Michael Farr (Ciaran Hinds) is a widowed shop teacher in the seaside town of Cobh, County Cork Ireland. The hamlet is hosting a popular literary festival and Michael volunteers to help, driving the visiting writers around town. One of his passengers is a pretty author, Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle), is a ghost story writer and he just happens to see ghosts in “The Eclipse.”
Robin gives "The Eclipse" a B.
Widowed teacher and father of two Michael Farr (Ciarán Hinds, "Stop-Loss," HBO's "Rome") volunteers every year for the Cobh International Literary Festival held in his Irish seaside town. He's also been seeing the ghost of his father-in-law who is not yet dead, so he is more than a little intrigued by the author he is tasked with hosting as Lena Morelle (Iben Hjejle, "Mifune," "High Fidelity") writes knowingly of ghosts in her latest book, "The Eclipse."
Playwright Conor McPherson liked a story about a family man volunteering at a literary festival by Billy Roche, so he took it and went further, using the literary atmosphere as a springboard for an examination of grief that has some genuinely creepy moments. There is also a love triangle that adds, of all things, some comic interludes with Aidan Quinn's over the top performance of delusionally egotistical author Nicholas Holden. Cobh in County Cork Ireland is a stunning setting and music by Fionnuala Ní Chiosáin haunts along with the film's ghosts. Unfortunately, it is the ghostly part of the tale that is left hanging, but the film still succeeds on higher plains.
The filmmaking talent is on display from the opening frames. Closeups of an oil painting are juxtaposed with hotel staff setting up for a function and somehow McPherson creates a mood with these images. We meet Michael trying to cope with his two kids, especially teenaged Sarah, but as he prepares for bed a strange noise draws his attention. From the stairs, he sees a shadowy figure cross the landing. In the sitting room, a person shaped bump is prominent in the drapes. Tentatively, Michael draws the curtains and from outside the house we see that there is nothing there. He calls the nursing home where his father-in-law, Malachy (Jim Norton, "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas") lives, to see if he may have slipped out, but no.
For the length of the festival, Michael will find himself between Nicolas Holden, gunning to leave his wife for Lena Morelle and Lena, trying to extricate herself. When Michael begins to ask thoughtful questions about ghosts, the two begin to get to know each other and soon Nicolas sees Michael as his rival.
Firstly, "The Eclipse" is one of those films which makes you want to travel to the place where it was filmed. Cobh is a seaside resort where palm trees coexist with blackened Gothic churches and where things go bump or screech in the night. Secondly, it is a rare leading role for Ciarán Hinds and he takes us to a melancholy place with a performance that is at once lonely, inquisitive, spooked and hopeful. Aidan Quinn is hilarious, at least until his character turns violent, as a man who refuses to believe the woman he loves does not reciprocate. Watch his interruption of Lena's reading where Nicolas sees his rude behavior as endearing. Iben Hjejle is fun not only squirming away from his advances but as a horror author afraid of the dark. Her connection with Hinds is sweetly realistic.
The film does have flaws. That stunningly atmospheric music is completely inappropriate when used with a comic scene (as he calls out to Lena to be careful walking too close to the edge of a cliff, Michael falls into a hole). And while Michael's haunting by Malachy is really jolting, McPherson never gives us a reason for the odd relationship, or even Michael's perception of it. He does, however, present a portrait of grief in a setting both light and dark and that in itself is a beautiful achievement.
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