Michael MacBroom's understated second feature shows what can be done on a miniscule budget
When film students of the future look back on 2013, they may find it a watershed moment in the history of Northern Irish cinema.
After many years of baby steps – when we produced well-meaning but clichéd Troubles dramas and ham-fisted attempts at comedy – the Northern Ireland filmmaking fraternity now walks with the cocky stride of a teenager who knows that they’re not only talented, but cool.
Already in 2013 we’ve had Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s brash and brilliant Terri Hooley biopic, Good Vibrations, hit cinema screens a year after its triumphant world premiere at the 2012 Belfast Film Festival.
Following it into the multiplexes was Kieron J Walsh’s Derry~Londonderry set drama Jump, which, although it has its faults, is set in a recognisable post-Troubles universe and features rounded characters, as well as exquisite cinematography, realised on a limited budget of just over £1 million.
Such a budget would be a dream to writer/director, Michael MacBroom, who has just completed his second feature, Endless Life, for the paltry sum of £2,000. Despite the budgetary constraints, Endless Life is an artistic triumph, and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience than that lucky enough to catch the Belfast premiere.
Screening in a mobile cinema parked in Writer's Square (MacBroom is hoping for much larger screenings at various film festivals during the latter half of 2013), Endless Life takes us inside the lives of a small group of friends in modern day Belfast.
Eva is a free-spirited young woman who lives for the moment and gives little thought to the future. She shares a house with her friend, Claire. But when Claire decides to set up home with her boyfriend Rory, Eva accepts the invitation of her ex-boyfriend, Will, to live with him rent free for the summer.
At the same time another friend, Liza, is carrying out a tentative mating dance with Ciaran, a handsome young man who may or may not be leaving for America before the summer is over.
As MacBroom states in his nervous but charming introduction to the audience before the screening, the film is not about plot, it’s about the characters: how they interact, how they live with one another, how they communicate or don’t. And whilst this is true to a degree, MacBroom is doing himself a disservice.
Although a lot of the dialogue was improvised from his script by the largely unprofessional cast of actors, the storylines are delicately nuanced and understated, yet beautifully structured and with a satisfying sense of resolution.
As Eva, Karen Kinghan is a delight. Smart, playful and genuinely funny, Eva is a female lead all too rarely seen on film – a three-dimensional female character with thoughts and faults of her own. Eva is the hero of this story. She both accepts and embraces life, its triumphs and tragedies, and lives in the present. It’s the other characters in the movie who have trouble accepting her.
From ex-boyfriend Will (played by MacBroom) – who hungers for a renewal of their romantic relationship and grows increasingly obsessive as the summer progresses – to ex-housemate Claire, whose decision to move in with her boyfriend is as much about trying to get some distance from Eva as it is to build a nest. Only Liza seems to truly accept Eva as she is, and even she would like to imprison her in the ‘meet a guy, fall in love, get married’ scheme of life that Liza aspires to.
Technically, Endless Life also has a lot going for it, from Will McConnell's beautiful cinematography to the excellent performances of the principal cast (sadly, Conor Shaw, who plays Rory, died before the film was completed). It's a feel good movie with personality, and there are lots of understated but hilarious moments of everyday humour sprinkled throughout its 90 minute running time.
In a scene toward the end of the movie, Eva sits in a room alone and pours a glass of whiskey from a crystal decanter, just like the one her dead mother used to own. There is no dialogue, just Eva, her reflection in the mirror, and the ghost of her mother in silent communion. The scene lasts barely two minutes, but is one of the most affecting you will see on any cinema screen this year. And that’s something money by itself cannot buy.