If there's one thing that feels perfect when talking about Irish cinema, then it's just how great it has become at being incredibly unremarkable – and before the hate mail comes rolling in, it's meant as the biggest compliment possible. There's something about Irish cinema that perfectly represents the people of Ireland who enjoy the simple way of living. Lakelands – which is the feature debut from filmmaking duo Robert Higgins and Patrick McGivney – carries on this trend with such authentic expertise almost as if the directors lived this life themselves.
Filmed in the mainland region of County Longford, Lakelands features the exploits of Cian (Éanna Hardwicke) a young Gaelic footballer living the simple farm life and partial to a pint, or several, on a weekend. Cian's life gets turned upside down when he's attacked on a night out which leads to a head injury and a mountain of uncertainty. Struggling to come to terms with his own mortality and the thought of never playing football again, Cian attempts put his ego to one side and think about his future and well-being.
The small-town mentality is rife within this film, with Cian content to live this current routine for as long as he can. Football is his identity, and when he cannot play anymore, it leads to a flood of thoughts swamping his mind where only football once lived, with Cian even saying at one point “sometimes you get sick of doing the same things”. In this male-orientated world that Cian exists in, his father and his friends are the only people in his life, which is why he exhibits such a carefree existence. Toxic masculinity is the overriding theme in this film, whether it's Cian's overbearing pride that damages his inner worth, or his father's actions and basic methods of caring for his son during his time of need – although, the latter is actually quite endearing the more you think about it.
There's a clear lack of a female figure in his life (his mother died sometime before the events of the film) and when one does come into his life, in the form of old flame Grace (Danielle Galligan), Cian is automatically drawn to her, like a moth to a flame. Galligan's character is a superb addition to illuminate this young man's life; she can see through his façade with great ease and it allows Cian to open up for once when he's at his most vulnerable. Lakelands is a supremely effective film in showing the effects of a broken male ego and the corruption it can have on those people around him.
The atmosphere attached to the film is dreary but it matches the aesthetic of rural Ireland extremely well. It's cold and sodden, and the mood that the film projects upon you is of the same ilk. Lakelands is so sombre at times that it becomes depressing, there really isn't that much joy in this film, but that is life, right? It's just a really gritty and brilliantly true-to-life story that represents the essence of a mundane existence. There's nothing remarkable about this film, and strangely, that's the power of it, and this is what turns the film into a supremely authentic experience, one that you can't help but fall in love with.
Lakelands had its UK premiere at MANIFF 2023