Film Review: Irish Film Cellar Door

Frances Winston reviews Cellar Door, an Irish film set in a mother-and-baby home situation 

Directed by: Viko Nikci – Starring: Karen Hassan, Catherine Walker, Mark O’Halloran

In a week that sees many big-budget, and award-contending movies released comes this Irish offering from writer/director, Viko Nikci. This initially premiered at the Galway Film Fleadh, and is finally getting a nationwide release. However, it is a difficult film to categorise.

On first viewing, it is difficult to tell what is going on. A young woman, Aidie (Hassan) comes to in a bath gasping for air, and the action flashes back and forth to a dance, a church, a conversation with her mother, and a classroom full of children, before jumping back to where it started in the bath several times, with only minor variations.

It is extremely confusing, and although the variations start to add up to a narrative, the repetition becomes tedious. It feels extremely disjointed. If Nikci’s intention was to make the audience feel the confusion of the protagonist, then he has succeeded.

The cinematography lends itself to this confusion also. It is shot mainly with a handheld camera, which gives a sense of instability, and there are a huge amount of extreme close-ups, which give a sense of claustrophobia to the whole thing.

As the ‘plot’ (I use quote marks as at this stage you’re still not quite sure what’s happening) develops, the repetition slows down, and you realise that she is in a mother-and-baby home, and her baby has been taken, and suddenly the story has potential. But again, it keeps shifting dynamic and using imagery (such as people soiling themselves) to push the story along.

When it does reach the payoff, everything makes sense, and it is one of the best and cleverest conclusions I’ve seen to a story in a while. However, the build up to it is too frustrating, and I felt that they could have been less heavy-handed with the repetition in the first 20 minutes or so, and still reached the same point, and had an audience in the state of confusion they are aiming for.

Hassan, O’Halloran, and Walker give fantastic performances, and I predict IFTA nods in their future. The editing is wonderful, as despite all the shifting timelines and scenarios, it never feels jarring. And in hindsight, you will find yourself appreciating this a lot more.

Truth be told, this is actually more of an experience than a film. However, in aiming for something so left-of-centre, I feel they may alienate some of their potential audience, which is a real shame, as it is fantastic to see an Irish film on the big screen.

I’ve a feeling that this is the kind of movie that will gain traction with word of mouth, rather than what any reviewer says, as each person who sees it will experience it differently. And if you like extremely strange and discombobulating stories, then you will love this. But it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

In Cinemas Now!

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