Goodnight Irene Directed by Paolo Marinou-Blanco

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Robert Pugh, photo Valentina Bonizzi

Robert Pugh, photo Valentina Bonizzi

Director: Paolo Marinou-Blanco

Cast: Robert Pugh, Nuno Lopes, Rita Loureiro

An exotic place, an eccentric character and enticing story make Goodnight Irene an excellent motion picture – perhaps the best shown in the 2008 Edinburgh International Film Festival.

Robert Pugh brilliantly plays an aging actor, expatriate and drunkard called Alexander Corless, who lives a life of solitude in Lisbon. No longer able to act on stage or screen, he makes his living doing voice-overs for travel films, “helping idiots from one part of the world get along with idiots from another.” He lives simply and alone until a beautiful young artist, Irene (Rita Loureiro), moves into the flat next door. When she asks him for help moving in, he has a characteristic temper tantrum and refuses to help. She, recognizing him as an interesting character and unafraid of his meanness, asks him to sit for a portrait. He does so and they soon become very dear friends, until one day she disappears without a word. So he and the neighbourhood stalker, Bruno (Nuno Lopes), form another unexpected friendship in an effort to find the missing Irene.

The film is written and directed expertly by Paolo Marinou-Blanco, who won the 2008 Silver Rosa Comuna for his work in Goodnight Irene. The script is certainly a great one, packed with quotable quotes. And Alex has to be one of the greatest characters ever conceived for the screen. He is at the same time complex and real, in a way not so apparent in most film characters. The audience regards him with ambivalence. He is a seedy, disagreeable, Famous-Grouse guzzling son-of-a-bitch. Yet these traits somehow make him all the more likable, for beneath his shell of cruelty, there is a fundamental kindness.

The ideas explored in Goodnight Irene are interesting and original. Alex is aging and must come to terms with merciless time and inevitable death. Less depressing is the film’s study of human relationships and how great friendship can come unexpectedly. The film is about life and understanding its purpose: to have a purpose. In a moment of drunken melancholia, Alex remarks: “If you get too good at surviving, you might forget what you’re doing it for.”

The acting in Goodnight Irene is superb. Robert Pugh is perfectly cast as Alex, making the film such a success. It is clear that he loves and understands his character and his voice and movement are perfect, as is his physical appearance itself. Nuno Lopes and Rita Loureiro also deliver perfection in the supporting rôles of Bruno and Irene.

The cinematography is likewise great. The opening scene is artfully filmed as a long shot taking the audience through the darkened rooms of Irene’s seemingly abandoned flat. The images captured of Lisbon and later the Spanish countryside are enrapturing and complement well the tone of the film, dramatic, yet comic simultaneously.

Goodnight Irene is a fantastic film that delves into issues of humanity important to anybody, particularly those amateur philosophers still stuck pondering on the meaning of life. It is not to be missed.

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