Up to the point of me getting along to the Irish Film and Television Academy premiere of Charlie Casanova, the hype had been immense, much to the credit of Writer, Director and Producer, Terry McMahon, who kept pushing forward with his challenging, and yes, abrasive exploration of morality. Not just talking the talk of controversy for the sake if it, he has created a piece of independent, Irish cinema that we have not seen before, and will, I certainly believe, elevate to cult status for future generations to dissect, critique and quote from. And it seems, Terry’s incredible gift as a writer, as well as his tenacity, is paying off. To the right of him, there is the camp of fans that love the film with such enthusiasm, that collectively, they have become a major marketing tool in spreading the word. And to the left of him, the ones who hate the film; don’t get it, walk out on it, fear it, or simply can’t understand what the hell this character is on about. Whatever their feelings, they are still managing to generate just as much hype!
Terry describes his film as being a fractured narrative about a fractured man with a fractured mind. His description is very appropriate, and it got me wondering as to how many of his audience would go home with fractured thoughts of their own! As a film-goer, my quest, for ninety minutes or so, is to empathize, to live vicariously through another life, to walk in their shoes as I re-imagine through the writings of another. Why then, as I settled in to watch this movie, could I not shake an annoying discomfort? I did not like Charlie from the get go, but he’s a sociopath, so that’s a no brainer! And kudos to Emmet J Scanlon for his skill of transformation; from a well-heeled, over-educated, arrogant, yet strangely charismatic man, to a dangerous, viscerally ugly psychopath, and with such unrelenting realism that I truly believed the madness that was unfolding behind his eyes.
Leaving Charlie aside however, I could feel no empathy for any of the other characters. I did not like his wife, her responses to Charlie irritated me. Same for his friends, couples themselves in different forms of crisis. Why were they all so trusting of Charlie, so easily led by him? It irked me, a lot! So what the hell was I still sitting there for, in a cold, half-filled cinema, as the director said himself, for an hour and half of my life that I’ll never get back? What kept me hooked? Yes, I got it, the subtext and metaphor that Terry has spoken of many times, his reflection on society, and how, as a nation, we have allowed previous governments, without accountability, to kick the shite out of us, the immorality, and amorality of the continued criminalization of the poor, the very fabric of ‘family’ constantly under attack, and how we, as a society, continue to allow it, with no consequences and very few raised voices. So, in the thematic knowing of the piece, why was I feeling a tad troubled, yet compelled enough to stay on for the final gut-wrenching scene? (Even if it does end with the hauntingly beautiful and pure lament of Damien Dempsey!)
The answer? FEAR…the recognition of the trait that ironically, was the reason I so disliked the characters in Charlie’s life. So here’s my tuppence worth of fractured thought, brought to the fore by the menace to society that is Charlie Casanova. Terry made reference to the fact that the characters in the film needed to be in their thirties, because to be older, they would have experienced the Ireland of the eighties, and therefore, they would have known too much. Through the decades of the boom, a large proportion of the current middle classes (now the hidden poor, in many cases) have come from the working classes of that decade, as indeed, did Charlie’s people, so for me, the nail on the head has been truly hammered, and perhaps is where my own discomfort came from. In knowing too much from our past experiences, we can hardly bear to see it happening again. Even though it is happening. And if we cannot bear it, then we cannot face it, and so we bury the unease and carry on, minding our own and protecting what we have left with a societal and political lethargy that keeps that hammer raining down on us. And of our future, and that of our children, we blindly trust the universe, and get up each morning to salvage what hope we have left. Yes, we are fractured, as is our nation, but even in fear, it is the man and woman who get back up every day, get the kids to school and get on with their crappy paid and taxed-to-the-hilt jobs, who will keep that hope alive; but in the doing of the active citizen, the fear of change, and of fear itself, will also continue to thrive…
Footnote: I was recently at a writer’s event, where Terry, in his unique delivery, and I paraphrase here, stated that some people would like his film and some wouldn’t, and if they didn’t, fuck them! I have to admit, the comment riled me up. If I didn’t like it, then it would be right back at him.
I DID like the film, very much, so fuck you anyway, Terry!
Charlie Casanova has been acquired by Optimum/Studio Canal, the distributors behind ‘The Hurt Locker’, ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ and ‘The Wrestler’ in a deal that includes a 2012 UK and Irish cinema release: http://www.charliecasanovathemovie.com/