Having recently started at veterinarian school, a student named Rose (Ann Skelly) decides to try to find the truth about her birth parents. Meeting Ellen (Orla Brady) leads her to Peter (Aidan Gillen), and the truth and horror of the past collides head on with the present for all three.
There is a sense of mystery and bewildering quality to ‘Rose Plays Julie’ that one becomes immediately and totally enchanted by. The movie opens on a school where students are hanging out nonchalantly. The idea that something darker is coming is indicated by the subject matter of their first lecture: the euthanasia of healthy animals. What follows appears to be flashbacks to a police woman shooting a young girl, but she turns into a vampire, and that emerges to be some kind of movie.
One is puzzled yet fascinated as Rose goes to meet the police woman, who’s actually an actress, going so far as posing as someone interested in buying her house. It’s not the first time Rose plays a part in ‘Rose Plays Julie’, and it seems her adapting of different roles is linked to her fragmented sense of identity. She feels she lacks wholeness because she doesn’t know her birth parents, and at one point reflects mournfully on the day she found out she is adopted. What follows is a frank and difficult conversation with Ellen. Then when Peter enters the picture, the sense of suspense is both frightening and irresistible.
Ann Skelly, who previously led the beautifully photographed but strange Irish indie ‘Kissing Candice’, is nothing short of astounding here. Orla Brady is excellent too and Aidan Gillen continues to be a master at playing cruel, manipulative men. There are some big Irish themes that are touched on here, and yet it has much to say about gender inequality and #MeToo as well.
Stephen McKeon’s soundtrack is excellent and the cinematography from Tom Comerford looks fantastic, both the music and the visual language of ‘Rose Plays Julie’ proving vital elements of the narrative. One is struck by the deep emotion of the film as its story of trauma and sexual violence plays out. While the ambience is all-immersive, it is also haunting. This is a remarkable feature from writer-director team Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy, and should be watched – and subsequently talked about – by all.