Irish Film Festival: Mammal

Scott Wallace
31st Mar 2017

Almost immediately, the enigmatic but suggestive title of the Irish film Mammal sheds an illuminating light on its subject matter. Australian acting legend Rachel Griffiths - fresh off a role in the crowd-pleasing Hacksaw Ridge - here plays the understated role of Margaret, a woman whose innate maternalism is confounded by grief and guilt. This quiet and intimate film tells the engrossing story of her relationship with a homeless youth.

Director Rebecca Daly and her co-writer Glenn Montgomery create a strikingly real, but still very poetic mise en scène from the film's first frames, where an underwater reverie is unceremoniously interrupted. Margaret goes about her business, but Griffiths wonderfully articulates the pain and loneliness underlying her every action. Simple, handheld photography, long takes, and restrained use of non-diegetic sound make the film almost voyeuristically intimate.

There is a certain perversity to the story, but its would-be Oedipus tale builds so slowly, with such subtle suggestion, and built around such complex and fully realised characters that it never feels forced or needlessly provocative. Barry Keoghan as the wayward Joe strikes the perfect balance - playing a closed book without being a closed book - like Margaret, his stoicism and self-serving behaviour hides a deep sorrow that finds a salve in the elder woman. 

Ultimately, this is not a film about desire as its surface of brutal eroticism would suggets, but about its equally universal flip side - the devastation of feeling unwanted. Mammal is a quiet and sensitive portrayal of two people who have a lot more in common than it would seem from the outside. In the pursuit of validation, both of the film's central character do thing that are worthy of reproach, but the film also makes a strong case for their redemption in a world of grey morality.

In Mammal, the deepest human impulses collide with the ways in which people are expected to behave. It's a gritty psychological drama that feels real and multifaceted, devoid of the melodrama it could easily have become. In the end, its thematic eloquence is jaw-dropping, concluding on an almost inaudible note of hope that will reverberate for days after viewing it. 

Mammal is showing as part of the 2017 Irish Film Festival Australia. Check out the Sydney Scoop calendar for screening details.