Sanctuary : A Film Review

Sanctuary

Director. Len Collin, Writer. Christian O’Reilly, Production. Edwina Forkin, Director of Photography. Russell Gleeson, Editor. Julian Ulrichs, Design. Sonja Mohlich, Eleanor Wood, Music. Joseph Conlan, Cast. Kieran Coppinger, Charlene Kelly, Robert Doherty, Michael Hayes, Emer Macken, Paul Connolly, Frank Butcher, Patrick Becker, Jennifer Cox, Valerie Egan.

Cert 15. Duration 1hr 27mins.

Loves logic and laughs logistics

Screenwriter Christian O’Reilly with a previous disability themed feature Inside I’m Dancing (2004)) has adapted Sanctuary from his play of the same name produced by Blue Teapot Theatre Company between 2012 and 2014.

Director Len Collin and his team have reinstalled the same cast from the original stage production. Mainly Larry (Kieran Coppinger) and Sophie (Charlene Kelly) and Tom (Robert Doherty) their care worker, whose step outside the usual routine creates a havoc and brilliant set piece for antics of Rom-Com notions and with pathos and a heartfelt journey through common emotions and the premise of arranging for Sophie and Larry to have some time alone brings about for the group around them as well a bold adventure in the ancient Galway citadel. A day out at the Cinema is the arch and a day passes with happenings breaking down many barriers and showing many of societies silent and muddled thinking. There is a dark central theme of abuse and it is not necessarily lodged in the past and remains undealt with properly or with dignity. The sexual power is wrested away from individuals who are loving and unrecognised equals and in the course of dealing with their sexual driver without guidance help or educational means to construct each of their own narratives.

Modern Love and Loving

Now as 2017 comes to a close this new Irish Film brings a very high intensity tale of human frailty and thoughtful, thought provoking film now to be screened on general release. Sanctuary is a word only partially conveying the entry and subject of the story. It sets about totally opening human emotional constructs in its portrayal of the love sought and enveloped in every part of our existence. As an Irish black comedy/drama/thriller/ …. its a sum of many parts …. it may be, will be one of the best things your likely to see over the Christmas period and it has the solidity of being a universally themed and therefore poignant drama significantly pointing up the world of disabilities visited on people in ill health. With a cast of people with learning disabilities – mostly Down’s syndrome which Tom (Robert Doherty) the person whose job it is to look after the groups activities tactful describes his group to a Gard (PSNI equivalent but unarmed mostly!) itself a script crafted nuance which this film has in spades.

Nuances are aplenty and there is a central theme of a Rom-Com for the cast and audience to feast on. Set in the Galway of last Christmas, filmed also out of sequence during this year presumably in the interior stories, it is a journey into the unknown and is teased out joyfully and at times laugh out loudly – lol – as the plot thickens and never overdoses its prescripted meds pathos.

Complex emotional theatre

Hard as it is to imagine for myself the dilemmas uniquely faced by disabilities other that tertiary glimpses, I see the story being given artistic licence and the work is scripted by someone whose knowledge has constructed a story and avoided complexities of sexual education and also angst, anxiety, panic attacks which must occur under the circumstances which are to everyone more than a ‘given’ – emotional worlds do not come with an instruction manual – so a degree of leniency in absorbing the arch of the story is carefully written in without loosing the very real juxtaposition of societies and the caring communities different rules and constraints. In taking on the task of delivering a coherent and fully entertaining instruct full insightful – a word which is bound to turn up on its reflection – there is a commitment to drama and theatre which is delivering in the ancient dramatic techniques of fictionalised performance around since no theatre and dance verbal communications etc. I thought of it as similar to Theatre of Witness work in Derry Playhouse as drama used as a tool of understanding in the circle and womb of commune with the universes foundations.

Mary O’Malley of the Lyric Theatre fame saw this vehicle as other numerous Irish dramatists have and still encounter to pu5 before us the intractable. La La No on Yeats excursion into No theatre and with Basil Blackshaw’s (Igor Stravinsky and Picasso and Rivera invoked) set design – a revival is overdue!!! Cinema is used here within the film. I jotted down these three, Punky – possibly made in connection with this film, ScrewBack, Maiden of the Sea. These are the fodder of the Eye Cinema Multiplex the group visit as a daytime Christmas outing which is viewed in individuals own tastes carefully comically observed and counterpoint to the off screen romantic and otherwise interactions which come rich and varied.

Tom the believer.

Key worker and helper par excellence Tom (Robert Doherty) takes his caring a bit far and therein lies the drama – and story.  The effect is a brilliantly delivered cinematic excursion of multiple advantages and rewarding for the watching of, as well I can see for the cast whose everyday life is a daily battle with the present, with the past a place they tend not to dwell on. Therein is another reality, the fact that the demands of the everyday are unlike this for most of us and as such careful attention needs to be taken in respect of the physical world, bodies get programmed to and in routine, depending in the individual expectations. This equates and permeates as different tasks not to be taken as ‘given’ for those with very significant health problems.   Lots of the cast have challenges which are dealt with with dignity and solace derived from the care and fellowship – not always present in the past or present – received by a society trining to adjust and often failing to care.

