Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Sanctuary - consenting to a season of good will to all people in this sweet yet challenging coming of age film (QFT from 29 Dec to 4 Jan)

Sanctuary is a coming of age film that sees a group of young and not-so-young adults leaving their day centre to go on a festive trip to a local Galway cinema. Their normal work of stuffing folders with leaflets is coming to an end, and in the new year there will be skills-based workshops, but no more paid work.
“The way things are going around here I might not get another chance.”

For the tight-knit group who describe themselves as being “intellectually disabled” (in the UK we might be more used to the phrase ‘learning disability’). With the help of his key worker Tom (Robert Doherty), Larry (Kieran Coppinger), who has Down’s Syndrome and works in a fast food outlet, has engineered the opportunity slip across the road during the screening with his epileptic girlfriend Sophie (Charlene Kelly) to spend quality time in a hotel.

When Larry asks for a condom, Tom realises that he is stepping well over the legal line that criminalises sex outside of marriage* in the case of into hot and deep water. “Would it be different if we were normal?” asks Larry, using the ‘n’ word that Tom is professionally uncomfortable with.

Meanwhile, away from the dancing and romancing, interest in the film is waning – no surprise since it wasn’t chosen with anyone’s cinematic preference in mind – and the curious and shepherdless sheep start to scatter across Galway city centre. William (Frank Butcher) and Andrew (Patrick Becker) go out on the tear, Sandy (Emer Macken) flirts endlessly with Peter (Michael Hayes), Rita (Jennifer Cox) falls asleep before having a spliffing time, while Alice (Valerie Egan) and Matthew (Paul Connolly) go on a shopping spree and melt the heart of a burly security guard. Director Len Collin manages the mayhem beautifully, always stopping short of farce, but never afraid to let levity lift a scene’s mood.

Aside from the central challenge about consent and capacity to consent – which is dealt with both sympathetically and realistically – there is a second challenge to cinema audiences about whether they are well enough informed to hold prejudices about people who they may feel are different from them. The point at which shoppers, guards and cinema staff finally engage with the mutineers who are temporarily freed from Tom’s care, the barriers break down and they all relate to each other with a common humanity.

Larry displays a tenderness and compassion towards Sophie that is endearing, compensating for her tremor by pouring her tea and acting as the very role model of a complete gentleman. His confidence and aspirations meet Sophie’s past, and it’s a privilege to watch the pair’s intimate conversations.

Across the rest of the characters, there’s a mirroring of this compensation and complementation as the street smart and the logical, the impetuous and the thoughtful, combine into brilliant couplings that supply sanctuary to each other.

The twist at the end of this comedic movie is cruel yet credible as the superheroes finally bump into society’s buffers. While each of the day trippers clearly has more sense than their key worker Tom, should his transgressions be allowed to severely impact their lives and freedoms?

The 87 minute long film isn’t too tinselly - Christmas is the excuse for an outdoor market, bright lights and some super drone footage – but if this is truly the season of goodwill to all people, then Sanctuary is a timely reminder.

It’s one of art’s purposes to challenge stereotypes and give power to the marginalised. (You’ll find that in Rosemary Jenkinson’s play Lives in Translation which will tour again in 2018.)

Based on Christian O'Reilly’s play for the Blue Teapot Theatre Company and using its gifted cast, Sanctuary is a must-see film this Christmas. The performances are a tribute, in particular, to Coppinger and Kelly’s acting talent as they, along with the rest of the cast, lift the characters off the stage and onto the silver screen.

Sanctuary will be screened in Queen’s Film Theatre from Friday 29 December to Thursday 4 January.

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The Republic of Ireland’s Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 1993 made sex with someone who was ‘mentally impaired’ (the Act’s term, not mine) an offence, along with anyone soliciting or importuning. The legislation was there to protect vulnerable people from abuse. However it also overruled autonomy and the opportunity to consent. The 2017 Act amended this to outlaw sex with a ‘protected person’ defined by a ‘lack of capacity to consent … by reason of a mental or intellectual disability or a mental illness’.

1 comment:

Sonja said...

very intelligent and well written review. You've captured the mood & content perfectly