Missed opportunity in a case of déjà vu all over again

Missed opportunity in a case of déjà vu all over again Donal Foreman, maker of The Image You Missed
The Image You Missed
 (PG)

 

The idea was good: dovetail the idea of a fractured fraternal relationship with a fractured country. Unfortunately, this Donal Foreman feature, which tenuously examines his relationship with his father, the late American documentarian Arthur MacCaig, against the backdrop of the Troubles, is far too skimpy and staccato to justify the tantalising potential of its title.

The ‘missing image’ we’re promised doesn’t appear, which means we get neither the thick rain of Ireland’s past nor the personal story of the father Foreman never really got to know.

His cut-and-paste job is so lacking in imagination you wonder why he bothered. Was it just to use up some archival footage of his dad’s that was lying around the place and tenuously thread it onto a socio-political story which is past its sell-by date?

One should never be smug enough as to imagine the Northern conflict is over – the security massed around the recent visit of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle knocks that notion on the head – but the guns are largely silent now, which means that this kind of thing can be of little more than quaint interest to armchair historians.

Who’s interested in watching yesterday’s news presented in the ho-hum manner we get here? Maybe it will do well in the US, where the market isn’t as saturated with fly-on-the-wall docu-dramas about Gerry Adams and his apparatchiks on both sides of the sectarian spectrum. But I doubt it.

Structuring a film of this nature, chapter-like, from a poem by Seamus Heaney struck me as pretentious.  It ends as it began – in a kind of psychic limbo.

Foreman is a good film-maker but he needed to inject some drama into the proceedings, either by speaking directly to camera or having his father do so instead of having them as disembodied voices or silent facial images. That way the film could have become a visual history of a country caught in the eye of the storm – like MacCaig’s The Patriot Game.

Treatment

The treatment of the Troubles is too text-book. We mainly see the aftermath of bloodshed. Foreman seems more at home (no pun intended) showing us childish games being played with toy guns. In the end we feel like children ourselves, let off school for the day to get a ready reckoner on what it was like between 1969 and the Good Friday Agreement – at least from a bird’s eye view.

We listen to men in balaclavas reading mission statements in pubs. We see graffiti-laden walls with messages like ‘You are now entering Free Derry’ on them.

The ‘again’ is the problem. There are too many recycled images. The family theme is earnest but it gets  suffocated under a welter of agitprop clichés.

The film will probably sustain the fanbase Foreman already has but I doubt it will increase it unless he re-cuts it and gives it some ‘topspin.’ As it is it’s far too soporific and self-important.

Fair **

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