'Triage'

An impulse more therapeutic than artistic drives "Triage."

An impulse more therapeutic than artistic drives “Triage,” a somber drama of wartime trauma and recovery that’s twice as earnest and half as enlightening as it needs to be. Colin Farrell’s dedicated turn as a wily combat photographer who runs out of luck isn’t enough to disguise the film’s medicinal nature, spelling meager commercial prospects in most markets.

Writer-director Danis Tanovic, who scored so decisively with his first feature, “No Man’s Land,” in 2001, is evidently still grappling with, if also perhaps trying to close the book on, the remaining residue of the conflict that engulfed his native Bosnia and Herzegovina. Whether he’s completely expunged his personal demons or not, he should probably try to find some new subject matter, at least temporarily, as the depiction of the endless strife and useless loss of life that generally preoccupies him is now yielding diminishing dramatic returns.

The hostilities in question this time involve late ’80s Kurdistan — a place, a local middle-aged medic laments, that has experienced eight different wars during his lifetime. Mark Walsh (Farrell) has made his reputation photographing such conflicts with his best friend, David (Jamie Sives). But when David decides to return to Ireland, where his wife is about to give birth, Mark opts to stay on to cover an upcoming offensive.

When a frazzled, battered Mark eventually makes his way back to Dublin, he finds that David has never turned up. For the first time in his life, Mark is genuinely rattled and unable to talk about what he’s just experienced, so his Spanish wife, Elena (Paz Vega), resorts to calling her despised psychiatrist grandfather to fly up to help.

Old Joaquin (Christopher Lee) is a grave, authoritative gentleman, hated by his granddaughter because, during and after the Spanish Civil War, he was on the Franco side and specialized in healing traumatized men who committed atrocities against the Loyalists.

Joaquin could have been a great role for the still-commanding, 87-year-old Lee, who brings his imposing bearing and resonant basso to everything he does. But nearly all his dialogue consists of explicit remedial insights; he’s Count Dracula as a self-help guru, Dr. Mengele as a full-time shrink, but to disappointingly one-dimensional effect.

When Mark can finally open up to Elena and David’s wife (Kelly Reilly) about what happened to David, it’s upsetting but not at all surprising, given the programmatic nature of the project. “There is no pattern as to who dies in war,” the film’s epigraph warns. “People die because they do. There is no more to it than that.” Unfortunately, the viewer is left no more enlightened at the end of the movie than at the beginning, which is only frustrating.

Led by a noticeably thin Farrell, who reportedly shed 30 pounds for the role, the cast members give what are often called committed performances. Shot in Spain and Ireland, the pic looks sharp.

Triage

Ireland-France-Spain

Production

An ASAP Films and Parallel Films production. (International sales: Hanway Films, London.) Produced by Alan Moloney, Cedomir Kolar, Tim Baschet. Co-producers, Susan Mullen, Mariela Besuievsky, Tim Baish. Directed, written by Danis Tanovic.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor, Panavision widescreen), Seamus Deasy; editors, Francesca Calvelli, Gareth Young; music, Lucio Godoy; additional music, Tanovic; production designer, Derek Wallace; art director, Michel Higgins; costume designer, Lorna Marie Mugan; sound (Dolby Digital), Brendan Deasy; sound designer, Samir Foco; re-recording mixer, John Fitzgerald; special effects supervisor, Pascal Molina; stunt coordinator, Donal O'Farrell; line producer, Patrick O'Donoghue; assistant director, Tony Aherne; casting, Nina Gold. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentations), Sept. 13, 2009. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Mark Walsh - Colin Farrell Elena Morales - Paz Vega Joaquin Morales - Christopher Lee Diane - Kelly Reilly David - Jamie Sives Dr. Talzani - Branko Djuric Amy - Juliet Stevenson

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