Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

Milwaukee Film Festival: Song of the Sea

On Sunday morning, September 27th, we went to the Downer Theater to see the Milwaukee Film Festival's showing of "Song of the Sea," a 2014 animated feature by the same group that had done "The Secret of Kells," (2009), which we had enjoyed and admired.

We also enjoyed and admired "Song of the Sea." Unapologetically hand-drawn, two-dimensional, and often highly stylized, "Song of the Sea" is a truly beautiful film.

Contemporary in setting, the story incorporates classic elements of Celtic myth and legend. Bronach (voice by Lisa Hannigan), the wife of lighthouse keeper Conor (Brendan Gleeson), turns out to be a selkie, or seal-woman. About to give birth to their second child, she is compelled to return to the sea, leaving her newborn daughter with her husband. Before going, she exacts a promise from her elder child, Ben (David Rawle), that he will be as good a big brother as he can be. She also gives him a horn or pipe made out of a nautilus shell as keepsake.

Six years later, Ben is experiencing the typical frustrations of a brother with a young sister. In particular, Saoirse (pronounced "Sirsha") is fascinated by the ocean, whereas Ben is morbidly afraid of the element that claimed his mother. Added to his frustration is the fact that Saoirse, though a bright child has never spoken, which gives his grandmother (Fionnula Flanagan) ammunition in her battle with her son, Conor, over taking the children away from the lonely lighthouse to give them a "more normal" upbringing in Dublin.

When Saoirse plays her mother's shell-pipe, magic lights appear that lead her to the chest where Conor has hidden the "selkie coat" that she was born with. She puts it on, and spends a night swimming with the seals, which puts both Conor and Ben into a panic. Reluctantly, Conor agrees to send the children to the city with Granny.

Almost immediately, the children run away, intending to get back home, but are lead by the magic lights to a fairy mound (located in the middle of a Dublin traffic circle!), where they learn that Saoirse will be hunted by the goddess Macha (also Flannigan). Macha was the mother of Mac Lir (here portrayed as a giant). Unable to bear Mac Lir's grief at the loss of his children (in legend, turned to swans for 900 years by their stepmother), Macha stole away his emotions, which had the side effect of turning him to stone. Herself unhinged, Macha sets out to "help" all the spirit beings of Ireland by giving them the same "cure," which can only be undone by the song of the selkie.

The children have but one night in which to evade Macha's clutches, and find a way to get Saoirse (Lucy O'Connell), who still shows no signs of having a voice, to be able to sing the magic song.

What follows is a mythic adventure, as the children try to get home with both help and hindrance from the remaining mystical beings of Ireland. It works out to a beautiful, sad-sweet conclusion.

The artwork is powerful and expressive and does all that is needed to put the story across, amply aided by the voice acting and a sometimes poignant, sometimes rousing musical score.

"Song of the Sea" has our highest recommendation.

The movie was part of the Festival's "kid friendly" programming, and by all standards, it is, though may be intense for younger children.

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Tags: animation, fantasy
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