A massive tragedy told in a minor key, “Pilgrim Hill” captures the plight of bachelor farmers in rural Ireland — decent men who endure hardscrabble conditions with no kin to benefit from their efforts. For the better part of Gerard Barrett’s invisibly scripted debut, the only person onscreen is forlorn-looking Jimmy Walsh (Joe Mullins), who shares his life with a sick, offscreen father and nearly 20 head of cattle. Sampling introspective moments from the man’s mostly solitary existence without ever slipping into tedium, this understated examination of a very specific microcosm features universal enough themes to move auds everywhere it travels.
Whatever rough edges the film may show can easily be forgiven upon learning that Barrett shot the feature for less than $6,000 over seven virtually sunless days. The result feels like pure documentary for the first hour or so, an illusion heightened by the helmer’s decision to intercut Jimmy’s routine — tending the cows, selling the milk in town, silently watching television — with a somber oncamera interview. Substituting for more traditional narration, this odd confessional footage heightens the pic’s naturalistic approach, making the unlucky breaks that follow feel more true-to-life.