Calvary at the Craic Fest

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How it’s New York: It was shown at the annual Craic Fest benefit at Tribeca CinemasMV5BMTc3MjQ1MjE2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTMzNjE4MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_
How it’s Irish: It is set, cast and filmed in Ireland.

The party for this year’s annual Craic Fest benefit got started at Macao on Thursday night, where the Stella Artois and Tullamore Dew were downed freely. Excitement mounted as everyone looked forward to seeing, Calvary, the much anticipated second film in John Michael McDonagh’s trilogy – and wondered what the man who had given them ‘The Guard’ in 2011, would produce this time around.

The film is a noir-like thriller set in the small town of Easkey in County Sligo with Ben Bulbin looking stunning in the background. It opens with a death threat in the confessional box. The unknown confessor – a broken man – tells of the abuse he suffered throughout his childhood and of his plan to exert revenge on the Catholic church by killing the man he is confessing to (Brendan Gleeson). Why him? Because he is a good priest – because the impact wouldn’t be so great if he killed a bad priest. McDonagh takes us through the rest of film with this looming threat and a barrage of characters of whom to wonder “is he the would be assassin?”

Gleeson heads an all-star Irish cast, which includes, Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aiden Gillen, Domhnall Gleeson and Pat Shortt, as well as Kelly Reilly.Gleeson is this film. His understated performance is the mainstay in a film full of extreme characters. The presence of the nameless, soutain-clad priest is the reason for every piece of dialog in every scene

Gleeson is this film. His understated performance is the mainstay in a film full of extreme characters. The presence of the nameless, soutain-clad priest is the reason for every piece of dialog in every scene.

He portrays a man you can say anything to and be assured of a non-judgmental exchange. He is a man of the world (he was married before he joined the priesthood and has a daughter, (Reilly)), and as one character tells him, he is ‘a bit too sharp for this parish’.

The other characters – a faithless, seemingly soulless, highly colorful lot, many of whom seem to be thrown in haphazardly for the sake of entertainment (possibly the writer’s) – exist to challenge the priest’s faith, in God and humankind. And they are wildly entertaining. Dylan Moran plays a wealthy financier playing a lord of the manor in a role totally out of character for him, which makes it all the funnier.

“I was thinking of building a small church on the grounds”, he says to the priest, “like Brideshead Revisited. You could come up and say mass here. Freelance if you will.”

Chris O’Dowd plays a provocative, joker who tells the priest about his troubled wife; he thinks she has some sort of disease – that she’s “bipolar or lactose intolerant, or one of those things”.

The topics are interesting, as are McDonagh’s views, but do we need to have them all in one film?

Irish mythology, Ireland’s current economic austerities, racism, missionary proselytising, cannibalism, the merits of going to war, how to slit your wrists for maximum effect, and of course, the church, the church, the church, appear to be things Mr. McDonagh simply wants to talk about.

Still, his views are interesting and the dialogue is wonderful, and similar to his brother’s ‘In Bruges’, it is like watching a play at times. Mcdonagh, who describes himself as London Irish spent his childhood summers in the West of Ireland and knows how his subjects speak – pithily and with the skill to throw a dart at a weakness in their target’s psyche should the whim take them. The target in the case of Calvary, being the good priest.

Calvary is a fun, thought provoking and aesthetically beautiful film for all it’s carelessly strewn idiosyncrasies. Looking forward to more Craic Fest films of this caliber.

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Copyright 2014 New York Irish Arts