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Non-Review Review: Aonrú

Aonrú offers a fascinating insight into life on Cape Clear Island off the west coast of Cork. The small community had subsisted for years on farming and fishing – as the documentary notes, “the farmers were fishermen and the fishermen were farmers.” Now, due to a number of intersecting and overlapping hurdles – both natural and man-made – the community finds itself struggling to provide a future for itself. The thirty minute documentary examines what it must be like to live on Cape Clear.

Skilfully constructed from a myriad of first-person accounts, archive footage and beautiful images of the region, Aonrú explores the pace of life in one of the most remote parts of the country.

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Director Dominic de Vere and producer Jason Gaffney have put together a compelling snapshot of life in the twenty-first century for the inhabitants of this isolated community. A lot of the film is driven by voice-over accounts of day-to-day living, from those who live on the island. Locals contemplate the unique difficulties facing somebody who might choose to life on the island, comparing the tranquil beauty of the summer with the harsh cruelty of the winter.

Local fishermen contemplate their future, as it seems harder and harder to survive in the industry. Part of that is down to the bad luck of local weather patterns; the community was rocked by a number of harrowing storms over the winter directly before Aonrú was filmed. Part of that is down to harsh economic realities, with small-scale local fishing operations unable to compete against gigantic trawlers and multinational corporations. With all of that going on, it is hard to begrudge those members of the community who decide to call it a day.

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Director Dominic de Vere plays these accounts over skilfully constructed (and often quite beautiful) compositions of life on the island. There is a sense of the ordinary beauty of day-to-day living on Cape Clear. This comes through in an encounter with a benign Basking Shark, shots of the fishing traps employed by local mariners, or even in montages of farming life on the island. The union of these personal anecdotes with these snapshots of life on the island presents a picture of just how unique the experience of living on Cape Clear must be.

If there is a problem with Aonrú, it is the fact that the documentary does not have a lot of time to establish context. It runs to only thirty minutes, an understandable concession to the market for such films. The film makes itself quite clear over its runtime, but it might have been worth adding just a quick piece of context to the start of the film – either before (or even during) the personal anecdote that opens the film. It is not a major problem, as de Vere and Gaffney carefully structure the film so it never becomes confusing, but Aonrú could be clearer coming out of the gate.

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That said, the film cleverly incorporates a significant amount of archive material that provides a clear sense of context for what is unfolding. The history of Cape Clear helps provide some reason for and understanding of its present situation, with Gaffney and de Vere providing a glimpse into the past of a community that has always existed quite apart from the mainland. Shots of farmers herding cows on to boats in archive footage are juxtaposed against contemporary footage of goods moving to and from the island, inviting the viewer to wonder how much has changed.

Once the documentary gets into the flow of things, it moves along smoothly. Aonrú offers a very thoughtful and insightful peek into a community off the southwest coast of Ireland that finds itself facing an existential crisis at the dawning of the twenty-first century.

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