Friday, May 11, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Movie Review

It's a smoother ride today for once-restricted "Rocky Road to Dublin"

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars


"Rocky Road to Dublin," a documentary directed by Peter Lennon.

69 minutes. Shows with "The Making of 'Rocky Road to Dublin,' " 27 minutes. Not rated; suitable for general audiences.

Forty years ago, Peter Lennon's "Rocky Road to Dublin" played briefly at a small cinema in Ireland. Younger audiences cheered the film's refreshingly honest depiction of Ireland as "a community which survived nearly 700 years of English occupation and then nearly sank under the weight of its own heroes and clergy," but the mainstream establishment banished it.

Despite being one of the only documentaries to accurately portray Ireland as it was in the 1960s, "Rocky Road to Dublin" traveled a rocky road of its own. It was the last film shown at the truncated 1968 Cannes Film Festival (shut down by filmmakers in sympathy with the student and worker protests of May '68 in Paris) and, to this day, has never been shown on Irish TV. It remained nearly forgotten until it was restored by the Irish Film Board in 2004.

Inspired by the aesthetic immediacy of the French New Wave, Lennon (then working as a Paris correspondent for The Guardian) recruited the New Wave's greatest cinematographer, Raoul Coutard, to collaborate on this highly personal portrait of post-revolution Ireland — partially liberated from British dominance yet still squirming in the quicksand of outmoded tradition, burdened with a moribund economy, repressive church, rampant censorship, reactionary politics and an education system built on perpetuated ignorance.

For all of his critical bluntness, Lennon is also deeply affectionate toward his homeland, and the vividly filmed "Rocky Road" ends on a hopeful note that's been vindicated by Ireland's recent history.

Yet even as Lennon's interviews (with politicians, children, censors and artists including director John Huston and writer Sean O'Faoláin) indicate that change was inevitable, Ireland wasn't ready to accept the film in its own time. What could have been a turning point was instead a footnote of Irish cinema, seen now (with an accompanying 27-minute "making-of" documentary from 2004) to be a presciently accurate assessment of Ireland's turbulent national character at a pivotal time of transition.

Jeff Shannon:

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company


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