This absorbing Irish documentary recounts the life of Eliza Lynch, the Cork-born beauty who is revered in Paraguay as a national heroine. Guided by Michael Lillis and Ronan Fanning – the authors of her meticulously researched biography – director Alan Gilsenan (whose documentary A Vision also screens at JDIFF this year) takes us on an epic journey from famine-stricken Ireland to the battlefields of South America’s bloodiest war.

The film’s emotional heart is provided by Maria Doyle Kennedy’s hypnotic interpretation of Lynch, looking back on her life from beyond the grave and confronting her many enemies who branded her an avaricious whore. These dramatized scenes are juxtaposed with a series of beautiful, often melancholy images shot in contemporary Paraguay that convey a sense of its isolation in the heart of South America. In interviews with the country’s elite the hunt for the historical Lynch evolves into an exploration of the disastrous war her lover, the dictator Francisco Solano López, launched against Brazil and Argentina.

With a firm grip on the various threads that make up his narrative, Gilsenan has delivered a film that helps rescue one of the great Irish lives of the 19th century from obscurity while opening a fascinating window onto what is perhaps South America’s least-known country and the apocalyptic conflagration that still haunts its society.

Tom Hennigan
The Irish Times
South America Correspondent