It's been almost ten years since Thaddeus O'Sullivan was behind a film camera; The December Bride and Nothing Personal director is back with this charming drama that although sounds like and Irish Cinema Paradiso is definitely its own beast.
Giddy at the prospect that his time in this isolated Tipperary parish is coming to a close, and he can return to Rome to continue his studies, the already-packed Father Daniel Barry (Sheen) is happy to trawl through the thick snow to comfort an old woman whom, we find out later, calls on him to administer the last rites for any ailment. Disaster strikes, however, when the bishop (Tom Hickey) delays his transfer indefinitely and encourages Daniel to raise funds for the new church to keep him busy. Struggling to find passion for the project, both in himself and the townsfolk's wallets, movie enthusiast Daniel gets the idea to open a cinema with the proceeds going to the church fund. But Ireland of 1956 is not ready for such 'filth' and uptight politician Stephen Rea demands its immediate closure...
On the cusp of change anyway, the introduction of the cinema and its 'outside values' hastens a subtle transformation in the town. Whether they're aware of it or not, they turn a blind eye to single mum Molly's (Marcella Plunkett) dalliance with lodger Tim (Trysten Gravelle), as her largely absent husband is a foul-mouthed brute - when he brandishes a knife and uses the 'c word' it's a complete shock in this community. Unlike Cinema Paradiso, there isn't a correlation between the people and movies and there aren't any gushings about the magic of cinema and how important it is in our lives. Neither are there glorious 'movie shots' to get in a lather about; saying that, Sullivan's opening sequence where Daniel's car struggles through the country snow is very pretty.
Once again, Sheen delivers a captivating performance but then he had Antoine O. Flatharta's delightful character, adapted from Michael Doorly's novel, to work with. A deeply conflicted character, Daniel is outwardly a caring and happy person, but inside he harbours a deep resentment for being passed over for a plush job in the Vatican library, and would see himself to be intellectually superior to the townsfolk. Plunkett too deserves recognition: perfect as the disturbed but reserved inmate in Occi Byrne, it's an even quieter turn from Plunkett here that could so easily have been heavy-handed.
The era is beautifully realised. In the time where electric cookers are dealt with suspicion, as Amy Huberman's saleswoman finds out, and a light bulb receives the sign of the cross, Stella Days does the mature thing and doesn't have too many jokes at the expense of the small-minded town, which would have been too easy.
Charming, let's hope O'Sullivan doesn't leave it as long again.
Review by Gavin Burke | 09:00 | Thursday 1st March 2012 | Movie Review
There's a saying that the past is a different country. Stella Days is yet another addition to those not-so-glory days of ancient Ireland (i.e. the 1950s). Thankfully, it's a nice little movie that leaves you with a smile on your face though not exactly an impression on your mind. Martin Sheen is the movie-loving priest trying to raise funds for a new church by hosting films in the town hall of a country town. This is at time when rural electrification is only just happening, adding a sense of modernisation to the story. If you've seen Cinema Paradiso, then this film will feel a little familiar. The usual Irish sub-plots about a persecuted single mother and small-minded gossip are added in, but never really distract from the main story. It's a film to bring your parents to, though it might feel quaint to younger generations. All the same, it's a pleasant enough watch.Posted 14:26 | Wed 14th Mar 2012
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