CINEMA MINIMA: Review - "visually compelling"

This week sees the world premiere of SEACHD: THE INACCESSIBLE PINNACLE at the 2007 Edinburgh International Film Festival. SEACHD is a feature length film entirely in Scottish Gaelic.

For many Americans, Scotland is a mystery. When I first re-located from Texas to Scotland, it certainly was for me, but I’ve been surprised at some of the questions I’ve received when I return to the States. “Do they speak English there?” and “Where is it?” are two of the most common and entertaining. The answers are respectively “yes” and “the entire northern part of Great Britain”. And no, they don’t wear kilts every day.

Though English is undoubtedly the language of Scotland, up in the far reaches of the Highlands and Islands are concentrations of those that natively speak Scottish Gaelic. It is a language that is slowly returning — though it will probably never reach the level of Welsh or Irish. As a result, it may have been a novel but not impossible undertaking when the team behind SEACHD set out to make a feature length Scottish Gaelic film — perhaps similar to shooting in Aramaic or Yucatec Maya.

The film is firmly rooted in the Scottish past, with old Scottish stories and legends brought to life via a series of flashbacks/vignettes told by a kindly grandfather. All of this is set in the context of a young boy, Angus, coming to terms with death and his roots. The Highlands and Islands backdrop makes for a visually compelling film, and Pàdruig Moireasdan as the young Aonghas/Angus and Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul as the storytelling grandfather both give the roles the requisite depth.

The pacing of the film was a bit off — at times it was a bit difficult to sort out the interplay between the fantasy world of the Gaelic stories and the modern day drama. I also felt like there were some moments firmly aimed at Scots which I simply didn’t get. Neither of these issues ruin the film — it is strong — but they are present nevertheless.

SEACHD easily could have been rather heavy-handed about ideas of Scottish nationalism and independence, especially given the subject matter (and language). For those outside of Scotland, this year has seen the election of a majority party in the Scottish Parliament with the platform of an independent Scotland (independent from the rest of the United Kingdom). Though there is the obligatory nods to oppression by English landowners, these form the backdrop to the stories rather than clubbing viewers with the image of a William Wallace bludgeoning the English.

SEACHD: THE INACCESSIBLE PINNACLE joins several other Scottish films at EIFF 2007. It screens on Thursday, 16 August 2007 at 19:30 and on Sunday, 19 August 2007 at 15:15.

by J S Hatcher