Dir: Leonard Abrahamson. Ireland-UK. 85mins
The remarkably assured second film from Lenny Abrahamson, Garage offers a portrait of village life in rural Ireland far removed from welcoming tourist-board cliches. Boasting a superb central performance by Pat Shortt, the film revolves around garage attendant Josie, a slow-witted, almost childlike individual whose marginal position in a close-knit, fiercely judgemental community in central Ireland falls apart when his friendship with a teenage boy lands him in trouble with the authorities.
Reuniting with Mark O'Halloran, the screenwriter of debut Adam & Joe, Abrahamson retains the bleak sensibility and affecting sympathy for social outsiders of that Dublin-set drugs drama, and impresses with a formal restraint and unhurried pace that takes a cue from the rhythms of his country setting.

The limited release Garage received in Ireland in October reflects the film's modest box- office prospects (it is set for a UK release next year by world cinema specialists Soda Pictures). However existing festival buzz - it recently added the best feature prize from the Turin film festival to its awards tally - and good critical coverage could make the film a solid arthouse proposition. The casting of familiar faces from television - Shortt is a popular comic and Shameless' Anne-Marie Duff has a supporting role - should boost its profile. Lacking the feel-good appeal of Once, another low-budget critically acclaimed Irish movie from 2007, Garage nonetheless has a strain of deadpan humour which works well with audiences.

Set in an unnamed village in central Ireland, the film is in large part a character study of Josie, the plump thirtysomething who looks after the garage of local businessman Mr Gallagher. Evidently mentally challenged - although his precise condition is left unspecified - Josie is a figure of unworldly innocence, alternately patronised and mocked by the fellow villagers he encounters during his routine trips to the shop and pub.

When Mr Gallagher sends teenage David (Ryan) to work with Josie, the elder man strikes up a friendship with the youth, a relationship that further underscores Josie's sense of arrested development. But after he jokingly shows David an excerpt from a porn film, a complaint is made to the local Garda, and Josie's life of self-contained routine begins to fall apart.

The centrepiece of the film is an affecting, impressively controlled performance by Shortt. Unable fully to comprehend complex adult relationships, Josie is emotionally remote, but, thanks to Shortt's performance of tell-tale looks and subtle physical gestures, he's never quite a blank.

The brief fit of self-reproach, for instance, that Josie expresses after shop-keeper Carmel (Duff) rebuffs his clumsy pass hints at deep, barely expressed anxieties around sexual desire, as does the plastered-on grin he wears during Carmel's chilly insistence that nothing will ever happen between the two. Just as effective is the look of slow-dawning mortification on his face after David scarpers on being shown the porn footage, gradually realising the offence he unknowingly caused.

But Garage is also a portrait of the small community in which Josie has spent his life. Throughout Abrahamson and O'Hallaran suggest a diminishing place for misfits like Josie as the bite of Celtic Tiger prosperity (most obviously signalled by the brash, business-like Mr Gallagher, whose family loyalty to Josie eventually counts for little) sinks further into his village.

But the film is also insightful about the stifling conservativism and casual cruelty that prevail in such isolated villages. The bullying Josie is subjected by the fellow patrons of his local pub is especially vivid: a sense that such behaviour is ingrained since childhood is conveyed with resonant economy by the performances and screenplay. Reliant on the opinion of others in a close-knit community, Josie is naturally mortifed when he gets into trouble with the law, leading to a sharply bleak turn of events.

O'Hallaran's screenplay is terse, vernacular, rippled with poetic imagery. In one scene Josie responds to a despairing speech by an old man with a vivid anecdote about eels in a bucket 'tying themselves in knots', a passage of almost Beckettian bleakness, which powerfully conveys Josie's inchoate discomfort. At times the film's sense of deadpan pastoral Gothic skirts close to self parody. A scene in which Josie encounters a local man drowning a bag full of puppies would recall Father Ted, Channel 4's sitcom about life on a remote Irish island, were not played with such note-perfect restraint.

With a style that favours static long shots, Abrahamson and his DoP Peter Robertson punctuate an otherwise subdued visual portrait of the village with moments of stilled pastoral beauty - such as view of a nearby lake in its glassy, slightly ominous power. The mix of documentary-style observation with more artful touches recalls the work of the Dardennes and the Bruno Dumont, although Garage operates a more accessibly naturalistic tone.

Production companies
Element Pictures (Ire)
Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (Ire)
Bord Scannán na Éireann (Ire)
Film4 (UK)
Radio Telefis Éireann (RTE)

International sales
MK2 Diffusion
(33) 1 44 67 30 80

Screen play
Mark O'Halloran

Ed Guiney

Executive producers
Peter Carlton
Andrew Lowe

Peter Robertson

Production design
Padraig O'Neill

Isobel Stephenson

Stephen Rennicks

Main cast
Pat Shortt
Anne-Marie Duff
Conor Ryan
John Keogh
Don Wycherley