November Afternoon (1996)

D: John Carney, Tom Hall
S: Michael McElhatton, Jayne Snow, Mark Doherty, Tristan Gribbin

Low key but fairly well done chamber piece, essentially a four-character play about incest between an adult brother and sister and its effect on their relationships with their lovers, at times reminiscent of Steven Poliakoff's Close My Eyes, but not quite as accomplished. Of course, given the inevitable tiny budget and extremely limited production recourses, the film received a rather large (and not totally undue, to be fair) amount of praise when it premiered at the Cork Film Festival.

On the plus side, the film accomplishes what it sets out to do. It takes four characters through an emotional odyssey over a supposedly friendly weekend in Dublin when the married sister comes home to visit her brother and his new girlfriend. As the jealousy and possessiveness of the sibling lovers spills over into their barely established romantic, the feelings of the second partners and the consequences of the continuing incestuous liaison are called into question. Everyone is forced to confront their feelings and each other and though a resolution is demanded, none is really given.

You can cite many influences on the piece, from John Casevettes to Woody Allen, and you may well note that it is unique among recent Irish films. It is an urban tale of urban lives, set in an identifiable, affluent middle class world rarely seen on the Irish screen. But, like films by both directors mentioned above, it can be a little alienating and the characters' self-absorption off putting. It probes a painful subject with more attention to the dramatic payoffs than the set ups, and the result is a film of pregnant pauses, meaningful frowns and moody introspection. Sometimes this world is interesting only to those who dwell within it, and with its relentless jazz score, grainy, hand held black and white photography and its determination to provoke the audience, it sometimes becomes irritatingly obvious and seems overstretched.

Obviously, this will not be a film to everyone's taste. But it should at least be acknowledged for having successfully carved its niche in the Irish market with a relatively uncontrived Irish context. November Afternoon works perfectly well within its own frames of reference, but unless you have a predisposition to these you might do well to just leave it alone.

Review by Harvey O'Brien copyright 1998.