SAD BEAUTY: Kings (with Colm Meaney) is sodden with the regret and recrimination that many films in the Magners fest share.
"Some things a man shouldn't forget: his land, his language, and his friends," admonishes Jap (Donal O'Kelly), a character in Tom Collins's melancholy bi-lingual (Irish and English) feature KINGS (2007), which screens Saturday at 9 pm at the Harvard Film Archive as part of this weekend's 10th Annual Magners Irish Film Festival.
His words come too late for his friend, Joe (ubiquitous Colm Meaney), an Irishman in self-imposed exile who's spent his life doing just that. Indeed, Kings, which is based on Jimmy Murphy's play The Kings of the Kilburn High Road, is sodden with regret and recrimination — moods that are shared by a good many of the festival films that were available for screening.
Kings focuses on four middle-aged friends who, having emigrated from the west of Ireland to London as young men and never quite finding the prosperity they'd sought, reunite for a fifth friend's funeral, and it traffics in familiar Irish themes: drink, displacement, depression. It succeeds, however, thanks to its visceral performances, the perceptive way with which it deals with issues of alienation (how proud Connemara, Donegal, and Kerry men venture across the Irish Sea only to become "Paddies" abroad), and its sadly beautiful cinematography, which is enlivened by little iconic touches like five flaming glasses of poitín.
In contrast, Bob Quinn's VOX HUMANA (NOTES FOR A SMALL OPERA), the festival's Director's Choice Award winner (Friday at 7 pm; all this weekend's screenings are at the HFA), is shot in plainspoken digital video. But its sumptuous soundtrack — gorgeous choral melodies from the Galway Baroque Singers — offers a stunning counterpoint to the rawness of its imagery. Luke Cauldwell's turn as a homeless man racked with guilt over a recent tragedy — a few flashing references to Nic Roeg's Don't Look Now offer a clue — is achingly keen. And his journey to eventual redemption in the company of the real-life choir (whose music is cleverly woven into the film's plot) is sketched with a sense of quiet grace.
Graham Cantwell's briskly plotted IRA drama ANTON (Saturday at 7 pm), which follows Anton O'Neill (Anthony Fox) as he returns home to County Cavan and is drawn into the dark maw of the Troubles, is a tangled bramble of romantic betrayal, misplaced patriotism, and world-shattering violence. Fergal O'Hanlon's cinematography — mossy forest floors, coursing slate-gray clouds, grimy Republican redoubts — is especially striking.
The mood isn't so much regret as resignation in Owen O'Neill's wistful and mordant "BASKET CASE," which won the festival's Best Short Fiction Award (it screens with Vox Humana on Friday). The film — about a man with a dying wife and the mystery gift he's building for her — is remarkable for the sheer number of moods it's able to fit into its 17 minutes: sympathy, tenderness, light humor, dark humor, suspense, shock, horror, and, at last, transcendent love.
There is, however, not a whiff of regret in Darren Thornton's superb short "FRANKIE" (Saturday at 2:30 pm). The title character, with his peat-thick Dublin accent (there are subtitles), buzzcut, and pint-sized pugilist's face, is played to perfection by Ryan Andrews. Thornton's expressive camera follows the 15-year-old expectant father as he totes a baby doll from school to hospital, pushing his pink stroller past the blighted detritus of his Northside housing estate and flipping off the jeers of his former friends as he prepares himself to be the best daddy ever. Funny and unabashedly heartfelt, it's like a patch of blue in a pewter Irish sky.
For a full listing of the nearly 50 films screening at the Magners Irish Film Festival, visit www.irishfilmfestival.com.