Despite being destined only for specialist events and cultural webs, shortsmaker and storyboard artist Nichola Bruce’s first feature, “I Could Read the Sky,” is an impressive slice of borderline avant-garde cinema, visualizing the memories, regrets and dreams of an aged Irishman dying in London. Sophisticated tech work, mixing film and transferred video, is a major plus in maintaining audience attention.
An unnamed Irish man (Dermot Healy), all sandy-white hair and straggly beard, sits rotting in a dingy, single-room apartment in London. Mostly heard in voiceover, but occasionally spoken direct to camera, his meandering, semi-poetic reminiscences of growing up on the west coast of Ireland and then moving round England as a declasse laborer are mirrored by abstract imagery and brief dialogue scenes featuring people from his past.
Though the film, based on an award-winning book, digs deep into the fatalistic melancholy at the heart of the Irish soul, it steers resolutely clear of history, politics and Anglo-Celtic differences. It’s more a remembrance of things lost, an expatriate’s free-form diary. Juxtaposing words and imagery, pic essentially falls into a category of Channel Four/British Film Institute–supported Brit cinema by directors like Tony Harrison (“Prometheus”) and Patrick Keiller (“London”), though more dreamlike and free-flowing, and eschewing their social/political observation.
Film has no narrative, more a long emotional arc, starting with a batch of memories from which the old man summons first family and friends, dispersed by poverty, then a measure of hope and, finally, some kind of contentment (“In the morning light, I let it go”). Figure of his late wife, Maggie (Maria Doyle Kennedy), runs through the film as an emotional anchor. Stephen Rea pops up in a puzzling cameo.
Healy is first-rate as the man with only death to look forward to. Behind-camera talent includes ace d.p. Seamus McGarvey, smooth effects work that uses morphing and overlapping images, and a varied and flavorsome music soundtrack including Irish artists Sinead O’Connor and fiddle player Martin Hayes.