Friday, July 1, 2011

The Secret of Roan Inish (1995)
IRELAND/ USA --- fantasy

Dir: John Sayles

Mysteries of the ocean has enchanted mankind for centuries. The aquatic visions of another world beneath our earth is replete for storytellers to imagine wondrous creatures. Celtic myths and legends have successfully had a beautiful and long-lasting history on the world's cultures. We're all familiar with the leprechauns, banshees, will-o'-the-wisps, and faerie folk from these distant lands. The legends of mermaids are not exclusive to the Celtic, but they have had a unique signature and tradition from that part of the world. We are familiar with the sirens of Greco-Roman mythology and the cryptid Loch Ness monster of Scotland. The most famous tale we have is the fairy tale "The Little Mermaid" by Danish children's author Hans Christian Anderson, but the selkies is a different breed.

Based on a 1959 novel titled "The Secret of Ron Mor Skerry" by children's author Rosalie K. Fry, "The Secret of Roan Inish" delves into the legends of selkies and the traditions and beliefs that some Irish natives do not let go of. American indie filmmaker John Sayles (The Brother From Another Planet, Eight Men Out), transferred the book's locale of Scotland to the coast of western Ireland for the film adaptation. Taking place in the 1940's, this cordial family film is about a young girl named Fiona, who's mother has just passed away. Fiona's alcoholic father heads out to find work in the city and he sends his young daughter to live with her grandparents. She arrives to the shores of Roan Inish, a small village that seems untouched by the passage of time as many would have it be. Once there, she is regaled with tales of the old country and her ancestors by her grandfather.

He tells her of her own missing younger brother, Jamie, and how he was swept away in a cradle by the tide and given to the care of the seals. She then meets her older cousin Eamon, who gets in on the storytelling himself. They tell her of her own ancestry, and how they're great-great grandfather married a woman who was a selkie (a seal turned into a woman), and how she too returned to the sea. On these tall tales alone, Fiona begins to believe. She is egged on further by another relative who fills in more blanks in the story of exactly what happened. When Fiona decides upon herself to find Jamie, she goes out on her own adventure seeking out the mysteries of her own family lineage, and stumbling into her younger brother alive and stark naked. Her grand parents do not believe her, but upon her own faith and determination she convinces Eamon to help her build up the old cottage on Roan Inish for Jamie to return to. Eventually, once they fix up the cottage and with the looming threat of their own home being taken by landowners, her grand parents begin to come to terms that Fiona's belief may not be all imaginary, and that Jamie is truly alive and well, and that the sea has brought him back to them.

A whimsical children's film at it's innocent best. Sayles' almost precise documentarian style of direction makes the film's fantastic elements float through the realism seamlessly. Legendary cinematographer, Haskell Wexler, teams with Sayles again (They worked on "Matewan" and would re-team twice more) perfectly in this one, and not only portraying a very lush and mesmerizing Ireland, but pulling the audience into a world that feels outside of time. Director pet and composer Mason Daring utilizes classic ethnic Celtic themes in this, moving the film along with a haunting feeling like an old-time storytelling bard with an instrument.