Generally, the part of me that warms to tear-jerking cinema gets thoroughly battered by the part that watches Tarantino movies, but I guess that part was sated yesterday, leaving me susceptible to two heart-warming and (thankfully, subtly) tear-jerking movies that, on the surface, couldn’t be more different.
Seachd: The Inaccessible Pinnacle follows the fractious relationship between an orphaned boy and his grandfather, coloured by and contrasted against the stories the old man weaves for the boy and his siblings. Set in skye, it’s predominately in Gaelic, and mixes scenes of cosy domesticity with the bleak beauty of the island’s black basalt mountains (both familiar from family visits to Skye)
It quietly layers the stories, balancing the family drama with tales by turns romantic, tragic, supernatural and comic, tied up in the story of the boy’s return as his grandfather lies dying, in a tale with a touch of the supernatural that gently reinforces the boy’s need to face both the impact of the old man on his life, and the circumstances of his parent’s death
The Italian, in contrast, is a Russian film, filmed with an unflinching eye for the grime of a Russian winter. (In fact, the grime and mud might seem overkill, coating every car, churned up in every roas, but it’s entirely authentic – and it does end up with a certain beauty.) The central character, the Italian of the title, is also an orphan, a young boy whose angelic features have him singled out for adoption by an Italian couple. But rather than rejoicing in this chance at a new life, the boy is driven instead to search for the mother who abandoned him. The movie follows him as he travels to the town of his abandonment, lying his way with easy guile of the innocent.
The Italian is very much driven by the unforced performance of the boy, with a beautiful supporting cast playing his fellow orphans, from his pragmatic friend telling him to appreciate his chance to escape into a new life, to the older boy who runs the orphanage as a pint-sized mafia while retaining a sense of responsibility for the younger kids, to the girl who acts as mother figure to the younger boys, and the girl who helps him learn to read so that he can read his file and discover his mother’s whereabouts. The interactions between the children always seem natural, helping the story build organically.
In contrast, the adults in the film are far more caricatured, their actions nd their pursuit of the boy more farcical, even when shading into more ominous territory.
It’s a slow-burning film, drawing you in with a distinctive senswe of place and circumstance. And while there are a few moments when its young lead was clearly told to look sad, it’s a remarkable performance – and by extension, a remarkable directorial achievement.
In Seachd, the child actors are less impressive, but nonetheless more endearing than your standard issue precocious child – in both films, the children are children, not knowing references to an adult world. Seachd, however, is dominated by the charismatic figure of the grandfather, making the most of the Gaelic and its power in storytelling. (“Played by renowned poet and storyteller Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul” – no, I haven’t heard of him either, and his Wikipedia entry is in Gaelic…)
Seachd has some striking imagery – soft, lyrical images, like the Cuillins shrouded in mist and bathed in the orange light of sunset. Edinburgh Castle was doing something similar the other night, only it was shrouded in rain, and lit by the orange of sodium lights…