The Bachelor Padlock
by Nicholas O’Neill
Sep 12, 2012 | 4652 views | 0 0 comments | 224 224 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Pilgrim Hill is the story of a bachelor farmer in contemporary Ireland, living on a small-holding in Kerry with his dying father. Presented with deceptive simplicity and crafted in a clear, unsentimental manner that recalls the work of the Dardenne brothers, it is the most intriguing Irish feature debut since Neil Jordan’s Angel (1982). Nicholas O’Neill caught up with 24-year-old writer/director/producer/editor Gerard Barrett at his family’s farm near Listowel.

Nicholas O’Neill: You shot the film for the cost of a used car, in seven days. …

Gerard Barrett: It’s weird, Nick. I went into my local credit union and said I wanted to buy a car, and I think he knew I wasn’t actually planning to get a car, so he gave me 4,500 euros, and I said to myself, what can I do well with that?

O’Neill: There is a raw, cinema verité feel to the film. The main character Jimmy occasionally talks directly to the camera, while his father never appears in the film. How and when did you reach these formal and aesthetic decisions?

Barrett: All these decisions I made straight away when writing the script. First off, in terms of Jimmy’s “camera moments,” I really see them as confessions. I wanted to keep the story as real and as hard-boiled as possible. I wanted to give a punch to the stomach. By staying out of the father’s sickroom we get to feel Jimmy’s isolation all the more. And then there’s mystery in that too.

O’Neill: Similarly, there is naturalistic lighting, very little camera movement, no fast cutting and almost no music.

Barrett: Again, you know, I like portraying reality, especially in a story like this, otherwise it becomes fake. The (director of photography) had shot a lot of nature documentaries, and that’s what I wanted: for us to observe Jimmy. We are not telling a massive, big story here.

I spent a lot of time with my aunt and uncle and their life is so simple, but it is also very well planned. They could spend two or three hours eating breakfast because they are in no real rush. They have no one else. So I felt that the way to approach this was to be very, very simple. Someone said to me if I’d had more money, then I could have had a dolly and tracks, I could have had crane shots, but I said no, no way, because that’s not their world. Their world is static. It would have felt totally wrong.

O’Neill: Where did you find the actor for Jimmy?

Barrett: Well, I’m an awful hound for doing these things. I love finding new faces. That’s the most exciting thing about cinema for me, seeing new faces, you know? So, I was at this local play (well not local—it was in the next county) and I saw this fellow walk on stage and I knew he was a farmer straight away, because I’m a farmer, and we tend to walk bent forward, on the balls of our feet; I don’t know why. So I went around the back afterwards and introduced myself and said I had just finished college and had written this script and asked would he mind having a look at it. He rang first thing the next morning, and when we met up he was actually quite emotional and I was thinking, “Oh, what am I after, doing to this lad?” And he said to me, “This story that you have written is my life.” Joe was a gift to me. I think he gives a really lovely performance.

It’s weird that, after the screening in Galway, this priest from Pakistan came up to me and said it was the story of his brother, a goat farmer, who lives alone, apart from the family. That’s what’s exciting for me.  

Nicholas O’Neill is an Irish film producer now based in San Francisco.

PILGRIM HILL

Ireland, 2012, 96m

Director: Gerard Barrett

Starring: Keith Byrne, Muiris Crowley and Joe Mullins

Plays as part of Great Expectations

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