The Dig ***
Dirs: Ryan and Andy Tohill. With: Moe Dunford, Lorcan Cranitch, Francis Magee, Emily Taaffe. 97 mins. Cert: 15
Twins Ryan and Andy Tohill’s distinctive homecoming parable, further proof of Irish cinema’s resurgent boldness and versatility, finds a striking visual metaphor for the emotional labours required to find peace of mind nowadays. In the prologue’s teachable example of show-don’t-tell filmmaking, rough-hewn, edgy Ronan (Moe Dunford) returns to the boarded-up farmhouse he once called home with an apparent eye to starting afresh. An obstacle to the quiet life soon emerges, in the form of a crumpled older man, Sean (Lorcan Cranitch), observed digging up the adjoining peat bog. Why his quest agitates the prodigal farmhand is but gradually revealed, yet with admirable economy, the Tohills and screenwriter Stuart Drennan establish a stand-off between men in small dark holes who’ve sublimated all feeling into obsessive, possibly futile activity.
Certain shots framing these worker ants against the horizon reminded this viewer of Philip Haas’s underseen film of Paul Auster’s The Music of Chance, which set two disparate drifters to assembling a stone wall on an eccentric recluse’s estate. Yet the Tohills’ antagonists aren’t building but excavating, dragging themselves towards early or shallow graves; the idea of a long-buried past resurfacing in the Irish present carries a renewed resonance. Below the film’s mournful toplayer, indeed, there lurks a simmering, suppressed violence. We fear relations between this pair will only deteriorate if either party finds what they’re looking for, and while Sean’s daughter Roberta initially holds out some prospect of escaping these ruts, tending Ronan’s calluses and keeping a lid on da’s rage, actress Emily Taaffe gives even this prospective peacemaker her own flinty secrets.
That interior/exterior tension informs the whole picture, which often resembles a chamber piece yanked, for its own good, into a wide open space. Cinematographer Angus Mitchell, certainly, has a field day among these pitted landscapes and big brooding skies; this was evidently one of those shoots where everybody stood round waiting for the sun to go in. At times, the Tohills can be seen straining too hard for gravity. Roberta’s conspicuously filthy kitchen leaves us itching for a Brillo pad, and it’s a touch heavy-handed that closure should eventually be found at gunpoint. Yet it’s seen through and kept honest by committed performers who don’t mind getting their hands dirty: the bristling Dunford, haunted Cranitch and Francis Magee, as the old-school copper on everybody’s backs, etch subtly varied models of bruised, bloodied, borderline-toxic maleness.
The Dig opens in selected cinemas from today.