Category: Archive

Film Review Finding ‘Finbar’ an enjoyable experience

February 16, 2011

By Staff Reporter

By Michael Gray

Four years after its initial release in Europe, New York viewers have a chance to see the film that launched the career of Ireland’s burgeoning mega-star, Jonathan Rhys-Myers. "The Disappearance of Finbar" gave the then 17-year-old Cork City native his first lead role after a brief but pivotal part in Neil Jordan’s "Michael Collins," in which he played the mysterious gunman who fired the shot that killed Collins at Béal na Bláth. Since then he’s gone on to appear in supporting and lead roles in a string of critically acclaimed films, including "The Governess," "Velvet Goldmine" and, most recently, the four-part mini-series "Gormenghast" for British TV. In a five-year career yielding eight films, Rhys-Myers has typically been cast as an elusive rebel, a pretty boy with nasty edge — a pattern established by his performance as the title character in "Finbar."

Screened previously in last year’s New York Film Fleadh, "The Disappearance of Finbar" is directed by Sue Clayton, a Geordie filmmaker from a background of English television documentaries with strong social themes. This social aspect is reflected in Clayton’s handling of the film’s opening locale, a depressed estate on the outskirts of Dublin called Aachen Close (shot at Fettercairn, in Tallaght). In this suburban wasteland of hobbled ponies and burning mattresses, the only available avenues of escape, besides the pub, are music and sports, and residents of all ages invest a lot of hope in a local youngster named Finbar Flynn when he gets the call-up to play professional soccer in Switzerland.

Sent abroad with great fanfare, Finbar carries the weight of expectation reluctantly, and soon finds he can’t hack it in Zurich. He returns home unexpectedly, defiant in the face of accusations of failure from friends and family, and tries to pick up where he left off with his best friend, Danny (Luke Griffin). Finbar’s father (Sean Lawlor), himself a failed country and western singer, dismisses his son as an "eejit," and Finbar takes a lot of flak from his peers for letting them down. Unable to withstand the taunts, he climbs up one night on the half-finished flyover that dominates their neighborhood and disappears without a trace. No body is found, and a dogged investigation by a potato-headed Garda Inspector (Sean McGinley) yields no clues.

The devastated community of Aachen Close is brought together grieving for his loss, and as the search for the missing boy stretches into weeks and months, the charismatic Finbar continues to exert a hold over his neighbors in absentia. The story generates press interest and a hilariously earnest Europop video about him (sung basso profundo by Rob Brown, at Leonard Cohen frequency) that makes a cult figure of Finbar.

Three years after the inexplicable disappearance, Danny gets a drunken late-night phone call from Sweden that sends him off to the Arctic Circle to track down his missing friend. Danny’s journey brings him from the grim confines of home to a bizarre world of demented tango dancers, troubled Scandinavian romance, and herds of reindeer in endless snow, where he finds out the truth about Finbar.

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Clayton’s film, adapted by the director in collaboration with writer Dermot Bolger from Carl Lombard’s book "The Disappearance of Rory Borphy," seems at first glance to be a road movie with an Irish slant. But on closer inspection, the film keeps a foot firmly planted in each of two very different communities, the suffocatingly restrictive world of Finbar’s and Danny’s housing estate, and the freedom and anarchy of Lapland, with minimal road miles in between.

An Irish emigration story with a different twist, "The Disappearance of Finbar" sees its main protagonist leave home for some of the usual reasons, but by none of the usual methods. He strikes out for the end of the world where there’s no Irish safety net, none of the expectations of home are imposed on him, and life is what he makes it. Only by abandoning everyone he knows can Finbar find out what he really wants to do; and when found eventually by the determined Danny, he’s forced to reinvent himself by moving on once more.

It’s risky for a filmmaker to establish a whole neighborhood of characters in the first half of the film and then leave them behind for a brand new set in the second, but Clayton makes it work by mirroring character types and situations in Ireland with warped versions in Lapland. Finbar and Danny replace the country and western music of home — an anomaly in Ireland, to outsiders — with equally anomalous tangos and polkas in Sweden. They’re drawn to eccentric older people at home and away, and they get emotionally involved with the same girl in Scandinavia just as they had done at home.

It’s an original story, offbeat and quirky, and if the pace slackens occasionally to the point where it needs a little nudge form a big stick to keep moving, it’s still well worth a look. Though it provides doses of sly wit, drunken absurdity and Nordic nihilism, the chief fascination of the film remains the opportunity to see the fledgling star, Rhys-Myers, raw and unvarnished before Hollywood tries to clean up his act. A quirky, humorous debut feature from a promising director, "The Disappearance of Finbar" can currently be seen at the Screening Room on Canal Street, for a limited run.

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