From the Archive: “This Is My Father” review

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Senator Tom Hayden once pointed out that one of the reasons why traditional Irish American culture tends towards the light and aery sentimentalism of chuckling leprechauns and rustic simplicity, is not because our history is cheery and uncomplicated, but rather the opposite.

The original stories of many who reached the New World from Ireland have been simply too full of horror to tell. Their sadness and hardship was quickly replaced by a selective memory process that eventually led to the quaint, cute or rambunctious stage and screen Irish images we have come to know.

This resulting mythology is often more interesting for what it conceals than what it shows. As with the old John Cleese joke, “don’t talk about the war”, the true experience of immigrants was frequently silenced for the following generations, and it often takes a long time for realities to be faced, or even discovered.

This is My Father is about such a discovery, and is simply one of the best Irish American films ever. Its powerful exploration of the kind of social and religious constraints that often drove people away from Ireland, its heartfelt portrayal of real Irish people in an accurate, unsentimentalized setting, and its capacity for humor as well as pathos, make it an exceptional work. It’s story will be especially poignant for Irish American viewers, but is universal enough in its theme and treatment to appeal to any movie goer.

While the film is a striking directorial debut from Paul Quinn, its also somewhat of a family collaboration. The lead is played by Paul’s brother, the actor Aidan Quinn (Legends of the Fall, Benny & Joon, Michael Collins), his sister Marion (I Shot Andy Warhol, 2×4), features in a smaller role, and the cinematographer Declan Quinn (Leaving Las Vegas, The Ballad of Little Jo). Its strong cast includes such distinguished actors as Donal Donnally, James Caan, Moira Deady, John Cusack, Stephen Rea, Gina Moxley, Colm Meaney and Brendan Gleeson (recently seen in The General), and the film boasts a memorable soundtrack from Master Irish musician Donal Lunny.

The story begins in Chicago, when Kieran Jr. (James Caan), finds himself in a genuine crisis of identity. His mother Fiona, who arrived in America pregnant just before the outbreak of World War II, never told him who his father was. Having now suffered a stroke, she is unable to communicate any longer with her family. Kieran is a schoolteacher in a modest suburban school, whose life lacks context and purpose. When a homework task he assigns his students coincides with the unearthing of an old family photo revealing a man who might possibly be his father, he heads back to Ireland with his nephew, Jack (Jacob Tierney), in search of the truth.

When Jack and Kieran arrive in Ireland, their B&B is run by Seamus (Colm Meaney in a truly flamboyant role!) and his mother, Mrs Kearney. Initially faced with a blank wall from locals in the village, Kieran can only learn the tale under the auspices of Mrs. Kearney’s “fortune telling” sessions. It is through these that we learn the tale of young Fiona and her first love, Kieran.

Fiona (Moya Farrelly) is a bright, gorgeous girl with a lust for life that burns brightly despite the odds. Her mother is a domineering, bitter and snobbish widow – the only woman in the village with a car. Having taken to the drink after her husband’s death, she is determined that no romance will blossom between her daughter and the lowly Kieran, played by Aidan Quinn.

Quinn gives a stunning performance. Fiona’s unlikely suitor is a “poor house bastard” who cuts turf for his stepparents and is regarded generally in the locality as the village idiot. He is deeply religious, but his love for her is unquenchable – even in the face of opposition from the widow (Gina Moxley) and the all-powerful local parish priest (Eamonn Morrissey). Quinn put on thirty pounds for the role, and his metamorphosis into a painfully shy, rural batchelor who is overwhelmed at Fiona’s attentions, is nothing short of brilliant. He manages to evince the gentle soul inside the “outsider” and gives such a touching performance, that many of the audience (including the male contingent) were moved to quiet tears by the end of the film.

Moya Farrelly also gives a splendid performance.   Finally – we see a strong Irish woman on the big screen that does not fit into the “feisty redhead” stereotype. She is a naturally sexy and outspoken girl whose place in society prohibits a passion as strong as her love for Kieran, and her departure for America at the end of the film is no surprise.

It is to director/writer Paul Quinn’s credit that a film entitled This Is My Father is as much about the mother in the family as well as the father.   Notable too, is that while the film flashbacks are set at the end of the 1930s, the contemporary scenes really are contemporary Ireland – not just more Hollywood-Irish romanticism.   Quinn, as an Irish American who has spent two separate sojourns in Ireland as a child, is well able to address the past, but has his feet planted firmly in the present.   One looks forward to his future work, and hopefully we’ll see more Irish and Irish American films of this calibre gracing our screens over the next couple of years.

Having celebrated its East Coast premiere at the First Annual New York Film Fleadh last month, This Is My Father opens in May at theaters around the U.S.

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* Posted on what would have been the 57th birthday of the director of the film director, Paul Quinn, RIP

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A Gentle Anarchy – The Asmara Book Club

Array-book-club-webThis evening, we meet around eight o’clock, at a rambling old colonial villa in the heart of Eritrea’s sleepy capital, Asmara. Bougainvillea and Clematis crawl along the old stone walls, Italianate stucco designs frame the peeling storm shutters, the hallway has that 1930s feel of space and marble that disappeared after the Second World War. The equally spacious living room is hung with paintings, lined with books and evinces the peripatetic essence of the international worker: wood carvings from Indonesia, wall hangings from Afghanistan, carved wooden footstools from Kenya and batik prints from Benin. On the coffee table, a beautifully crafted Eritrean bread basket.

Apart from this hodge-podge of domestic style, the most fascinating sight to behold here tonight is a massive collection of books, arrayed on the dining table, tumbling over onto the sideboard, piled on chairs and on the windowsill, arranged without rhyme or reason.   Their authors range from Shakespeare to Michael Herr, from Jane Austin to Zadie Smith, but their random placement is all part of the charm and glory of what is simply known in Asmara as “The Book Club”.

