The Other Side of Sleep (2011)

Article excerpt

Beyond the abnormally high instance of male crises narratives that dominate recent Irish film output (Parked, Savage, Sensation, Rewind, The Guard,) and genre cycles (notably horror) IFB/RTE funding has in recent years facilitated the emergence of a heretofore underexplored setting that has been absent and even reviled by Irish audiovisual media: the midlands. This is a broad church ranging from Garage, Eamon, Eden, the creative documentary His and Hers and the TV series Pure Mule. To this list we can now add Rebecca Daly's confident debut feature The Other Side of Sleep. A defining characteristic of these midland narratives is their contemporary setting in towns outside of the traditional rural / urban axis which take Ireland's interior as an expressive setting of indeterminacy and transition, albeit in often quite different ways. Stylistically they deliberately depart from the tourist gaze tradition of Ireland on film or generic conventions in an often meditative perception of landscapes and a built environment that is hodgepodge, unremarkable and all too familiar. In Lenny Abrahamson's Garage (2007) the unworldly lead character Josie searches in all the wrong places for a connection to his surroundings only to find himself shamed, fired and evicted. Presented in a series of vignettes that emphasize the small routines of Josie's life, the Irish small town, superficially a secure setting of close relationships and familiarity is imagined instead as a location of isolation and fragile networks; the garage in which he lives a make-shift home that externalizes his temporary and insecure status. Gerry Stembridge--attentive to the social resonance of Irish locations in films like Guiltrip (1995) and About Adam (2000)--offers in Alarm (2008) a portrait of a commuter development on the edge of a small town that is an unstable space of paranoia and foreboding. Structured around successive weekends, the drama of RTE's TV series Pure Mule (2005-) similarly pivots on an uncertain dynamic of stasis and change; the frustrations of small town life give way to routine escape into alcohol and the eventual decision of two characters to leave definitively and emigrate. The imaginative and very popular His and Hers (2009) also structures its trans-generational portrait of Irish women as a cyclical narrative but in a very different register; its midlands setting corresponding to the transitional, intermediate nature of life itself; a space between.

The Other Side of Sleep continues this spatial consciousness of the Irish midlands as an intermediate zone in a new and eerie configuration: between sleep and consciousness. More precisely, it imagines this midlands setting as an expressive site of trauma. The often oblique narrative centers on Arlene Kelly (Antonia Campbell Hughes) a young factory worker who is prone to sleepwalking and a plot triggered by the mysterious murder of a young girl, discovered by Arleen during one of her night walks.

Although described as a thriller, the film's dream-like tone and structure dampens any straightforward emotional engagement. Daly and co-writer Glenn Montgomery eschew narrative clarity in signaling what scenes we are to read as memory, sleepwalking or the conscious present. This oneiric shuffling of memory and events is a powerful conceit, reminiscent of European rather than American explorations of the theme. In a displacement familiar from the early films of Atom Egoyan, Arlene's muted, somnambulant response to the girl's death is linked to the personal trauma of her mother's disappearance when she was a young girl. …


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