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Garage and depictions of the rural working class October 13, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Class, Culture, Film, Ireland, media.
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It was a good 30 seconds after the credits started to roll at the conclusion of Garage this evening before I felt able to rise from my chair and as I did so the lights came on in the IFI, enabling me to see the reactions of audience members as I picked up my jacket. One young woman was weeping and a number of other moviegoers were clearly affected. It’s one of the most powerful and affecting films I’ve seen in a number of years and only Adam & Paul (Also directed by Lenny Abrahamson and written by Mark O’Halloran) springs to mind as a film of similar quality from Irish cinema. And as if that was not enough, the lead role is played by Pat Shortt, an actor and ‘comedian’, I’ve never had much time for but who dominates the film in a performance that is all the more staggering for a man I have known best so far for dregs like Killinaskully.

Garage tells the story of Josie, played by Pat Shortt, who works by himself in a garage outside a small town in rural Ireland and is a ‘bit slow’ as the expression goes. His life, his entire existence, revolves around the garage, where he also sleeps in a tiny and filthy bedsit at the back, and the occasional walk into town for a few pints. His utter and pathetic loneliness is conveyed by Abrahamson’s direction emphasising Josie’s isolation, but also by Shortt who does it so well. Some of the most heartbreaking scenes consist of Josie sitting by himself, with nothing to do and Shortt conveying it through slowly changing facial expressions or hand gestures.

The owner of the garage hires a teenage boy to work with Josie and over the course of the film an unlikely friendship develops between two people who are clearly outsiders before a thoughtless action ruins the friendship and ends in desperately bleak tragedy.

Anyway. What’s also interesting is the depiction of small-town Irish rural working class life. There have been some interesting discussions, mostly dealing with urban representations here and on the always thought-provoking Dublin Opinion where Donagh and Conor regularly explore the issue better than I can.

The garage Josie works in is a failing business, kept going by the garage owner only while he waits for the right time to build apartments. Josie’s circle of acquaintances, the use of the word ‘friends’ would be a grave exaggerration, all live in the town outside which the garage is situated. The town, its buildings and its inhabitants all have a down at heel, slightly shabby feel to them. Far from the boom one character talks about the family holiday in Trabolgan with an anticipation the more jaded palettes would struggle to muster for New York.

The cars are old and in poor repair. The drinkers in the local pub convey an air of hopeless stagnation, stuck at the point they have reached in their lives with no hope of getting out. This isn’t overdone. Bits are not falling out of walls and the shop where the always wonderful Anne Marie Duff is employed doesn’t have Soviet era food queues. But the general air is of a community shut off from the outside world. There are almost no references to events or locations outside of ‘town’.

Both Mrs Little and I are from rural backgrounds and maybe that’s why parts of the film remind us so much of people and places we know. Every small Irish town has a Josie. The butt of jokes and bullies, or the recipient of patronising toleration. Every small Irish town has its aging and lonely bachelors. Mrs Little could not just recognise the characters, she was able to match them up with real people from the town in which she grew up in the midlands.

As has been frequently pointed out here in a criticism of O’Halloran’s work, the characters are passive. Their failures are taken out in occasional abuse, verbal or physical, towards Josie, the weakest of their number. None, not a single one of them, takes a positive action of any kind with, ironically, the exception of Josie who busies himself trying to improve the garage and come up with ideas for the business, however minor. Instead, they are numb themselves with alcohol.

The film is about Josie and his lonely existence. It’s not as centred on the themes of poverty and class to the same extent that O’Halloran’s other works are, but there is an absence of depictions of the rural working class in Ireland, and in particular of rural poverty in Irish media these days and it’s interesting to see it even if it is the backdrop to a story, rather than a key element of it.

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1. WorldbyStorm - October 13, 2007

The distinctiveness of rural working class life has – I’d argue – often been ignored, and yet when one looks at how it has informed the left in this country from Peadar O’Donnell onwards it’s crucial to it.

It always used to amuse me, but also make me wonder, when travelling through Ireland in the 1980s one would see in the most out of the way spots the occasional punk or goth. I knew quite a few too and that sort of nebulous oppositional stance, which granted was rarely clearly political, was sort of heartening and indicated the complexity of life there, something that was also ignored by the metropolitan ‘elites’, often left wing ones too…

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2. Peadar O’Donnell Weekend 2007 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - October 14, 2007

[…] is interesting to think of O’Donnell in the same week as franklittle has discussed Garage and depictions of the rural working class, and indeed as Making Sense was put up in the Left […]

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3. Donagh - October 15, 2007

It sounds good, and I’d have the same reservations about Short, so if the film is capable of overcoming those prejudices it must be worth watching. There is something about the insularity of rural areas that allows us to see particular ‘types’ easily. This is not a criticism of O’Halloran, as I get the impression that, as usual there is close attention to detail. My point about Prosperity before was that it was using social drama but taking the politics out and instead relying on the pathos of the ‘victim’ to keep the audience sympathetic to the character.

It’s curious too that O’Halloran should be following this vein of realism, considering that one of the best films in the last couple of years was a grimly comic film about a 63 year man with bowel trouble being ferried around different Romanian hospital departments until he eventually dies. The Death of Mr Lazarescu did have a moral point though, the indifference of others, and from what you describe there is that element in the Garage too. What I enjoyed most in DML, was the level of closely observed detail, like when Lazarescu calls on a neighbour across the hall to get a painkiller.

While he waits in the communal hallway as the wife goes to see if they have any the light keeps on going out, leaving Lazarescu and his male neighbour in complete darkness until L gets up and press it on again.

There is nothing about class, although we can guess the social circumstances and nothing overtly political – though again the indifference of hospital staff is part of it. Rather there is the accumulation of loads of specific and accurate detail. If the Garage is able to emulate that then I’d certainly look forward to watching it.

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4. Buying for Lefties II « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - January 7, 2008

[…] it’ll be available soon. Again, I wrote about this earlier in the year so more detail here. Best Irish film this year and a must-buy when it comes […]

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5. From the CLR Vaults: The film Garage and depictions of the rural working class – 2007 « The Cedar Lounge Revolution - September 8, 2010

[…] – 2007 September 8, 2010 Posted by WorldbyStorm in Culture. trackback Here’s a piece that franklittle, once of these parts – and sorely missed, wrote in 2007 – a review of […]

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