Title leanings and meanings

Seeking the sanctuary of companionship and a partner is profoundly, instinctively programmed as a right of birth while it is found wanting for many including and often beyond the scope of infirmity visited on the body disabled by unknown (why all humans are factored in with flaws) these biological demons chemically damage our constructs bewilderingly. From early life the dna of ourselves is implanted and does strange things which the rest of life is often fully occupied with redressing.

1 immunity afforded by refuge in such a place.

2 any place of refuge; asylum.

3 a tract of land where birds and wildlife, especially those hunted for sport, can breed and take refuge in safety from hunters.

Plot pivot

as described above Tom is a master of mayhem and is not the smartest cog in the machine of managing complex situations. His own Rom-Com adventure is a mirror of the main pivot as he through his ‘girlfriend’ – it’s a treading on loves first tender footsteps ladder for him – arranges a Hotel interlude for Larry and Sophie. Sophie is managing tempts and severe epilepsy and the trip to the Cinema is craftily interrupted which enables the plans to detour to a hotel to come about. While three depart the Cinema another set of side stories is put in motion. Some delightful sub-plots or situational devices bring out the companion actors whose part is to either go with the flow or go and do their own thing or even stay put. The balloons of momentary delight are plentiful and very funny and helpful in telling the often oblique unconsidered tales individuals have in their orbit. Delight is often short lived and the good feelings are let go by other interventions.

Directions taken

Director of Photography Russell Gleeson uses mostly intimateclose framed shots to convey the focus of individuals immediate always dangerous present time existence. Very few landscape walking the dog type shots are used – the theatrical origins is one reason perhaps for this but it is very evident the past where a lot of people cannot move on from or compartmentise is a secondary unhelpful adjunct when disability has presented. The world of dialogue is meticulously held and each scene is a fine edged element in relation to the ongoing story. Rita whose early part in the story is as an Agatha Christie type sleuth with eyes for everything and covert occupational reconnaissance of her friends in the group is eventually given another role nd another side of her character blooms or is enabled. The love she watches hawk eyed and in the margins is hers if she she so desires. These little sidelines are intricately woven and just as illuminating as the core Larry and Sophie tryst. The Galway we see is full of hope and expectation. By some prophetic, intended mirror devised by writer Christian O’Reilly this Yuletide is taken at the flood of goodness in its magical often surreal never never-land. Rita gets to visit the Winter Christmas market and enjoys a friendly meeting with bored citizens of the magic. Often children don’t believe in Christmas for too long but load their expectations on the adults who in turn deal with it among family and friends to escape the problems of health, homelessness, separation, bereavement, work and home related for a short time. The spectacle is very convincing often. Seeing the (drone) overhead of the River Corrib flowing beneath the bridge towards the Atlantic as a torrent and the city fall into a nightime for the returning day to follow is mesmerising in a away. The tumble of the short run from the interior Lough is a miraculous event of continuity.

Conclusion ####4

This is an outstandingly uplifting and conflicting film. It presents the central topic of relationships on a universal and mirror reflecting everyone multiple illusions and realities. The story of lives confronting and dealing with disabilities is profoundly achieved in a well conceived theatrical way. It is as mentioned above like a theatre of witness into urges and emotions and the sanctuary of thought in communicating love and finding giving and receiving love in a life disordered since the beginning of time. Human instincts are to seek out meaning and purpose while forming a personal narrative. This is a very ambitious and never patronising approach to a subject of sexual urges and relationships empowering individuals in their own pathway towards discovery and their assembly of reasoning. The intellectual worth of the story is treated with concern and awareness of how it will be read or viewed. The questions are put with entertaining disturbing sometimes clarity. It may not be as simple as the narrative takes forward but it holds the essential messages without getting lost unlike the wandering of the Cinema escapees.

Sex education could do with a makeover in all corners of these islands and abroad with abuse knowing no borders it is continental, universal while Churches, institutions, authorities, the Film world etc, play down the effects and perceptions by concealment and failure to address core issues. Challenges are made by this film and answers are not its purpose but considerations of Sanctuary are ever present. Tom has no priors before this moment of unprofessional caring. Society appears as a bystander sometimes and this is how Larry and Sophie see as their barrier to love. If you have to choose between the latest Star Wars film and this its a no-brainier – go for this it is so much more than the sum of its parts and it was a privilege to see such fine performances in a range of very difficult circumstances. A great achievement worth of seeing more than once as you might miss some of the hidden gems stretching out before you. You need to be as observant as Rita who has an education through this independent in every way, film.

John Graham

20 December 2017

Belfast

On at Queens Film Theatre from 29 December 2017 until 04 January 2018

At QFT the 18:20 screening on Wed 3 January will be followed by a Q&A with director Len Collin and members of the cast.

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