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Living in a Coded Land


Ireland’s Eye – ★★★★

Describing Pat Collins’ new documentary is quite challenging. A feature-length visual poem about Ireland? The history of Irish identity and our psyche? Meditations on an island? Breaking and making a nation? Even something as simple and broad as “The illustrated history of Ireland” could be applicable.

The film covers a range of eras and events in Ireland’s history, starting with the bloodshed seen at Aughrim and the Battle of the Boyne and going on to meditate on everything from the famine, the land league, emigration, the War of Independence and of course the British colonisation of the island. It’s incredibly broad and if anything, Collins may even be trying too hard to fit everything into his 80-minute runtime with some subjects being brushed over a little bit without being given the attention they deserve.

Lots of this kind of thing. Very good.

Lots of this kind of thing. Very good.

Living in a Coded land makes use of short interviews to meditate on certain points but these are really just a lead in to the incredible archive footage being employed. Collins worked and researched extensively with the Irish Film Institute and RTÉ Archives (amongst others I’m sure) and has brought some really brilliant moments into the film. It’s this footage that really makes the work stand out and provides incredible context, a particular highlight being the sequence on the changing face of the GAA in rural Ireland.

The whole thing is bound together with some beautiful footage of a trip along a river which matches the pacing and flow of the film perfectly. Some credit should be shared with sound designer and editor Tadgh O’Sullivan who has stitched the whole thing together rather seamlessly and makes the film feel like a thought-provoking but drifting series of thoughts and ideas, with great music from Linda Buckley. The greatest compliment you could pay the films is that it would work equally well whether you saw five minutes of it on a dodgy projector in an interpretive centre or were viewing a big extended cut as part of a five part television series.

Collins’ last work was the critically-acclaimed slow-motion film Silence which was billed as his first fiction film but left audiences with a sense they may be watching an alternative documentary about an Irish roadtrip. There’ll be no such mistakes here as, oddities and meandering “we’ll pack it all in” approach aside, this is one of the most thought-provoking and engaging documentaries you’ll see this year.

Released exclusively at the IFI from April 25th 2014

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Nigel loves stupid films almost as much as he likes clever films. He'll watch anything but is usually drawn to documentaries, North American independent films, Irish cinema and gung-ho, balls-to-the-walls Hollywood blockbusters. Here's what he's been watching.

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