Monday, 5 June 2017
When it comes to director Lenny Abrahamson, I've come quite late to the party. Earlier this year I was blown away by Room and became intrigued to check out his earlier work, set in his native Ireland. I was especially excited to hear his cult classic Adam and Paul referred to as the kind of film Mike Leigh would make if he made a film about two Dublin drug addicts. Whilst I've yet to see Adam and Paul, Garage bears some of those Leigh hallmarks. This is the kind of film that reflects the minutiae of reality, featuring the kind of people who wouldn't normally grace the big screen. Real people, real lives, acutely observed.
Garage tells the story of Josie (Pat Shortt) the caretaker of a crumbling, run-down petrol station on the outskirts of a rural town in the mid-west of Ireland. It's clear that Josie has some form of learning disability and that this has made him something of a loner, always on the periphery of a community that regard him as harmless at best and, at worst, a soft touch to take advantage of. But despite his shortcomings, Josie remains optimistic and is clearly relatively happy with his simple lot in life. He had the opportunity to move to England as a young man, to work in a meat rendering factory in Leicester, but he turned it down to work at the garage owned by Mr Gallagher, the father of a classmate from school. Now, it is that self same classmate - Mr Gallagher (Jr) - that Josie works for and he's hit upon the idea of keeping the garage open later at weekends over the summer. To help Josie out, he arranges for a local teenager to start work there too. It's a decision that will change Josie's life forever.
This is a beautifully shot and performed production that hides much beneath the surface of its seemingly slow, 'everyday' narrative. There's an undercurrent of things being stifled at birth, literally in the case of the puppies one of Josie's barfly friends takes down to the river to drown, or in Josie's anecdote about the eels he caught as a young man that strangled themselves in the bucket whilst he deliberated over what to do with them. It's there too in the horse tethered out in the field who offers arguable the only true and pure intimacy that Josie is clearly searching for. The theme of a small town crushing potential is not a new one, but its handled so accurately and so subtly by Abrahamson that it stands out amongst other films that address the notion, particularly in the wake of the Celtic Tiger's painful economic demise.
And then there's that ending, when everything that's been bubbling along under the surface finally comes to a head and we can see this small story actually had big themes to deliver. It's really, utterly heartbreaking to watch those final twenty minutes and Shortt delivers the agonising injustice of the piece in a way which leaves a sombre lasting impression on the viewer. The final shot of the horse walking down the railway track is magical, at once both tragic and yet strangely uplifting; the sense of a spirit finally becoming free.
Reflective, quietly comic and beautifully observed, Garage is a film that deserves a wider audience.