Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Love: The Secret of the Kells

Innovative, gorgeous, and moving, The Secret of the Kells evokes all sorts of vocabulary words that represent the awesome and stunning while leaving all the cliches behind.

Director Tomm Moore's (with Co-Director Nora Twomey) story begins in a typical Irish Abbey where monks are hard at work creating books and scripts as the early isolated monks were wont to do. Aware of an impending barbarian invasion, Abbot Cellach (Brendan Gleeson) whose shadow cleverly reflects his exhaustion, enlists the help of each monk and peasant to build a giant wall to protect the Abbey (and the books inside it). The Abbot's young nephew Brendan, however, finds himself distracted from the mission when a refugee, Brother Aiden from another Abbey, arrives with the beginnings of The Book of the Kells, an elaborate book that "turns darkness into light." As Aiden teaches Brendan the art of book making and unlocks his young mind, Brendan finds himself in the forest searching for materials to complete the masterpiece. There he meets the fairy Aisling who shows him the pagan magic of the forest and helps him along as he expands his imagination and his adventures become more and more perilous.

The film is just damn cool. The art work is a detailed mix somewhere between the actual The Book of the Kells and Samurai Jack, each individual frame creatively filled and worthy of a giant spot on your wall. Characters move dreamily through paneled pages, mist that starts as a pale curly cue engulfs the hero on his trip through the trees, and the forest is manicured in the turns and twists of classic Celtic symbols yet menacing and dark where it dips into shadow. The barbarian horde is a grumbling black mass, all horns and darkness as they stampede across the Irish wilderness. It's an oddly visceral image that makes it easy to imagine standing in front of an invader with a giant sword yelling at you in a language you've never heard. The fires from barbarian arrows burn and then transition into blood seeping across the page. Aisling, the fairy flows through her forest in haunting little whisps, her voice as haunting as her fragile image.

The tale is magical not only for its beauty, but for its ephemeral, ghost like quality. It's not too historical, or too religious, or too magical, but is an exquisitely spun thread of all three that exists within its own new mythological space.  Much of the magic occurs between Brendan and Aisling. While their relationship isn't romantic or that extensive in terms of screen time, it has the same sort of enchanting and haunting quality that exists between Oskar and Eli in Let the Right One In. The film also allows the gloom and terror to exist between the lines, slipping out occasionally at just the right moments (when Aisling encounters the spirit of Crom Cruaich, or when the Vikings finally attack), lending it a sharp edge that pricks along the back of your subconscious as much as the beautiful imagery does. While the pacing initially seems as manic as a Saturday morning cartoon, the story soon finds its center and dips into the flesh of its tale, almost mimicking Brendan's own transformation from basic artistic imagination to creative genius.

The Secret of the Kells has been notoriously hard to track down for many (it was in my city for a mere week, months after its release date), and was absolutely robbed of the Academy Award it was nominated for. It's worth rescheduling to catch a glimpse of this simple, captivating, and otherworldly work that represents one of the most unique views currently on film.

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