The Banshees of Inisherin (2022)


Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB

//USA, 2022. , , . Screenplay by Martin McDonagh. Cinematography by . Produced by , , Martin McDonagh. Music by . Production Design by , , . Costume Design by . Film Editing by .

A country’s newly established independence from English rule has left its citizens fighting each other on the mainland, while on the island of Inisherin (aka Inisheer or Inis Oírr, one of the Aran Islands off Ireland’s west coast), a battle that mirrors the national strife sparks up between two men in a sleepy rural village.

Opposing dualities are everywhere to be found in Martin McDonagh’s reunion of his In Bruges stars, between the satisfied charm of ‘s Pádraic and ‘s Colm, between the calm beauty of the landscapes being drunk in by cinematographer Ben Davis and the bombs exploding in the distance, between men who cannot find peace within their violent souls and women who are not afraid of change and, typical for McDonagh’s generally unforgettable work, between joyful, deeply satisfying humour and relentlessly cruel savagery.

The trip down the rabbit hole begins when sweet and unassuming Pádraic goes round to collect Colm for their usual night at the pub, but to his surprise is rebuffed and told that they are no longer to be friends. Colm tells him he needs peace and quiet and none of Pádraic’s inane chatter, he is in pursuit of something grander to do with his remaining years on this earth. Pádraic cannot handle the rejection and doesn’t know why things needs to change between them, but Colm is determined to stick to his plan despite the fact that it makes him so unkind to someone who doesn’t deserve it: what’s the point of being nice, he says, when no one is remembered for being nice, they’re remembered for leaving behind great works of art.

The art the Colm is particularly interested in making is music, he is something of a composer but one suspects that he is looking to blame his inability to be more prolific in his compositions on someone else. This might be why he responds to Pádraic’s begging to be friends again with a very dark bargain that, conveniently, also keeps him from having to actually pursue the thing that has lit his soul on fire: if Pádraic speaks to him again, Colm says, he’ll cut one of his own fingers off for every violation of that silence, and if you’ve ever seen a McDonagh movie or play, you’ll know that these are not just empty threats, and that it’s very likely that the verdant emerald fields upon which these charming characters tread will soon be spattered with blood.

McDonagh embraces all the elements of his script wholeheartedly and grabs at the excitement of his theatrical language as much as he does the cinematic verve of his images, bringing rich performances out of a cast of actors who avoid the threats that their characters present them of being overly familiar stereotypes. The Magical Simpleton, whose plot brings us the duality of abusers and the abused, and is played very effectively by , is a stock figure of many a classic play, while the delightful presence of old crone Mrs. McCormick () isn’t any less twee symbolism just because she looks like a Disney witch and speaks foreboding predictions of death.

‘s role as Pádraic’s sister Siobhán makes a successful impression despite not being integral to the plot, she’s more thematic than she is substantial, but the actress’s outstanding work makes sure she remains on your mind forever.

Gleeson is one of the most impressive actors of complicated stoicism that ever appeared on camera, his silences speak volumes and he radiates emotional depths behind a dead-eyed stare, while Farrell steals hearts with one of his best performances yet, reacting with such heartbreaking vulnerability to the emotional assaults being made on him, and subtly losing his tenderness with each blow until he too agrees with the rest of the cynical world’s notion that life can only be lived properly by those who expect nothing good from it (and it’s the adorable miniature donkey who will suffer most for this).

Folkloric archetypes going up against the modernizing world is the last duality worth mentioning, as citizens move away from rural life in pursuit of progress while those left behind cannot endure this paradise without resorting to self-destructive violence; a film whose humour is dotted throughout with such remarkable brutality should leave one feeling bruised by the time it’s over, or at least inspire sneering at something that would clearly make more sense on stage, but the film’s pleasures are too great to resist and none of its risky ventures are forgiven with any difficulty.

Toronto International Film Festival: 2022

Venice Film Festival Awards: Best Actor (Colin Farrell); Best Screenplay

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