Dir: Steve Barron. 2000. Ire-UK. 90mins.
Prod cos: Ruby Films/Henson with Samson Films. Int'l sales: Universal Pictures International, tel: (44) 207 307 1300. Prods: Alison Owen, Steve Barron. Exec prod David Collins. Scr: Wesley Burrowes. DoP: Brendan Galvin. Prod des: Mark Geraghty. Ed: David Yardley. Mus: Bob Geldof. Main cast: Imelda Staunton, Pete Postlethwaite, David Wilmot, Kerry Condon, Frank Kelly, Andrew Lovern.
Rat, which had its world premiere at the Galway Film Festival, is a surreal fable about family values which substitutes a father's (Postlethwaite) metamorphosis into a rat for the more conventional family drama plot triggers. When Hubert Flynn, a Dublin bread delivery man, comes home from work one day and turns into a normal-sized rat, his wife Conchita (Staunton), daughter Marietta (Condon), son Pius (Lovern) and know-all brother-in-law Mattie (Kelly) begin a series of family crisis meetings. Through these they fall under the influence of opportunistic hack Phelim Spratt (Wilmot) who convinces them that there's money to be mined from a book (and a film of the book) about their circumstances.
Fans of The Snapper or My Left Foot will find themselves on somewhat familiar ground here although Rat doesn't aim for the powerful emotional pay-off that these two successful Dublin dramas delivered. Nor does it go the route of Francois Ozon's Sitcom which features a family seduced by a rat's moral code. Instead, Rat is played pretty much as a straight drama, anchored by a superb and appropriately naturalistic performance from Imelda Staunton, and when performances, camera and script are working together there's a truly inventive and imaginative vision jumping off the screen.
There are comic moments in this film one is likely never to forget. At times though, the family's repetitive verbal disputes grate and Spratt's character isn't quite oily or sexy enough to convince us that he has the family under his thumb.
The audience reaction to Rat in Galway would suggest that the film has good, word of mouth-driven prospects at the Irish box office when it is released in early October. It will need very careful handling however, and its international potential will most likely be gauged from audience reaction at festivals over the coming months.