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Alan MaxWell [Celluloid 02.02.10] Ireland (Republic of) post apocalyptic movie review drama

Year: 2009
Directors: Factotum (Stephen Hackett & Richard West)
Writers: Factotum
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Alan Maxwell
Rating: 7 out of 10

The arts collective known as Factotum have long been an important part of Belfast's cultural landscape through their exhibitions, events and their own newspaper but Ditching marks their debut in the world of feature filmmaking. While the film never quite achieves the lofty heights it obviously has in mind, there is every reason to hope that this will not be their last celluloid endeavour.

Northern Ireland, the future. A major event, though we know not what nor when, has resulted in an almost total breakdown of society. The remaining survivors are left to scrape a daily existence from the land, wandering aimlessly through a desolate wasteland dotted with the occasional ruined building.

This is not some big-budget, post-nuclear Hollywood future where gangs do battle on souped-up machines with radioactive mutants. This is simply the dying of mankind, a bleak portrait of a world where life consists of endlessly trampling through muddy fields in search of the next meal.

Made independently with local talent (the most recognisable face in the film is probably Lalor Roddy, who has amassed a string of small roles in recent Irish films), the restricted budget for Ditching suits the film's arthouse sensibilities.

With little action to speak of, it is the characters who carry the film and inform the direction of the story, though Factotum's biggest triumph is arguably the creation of this stark futuristic nightmare. While the decision to restrict the action largely to farmland and wide open spaces may well have been dictated by budget it is a key factor in emphasising the bleak, despondent feel of the world envisioned by the film.

Allied with the barren landscape (and some talented production design for the few interior locations) is a score which borders on the atonal and in many places becomes so repetitive and monotonous as to be almost hypnotic. The result of collaboration between many local musical talents - including the renowned David Holmes - the music on the soundtrack could rarely be described as easy to listen to when divorced from the film but against the striking imagery goes quite some way towards immersing the audience in this dystopian Ulster.

On top of all this the filmmakers have undoubtedly been aided by the Irish weather. While it's not exactly a magnificent achievement to capture overcast skies in this part of the world, the constant grey that hangs overhead is responsible for a significant part of the look of Ditching (though one brief moment of sunshine in the final scene results in one of the most beautiful shots of the film). There have been many visions of the end of humanity, from the sun-blasted deserts of Mad Max to the nuclear winter of Terminator, through the psychedelic craziness of Damnation Alley. Rarely, however, has the apocalypse looked quite so beautifully dull as it does in Ditching.

While undeniably bleak and at times a little ponderous there are moments of dark humour in Ditching. Witness, for example, the post-apocalyptic variation on tennis being played by some of the survivors. Moments, too, of genuine weirdness abound. It is satisfying to see an Irish vision of the end of the world engaging with the great Celtic storytelling traditions (survivors tell tales of a supposed King of Ulster), some of the trip-like imagery conjured up may take it too close to Lynchian territory for the casual viewer.

Ditching is undoubtedly not for everyone - in truth it is very likely to appeal to a very small minority - but like it or not the guys from Factotum have flown the flag for the spirit of independent cinema and created a truly distinctive vision of the future.

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