In View For All to See

in 65th International Film Festival Mannheim - Heidelberg

by Eithne O'Neill

Voice over against a black screen: then we see a youngish woman with a  Dublin accent telling risqué stories to men. Standing at bar, they laugh, then she is off. At the wheel of her car, she tries to light a cigarette. Already, the camera focusses on her in close-ups and American shots. This trivial frustration brings out some sort of inner dissatisfaction as she is stopped by a police-car. When the officers address her, we learn that she is Ruth. From the familiar way they confiscate her keys, she is a frequent offender. Rude as she is, Ruth seems to be getting off light. Driving “under the influence” is a serious offence in any country. On her own door-step, realizing that she has surrendered her house-keys, she breaks the door in. The place is a mess.

Dark-haired Ruth looks in the mirror. Severe hairdo, no make-up, and a forceful stride. No establishing shots, little indication of her profession. Step by step, the unravelling of a sorrowful person progresses. She works cooped up in a cubby-hole above the office where her work-mates huddle. But wait! These guys in uniform are members of the Garda Siochana, or simply Gardai, as the guardians of the peace in the Irish Republic are known. It transpires that Ruth is herself a police-woman. For reasons as yet unclear, she has been taken off the beat.

The setting is the North side of Dublin today, with particular emphasis on Glasnevin Cemetry. A constant motif is that of Ruth avoiding people who visit her. There is an impressive variety of shots of her hiding in the stairway, or in the upper stories of the house. As when a sequences starts off with her holding a tray with tea for three, frozen in uncertainty or unwillingness near the banisters, while a older couple sit in their overcoats in the drawing-room. “There will be an anniversary Mass in a fortnight; no doubt you willl not be present”, says the woman bitterly. This is her mother-in-law whom she does not deign to answer. There are other visual narrative ploys, such as showing an inscription on a fairly fresh grave-stone. Ruth is a widow.

In half of the film’s eighty odd scenes, there is no dialogue. Nevertheless, when Ruth is in more ostensibly polite company than in a working-class pub, she is articulate and comes to the point. Her depression can turn into aggressivity, as when she sends a harmless citizen away instead of simply renewing a passport. This rough handling reaches a climax when she cold-bloodedly punches a male colleague in the face after eaves-droppping on a discussion where he expresses his misgivings about her mental state. Alone, she drowns her sorrows in alcohol. In self-chastisement, she bangs her forehead against the wall, causing a wound which does not heal completely. Her cell-phone is her link with the outer world, notably with one mysterious Denis. Yet, although on friendly terms with him, their exchanges are cryptic.

Everything serves to describe Ruth’s inner turmoil. She strokes the emptied frames of her family photographs. Contrary to the cliché whereby time is a healer, Ruth’s condition worsens. As the trauma of the past years unfolds, her suffering reveals itself to be a blend of grief and guilt. Her pain reaches a high-point when she opts for what is to her the only appropriate solution. That is to leave this life as consciously as possible. A first feature film by Ciaran Creagh, a screenwriter, In View dares to tackle a taboo subject with an open-mind and considerable powers of writing In 2011, the script of the prize-winning film Parked presented at the Heidelberg-Mannheim Festival was signed by him.

The strategy of intense concentration on Ruth’s point of view which is her inner experience avoids the pitfall of her riding roughshod over the needs of others. She remains aware of their presence and sees herself as she is. At no time do we feel that she is out of her mind, however extreme her feelings are. This is thanks to the care given to building up the extent of her existential dilemma. Her obsessive mourning rings true and never strikes a note of self-pity. Two dramatic developments add to the convincing nature of her decision. The ordinary cures for prolonged life-prohibiting mourning are investigated on screen. Ruth jogs, she calls Denis, she calls the suicide SOS service. She goes to the Catholic church. In fact, she undertakes the last step on two occasions. By the second time however, without anything being said, her mood is more serene and she has reached some measure of calm. Thus a great example of black Irish humour is her second step, a visit to the undertaker’s. Then Ruth goes to the edge of the Irish Sea with a view of the peninsula of Howth, where Molly Bloom speaks her famous monologue at the end of Joyce’s Ulysess. There she flings her wedding ring into the water. In View reminds us of the stern humanity that characterised the Irish film Guiltrip by another screen-writer, the playwright Gerry Stembridge.

For the most part alone on the screen, the actress Caoilfhionn Dunne carries the film from start to finish. She evolves from depressive neglect of her appearance to a more careful and caring presentation of herself and of of the world she is leaving in view of her fellow-men. This is a film that eschews clichés about Ireland and fosters thought about what constitutes human dignity.

Eithne O’Neill