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Review: The Far Field


- In John Slattery's docu-fiction, a 90-year-old Irish farmer plays himself in a moving and ironic tale of loneliness

Review: The Far Field

“Someone to talk to.” This is the answer of Seamus Molloy, 90, to the marriage agency consultant (Sara Watson) who asks him what he looks for in a companion. The protagonist of John Slattery's docu-fiction The Far Field, in the 'Europe beyond borders' section of the Biografilm Festival, Seamus is a gentleman who looks after his farm in absolute solitude in an unspecified Irish location (the location is in fact Roscommon county). His life is punctuated by a routine that the elderly man carries out with a surprisingly slow and calm energy that allows him to do things that would bend even a young man: he collects coal for his stove, ploughs the field with his tractor, harvests potatoes from the soil, and then goes shopping and indulges in a Guinness at the pub. At home Seamus is constantly listening to the radio, cooking, and perpetually fending off the siege of cats, chickens and the neighbour's dog. The strange neighbour with the odd pair of boots (Dermot Ward, a small role in Game of Thrones) knocks on his door from time to time, while who appear to be Seamus's nieces (Rachel Murray and Hannah Slattery-Weisberg) - red hair, freckles, t-shirt, trousers and pink headband - bring him mail and food when they are not playing or dancing on the green lawn, in front of a somewhat blank-eyed audience: the cows.

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The mail, indeed. Seamus Molloy's everyday life seems to take a very different turn when he receives a letter from a certain Niamh, who writes to him after 60 years to say she would like to see him again. Seamus closes the letter, puts it back on the shelf, opens it again the next day to read the woman's address. He puts on his good suit, picks some flowers from his garden and takes the bus. At the rest home where Niamh is waiting for him, he peeks into the room for a moment (we do not see the woman), turns around and goes home.

John Slattery made his directorial debut in 2012 with Casablanca Mon Amour, a non-traditional road movie that explored the relationship between Hollywood and the Arab world from a Moroccan perspective. He went on to make a documentary about a monastery in Utah and the one he is working on now, Shelter in the Palace: Housing as a Human Right, is about a 12-year-old girl who works with Moms for Housing, a collective of homeless mothers in Oakland. The Far Field (written, directed, photographed and edited by Slattery) is a hybrid, and you only realise that Seamus Molloy is impersonating himself under an assumed name when the credits roll with his real name, John Murray.

Slattery follows him by holding the camera steady, often placing it very low to magnify this man shrunken by age. We understand from the director's notes that Slattery wants to document the rural isolation to which the inertia and paradoxes of farming in Ireland have led after economic and technological changes. But we understand the figure of Seamus as a human archetype. We smile, between Gaelic humour and senile dementia, in the matrimonial agency scene ("Do you prefer men or women?" "I suppose ladies." "What race?" "Human race." "Is he sexually active?" "Don't know." "Is he Catholic?" "I'm Capricorn"). We are moved by the cemetery visit. Above all, we realise that growing old is a tough business and feel a tightening in our stomachs when Seamus looks in the mirror and the director edits 15 seconds of Super 8 footage showing the protagonist as a young man on that same farm. Preparing to die requires a new shirt and a clean suit.

The Far Field is an Irish-United States co-production by Leah Simon-Weisberg with Zween Works.

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(Translated from Italian)

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