EUFF13 Review: Reflections in the Emerald Isle (2013)
James L. Brooks one stated (I paraphrase) that specificity is key to identification. To connect personally with people, in documentary or narrative films, a film doesn’t have to reflect your own situation exactly; only present something intimate and specific enough that you feel empathy for the subjects or characters. Recently we’ve seen films which have told intimate, personal stories in documentary forms with great effectiveness. Sarah Polley’s Stories We Tell accomplished this with an intimate story of her parent’s marriage and mother’s secret life.
But simply presenting a personal story does not equate to intimacy, and in a film like Reflections in the Emerald Isle, these films can seem more pretentious than anything else. Mark Magro’s film (the fifth documentary’s he’s completed) is essentially a piece of performance art, 30 minutes of personal thoughts on his father intercut with glamour shots of Ireland with family photos and home movies. I had to cheat to know what he was discussing, but according to the official description:
A young man is in Ireland to shoot a historical documentary of the country. However, his Maltese father, a thousand miles away in Canada, is ill. As the melancholic images inspire him, he reflects on the journey of his father and of his own Maltese heritage. Questions of decisions make the young man realize the footprints individuals make in shaping generations of families, nations and the fabric of humanity.
It sounds like an interesting practice in meditative filmmaking for a short film, but had I not read the description, I think I would have found the film even more frustrating than I already did. And the movie is an incredibly frustrating cinematic experience because it is the ultimate example of selfish filmmaking, a textbook example of why producer interference sometimes is good for a filmmaker.
Magro’s film feels like a student film handed in when grander plans fell through. In this case, Magro went to Ireland to film a historical documentary (which we don’t see) and he simply uses beauty shots to fill out a documentary about his feelings about his father. He includes a few family photographs (all rather generic) and narrates the film with two voice males (I assume were staged for the film) and narrates with the kind of ramblings of an 18 year old asked to write a personal essay.
As harsh as I fear I’m being, Magro’s narration is the biggest problem with Reflections in the Emerald Isle, because he is ultimately saying nothing. There is no insight or poetry in what he says, and his droll speaking voice makes the film seem much longer than its 25 minute running time. He didn’t need to say anything profound and unheard of, but he ultimately sounds like he has NOTHING to say. There is nothing personal, emotional, or moving in his words about his dying father, just the benign ramblings of a young man who wants to sound profound, but confuses depth with hollow affectation.
Had he had the courage to be a bit more personal, a bit more open…a bit more SPECIFIC, it would have been much easier to empathize with what should be a universal story of impending loss.
*While this is a minor technical complaint, the decision to include a 2 ½ minute credit scroll to this 25 minute film was almost offensively conceited for a film of this kind.
Reflections in the Emerald Isle screens on Saturday, November 23, 2013 at 5:00 PM. To reserve your space for this free screening, visit the European Union Film Festival Toronto website.