Lenny Abrahamson • Director
by Anna Maria Pasetti
10/12/2007 - Having won Best Film for Garage [trailer, film focus] at the Turin Film Festival headed by Nanni Moretti, Irish director Lenny Abrahamson is basking in the series of festival accolades garnered by the film, including at Cannes (where it won the Cicae Art and Essai cinema award), Toronto and Athens, as well as the London Film Festival where it screened in the Film on the Square section (see news), ahead of the film’s UK release in Spring 2008 (it was released in Ireland on October 5 and will hit French screens in January).
Cineuropa: Why did you decide to make a film like Garage?
Lenny Abrahamson: I wanted to make an emotionally intense film that would take the viewers on an emotional journey. The film’s storyline is far from complicated, but when directing it I used a very “cinematic” style and by this I mean a style that is very unlike the television drama style which many film productions, even European ones, are adopting these days. The takes are long, and it’s a challenge to maintain the viewers’ attention right to the end of the film. In any case, what interested me most when telling a story such a Josie’s on film was getting across the idea that something precious can be lost if you don’t cherish it.
Where did you get your inspiration for the film from?
From reality. My screenwriter Mark O’Halloran comes from the region where we made the film and in which the story Garage is set and he is familiar with the dynamics of communication between the members of the small communities in those parts of Ireland. To be even more specific, he had read about an event in the news which was very similar to the film’s story, and it happened to a person not unlike the character we created in Josie.
In the Irish provinces, is communication between people really still so strained?
Very strained. If you study the anthropology of small Irish communities, from the 1970s onwards, what strikes you is the inability to talk about experiences, to help each other through verbal exchange and to openly accept outsiders. Essentially, their attitude is a defensive one, related also to the history of the Irish people. On the contrary, in the cities, people obviously communicate much more freely, just as they do in other European urban centres.
So nobody is really to blame for what happens to Josie.
No, that’s right. There are no heroes and no guilty parties. It’s the situation itself which, in a sense, determines the outcome and perhaps that’s what I wanted to explore. The film is doing well in Ireland, probably because it gives an accurate depiction of the national “mentality”, even if the film’s stance is a critical one. And perhaps it can go some way towards helping people change.
How did you choose the lead actor?
Pat Shortt is a very popular comic actor in Ireland, especially on television. People were very surprised to see him chosen for a role such as the one he plays in Garage, but it appears that we made the right choice: Pat is remarkable in this role.
What is it like to work as a director in Ireland today?
Four out of five Irish directors of my generation (class of 1966, ndr) still live and work in Ireland. We all know each other, we’re good friends and make up a sort of little community, but we do communicate with one another, unlike the characters in Garage! We belong, along with other older and younger directors, to the Screen Directors’ Guild of Ireland, a form of association and union. I showed Garage to my director friends before accompanying it to Cannes for its premiere (it was screened in the Directors’ Fortnight, ndr) to find out what they thought the film’s strong points were, to hear their criticism and listen to any advice they may have. I find working together rewarding and inspiring. I also showed Garage to Neil Jordan, who today ranks as Ireland’s most successful and renowned director (even if he is often better known abroad), and he gave a positive verdict.