Cillian Murphy

Source: Berlinale

Cillian Murphy

Cillian Murphy, the Irish star of the Berlinale opening night film Small Things Like These, spoke of Ireland’s “collective trauma” and the ability of art to “be a really useful band for that wound” at a press conference ahead of the film’s world premiere later tonight (February 15).

Murphy headlines the first Irish independent feature to open the Berlinale. Set over Christmas 1985, Murphy plays devoted father and coal merchant Bill Furlong, who discovers shocking secrets kept by the convent in his town.

The film is set against the backdrop of Ireland’s Magdalene laundries, asylums run by Roman Catholic institutions from the 1820s until 1996, supposedly set up to reform “fallen women” – a term which included unmarried mothers and women deemed to have been, promiscuous, sexually abused or considered burdens on their families.

It is based on the book of the same name by Irish writer Claire Keegan, who also wrote Foster, adapted into the Oscar-nominated, Berlinale 2023 Irish-language film The Quiet Girl (An Cailín Ciúin).

“The book was a huge seller in Ireland, it seemed like everyone read it,” noted Murphy of Small Things Like These. “It asks a lot of questions about complicity and silence and shame.”

The film’s Belgian director Tim Mielants, who previously worked with Murphy on the third season of TV drama Peaky Blinders, noted, “I’m not Irish, I didn’t try to own it” but channelled his own experiences of grief when making the film. 

Small Things Like These

Source: Shane O’Connor

‘Small Things Like These’

Murphy was joined at the conference by fellow cast members Eileen Walsh and Emily Watson, with Watson describing the experience of making the film as “one of the great days of my acting life”, as well as the film’s producer Alan Moloney and executive producer Matt Damon.

Damon, who is also Murphy’s co-star in Oppenheimer, attended the Berlinale last year, to promote Kiss The Future, a documentary he produced about the siege of Sarajevo during the Bosnia War and the significance of a post-war concert performed by Irish band U2. Moloney was an executive producer on Kiss The Future. 

Damon spoke of the challenges and importance of getting politically charged films made, describing it as “an exercise of trust with the people you’re making the film with, and with your audience. This film doesn’t pander, it’s asking the audience to care about cinema. I believe there is enough of an audience in the world that still does.

“When I started out, getting work in the 90s, you would see movies like this all the time. It was part of our culture and lives. I’m grateful to bring a movie like this into theatres. It’s constantly in flux, but it’s not dead, so we’re going to keep trying to make great movies like this.”

Moloney described the film’s coming together as ”very serendipitous” owing to the connections between the cast and filmmaking team from previous projects. 

“I haven’t seen a film come together as quickly or as easily,” he added.