Dir: Lenny Abrahamson. Ir. 2007. 85 mins.
Calling Garage a 'small' film would be true enough, but the Hope diamond, all things considered, is awfully small as well. Both, in any case, are gems.
The second feature of director Lenny Abrahamson, following his well-received debut film Adam & Paul, which won a slew of awards in the UK in 2005, Garage is an ultra-minimalist drama about a sweet and gentle man named Josie (Shortt) who works in a garage in rural Ireland and is treated, sometimes affectionately and sometimes brutally, as the village idiot by all and sundry.
A beatific smile plastered permanently on his face, the large but simple-minded Josie is taken advantage of by his boss, who gets him to work extra hours for no extra pay, and made fun of by his low-life chums in the local pub. When he befriends a new part-time helper at the garage, the 15-year-old David (Ryan), Josie is delighted to have a new drinking companion and fellow porn-watcher, not understanding that the rules of the grown-up world don't permit this kind of relationship.
By conventional standards, the film is quite slow, and won't be to everyone's liking. More patient viewers, however, will appreciate the brilliance of director Abrahamson and screenwriter Mark O'Halloran's calibration of the tiny ticks by means of which the slight story slowly and almost invisibly turns from comedy to tragedy, taking us emotionally along with it.
A great deal of the credit must also be given to actor Pat Shortt who manages to keep our sympathy, interest and identification throughout, while rarely altering expression. In one painful scene, an old friend tries to tell Josie how much pain he is suffering from ill health, but Josie doesn't understand and keeps returning the conversation to the safe exchange of cliches.
The comic timing of the first two thirds of the film, on the part of both actor and director, is impeccable, and every once in a while Abrahamson treats us to a bit of slapstick - as when Josie laboriously gathers up a bunch of empty beer cans, then, finding no receptacle to place them in, throws them all back into the high weeds. This allows us a moment of laughter to keep our focus sharp, yet never belittles the character.
The director and screenwriter are also good at planting little ideas, such as the drowning of some unwanted puppies early on the film, which set up emotional moments that will occur much later. Abrahamson also knows when to lay on the poetry - always in discreet helpings - as with the horse that Josie feeds several times and who appears again at the very end. Many scenes, maybe most of them, seem to be about little more than two people sitting next to each other, staring straight out and saying nothing. Yet they carry an understated resonance that combines with the gorgeous but equally understated cinematography to supply us with a lot more than at first glance meets the eye or the heart.
Irish Film Board