Film Review: Pilgrim Hill

Title: Pilgrim Hill

Director: Gerard Barrett

Starring: Joe Mullins, Muiris Crowley, Keith Byrne

Release Date: April 12th

Writer/Director Gerard Barrett takes us to a lonely dairy farm in rural Ireland, and leaves us alone on Pilgrim Hill with Jimmy Walsh (Joe Mullins). Jimmy describes himself to his brother Tommy (Muiris Crowley) as being on the wrong side of 40, uneducated, and without hope for more. We follow Jimmy through his daily activities, repairing fences, herding the cows for milking, and cleaning. His days blend together, with a monotony occasionally broken when he can pop into the local for a few pints.

Pilgrim Hill is shot in a combination of interview-like talking heads in Jimmy’s kitchen, wide landscape shots that Jimmy moves through, and studious close-ups that bring us into the reality and tedium of his day. Eating, cooking, shopping, smoking, even sweeping the walk are all presented with a thoughtful view that puts us in Jimmy’s routine. Stunning to look at, and with a soundtrack mainly of ambient sound, our experience of Jimmy’s life grinds along.

Actor Joe Mullins portrays an exhausted man, lacking hope and left longing. In one of the interview sessions, he remarks that at night he looks into the distance and imagines what happens behind those lit windows, a husband coming home to a wife with children about, the normal life that has passed him by. He has assumed responsibility for an unseen father, who is now bedridden after a stroke. This previously abusive father, who took to drink after the death of his wife, is represented exclusively by a doorway, lit only as Jimmy enters or leaves the room.

Tommy’s life serves as a mirror for Jimmy’s, showing what is available without the responsibilities of the farm, or father. He arrives in his showy car, wearing a flashy tracksuit, and remarkably impractical trainers. Subsequently, when Tommy attempts to show Jimmy a good night, taking him to a dance club, we see Jimmy standing uncomfortably to the side, in a space that pulses, flashes and dances around him.

Despite winning awards at the Kerry Film Festival, Welsh Film Festival, and the Galway Film Fleadh, and Gerard being named Best New Irish Talent at the IFTAs, this will not be a film you take to movie night with the friends. The desperately lonely protagonist, and chilling effect of the farm will leave you in search of a pub, loud people, and the company of whichever of your friends is the most animated and encouraging of bad ideas.

In a Nutshell: Pilgrim Hill is an excellent movie and a great antidote to a recent viewing of The Sound of Music.

By Christopher Reed

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