few years ago, Lance Daly’s excellent Black 47 grappled with the brutality and suffering of the Great Famine in the form of a gripping film as Gaeilge Western unfolded in its apocalyptic aftermath: Now The Drama Irishman by Tomás Ó Súilleabháin Arracht is a smaller, large-scale but no less compelling story from the world of a man torn apart by Britain’s calamitous colonial cruelty.

The “monster” of the title could refer to characters like the mysterious former British navy sailor Patsy Kelly (Dara Devaney), an Irishman who returns home with a searing hatred of his former payers – English people much like Lieutenant -Owner Michael McElhatton, a “let the guy eat cake who insists on raising rents even as his rural tenants are on the brink of starvation, all the while casually talking about” perfectly acceptable “levels of mortality.

This “monster” could also be the ruthless scourge itself, its arrival heralded by the stench of rotten tubers, its decimating and starvation-inducing effects synchronized with the putrid smell of human decay.

He might even refer to the tortured and traumatized mental demons swirling in the hollow cheeked head of Connemara fisherman, peddler and amateur herbalist Colmán Sharkey (Dónall Ó Héalaí) as he negotiates his horrific fallout.

Colmán is a proud but placid father of a family, close to holiness when we first met him in 1845, constantly raving about his wife and his young son wearing a mop. At this point, the potato blight is just starting to spread across Ireland, but remains mostly the subject of disturbing rumors, much like the early days of Covid.

However, the fisherman anticipates the potentially devastating effect of the plague on his community and decides to reason with his owner in the local “big house”: it is certain that a man educated at such a high level will make sense, especially when is it served with a few free bottles of his favorite Irish moonlight?

Sadly, the unexpected arrival of Patsy Kelly, a smoldering and sinister stranger, the nephew of the local priest Colmán is invited to welcome into his happy home, is a disaster for everyone he meets. Everything changes for Colmán during a fateful evening, a slow-building horror spectacle of increasing tension and dread skillfully staged by Ó Súilleabháin, his film articulated around his before and after.

A quick two-year time jump finds Colmán living in haunted, emaciated isolation. Presumed dead, his life is in ruins, his name immortalized in rebellious songs. But is the legend that grew up around him correct?

Only two people know for sure: an orphan wreck called Kitty (Saise Ní Chuinn), who offers Colmán a lifeline for humanity after reluctantly taking her under his skeletal wing – actor Dónall Ó Héalaí is become “full Bale” for this role, very visibly losing four stones – and someone else with their own twisted interest in exposing the truth.

Extremely atmospheric and filled with excellent performances – especially from lead man Ó Héalái, whose quiet intensity is perfect to portray the anguished Colmán – Arracht is a powerful and understated film that you will still think about long after the end credits roll. .

Rating: 3/5

:: Arracht will be screened at QFT Belfast, Odeon Belfast and selected Omniplex cinemas from today


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