Lenny Abrahamson: A Dose of Realism from Ireland
Lenny Abrahamson is not exactly the kind of name one would readily associate with a man who is thought by many to be Ireland’s most promising film director. In fact, Abrahmson is of Jewish descent, a third generation Eastern European who was born in Dublin, and grew up in Rathfarnam. With just one short, two features, and a television mini-series under his belt, this 42 year old former commercial director has already been compared to The Dardenne Brothers, Robert Bresson, Ken Loach, and others known for working in the realm of social realist minimalism. Given the aesthetics and focus of his narrative work, it is perhaps antithetical that he should arise out of the world of commercials, although Ireland went through a long period of cinematic drought in the nineties when getting a film financed with Irish funds was nearly impossible.
Abrahamson attended Trinity college, receiving a degree in Philosophy, and went on to do a year of graduate study at Stanford. He was torn between his interest in the subject, and his desire to make film, however, and in 1991 made 3 Joes, a short shot on 16mm that garnered him a number of awards on the festival circuit. It’d be thirteen years before his first feature, time spent honing his craft making a number of popular TV ads for the UK market. The man behind the production of many of these commercials was Lenny Spears, who would introduce Abrahamson to actor and writer Mark O’Halloran, Abrahmson’s collaborator on all of his subsequent projects.
Adam and Paul (2004) is a darkly comic story of two homeless heroin addicts as they make their way through the streets of Dublin. Paul is played by Tom Murphy and Adam by screenwriter Mark O’Halloran. Over the course of several days the pair make efforts to cop drugs, food, and protection from the cold, rainy Irish weather, coming into contact with friends, family, fellow drug addicts, garda (police), and strangers in the process. Adam and Paul have all but completely alienated everyone in their circle. One of their close friends has recently died, but they are, in many ways, deadened emotionally. Their fuzziness due to their longtime drug use and deprivation of various kinds are the source of much humor as they stumble around trying to meet their basic needs. The undercurrent is much more serious, of course, as the two friends are obviously playing a dangerous game with their lives. There is real poignancy and beauty in their relationship, and a wealth of pain beneath the social and personal forces which have driven them to their current state.
Garage (2007) stars popular Irish comedian and television actor Pat Shortt as Josie, a middle-aged man of limited intellect living in a rural community in Western Ireland. Josie has a job pumping petrol at a local decaying garage. His boss John Gallagher (John Keogh), the owner, is a man who has known Josie their entire lives. Initially, we observe Josie going about his structured, rather solitary routine - living in relative squalor, uttering insipid inanities to those he encounters, pumping petrol, drinking pints at the local pub after work. As time goes on we are confronted with the deep sadness of this existence - his awkward crush on a young shopgirl Carmel (Anne-Marie Duff); the shit he is forced to eat when picked on by pub bully Breffni (Don Wyncherly). Into his small world comes David (Conor Ryan), a teen given a summer job by Gallagher. Josie and David develop an odd friendship that has unintended consequences for all concerned.
Adam and Paul was made for 400,000 euro and shot on a grueling twenty four day schedule at various locations on the streets of Dublin and The Ballymun Housing Estate in Dublin’s Northside. Garage was shot in Clare, and set in a town somewhere in Tipperary, on a budget of 2 million euro. Following Garage, Abrahamson went on to team with O’Halloran and the crew from Adam and Paul for another sociological study, Prosperity (2007), a four hour television mini-series for RTE’ that includes some of the secondary characters from Adam and Paul, and again takes place in the environs around Ballymun and Dublin centre.