The Book That Wrote Itself (1999)

D: Liam Ó Móchain
S: Liam Ó Móchain, Antoinette Guiney

No budget feature from debuting writer, director, producer and star Liam Ó Móchain which blurs the boundaries between vanity production and authorial tour-de-force. The story revolves around Ó Móchain himself, who has just written what he thinks should be the great Irish novel, a mythological story encompassing all of the great hallmarks of classic narrative. When he is literally laughed at by publishers, he sets out to prove the relevance of the story to today by finding modern Irish equivalents to the quests and trials undergone by his characters. To this end he enlists the help of a would-be filmmaker, Antoinette Guiney, who is to chronicle his adventures. She is more interested in shooting a documentary profile of this extraordinary character, so as she participates in his various hare-brained schemes to steal precious objects and overcome self-made obstacles on the roads of Ireland, she records the story outside the story as well as the story itself. It is all terribly self-reflexive, obviously, but not entirely without internal consistency.

The Book That Wrote Itself evidently flies by the seat of its proverbial pants, with Ó Móchain's not unlikable persona as the centre of most of what makes it work. His gentle self-mockery allows the film to critique the spirit of entrepreneurial abandon which it also celebrates, and though he is no actor, he does exactly what he needs to to hold the film together. The climax comes when, having been convinced by conversations in the festival bar at the Galway Film Fleadh that his story is best told as cinema, Ó Móchain the character travels to the Cannes Film Festival. Under the guise of a reporter working for Irish television and taking advantage of the legislation covering the right to use interview material intended for publicity purposes, Ó Móchain the director manages to get cameo appearances from George Clooney, Kenneth Brannagh, Melanie Griffith, Bryan Singer, and Chazz Palminteri, among others. Though the footage is fairly clumsily integrated into the story, the scene is quite funny in context, and it epitomises the 'everything including the kitchen sink' attitude of the movie.

Best understood as part of a tradition of low budget Irish cinema of the 1990s including the likes of How to Cheat in the Leaving Certificate, November Afternoon, and Last Days in Dublin, The Book That Wrote Itself is not going to impress anyone on the grounds of technical quality. It is done well given the resources at its disposal, but there is an inevitable mental adjustment required to accommodate the low resolution imagery, limited depth of field, dodgy lighting, variable sound quality, and amateur acting. No one watching the film would expect fireworks, so it gets by on the level at which it is pitched. That said, the editing is solid enough to keep it lively. Editor Ray Fallon and supervising editor Coilín Ó Scolaí ensure that the performances are never given enough time to become annoying and that the audience is not distracted by the blurry hand-held home-movie nature of the images. This is a clever use of resources which, along with Ó Móchain's evident personality, it is the film's strongest card.

Though it runs out of steam before its 71 minutes are up, this is just because the gag winds down before the script does. A romantic sub-plot exploring tensions between Ó Móchain and Guiney peters away in the face of the lack of actual acting ability, but the film does rally for a final narrative twist which fits the story well. The running motif of the schism between fiction and documentary works well enough as far as it goes, but there is no attempt to broaden it out into full-blown mockumentary. It remains basically an amateur feature, and it is neither the first nor the last of its kind (Last Days in Dublin actually came after).

It is worth noting for the record that the entire production of this film proves the fact that life imitates art imitating life. With a real life doggedness reflected in his on screen characterisation, Ó Móchain has been tireless in self promotion of this movie, touring to virtually every film festival which would let him enter it with his film cans in tow. It has managed to pick up some awards and has been shown perhaps as widely as any Irish feature, at least geographically speaking.

Review by Harvey O'Brien PhD. copyright 2003.