The Book Club is an anarchic entity. Its library of around 700 tomes has no geographical resting place. People meet, discuss books, drink wine, and at the end of the night, somebody just volunteers to host the next Book Club.   It’s like ‘Fight Club’ without Brad Pitt. There is no treasurer, no fee, no headquarters, no membership requirements. The books travel, each month, in an assortment of cardboard boxes, from the location of the last Book Club, to the location the next Book Club, and are then simply stacked in any suitable space in the host/hostess’s living room for all to peruse. (more…)

Irish Examiner Feature by Sue Leonard

So delighted to get up this dark December morning and read the lovely piece today in The Irish Examiner by Sue Leonard, run as part of the “Beginner’s Pluck” column.   Sue’s kind words further made my day as she accredited the work with something every writer tries to acheive:  Whether she is describing the heartbreak of a family whose child has been damaged by a landmine; the impermanence of love on the field, or an exquisite encounter on a beach at dawn, Mulkerns creates magic.  With the verdict concluding that the book is “quite a wonderful collection of linked stories” I’ll be starting the new year on a high tomorrow.  It was great to meet with Sue and chat, and you can see more about her on her own website here.

Meanwhile, click here or click on the image below for the article.  My favourite line of it quotes me on working for Hot Press Magazine during my rock’n’roll years:  “I was hanging around backstage with various bands,” she says.’  Yes indeed – what a job description! 

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Irish Independent “top book picks” 2016 – Ferenji

The Irish Independent newspaper asked Irish Writers for their “top book picks” of 2016 for the Christmas Eve issue, and it was great to see Dermot Bolger giving the heads up to Ferenji in his input.  Click here or on the image below for details.

He notes:  “It is also lovely when a writer whose stories you have read with pleasure for years finally collects them in an overdue debut, and I was very taken with Helena Mulkerns’ Ferenji (Doire Press) where she mines her experiences as someone working in remote, dangerous regions with the United Nations to create short fictions which are finely written and astutely observed, in terms of the human heart and of the physical terrain they skilfully traverse.” 

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The Christmas Cabaret 2016, Wexford Arts Centre

caca-milis-lunasa-poster-final-printFriday, 16 December
9 pm, Adm 12

Now in its 7th year, Cabaret hosts Helena Mulkerns and Josh Johnston are always happy to return to the Cáca Milis alma mater, The Wexford Arts Centre.  This time around, Mulkerns, fresh from the success of her own fiction debut, “Ferenji” (on sale at The Wexford Book Centre) is excited to present both new and long-standing Cabaret performers. 

The evening will kick off with some tributes to the ones that got away this year, including Bowie, Cohen and Prince, and then there will be high drama as dancers Ellina Shmarkovska  and Andrew Green perform some sensual Argentinian Tango and Milonga.  We’re delighted to welcome Natalia Cullen, a popular chanteuse in the Russian Irish community, joined by musician Des Kiely for some smooth vocals and jazz guitar.

Readers may be most familiar with the fine singer songwriter Gar Cox through his wonderful song, “Too Late For Christmas” and its yule time reflections of an Irish person living abroad issued last year. He’ll sing it (and more) tonight. To provide some literary thrills, author Cat Hogan will read from her best-selling book, “They All Fall Down”.  And to rev up the night, don’t miss the much-anticipated performers Aileen Mythen and KJ McEvoy – otherwise known as The Remedy Club, one of Wexford’s hottest blues/rock duos.

Then: the movie! For your entertainment pleasure, we present My Life For Ireland the brilliant and hilarious story of a young Irish man willing to fight for his country.  Directed by Kieron J. Walsh and written by Patrick McDonnell, it gives the 1916 commemerations a whole new take…  Following that there’s a last minute Christmas surprise as the inimitable Mr Eoin Colfer, along with cast members from the upcoming production NOËL, will present a song from the show, playing from 19-23 December at the Wexford Opera House

Wexfordian Seán Kiley’s original poetry and short fiction, already published in several anthologies and reviews, has made him a man to look out for in Wexford letters. He’ll be reading live for the first time on Friday night and is sure to receive a warm welcome.

Top of the night the audience can expect a treat as the compelling artist known as The Late David Turpin takes to the stage.  His work could be described as a sort of superlative fusion of mood, fantasy, glam and techno. Performing with a visually stunning multi-media edge, it’s not surprising that David is involved both in music and in film.  His first feature screenplay, “The Lodgers” is currently in production.   

Finally, work by all on the bill will be available to purchase from the artists themselves, and audience members may well get some DVDs or books for their Christmas stockings this year among the grand raffle prizes.  You’ll also be able to purchase your copy of “Ferenji” by Helena Mulkerns, and of course the Cáca Milis anthology “Red Lamp Black Piano.”

Show starts at 9:00 pm sharp – so get there early, as seating is limited, or book ahead at:
www.wexfordartscentre.ie / phone  053-912-3764  Also see: www.cacamilis.org
And for more on your Cabaret hosts:  www.HelenaMul.com / www.JoshJohnston.com

Books of the Year: Ferenji mentioned

screen-shot-2016-12-05-at-10-04-24It was such a wonderful surprise to open the Irish Times today, and find my book mentioned by one of my favourite short story writers, Nuala O’Connor, as one of her “Favourite Books of 2016”.  The full article is filled with great recommendations for Christmas presents, 2016 – check it out at this link:

Nuala says:  “Ferenji is the debut short story collection of Helena Mulkerns, a former press officer with the United Nations. The stories concern both aid workers’ and locals’ stories and are humane and graphic.  Beautifully written and topical, this book is a heartbreaking look at the realities of post-war lives.”  

 

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