Following the death of his mother, John Cunliffe (Dónall Ó Héalai) finds himself alone after living a sheltered existence for much of his life. However, when he's brutally assaulted and winds up in the hospital, he begins to forge a bond with a fellow patient (Cillian O'Gairbhi) and a nurse (Fionnaula Flaherty), though his utter lack of social skills prevents him from recognising the dangers ahead...
Although recent years have seen the output of Irish filmmakers shift to genres like horror, comedy and crime, one thing that's generally assured year after year is a tough, robust examination of isolation in rural communities. Gerard Barrett's TV drama 'Smalltown' covered this topic, and now Sean Breathnach delves back in with 'Foscadh', setting the sparse story in the wilds of Connemara with a script spoken in Irish throughout.
'Foscadh' follows John Cunliffe, played with brooding intensity by Dónall Ó Héalai, as he attempts to find his way for the first time in his thirty-odd years following the death of his elderly mother. He is completely unsure of what to do, and when he's violently assaulted unprovoked by someone in the town, he finds himself in hospital and forced into close quarters. For much of the movie, Ó Héalai's character says very little but he's a constant presence. It's to the credit of his performance that he's able to do so much with so little on the page, but very often, 'Foscadh' proves to be a little frustrating.
So much of the story moves at a glacial pace and Ó Héalai's character can never seem to shake himself into action, instead tucking his chin in and looking away from anyone trying to address him. There's an extended sequence towards the end where the full extent of his inabilities is laid bare, and you realise just how sheltered - where the movie takes its title from - he is. Sean Breathnach's script is more than happy to let the awkwardness sit, and the spaces between people talking can stretch out for what feels like minutes. Yet, this silence is reflected in the setting.
Connemara is just as much a character in this as anyone else, and the way in which cinematographer Colm Hogan captures it in his lens makes it look every bit as gorgeous and resplendent as you'd expect. The stillness of it and the rolling mists contrast sharply with the dingy-looking interiors, not to mention how the sound design makes them more potent. When Dónall Ó Héalai's character is standing out on his fields, there's a natural silence to it that feels completely natural, but inside his house when Cillian O'Gairbhi's mouthy is spread out on the couch, it's grating and obnoxious - just like his character. Likewise, even when a relationship is in its early stages with Fionnula Flaherty, you get the sense that it's doomed from the start because of how inept and inexperienced he is.
Smartly, Breathnach's script doesn't play it for laughs nor is it shown with any kind of innocence. It's almost like Ó Héalai's character has simply allowed others to do the talking for him for so long that he barely knows how to form a sentence, let alone make decisions about his future. Anyone who's lived in the Irish countryside probably knows someone like this; a kind of quiet eccentric who lives on a valuable tract of land but lives simply and in solitude. 'Foscadh' dares to cross the threshold and examine the quiet desperation of it all.