This intelligently scripted and brilliantly performed sex comedy from Irish writer/director Tom Hall opens with its’ lead actor masturbating in a field, eyeballing the nearby sheep. Donal’s not too great with the ladies, in fact he’s not too great with people in general and when his father dies of a cerebral haemorrhage on his stair lift (a brilliant sight gag as Donal discovers him), he finds he’s got some spare cash on his hands after selling off the livestock from his father’s farm. Following a recommendation from a fellow chat-room user, Donal contacts ‘Kiwi Courtney’ (“Is that your real name? ‘Cos mine’s not really sweetdick”) and arranges to meet her for a two hour ‘girlfriend experience’. Whilst Donal’s not too sure what to do with either his time or his newly acquired cash, Courtney (or Kim) has big plans for herself, and it’s not long before she’s hitting him up for a grand and drawing up business plans for an agency of her own, all funded by her initially naïve and eager-to-please new punter.
It’s the complexities of the characters and the nuances of the performances that make Sensation such a pleasure to watch, and for the most part cover some of the overall tonal inconsistencies of the film. We’re never entirely sure of Kim’s motivations with Donal, how far she’s simply using him to realise her dream, and as their relationship progresses and Donal’s confidence grows, the shifting power plays between the two of them are credibly drawn.
Domhnall Gleeson gives an incredibly assured performance as Donal, never wholly sympathetic, his awkwardness and social incompetence at the start transform into a cocksure self-assuredness by the end. It’s a gift of a character from Tom Hall, as are those of Kim and best mate Karl, both played with wit and subtlety by Luanne Gordon and Patrick Ryan.
- “I need to register the domain name for the business, have you decided what to call it yet?”
- “I can’t decide between Ladies of Limerick and Filthy Cows”
As the business begins to succeed and Donal finds himself a ‘real’ girlfriend, loyalties and motivations become questionable. Donal doesn’t think he needs Kim anymore, and she’s clear to him that everything he now has is because of her, an idea not endorsed by Donal. When the police become involved and its’ clear someone has to take the fall for setting up the brothel, their relationship comes under its’ most testing scrutiny (“She was the brains, you were the gobshite. That’s what you’ll tell ‘em”).
The film looks great too, a murky miserablist start gives way to more colour and light in the second half, and is helped along by a terrific soundtrack by John Carney (of Once (2006) fame). It’s a dark, touching romantic comedy that deserves an audience (it’s currently without a distributor) and is the first film of the Festival so far that I’d whole-heartedly recommend.
Sensation – 2010 – Ireland – 107 mins – Dir : Tom Hall
Screening as part of the Cinema Europa strand of the London Film Festival on Thursday 21st, Saturday 23rd & Sunday 24th October. Tickets available at www.bfi.org.uk/lff