Photograph by Bernard Walsh
MARRIAGE ON THE ROCKS: Eileen Walsh and Aidan Kelly are drifting apart in 'Eden.'
'Eden' exposes domestic blisters in the new Ireland
By Richard von Busack
GOING AGAINST expectations from the beginning, the Irish film Eden shows us a part of that nation that hasn't been in the movies before. Here are middle-class people better off than in Roddy Doyle novels. They go to a version of Weight Watchers, and they drive to work. When we see the old landmarks of Irish films—factories and muddy farm land and lichen-covered crosses—they're visited by revelers, laughing, with bottles of white wine in their hands. Much has changed in Eden's Ireland, from the level of affluence to the amount of leisure. But there is one remaining barrier to happiness: the huge divide between men and women. And the drama brings us right into the middle of that divide, with a husband and wife in unspoken opposition to each other. Breda (Eileen Walsh) is a mother of two whose husband, Billy (Aidan Kelly), still goes out drinking with the boys almost every night. He's a plain, balding virile man, weathered from his work as a telephone lineman. Part of his secrecy and withdrawal is due to an obsession: he has a serious crush on Imelda, the young daughter of a friend. As that desired girl, Sarah Greene doesn't have to say much. She has a lush mane of black hair, a dimpled baby face and dusky Celtic skin, much like the pelt of Catherine Zeta-Jones. And Imelda is in motion almost all the time: we don't ever get a really good look at her any more than Billy does. The only time Billy can catch up with Imelda is when her car gets a flat. This incident is staged on a bridge over a canal where Billy had his only great triumph in life, his rescue of a child who fell in the water, many years before. Eden's story is as firm and basic as Murnau's Sunrise, and it's handled with impressionist flair by director Declan Recks. Recks is not flashy. If anything, the step by step incidents that show how the machinery of a family household works on a Sunday may be too didactic. But Recks is surefooted when using fade-ins or jump cuts to depict the several drunken scenes. The smooth loss of consciousness as Billy rests on his own couch, eyes fluttering, is one state of mind. Another comes with the jaggedly cut images of boozy exhilaration after Billy has slipped the marital leash. He escapes to a party where he knows Imelda will be, having left his wife behind at the bar. "You don't bring apples to an orchard," he tells his buddies. Is that it? Imelda is the forbidden apple, luring Billy out of his marital paradise? That sounds too simple. But Recks' visuals are consistently involving. There's a solitary tree, symbolizing the lost Eden of a marriage, spotted by Billy during the course of his worst morning after. There's also Breda's walk of shame in her evening clothes at dawn. She stops silently to admire the dresses in a shop window, so we know she still has her pride left.
Walsh's brave and sad performance is the best thing in this good movie. She's not just an abject scorned wife, but a woman in love, who has options of her own. Sitting in the dark of a ruined factory, drinking yellow wine and telling her best female pal her most secret sexual fantasy, Walsh's Breda proves that the spirit of Molly Bloom is still alive.
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