‘Intermission’ balances comedy, despair
The Irish working class, as we know from numerous films, are a bunch of hard-drinking, swearing, violent louts on the outside, with the souls of sensitive philosopher/poets on the inside. “Intermission,” which teams two of Ireland’s top theater figures, director John Crowley and playwright Mark O’Rowe, does nothing at all to dispel that characterization. Set in a hardscrabble Dublin neighborhood – and on the screen, they all are – “Intermission” is a collagelike film that drifts from one sorry drama to the next. Inevitably, the action lands again and again at the local pub, where our bumblers, criminals and lovelorn knock back some Guinnesses and lick their wounds.
“Intermission” revolves around a set of interlocking bad romances. The dorky bank manager Sam has left his wife Noeleen to take up with the neighborhood hotty Deirdre. Deirdre has been unceremoniously and inexplicably dumped by her going-nowhere boyfriend John; this is the relationship “intermission” that sets off the film’s chain of events. Deirdre’s sister Sally has withdrawn from the world – and sprouted a too-noticeable mustache – after the horrific dumping she got from her last boyfriend. Oscar, John’s friend and co-worker, is in a frenzy over his sexual dysfunction.
Not all the misfits are sexual and romantic misfits. Lehiff, played by Colin Farrell, is a vicious street crook. Jerry (Colm Meaney) is an overzealous, maverick cop, who thinks his twin passions – for mystical Catholic music and for boxing – make him a well-rounded character worthy of a TV profile. Not even the young can escape the neighborhood force that pulls its residents into the pits of life: adolescent Phillip has made a hobby of running into the road and throwing rocks through the front windshields of oncoming cars and buses from close range.
Despite its violence, crime, blood and emotional pain, “Intermission” is not a dreary film. Director Crowley and writer O’Rowe suck a good bit of humor out of the misery. John and Oscar, for instance, have stolen a case of something called “brown sauce” – I honestly could not tell you what it is, other than it is brown sauce – and, in an effort to get rid of the stuff, use it on everything, delighting some and repulsing others. Noeleen, thrown aside by her husband, releases her anger by taking up violent sex. The dialogue is witty – and abundant. No character, from Farrell’s mouthy Lehiff to the bartender to the philosophizing, Guinness-guzzling, paraplegic bar patron, can help himself from sharing his opinion. It’s the Irish way.
Credit goes to Rowley for keeping “Intermission,” with its 11 separate plots, coherent, meaningful and balanced between comedy and despair.
On to another point. “Intermission” has convinced me that we have arrived at a point when American English and Irish English can no longer be considered the same language. Ten minutes into “Intermission,” I contemplated abandoning ship because I coont air a foggin wer theyus sayn. (I watched it a second time wearing headphones, which helped immensely.)
I say Irish films need to be subtitled. Who’s with me?
Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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