Screened at Berlin(Panorama). Dir: Kirsten Sheridan. Ireland-UK. 2001. 94mins.

First films invested with passion are not rare, but those supported by the skill to go with it are few and far between. Disco Pigs, Kirsten Sheridan's debut feature from Ireland, has moments which herald the emergence of a real film-maker of both passion and skill. The film also has weaknesses, usually due to ambition not fully achieved, and could struggle outside its home territory to become a viable commercial project. But it deserves both critical respect and some success as a bridge between entertainment and art.

The opening sequences are riveting, shot by Igor Jadue-Lillo and directed by Sheridan with real flair and imagination. Two babies are born at the same time and in the same hospital to different mothers. They seem almost like twins, instantly drawn to each other. Later, we see Pig (Murphy) and Runt (Cassidy) living next door to each other, going to the same school and virtually inseparable.

Gradually, however, the incipient tragedy unfolds. The boy is clearly an outsider, aggressively jealous of everybody and everything that comes between him and his girl. He is a rebel whose cause is only to be with her, not to join society as a whole. The result is that the girl's parents have to send her away to school elsewhere, half afraid that the boy will move heaven and earth to find her. He does so, just in time for a celebration of their joint 17th birthdays. Finally, his aggression towards everyone else and his almost morbid jealousy get the better of him and it is clear that this amour fou must end.

The fact that there is no sex between the two until the final sequences is a point in the film's favour. It does not go expectedly. This is about an obsessional love that is almost mystical in its origins rather than about consummated physical attraction. It is also about the probable ruin of such a relationship. Another undoubted plus point is the quality of the performances from Murphy and, in particular, Cassidy, one of the international young Shooting Stars paraded at the Berlin Festival.

Counting against the film is the fact that the watcher is likely to regard the boy as an incipient psychopath long before the director signals it, and there are times when the story's dream-like fantasy doesn't mesh with its realist elements. But if this renders Disco Pigs a little uneven at times, and too long in its middle section, it is still a holding first effort that isn't afraid to take risks. It has power, sincerity and no lack of imagination.

Sheridan, daughter of Jim, looks to have a considerable future. Technically, the film is fine, but what's important is its audacity.

Prod cos: Temple Films, Renaissance Films, Irish Film Board. Int'l sales: Renaissance Films. Prod: Ed Guiney. Scr: Edna Walsh. Cinematography: Igor Jadue-Lillo. Prod des: Zoe Macleod. Ed: Ben Yeates. Music: Gavin Friday, Maurice Seezer. Main cast: Elaine Cassidy, Cillian Murphy, Eleanor Methven, Geraldine O'Rawe, Brian O'Byrne, Darren Healy.