What Richard Did

DW Mault on What Richard Did, and its director, a man of rare subtlety and daring…

Sometimes nature (and by nature I mean cinema) abhors a vacuum, how else do we explain the constant reminder of being back at school and all the horridness that entails; the philosophical ideal that whomever shouts loudest is deemed the most interesting.

Hence modern Anglophone cinema (or culture even), but then we live in a time that celebrates mediocrity and every other week Natalie Hayes gets invited on The Review Show (and let’s not forget the jury of the Booker!); so we should never be surprised by the world that surrounds us… But (and yes, there is always a but, an alternative) we happen upon a filmmaker who makes no fuss. Very much head down and onwards and upwards, or as John Lennon used to say: ‘Where are we going lads? The toppermost of the poppermost!”.

The stoic alabaster great known unknown has made three films, you may have seen them, you may even know his name… I am of course talking about Lenny Abrahamson, for it is he. A filmmaker who, for my money, is in the top three anglophone directors in the known universe.

His debut film Adam And Paul, a latter (modern) day interpretation of Vladimir and Estragon as crack addicts in a modern Dublin that Beckett would instantly recognize as a hell on earth, as distinct from American friendly representations of happy clappy smiley tourist Ireland. Adam And Paul was followed by a change of pace; away from urban nightmares and into rural stagnation. Garage invites us into the sheltered world of Josie, a mentally divergent exploited middle aged man who works a petrol station in the back end of nowhere. Garage shows us what happens when the search for intimacy in codified, closed communities, asks questions that no one is interested in the answer to. Pat Shortt (as Josie) gives a devastating portrayal of a loneliness yearning for the connection demanded by all sentient beings.

These two were acclaimed at various festivals but struggled both in Ireland and the UK, which seems to be the norm for such take it or leave it examples of abject in your face humanity. So the question of what next? Well Abrahamson, as I mentioned before, is a stoic in an industry full of preening dilettantes, so the unexpected should be expected and his latest film, What Richard Did, is no exception.

Another portrayal of modern Ireland that is a forced (but very needed) enema masquerading as philosophical X-Ray of what it means to exist. It’s no surprise to find out that, not for Abrahamson the waste of film school, but a First Class Honours Degree (Gold Medal) in physics and philosophy at Trinity College Dublin.

What Richard Did gives us many things; it introduces us to Jack Raynor (who has just been cast in Michael Bay’s latest Transformers Trilogy, which means that Bay must have seen WRD… The mind boggles) as the titular Richard. Richard is very much the Prince of his city, a golden boy who has everything. Captain of the rugby team and on the cusp of university and all that will bring, he hopefully talks about combining his studies with playing professional rugby. This all takes place in the moneyed suburbs of Dublin where the Celtic crash has had no effect, the days are spent at parties, beach houses and pubs; waiting for the summer to end and University to start.

Like previous pieces I written for The Double Negative, I want to tell you as little as possible about the plot (which is very slight, as it is), as you will get more out of the film the less you know. The first half of the film is disconcerting in the extreme as we follow Richard and his pals, waiting for elements of his darkness to arrive. That it never does makes WRD suspenseful while we come to the conclusion that Richard is a lovely, helpful, friendly guy. It’s at this point we start seconding guessing what’s in front of us, what is this ‘film’, what is coming?

The answers to these questions are not always answered, but what we see is how the beautiful rich may escapes moral searching by societal institutions, but the nagging sense of escape and guilt will never go away. WRD is close to a self contained masterpiece of the self and what it means to be. Is existentialism becoming popular? I doubt it, but this film can stand alongside the best of Camus and Kirkegaard: these are the playfields it takes us to and asks us very difficult questions.

So go and see and support this piece of ego analysis, that again gives Ireland an enema/X-Ray, and ask the question: why is no UK filmmaker giving us an enema/X-Ray? As for Lenny Abrahamson, what next? Well he’s making a film about Frank Sidebottom in America (with Michael Fassbender playing Frank). No, really!

What Richard Did screens 4pm @ FACT Thursday and was reviewed at the London Film Festival

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