Talking Movies

March 9, 2012

Stella Days

Martin Sheen plays a parish priest in 1950s Ireland who defies his Bishop by opening a cinema in this tonally odd film that mixes some charm with considerable menace.
 
Fr Daniel Barry (Sheen) is an Irish priest who studied at Catholic University in Washington DC but has ended up in self-imposed exile in Tipperary after being passed over for promotion in the Vatican archives. 1950s Borrisokane is in the throes of rural electrification, and Stephen Rea’s morose features are put to wonderful use as prospective TD Brendan, the local head of the oddly unnamed ‘Party’, who’s delightfully mocked by Fr Barry at the beginning for offering a Dev launching RTE style equivocation on electricity perhaps being a boon. Fr Barry is in turn mocked for his learning by Bishop Hegarty (Tom Hickey) who instructs him to fundraise to construct a new Church. Barry’s decision to rebel is spurred by the arrival of new schoolteacher Tim (Trystan Gravelle) who lodges with Molly (Marcella Plunkett), whose husband is labouring in London.
 
Stella Days is a tonally odd film. It starts off as a charming recreation of a by-gone era in which a cinephile scholarly priest is inspired by a similarly fish out of water Dublin teacher to defy both his cinema-hating bishop and local penny-pinching worthy Brendan and convert the parish hall into a cinema rather than spending the money on building an unnecessary new church. A curiously underused Amy Huberman is on perma-smile as the local ESB cookery demonstrator explaining the new mod-cons, and there’re delightful touches like an absurdly recurring confession. But then proceedings take a sub-John McGahern turn as Molly’s son Joey (the kid from The Guard) observes without understanding the inevitable attraction between Tim and Molly, which causes local scandal courtesy of a terrifying cameo from Garrett Lombard as her absent husband – an extremely menacing 1950s teddyboy.
 
Sheen is on good form as a priest struggling with his own narcissism in a position he never wanted, as his mother had the vocation for him. Stella Days, like Catholics, is another Sheen film in which faith is always doubtful. Oddly for such a staunch Catholic Worker as Sheen only his role in Entertaining Angels as Dorothy Day’s mentor has really explored the power of faith. Jim Wallis, in God’s Politics, convincingly posited religious fundamentalism as primarily a reaction to fear. Bishop Hegarty is explicitly frightened to death of the world changing. This causes him, just years before TK Whitaker’s famous economic intervention, to think building churches like Cardinal Cullen a century earlier will revive the country. Brendan, another purveyor of stasis, also has complicated motives for his railings; including memorably condemning From Here to Eternity.
 
I have no idea who Stella Days is aimed at as it falls between two stools in its scripting, but Thaddeus O’Sullivan’s direction renders it consistently engaging fare.
 
3/5

Advertisements

Leave a Comment »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: