When All is Ruin Once Again”; impressionistic, elusive and impressive.

The filmic essay is a very par­tic­u­lar breed. Part of this the gold­en age of tele­vi­sion that we’re all lux­u­ri­at­ing in has been the pletho­ra of extra­or­di­nary doc­u­men­taries that the small screen now has to offer. Most con­spic­u­ous­ly with BBC4’s Sto­ryville strand, reviewed by me ear­li­er here. But the filmic essay is some­thing else entirely.

Adam Cur­tis, reviewed by me ear­li­er here, is the best exam­ple cur­rent­ly of some­one pro­duc­ing this very spe­cif­ic type of doc­u­men­tary. There are plen­ty of indi­vid­u­als who attack a sub­ject and pur­sue a par­tic­u­lar polemic in a con­scious­ly objec­tive man­ner. But an essay is an active attempt to try to under­stand something. 

Adam Cur­tis’ very per­son­al med­i­ta­tion on Afghanistan.

It’s open and ques­tion­ing where more con­ven­tion­al doc­u­men­taries are cru­sad­ing and con­fronta­tion­al. And When All is Ruin Once Again is a con­fi­dent and orig­i­nal addi­tion to its ranks.

The film is set in Gort, on the bor­der of Clare and Gal­way in the west of Ire­land, and is framed by the open­ing of a sec­tion of the motor­way between Gort and Crusheen, in 2010. But its com­ple­tion is prompt­ly abort­ed as what was then the reces­sion took hold. And it wasn’t until 2017 that it even­tu­al­ly came to be completed. 

The hus­band and wife team of Kei­th Walsh and Jill Beardsworth moved to Gort in 2010 and made the film over the fol­low­ing sev­en years. Doc­u­ment­ing the changes that the coun­try, and espe­cial­ly the West has under­gone, as we moved effec­tive­ly from the 19thcen­tu­ry into the 21stover a peri­od of lit­tle more than twen­ty years. And few things encap­su­late that change as per­ti­nent­ly as the trans­for­ma­tion ren­dered by the con­struc­tion of a motorway.

But the film refrains from lazi­ly con­trast­ing a noble if aus­tere past sul­lied by the enforced tran­si­tion to a crass, mate­ri­al­is­tic future. In which an Irish iden­ti­ty has been sac­ri­ficed on the altar of glob­al­iza­tion. What you get instead is a thought­ful and gen­tle por­trait of one gen­er­a­tion qui­et­ly mak­ing way for the nec­es­sary arrival of the next.

For the most part, the film avoids the sort of hec­tor­ing you might have feared giv­en the sub­ject mat­ter. It does take one mis­step. It ends with a voice over issu­ing a bog stan­dard warn­ing of the immi­nent envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phe that unchecked glob­al warm­ing presents. Which is a shame. Because that’s exact­ly that kind of tedious didac­ti­cism that the rest of the film so impres­sive­ly avoids. 

Apart from which, When All is Ruin Once Again is a refresh­ing­ly sub­tle and qui­et­ly per­son­al por­trait of a world in tran­si­tion. Which is nei­ther good nor bad. It sim­ply is, and ever thus will it be.

You can and should see it on the RTE Play­er. And you can see the trail­er for When All is Ruin Once Again below (though I should point out, a tad dis­ap­point­ing­ly if inevitably, it’s a pret­ty mis­lead­ing trail­er. The actu­al film is, hap­pi­ly, much less didac­tic than the trail­er implies.)

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