Foscadh (Shelter) review – gentle tale of oddball loner follows its own path | Movies


This is a quietly promising Irish Gaelic-language drama that features strong work from Dónall Ó Héalai as John, a handsome neurodivergent loner in the Connemara mountains who defies the expected categories: neither a victim, nor a holy fool. Gauche and often monosyllabic, he’s also quickly amused, embarrassingly horny and possessed of a solidity that seems to emanate from the land itself.

Twenty-eight-year-old John finds himself marooned in the adult world and in desperate need of direction when his mother dies suddenly. The “little God”, as a family friend puts it, raised by his parents is barely able to look after himself – let alone deal with being pestered by a local entrepreneur keen to scoop up his family’s land in order to put a windfarm there. After being beaten senseless by a local oik jealous of John’s supposed riches, he winds up on long hospital convalescence – and excited to be in regular close physical contact with nurse Siobhán (Fionnuala Flaherty).

Writer-director Seán Breathnach, adapting Donal Ryan’s novel The Thing About December for his second feature, opts for gently elliptical storytelling that has to lurch to join the different strands: the buy-out, the local intimidation, John’s ham-fisted attempts – egged on by Dave (Cillian O’Gairbhi), his hospital room-mate – to woo Siobhán. But the narrative style does seem a close fit for John’s off-kilter consciousness, and enables some striking cinematography; not just the sodden landscapes, but pathos-laden closeups such as the orphan’s eclipsed moon of a face at the funeral.

If Foscadh flirts with and finally swerves a hackneyed rural-tragic destiny in its final quarter, its ending feels like something of a compromise – and it’s a pity that Flaherty, as John’s sharp-tongued lover/surrogate mother, is out of the picture by then. But Ó Héalai fills the main character with a squirming, unabashed lust for life.

Foscadh (Shelter) is released in cinemas on 11 March.

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