Film

James Joyce's Ulysses documentary 'a fine and stylish celebration' of Joyce's epic in its centenary year

James Joyce's Ulysses will screen at Docs Ireland on Friday

ADAM Low's new documentary James Joyce's Ulysses serves as a thoughtfully composed and scrupulously researched tribute to the infamous novel, which celebrates its centenary this year, and also as an engrossing point of access for those thus far defeated by the Irish literary maverick's most formidable and controversial tome.

"Don't read Ulysses, just be with Ulysses – live with it and just splash about for a while," advises Booker-winning Irish novelist Anne Enright, one of the many contributors to the new film, which has been produced as part of the BBC's Arena series and will screen at QFT Belfast on Friday night during the Docs Ireland festival in Belfast.

Enright's fellow Booker-winner Howard Jacobson goes further: "I think you're allowed to do a little bit of skipping here and there," he confides.

"And I think you're allowed not always to know what it means".

Low's documentary will be manna from heaven for anyone struggling with the cut of Joyce's jib in his celebrated 'day in the life' account of hapless Dubliner Leopold Bloom, an anti-Catholic and sexually explicit affair banned in the US and in Britain when it was originally published which takes unlikely inspiration from Homer's epic The Odyssey.

As the film points out, such 'lewd' content was an anomaly for Joyce in terms of his published works: the explicit language and descriptions in Ulysses were seemingly inspired by an exchange of increasingly 'rapturous' love letters with his wife-to-be (they didn't marry until 1937) Nora Barnacle, upon whom he modelled Bloom's wife, Molly.

"This book completely changed my life because of the permission I felt to write about the topics that I wanted to write about which had felt very taboo up until that time," comments author Eimear McBride, another of the documentary's many talking (and indeed reading) heads.

Other noteworthy contributors sharing insight regarding Ulysses include Colm Tóibín, Paul Muldoon, John McCourt, Nuala O'Connor and Joyce's biographer Kevin Birmingham.

"Joyce famously said that he would rather have one reader reading his book a million times than a million readers reading it once," offers the latter, who believes that Joyce's love letters to Norah were the 'model' for writing Ulysses.

"The reason why Ulysses is a 'difficult' novel is because Joyce treated readers as if like lovers. He wanted them to come in close, to lean in to the novel and to caress those words – to have a different, intimate relationship with it."

Cleverly deploying footage from TV and film adaptations of both Ulysses and its Greek inspiration, the documentary delves into other real-life inspirations for the novel along with exploring how and where it was written, the ways in which global concerns such as the rise anti-Semitism throughout Europe directly impacted its narrative and why women played a key role in bringing the book into the world.

A must-watch for anyone with a passing interest in or deep fascination for Joyce's Dublin epic, Adam Low's film is a fine and stylish celebration of Ulysses in its centenary year.

:: James Joyce's Ulysses will screen at 6pm on Friday July 1 at QFT Belfast as part of the Docs Ireland festival. Director Adam Low will take part in a post-screening Q&A. See docsireland.ie for tickets and full festival programme

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Film