LIFF28 - Song Of The Sea - Cinema Review

'A beautiful piece of art to behold from start to finish, single-handedly making the case for hand-drawn animation as a cinematic medium to continue long into the future'.

From its opening moments, Song Of The Sea draws you in simply by presenting some of the most sumptuous and distinctive visuals seen in an animated feature in recent years, enveloping you within its enchanting blend of traditional folklore and contemporary culture. Visually, this is located somewhere between the polished styles of Studio Ghibli and Belleville Rendez-vous, with a generous infusion of Irish charm to set director Tomm Moore's film apart as its own entity. Quite simply, Song Of The Sea is a beautiful piece of art to behold from start to finish, single-handedly making the case for hand-drawn animation as a cinematic medium to continue long into the future as a worthy entity distinct from computer-animated fare.

There's a sense of irony therefore that Song Of The Sea's handling of some serious and emotional themes throughout its narrative feels closest in execution to Pixar's best work. Themes such as dealing with loss and moving on from personal tragedy are handled deftly by Moore from both child and adult perspectives. Whilst the film's fantastical elements are often closely interwoven with these ideas alongside carefully placed humour as distinctively Irish as the folklore, this never cheapens or trivialises the weightier issues that the director impressively and confidently places at the centre of his film. The way in which fantasy and reality curiously inhabit the same world within Song Of The Sea feels akin to the expert storytelling found in Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth, especially in relating how youngster Ben (David Rawle) deals throughout the film's narrative with the loss of his mother that occurs during the prologue-like opening.

Equally, the Irish legends that are featured prominently throughout are never demoted to the function of an easy metaphorical device for Moore; on the contrary, the director clearly has great reverence for the mythology he takes on. Moore does however allow his handling of the considerable amount of lore featured in Song Of The Sea to occasionally become slightly unbalanced. There are times when the film finds itself tangled up in the complexity of its own mythology, and also one or two occasions where things go too far in the opposite direction, becoming too conveniently simple from a narrative viewpoint. That said, these minor missteps are never enough to damage the film overall, with Moore consistently demonstrating his confidence and adroitness as a modern-day fabulist.

Backing up the director's storytelling abilities are a truly talented voice cast. Rawle is impressive in the lead, making Ben an authentic young presence whilst skilfully putting across an impressive range of emotion. Supporting the young actor are superb turns from Irish veterans Fionnula Flanagan and Brendan Gleeson, the latter in particular putting in a flawless understated vocal performance as grieving widower Conor, doing his best to raise Ben and his younger sister Saoirse. Song Of The Sea is utterly spellbinding, genuinely emotional and - thanks to its wondrous blend of the modern and the mythological - effortlessly timeless, deserving to be hailed in the near future as a contemporary animated classic.

Song Of The Sea plays LIFF28 again on Thursday 20th November at 17.00 at Vue in The Light.

The 28th Leeds International Film Festival runs from 5th-20th November 2014 at cinemas around the city, including Hyde Park Picture House and Leeds Town Hall. Tickets and more information are available via the official LIFF website.

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.

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