"Oh, for fock's sake!"
- The opening line of Adam & Paul
The setting is O'Connell's Irish Bar in the heart of Tampere. The cast includes the Ambassador of Ireland and a varied bunch of guests enjoying the courtesy of the Irish Embassy and the good people of Jameson Whiskey. The atmosphere is relaxed and filled with merry discussion. We have just seen Garage, the opening film of the Irish Film Festival. The director of the film, Lenny Abrahamson, joins our table. We begin discussing the film's main character Josie, a middle-aged gas station employee.
ANTON ASIKAINEN (MONROE): To me, Garage was an extremely contemporary film (despite its unmodern setting) because I think that Josie's decisions come out of a feeling that there is no more room in today's world for the likes of him.
LENNY ABRAHAMSON: Yes, Josie acts the way he does because he feels like he has lost his place in the only community he knows.
Garage is noteworthy not least for its portrayal of a specific type of person. Josie is a portrait of a myriad of men struggling to keep up with the frenzied pace of the 21st century: he's simple, unambitious, country. Josie doesn't own a mobile phone and surely doesn't know how to send e-mail.
LA: We never tell this before screening Garage, but the story of Josie is based on a real life character. This small community is all that Josie knows and he is very loyal towards it. He has his own niche in his community and that is all he has in the world.
Garage depicts the consequences of a man losing everything he has, be it very little. So Garage becomes an elegy, albeit the lightest elegy I have ever seen. The humor and warmth come across as very authentic.
AA: What would you have done, had you met Josie? How would you have tried to help him?
LA: I think what Josie really needs, after the personal catastrophy like the one he has to face, is just someone to show him attention and care. I would have put my arm around his shoulder and let him know that he still matters.
AA: And he deserves that because he is a genuinely decent guy, a good person.
LA: He is!
AA: He's just simple, which shouldn't be... You said earlier that he isn't "media savvy".
LA: Yes, he isn't as aware as others are about how you should behave and act in today's world. Other town folk know they live in a shithole, but not Josie. He doesn't realize he lives in a shithole because it's all he knows and he is very loyal to that. And once his place in the community is lost, Josie's just...gone.
Garage also shows what useless weapons Josie's modesty and kindness are against bullying. We discuss something called "slagging".
LA: It's a certain way of men joking with each other. You can say something bad about your mate, but disguise it as a joke, so they can't really be openly offended by it. And someone like Josie can't defend himself from it.
This sounds very familiar and has to do with wielding power over others. Josie doesn't know how to play this game. Thus he is left vulnerable.
AA: Do you think that the society has any tools for helping people like Josie?
The answer to this question is a dishearteningly realistic no. Abrahamson says that society as a larger concept has not, but small communities could have a better chance taking care of each of its members. Afterwards I realize that the society could support and preserve these small, close-knit communities and thereby be of help.
Abrahamson declares his admiration for Aki Kaurismäki and openly admits having been influenced by the director of Match Factory Girl. Therefore it doesn't come as a surprise that Abrahamson is also a fan of Bresson's. But in its (very un-Bressonlike) humor and small scale Garage reminds me of Tom McCarthy's The Station Agent, a somewhat similar tale of an outsider just hanging on the edge of a community. In Garage, Pat Shortt does a tremendous job in giving form to all men like Josie. But who is Pat Shortt?
LA: He's actually a hugely popular comedian, whose style is very broad. Garage surprised a lot of people because it is very different from what they are used to when they go see something starring Pat Shortt.
(Pat Shortt won the Evening Standard British Film Award for Best Actor - shared with Michael Sheen in Frost/Nixon)
AA: How does he work?
LA: He isn't a method actor at all. As soon as the camera stops rolling, he's lighting up a smoke and having a laugh with the camera crew. Shortt is from the Midlands of Ireland, where we also shot the film, so he knew that region and was able to draw from several people he knew in his youth for his performance. He didn't try to become the character, but rather portray him.
AA: Exactly, it's like... immersion.
LA: It is immersion. Pat created Josie from the way he walks and uses his arms and gestures. That kind of an approach [where you don't try to live your character's life 24/7, but to give a certain impression] can sometimes be more effective than method acting for example. I think that comedians often make the best dramatic actors.
I agreed. The conversation continued on, but the details got a bit lost in the haze of a merry evening. As for the horse, each person who happens to see Garage - and we hope there are many - might want to discover it by themselves. Some enigmas should not be approached.
Big thanks to Lenny for visiting Finland and for a most delightful conversation.
Thanks to Liina for the help.