Film review: Irish drama Tarrac has feelgood appeal

TARRAC (15, 94mins) Drama.

Starring: Kelly Gough, Lorcain Cranitch, Kate Nic Chonaonaigh, Kate Finegan, Rachel Feeney, Cillian O'Gairbhi

Director: Declan Recks

THEY say you can never go home again, and painful homecomings have been a cinematic staple for as long as images have been projected. Irish language drama Tarrac distinguishes itself from myriad forebears by adding an unusual 'underdog sports team' twist to its more familiar familial themes, utilising stunning coastal Co Kerry scenery as a backdrop and, of course, being entirely as Gaeilge.

Written by Eugene O'Brien, best known for the powerful Famine revenge thriller Black 47, Tarrac finds him shifting tonal gears for a much gentler drama centred on Aoife (Kelly Gough), a successful, career-minded 30-something returning to the tiny fishing village she left behind years ago.

Dublin-based Aoife has been forced home due to her father's ailing health. A salty lobsterman known to one and all as Bear (the always dependable Lorcan Cranitch), he makes his displeasure at Aoife's life choices and extended absence clear right from the get-go.

"Sure I had to nearly die to get you back here," Bear observes, bitterly, as the father/daughter pair are thrust together under the same roof for the first time since the sudden death of Aoife's mother. She was a top talent in Naomhóg (curragh racing): Aoife once showed great promise also, until grief intervened.

Her arrival home coincides with the village's rag-tag Naomhóg team having unexpectedly made it to the semi-finals of the coveted Munster Cup competition. They are captained by Aoife's old friend, Jude (Kate Nic Chonaonaigh), who's juggling a hectic family life with her rowing responsibilities.

This bittersweet glimpse of what might have been only adds to Aoife's homecoming turmoil. However, reconnecting with Jude and befriending the rest of the over-achieving, craic-prioritising, Jagerbomb-downing team also helps the emotionally guarded Aoife to finally emerge from her shell, as well as reminding her why she loved being on the water.

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The enigmatic Naomi (Rachel Feeney) is another talented rower, with Olympic-aspirations. She's just arrived on the scene as a blow-in at the local caravan park, and her form on the oars is apparent even from afar.

Could Aoife and Naomi provide the injection of discipline and ability the local Naomhóg team so badly need to help them defy expectation and clinch an historic victory?

You'll find no spoilers here.

Tarrac – Irish for 'pull', as in the rowing-related exclamation and the homing instinct – is pretty low-stakes fare, but it's sweetly entertaining nonetheless. A recurring theme of paternal expectation chaffing against the free will of offspring is well handled – including one dynamite scene between Cranitch and Gough, where the distressed Aoife finally boils over and gives dad a piece of her mind about the real 'abandonment' issues in their family.

There's an enjoyable camaraderie to the rowing and training scenes, which for the most part appear to have been admirably well executed by the actual cast rather than stunt-doubles. The on-water sequences are captured with visual aplomb by director Declan Recks (Eden, Pure Mule), and the film's final third successfully builds tension with regard to the potential successes of these 'sisters of the sea'.

Kudos is also due to O'Brien for not shoehorning a romantic subplot into a story that doesn't require one: other screenwriters please take note.

File under 'feelgood'.

What's that in Irish again?

Rating: 3/5

Tarrac opens at QFT Belfast on October 6. Tickets and showtimes via queensfilmtheatre.com