European Union Film Festival Review: Reflections in the Emerald Isle (2012)

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Director: Mark Magro
Country: Canada | Ireland
Genre: Documentary | Biography | Family | History
Official Trailer: Here


Editor’s Notes: The following review is part of our coverage for the 9th Annual European Union Film Festival, which runs from November 14th to 27th at Toronto’s Royal Cinema, with additional editions of the festival taking place in Ottawa and Vancouver. For more information on the festival visit eutorontofilmfest.ca and follow the European Union Film Festival on Twitter at @EUFFToronto.

“Can a child control where he is born?” is one of the many open ended questions posed by Reflections in the Emerald Isle, a film so fatally scattershot that the only suitable answer seems “no more than you can control yourself.” Mark Magro’s short is a strange offering indeed, wistfully wandering about Ireland as the narrator-director leaves voicemail messages to some distant dying relative and waxes lyrical without ever really saying anything much at all.

But one has to wonder, given the wandering way Magro moves from scene to scene with such a touristy eye he never establishes a sense of place, just what the idea here is.

It’s never a terribly good sign when a movie depends on a written premise to let audiences know what it’s about. That’s the case here and then some: were it not for the explanatory excerpt accompanying the film’s showings, none but its maker would be any the wiser. Even with the words, it’s not entirely clear; they tell of a trip to Ireland to explore its history, interrupted by the arrival of news that the filmmaker’s father is on his deathbed. The film we see, it seems, is a filtration of the grief that follows through the fog of memory and the verdant scenes of that emerald isle.

But one has to wonder, given the wandering way Magro moves from scene to scene with such a touristy eye he never establishes a sense of place, just what the idea here is. Cinema, documentary cinema in particular, affords the opportunity to equate the personal with the universal; here, instead, we have a reflection so inward and unique it’s impenetrable, so utterly alien to the scenes it’s set to that it seems less a full-blown film than a poem set to a holiday snapshot slideshow.

And ultimately that’s alright: the truth we seek above all is emotional, not actual. The problem, in the case of Reflections in the Emerald Isle, is that it never establishes any at all.

It might be forgivable, this folly, if ever it felt like an accident of emotion, but Magro’s movie is as methodical as it is, somehow, meandering. There’s a strange recurring setup that sees him shot through a half-focused haze, looking out to sea with a self-conscious stare you can actually catch glancing at the camera. It’s not just the absence of any indication of the original-intended project that suggests this setup is more staged than its documentary label claims.

And ultimately that’s alright: the truth we seek above all is emotional, not actual. The problem, in the case of Reflections in the Emerald Isle, is that it never establishes any at all. Never so much as deigning to tell the audience what it is they’re intended to be experiencing, this is a film that asks far more than it offers in return; a movie that’s not so much elliptical as it is just plain illogical.

[notification type=”star”]40/100 ~ BAD. Reflections in the Emerald Isle is a film that asks far more than it offers in return; a movie that’s not so much elliptical as it is just plain illogical. [/notification]

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About Author

Ronan Doyle is an Irish freelance film critic, whose work has appeared on Indiewire, FilmLinc, Film Ireland, FRED Film Radio, and otherwhere. He recently contributed a chapter on Arab cinema to the book Celluloid Ceiling, and is currently entangled in an all-encompassing volume on the work of Woody Allen. When not watching movies, reading about movies, writing about movies, or thinking about movies, he can be found talking about movies on Twitter. He is fuelled by tea and has heard of sleep, but finds the idea frightfully silly.