A small Irish charmer about two children who run away from their abusive homes and spend an eventful night in Dublin, Lance Daly's Kisses is so slight and whimsical that sometimes it feels more like a fairy tale than a dramatic feature film. Running to a mere 76 minutes, it is one of those fragile films which could be discovered by audiences if it is given the chance to build word-of-mouth like last year's Irish charmer Once. Or it could just as easily fall through the cracks.
Focus Features International picked up international rights recently after it won the Best Irish Feature award at the Galway Film Fleadh and that company's muscle could help it gain distribution deals, although distributors in English-speaking territories might be concerned at the thick Irish accents - many at the recent Toronto International Film Festival screenings complained that they couldn't understand large stretches of dialogue. Subtitling could be an option.
The film starts in black and white as we meet two pre-teen kids - Kylie and Dylan - who live in neighbouring houses on a super-bleak housing estate on the outskirts of Dublin. Dylan lives in constant fear of his alcoholic father who beats up his mother and two years previously drove Dylan's older brother away from home. Kylie lives with her single mother and five siblings but suffers silently from a sexually abusive uncle.
One day in the run up to Christmas Dylan runs away from the house with the help of Kylie after he has intervened in a row between his parents and injured his father. Kylie decides that the two of them must got to Dublin to find Dylan's brother and the two hop on board a dredger on its way into the city, piloted by a friendly Eastern European (David Bendito) who teaches them about Bob Dylan. By this point, colour has started to infuse the picture.
Once in Dublin, in full colour now, the kids spend all their money on new sneakers (on wheels) and clothes, but have no luck in finding Dylan's brother who is clearly homeless and living on the streets. As the night wears on, they encounter increasing danger but they learn to rely on each other for safety and love.
Daly captures the hustle and bustle of a pre-Christmas city centre well and there are some lovely touches - the sight of the kids wheeling around on their sneakers, the notion of kisses being all a penniless person has to offer. The kids - two unknowns from Dublin called Kelly O'Neill, 11 when she shot the film, and Shane Curry, 12 - give the kind of guilelessly natural performances that have the power to enchant audiences (see Kolya, Cinema Paradiso et al).
Ultimately, the film's fanciful elements - the appearance of a Bob Dylan lookalike (an uncredited Stephen Rea), a chase through the streets with Dylan hanging on to a car bumper - are less interesting than the child's eye view of the hardship, poverty and violence that is a familiar part of their lives. Daly's skill in working with the child actors is to illuminate their still-intact innocence in the face of the forces out to corrupt it - in the city and in their homes.
Focus Features International (+ 44 207 307 1330)
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