Thursday, April 14, 2011

Review: Snap

...crackle and pop?

Source: Film Ireland
For an Irish person who wants to get involved in the film industry, it's perhaps hypocritical that I tend to be so critical of Irish cinema. Not that there aren't great Irish films out there - Adam and Paul, The Butcher Boy and Once (what? I liked it, although now hate the music) spring to mind. But having sat through a variety of the "best" of Irish cinema during college, a horrific majority of these are grim rural anti-dramas, failed genre attempts or of course Oirish crap. The likes of Poitin or Ballroom of Romance are not for me, and don't get me started on our few horror films or - shudder - Goldfish fucking Memory. I want to like Irish films, and there are a lot of good ones out there which unfortunately don't get any sort of reasonable distribution. But dammit it, why do so many of them have to be so self-consciously Irish? It's all well and good to have a colourful national cinema, but way too many Irish films are simply good Irish films as opposed to good films that irrelevantly happen to be Irish.

Snap, to director Carmel Winter's credit, falls into the latter category. That's not to say it's a great film, but it most certainly can't be accused of prancing around reminding the audience how Irish it is. The accents are Irish, yeah, but the situations are largely universal. The story is told in stylistically varied fragments, following mother Sandra sometime after a crime perpetrated by her teenage son Stephen. The fragmented approach is what makes this film stand out from the crowd - Sandra is followed by a documentary crew, some scenes are filmed as Super-8 home videos, others with a handheld camcorder, occasional CCTV shots, and finally some a lot of more traditionally filmed sequences. The varied styles do work - creating a sense of confusion and ambiguity while remaining strangely coherent. It works well, so it's a significant disappointment when the film's second half largely abandons the varied cinematography.

The narrative, of course, is as distorted as the style. The flashback sequences to the crime itself are the strongest - early hints strongly suggest Stephen has kidnapped a small child, although it's not made crystal clear for a while. Stephen is an interesting character, with Stephen Moran providing a suitably weird, twitchy performance. His motives remain nicely ambiguous, only dialogue snippets hinting at the causes of his psychological turmoil. Aisling O'Sullivan is equally excellent as his frustrated mother. It's a quiet, understated frustration in these scenes that crafts a compelling performance. Late Irish actor Mick Lally has a very memorable cameo too, culminating in what must be the grimmest sex scene in recent cinema.

It's the documentary style scenes set three years later where the flaws of the film become more evident. With Stephen now largely absent, O'Sullivan's anger has become much more extroverted. It makes for a distressingly one-note performance, the exaggerated grimness an unwelcome contrast to the understated grimness that works so well in other scenes. It becomes exhausting and, being honest, repetitive. We don't learn all that much of interest about O'Sullivan's character in these scenes, and the answers we do get - including increasingly unsubtle references to an alcoholic background - actually feel trite and a bit lazy. It feels strange in a film that is impressively reserved and ambiguous in other moments - one particularly odd and unexplained distant flashback proves that this film is much more impressive when it fails to answers questions and trusts the audience to come up with their own interpretation.

Carmel Winters has carved a film that's easy to like but difficult to love. For all the strengths, there are many weaknesses. Despite early coherence of the discordant styles, at its worst Snap feels like two very different films stuck in strange, awkward conflict. It's a film both subtle and on-the-nose, ambiguous and overwrought. When it works though, it is an impressive piece of work, one sure to stimulate debate and varied interpretations. That it fails to achieve consistency in the processs is a shame.

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