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Rocky Road to Dublin

by Peter Lennon, Director; Raoul Coutard, Cinematographer
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 1967
DVD/VHS, 69 mins., b/w
Sales: Video/DVD, $348; rental: Video, $125
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com

The Making of Rocky Road to Dublin

by Paul Duane, Director; with Peter Lennon & Raoul Coutard
First Run/Icarus Films, Brooklyn, NY, 2004
DVD/Video, 27 mins., col/ b/w
Sales: Video-DVD, $225/$60; rental: Video, $398 both films together (ask Mosher if this is what he meant)
Distributor’s website: http://www.frif.com

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


Living in 1960s Paris and inspired by moviemakers of the French New Wave, Peter Lennon decided to make a documentary on his own hometown, Dublin, Ireland. Though he’d never made a film before, he confidently asked the eminent cinematographer Raoul Coutard to film it for him. Coutard agreed, and Lennon rushed to secure financing so the film could be shot quickly between Coutard’s other upcoming projects in France.

Lennon was opinionated as to what was holding back his nation from the promises of its revolutionary era of forty years before: the Catholic church and the weight of its traditions in every aspect of Irish life. He wanted to express this in the voices and faces of the Irish people. Yet besides scenes of schoolboys reciting the catechism with military precision, and the opinions of critical Irish intellectuals (Sean O’ Falain, Connor Cruise O’Brien), Lennon films a young priest Father Michael Cleary to let a seemngly progressive person in the church express himself. Lennon even gives the last word in the movie to a sincere, conservative octogenarian on the film censorship board.

Coutard masterfully films young people at a party, catching their laughter, glances and cigarettes. Irish-American director John Huston, in Dublin to shoot a forgotten Hollywood product, laments the lack of a homegrown Irish film industry. Rocky Road to Dublin was the last movie screened at the 1968 Cannes Film Festival, before Jean-Luc Godard and Francois Truffaut led a contingent that demanded the festival close down in solidarity with the students and workers marching in the streets of Paris.

The film was shown by student groups several times during the May ‘68 upheavals, and was extremely controversial in Ireland in subsequent showings on its home turf. It was restored by the Irish Film Institute in 2004, by then a center of a national film industry which serves a less religiously hidebound nation than Lennon depicted in the 1960s. In 2004 Paul Duane reunited Lennon and Coutard to walk the same Dublin streets and reminisce about the film and its reception. By then Father Cleary was remembered mostly for having fathered two children with his teenaged housekeeper, and Lennon was relieved to find schoolboys blissfully ignorant of the catechism. Taken as a pair, these two films spark lively discussion of the once-antithetical concepts of Ireland and progress.




Updated 1st February 2006

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