Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Eclipse

2009, R, 88 min.
IMDB says...In a seaside Irish town, a widower sparks with a visiting horror novelist while he also begins to believe he is seeing ghosts.

The 73rd Virgin says...Haven't seen the word “spark” used in that fashion in quite a while. Maybe later they pitched woo and made whoopie.

I had no problem with the mix of ghosts, closely observed character-driven romance, and several bits of comic relief. The scenery and interiors and music are beautiful. The characters and human situations are believable.  A fair number of Netflix whiners complained about the lack of a story or the unresolved ending (What? No mad dash through an airport followed by kissy-face and tears? How dare they?)

Though I'm loathe to admit it, this is really a modern Gothic romance and ghost story, sorta...I guess, that - other than the ghosts - comes off as authentic. And since the setting is modern and no signals or warnings are provided to show impending ghostly jolts, some short bits are very scary. It sucked me right in.

Ciaran Hinds is Michael Farr, a widower woodshop teacher in the city of Cobh, County Cork, Ireland. It is apparently a very wealthy place since the woodshop teacher drives a Volvo station wagon and lives in a large two-story. He has a cool but respectful relationship with his father-in-law. When was the last time you saw a movie involving a widower and his father-in-law? A wanna be writer who has given up, he volunteers at the annual Cobh Festival of Literature and Poetry as a driver, gopher, lackey.

I haven't seen much of Hinds except as a heavy now and then in some Bond movie and “There Will Be Blood”, and in “Persuasion”. Rather than the towering and dashing Captain Wentworth, he is a beleaguered, paunchy middle-aged widower with a bad-wacky haircut and two adolescent children. And he is great. Just when you think he can't get any more pitiful, there is a slight gleam. And is there anything that better describes widowerhood than chasing two children to bed and then emptying the dishwasher by yourself? When was the last time you even saw someone empty a dishwasher in a movie? No one looks good doing it.

Later he wakes in the middle of the night to an unknown personage in his living room. The scene perfectly describes what it's like to wake to a noise and then takes it one step further – but in complete silence - which is way scarier than music informing us how to react.

Back in daylight Michael attends to his duties as teacher and driver where he meets Nicholas, a world-famous writer, manipulator, and raconteur who alternates between sexual competition with every man he meets, and bleary-eyed conquests of cocktail waitresses, all the time checking his hair and living in terror of his wife. If I hadn't seen former pretty-boy Aidan Quinn's name in the credits, I wouldn't have recognized him.

Between bitching about being late and the dim-witted local yokels, Nicholas reveals that he had dabbled in boxing and discovers the same about Michael. They size each other up in the typical fashion. Later, at a reading by his other writer-client Lena, Michael is transfixed by her writing about ghosts, until Nicholas stumbles in late and breaks the mood. Back before battery-powered steadicams this would have been difficult to shoot.

I haven't seen Iben Hjejle since “High Fidelity”. Apparently she stays busy in Swedish productions. Here she is a refreshing and believable adult female lead. She and the script create a mix of social awkwardness, occasional bad judgment, and decency.  It's been a long time.

But sooner or later something has to happen. The genius of the movie is the juxtaposition of the humdrum day to day concerns with disorienting fits of the supernatural. Here Michael drives home and briefly fantasizes about following Lena to her room. And you can almost guess what happens to an Irish Catholic boy after that kind of sin (remember, taking pleasure in thinking about it is a sin, too). He must be visited by the ghost of his father-in-law. Problem is, his father-in-law is still alive. But we then (with no cuts by your reviewer) ricochet to Michael going home to face his 14-year old daughter and discover that his son has snuck out. Most of the music by Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin is somewhat moody piano jazz with occasional bursts of very pretty choral music to provide a sense of place, or peace, or in this case, well....

Several scenes show with almost perfect accuracy his poor daughter trying hard to be an adult in an impossible situation. Note above how we see her in all her braces-laden gawkiness, but the reflection in the mirror could be any married couple screaming at each other about the kids. In her final scene we see her carrying a cute little pink plastic backpack, her childhood at least temporarily re-conferred upon her. Nice touch.

Anyway, as our hero's problem with ghosts sorts itself out, we also get the competition between these two paunchy old bulls over “the girl”. This scene is one of the funniest and most realistic depictions of a fight that I have ever seen. Fighting is tiring and clumsy and it hurts.

Given what he's been up to in mind if not in body, you can probably guess whose ghost visits him last. Offhand, I can't think of many actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman?) who could play this scene with this much fear and grief.

But it's really not a downer movie at all. There are truckloads of guilt and redemption with enough scary oddity to keep me engaged for 88 minutes.

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