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Film: Redemption of a Rogue

01 October 2021

Stephen Brown views the black comedy Redemption of a Rogue

Dying father (Hugh O’Brien) and returning son (Aaron Monaghan) in Redemption of a Rogue

Dying father (Hugh O’Brien) and returning son (Aaron Monaghan) in Redemption of a Rogue

TRAILERS for Redemption of a Rogue (Cert. 15) could do worse than bill it as the Prodigal Son drowning in Noah’s flood. The parable that Jesus told is a masterpiece of narrative, leaving us with intriguing questions. Was the son’s prepared apology genuine, or just a means of re-entry? Was it ever expressed to the father (God, we presume), who rushes out, restoring and forgiving him, when he is still a long way off? That is not what happens in this new film.

When Jimmy Cullen (Aaron Monaghan) returns to the fictional town of Ballylough in County Cavan, his dying father tries to strangle him — and that is after the son has offered his apology for whatever had caused the rift. The New Testament version leaves the question whether the elder brother accepts the parent’s invitation to join the feast, or whether he refuses to enter into the joy of the occasion. Here, Jimmy’s brother Damien (Kieran Roche) headbutts him by way of a welcome.

Redemption of a Rogue is black comedy set to music, and was originally designed as an opera of sorts. It didn’t make me laugh much, though. The weather stars. Constantly falling rain makes sure of that, darkening the skies and the mood of the piece. The father’s will stipulates that he can be buried only on a fine day. Until then, nobody can benefit from inheritances. All kinds of other films come to mind, from Kind Hearts and Coronets to the Coen Brothers’ output (Fargo or No Country for Old Men, for example). Even Groundhog Day.

The rain which raineth every day symbolises the perpetual trials and tribulations of our earthly existence. Is there a dove and plucked olive leaf in sight or a merciful father reassuring the denizens of Ballylough that it is party time? The heavens have opened without offering any apparent hope of light. Not all is as gloomy as this may suggest. No spoiler intended, but the chapter headings of the film range from “The Condemned” to “The Redemption”, fulfilling the promise of the film’s title. But what that consists of viewers must wait to see.

Philip Doherty, who wrote and directed, employs a variety of techniques to tell his story. Fantasies worthy of David Lynch or Frederico Fellini punctuate the plot; the music (and there is plenty of it) likewise. One item, “Soothe My Soul”, reinforces the need for some kind of resolution of the fate that has befallen the place and, most of all, Jimmy. From despair to hope, he cuts a Christ-like figure, inspired as he is by his conversations with the Blessed Virgin as she cadges one of his roll-up cigarettes.

There’s is plenty here to get one’s teeth into, including a wonderful exegesis of the plagues of Pharaoh and the transforming love of a good woman. Luke 15.11-32 it certainly isn’t, but it remains a richly religious piece. It is not only Jimmy who needs a friend, but the people of darkness.

On current release

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