Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Bookseller of Belfast: dreams, books and friendship

The Bookseller of Belfast is a marvellous film, and deserved its place in this year's Belfast Film Festival.

John Clancy is a man of letters. For years he ran a second hand bookshop in Smithfield. He admits to being a "crap businessman" often giving away books for free to customers. But he's a believer "in what goes round comes around" and always reckoned his generosity will be repaid. With the shop gone, his house is now stuffed full with books. But that doesn't stop him matching books to his old contacts.

John Clancy is also a man of community. He hails from Sailortown - a mixed community with poverty in common.

"We were so poor we got parcels from the third world. But you get fed up with bananas."

With an easy humour and a willingness to help, he's comfortable relating to all ages. Robert is a neighbour who lives across the road and dips into John's back catalogue to read books about Rome and the great emperors. The camera focuses on individual words as he voices each one under his breath, moving line at a time down the page. His brother Connor writes and performs raps about what he sees around him.

By day Jolene serves John his fry in the local greasy spoon. By night she's singing along to karaoke and entering music competitions, belting out medleys of country and western hits. And John's there in the audience proving support and enjoying the craic.

With amazing close-ups of the characters, it's as if the director Allesandra Celesia McIlduff is looking into their souls as she captures each person's image. Linkages across the generations - smoke, combing hair - are visually reinforced in exquisite shots that linger and resist the urge to pan away to action off screen.

As the director admitted in the Q&A after the screening, it is a film about dreams. Alcoholism played its part in shaping John's life. While he looks back on the pain in his family life, his younger friends look forward to a life in Detroit, or to musical success. And John - surrounded by a cloud of smoke - will be behind them all the way.

It's a beautifully shot film, that warmly portrays four wonderful open and warm Belfast characters. An amazing film that shouldn't be missed if you spot it popping up at a cinema or a festival near you.

Update - the award-winning film is being shown on BBC 1 NI on Monday 10 June at 10.35pm.

1 comment:

sailortown born said...

I watched and enjoyed this film. I came across this review of John because I was searching for a book about Sailortown written by Frank Carson and 2 others. I missed the part of Frank's TV interview some years ago when he gave the title of the book and have been searching for it ever since.
Can anyone help me to get this book please ?