The colors are bright, almost too bright. The garden in bloom, orange and lavender blue flowers swaying in the wind, big yellow station wagon in the graveled drive, ivy winding its way up the faded cottage walls, and the little wooden dolls an emblem of family bliss: two kids, dad and mom. The camera lingers on the round blank face of the doll-mom, painted like a flower in orange and lavender blue, then it moves in, for a closer look.
The Caseys are the very picture of an ordinary happy Irish family. Young daughter Noni, clad in a frog suit knit by Gran, is busy pasting cut-out images, putting Mom and Dad’s faces on fashion dolls posed in a diorama of family life that extends across several shoe boxes, illuminated by a string of Christmas lights. Her freckled face lit with a smile of anticipation, her creation, makeshift and temporary, composed with so much hope and love, is imbued with a touching fragility, much like the family happiness it documents.
Steph Green’s debut feature film, Run & Jump, will be shown at the Haifa International Film Festival 2013. The film explores the life of a family as they struggle to find their footing in the aftermath of Dad – Conor’s stroke, which has left the handsome carpenter permanently brain-damaged. This could have been a grim film, it might easily have been an annoyingly sentimental film, yet it is neither.
The power of this film emanates from vivacious mom Vanetia (Maxine Peake), burning bright as her glowing red hair as she fixates on a coping strategy of humor, hyper-energy and good, old-fashioned denial. On the day she brings Conor (Edward MacLiam) home from rehab, she also brings a stranger into the family fold: American neuropsychologist Ted Fielding (Will Forte). Fielding has a grant to study stroke victim Conor, which brings at least a temporary financial respite to the family which has lost its provider. Just as Vanetia does not seem to comprehend or acknowledge the full implications of Conor’s situation, the ramifications of letting a stranger into her home and her own responses seem to take her by surprise.
Run & Jump does asks the pertinent big questions: Is there any hope for love when the one you love is no longer the same person you fell in love with? How can you care for a disabled family member without neglecting the others? Where is individual happiness in all this? Yet it recognizes that the answers to these questions are not found in great proclamations or revelations. Understanding is incremental and piece-meal, it accrues with the details of everyday life. Answers are found, lost, and found again, in different variations. The picture is never perfect, it is always makeshift, temporary, fragile, and kind of funny, like a little girl in a knit frog suit.
Some plot elements are rather predictable, others a bit too conveniently dramatic, yet on the whole the emotional landscape of the film is lively, amusing, and depicted with an honest complexity. Steph Green’s previous short film New Boy, based on a short story by Roddy Doyle, was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film in 2009. Joseph, who has come from Rwanda, is the new boy, and in just over ten minutes the film conveys a sense of his inner life and the brutal and comical interactions of classroom life, where alliances and enmities are forged and broken at break-neck speed. A similar sensibility is at work here. Run & Jump is at its best when it illuminates the imperfect bonds of understanding and affection between people, the desperate and silly ways of coping with difficult circumstances, that in surprising quirky ways seem to work, at least temporarily.
Run & Jump screening times at the Haifa International Film Festival: Thursday, September 19th at 16:00; Saturday, September 28th at 12:30. Tickets may be ordered online, on the festival website.
Run & Jump (Ireland/Germany, 2013, 102 min, English with Hebrew subtitles)
Director: Steph Green; Screenplay: Aibhe Keogan, Steph Green; DP: Kevin Richey; Editor: Nathan Nugent; Music: Sebastian Pille; Cast: Maxine Peake, Edward MacLiam, Will Forte, Ciara Gallagher, Brendan Morris; Festivals: Tribeca