Rose Plays Julie is a beautiful blend of visual poetry and expertly measured writing. From the first frame your eyes are permanently fixed on the back of a young woman staring off at a lighthouse in the distance. The voice of the main character comes in and lulls you further into the world of the movie. It’s one of those rare times when watching a film feels like a full experience.
Written and directed by duo Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, Rose Plays Julie follows Rose (Ann Skelly), a veterinary student in search of her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady). Once she conjures up the courage to confront her mother, she finds out the dark truth about her birth father (Aidan Gillen). The film is very heavy thematically, but it handles its subject matter with such care and poignancy, never once feeling exploitative or manipulative.
The pacing of the film is incredibly fluid and natural. It flows effortlessly from one scene to the next, and the unexpected turns it takes fit in seamlessly. While they can be jarring emotionally, they serve the story and add to the already established dark tone. The early sequences in Rose’s class where they are learning how to euthanize animals sets up immediately the future unpleasantness we can expect.
Ann Skelly is achingly heartbreaking as Rose. She draws you in with her quiet mysteriousness and holds your attention for every second that she is on screen. At first, you’re unsure of Rose’s true intentions in tracking down her birth mother. She lies multiple times in order to finally come face to face with her, while her mother is clearly resistant to speak with her. Once they finally do meet, the film shifts into a different kind of story. Rose’s mother, Ellen, tells her the name of her birth father, revealing a sinister truth that is unexpected to Rose and to the audience. Rose then becomes determined to confront her father.
At this point in the film, Rose’s journey becomes Ellen’s. Ellen, who was so against meeting her daughter, can’t help but reach out to her after their first meeting. This is what gives the movie its heart, the light in all the darkness. Their mother-daughter bond can finally grow, the seeds of which Ellen plants in her further interactions with Rose. The story is very much about confronting the horrors of the past, and the unknown beauty and relief that can come from it.
Rose Plays Julie is a harsh reminder of the real-life horrors that people live with every day. It treats this idea painfully realistically. While it has plenty of chances to go off the rails and become an over-the-top, brutal revenge tale, it stays focused on the story that it’s set out to tell. It’s meditative in its filmmaking, and quietly heart-wrenching and hopeful in its conclusion.
Dir: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
Scr: Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
Cast: Ann Skelly, Aidan Gillen, Orla Brady
Prd: David Collins, Cathleen Dore, Christine Molloy, Joe Lawlor
DOP: Tom Comerford
Runtime: 100 minutes
Rose Plays Julie is screening as part of the Nightstream film festival and has no official release date at this time.