Keeper, by Dayne Linford
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a peculiarly Irish quality to Paul Fraser’s My Brothers, even more than normal for an Irish film. The story of three brothers who just can’t catch a break, My Brothers exudes a sense of fatalism and despair, but also an incredible, wonderful tenderness, that is just pure Irish. The film opens with the father of these brothers, wracked with cancer, sucking on a cigarette, laying down, beginning the long process of dying. Noel, the oldest at 17, narrates his reflections on his father’s imminent death, and, desiring a keepsake, takes his father’s watch for himself. At school, he mutters an insult at a bully, who reacts by tackling Noel, pushing him into the dirt, and then stomping on his outstretched wrist, which bears his father’s watch. Both the watch and Noel’s wrist are busted. His father, laying at death’s doorstep, pleads for his missing watch deliriously and Noel, wracked with guilt, decides to go to the one place where he can get an exact replacement – the arcade machine his father first won it from in Ballybunion, an Irish seaside town. The family has no car, but Noel determines to “borrow” his employer’s bread van, and enlists the help of Paudie, his barely teenage younger brother, to help him drive manual since his wrist is injured. Catching them sneaking off, the youngest brother, Scwally, ends up joining them on the trip.
Lest you start imagining three wide eyed, red headed laddies laughing and skipping over wild green countryside, chasing after leprechauns, let me state that this film is about Ireland as it actually is – economically depressed, culturally broken, left adrift following a long history of violence, religious persecution (on all ends), and disillusionment (just in recent memory, the Troubles and the priest scandals, very like our own in America, come to mind). It is very much a film set in the real Ireland, following a family too poor to own a car, with a solitary cross adorning their wall that no one pays any attention to. What My Brothers is about is the long, difficult journey these three take into the recent, lost, happier past, confronting their grief, their anger and their pain, together, in opposition to each other, and separately.
But perhaps I’m belaboring the point a bit. Because what makes the film work is that it mixes the inescapable facts of this family’s life with a well-told, funny, rousing road trip. It helps to introduce the other two brothers here. Paudie, a chubby just-barely-teenager provides an incredibly foul mouth (“fuck” is such a great word in an Irish accent, by the way), constant rebellion against his brother’s authority, a sharp wit, and a raw emotional power only kids his age can really bring up. And Scwally, a little boy dressed always in a space helmet with a cape, a devoted fan of Star Wars, despite having never seen it, rounds out the three. It’s the chemistry between these three brothers, Noel, serious, brooding, Paudie, sharp-tongued, emotional, and Scwally, innocent, playful, that really sells the movie.
Part of what’s so refreshing about My Brothers, in this age of Godard imitations and Spiderman sequels, is its complete lack of pretension. It’s very gratifying to watch a simple story, well told, with no camera tricks or special effects, but an incredible awareness of the psychological depth of the characters and the great pain they are confronting among themselves and in their individual psyches. It’s by no means a perfect movie, but it is a very good one, all the more remarkable for the impact it carries as the movie concludes, a raw emotional depth that completely sneaks up on you. As a movie, it completely earns its heady subject matter even while it surprises you with its humor and depth. Very much worth seeing.