“Y Llyfrgell” has received a great deal of praise and positive attention following its recent release. Generally it was described as “outstanding” and “striking” and rated four out of five stars. It was described as being in the genre of Nordic Noir which is so popular at present. So it was with quite considerable anticipation that I went to our local cinema to see it. My expectation was tempered significantly when I arrived at the cinema; I did not need to use my second hand to count the audience. I knew half of the handful of people who had come to this first night of a three night run. After we watched the film I knew why there had been no crowds, the film was a disappointment.
This was no Nordic Noir. There was no dark brooding over eternal themes, no moral complexity, no ruminations of the nature of guilt nor any social criticism. This was a slight and simple tale. In fact, one of the main characters, the night watchman, played to role for laughs (and was quite successful in this regard).
Indeed, generally the acting was good. The cinematography was excellent with many striking images which will stick in the mind. The direction, as we would expect from Euros Lyn, was superb and of the highest level and the sound track well crafted and one which greatly enhanced the film. None of these things were the problem, these were people on the top of their form, working well and delivering quality results.
The problem was with the text. I have not read the book on which the film is based so I am unable to comment on this. However, the screenplay (which was written by the author of the book) falls flat on many levels. There are two main ‘twists’ in the tale. The first is so obvious that all the audience know what will happen shortly after the character Eben has been instroduced. This is not a surprise on the Darth Vader level, more a shrug of the shoulders and “I thought he was” level. The ultimate twist at the end is shocking. Not shocking in a good way, shocking as it destroys the whole film.
The final surprise requires the watcher to ignore much of what has gone on before. It requires you to forget the dialogue between characters, forget the little character development that had been made and ignore many of the visual images. In fact it robs the entire film of its worth. It is a childish device reminiscent of stories which end with “and when I woke up it was all a dream .. .. “. It leaves the audience with a feeling of irritation.
This film arose from Ffilm Cymru Wales and organisation aiming to increase Welsh film making, and this may be the problem, it is a film created by committee. It was formed out of discussions from a group from the art world deciding how to promote Welsh cinema. There was no part played by the public in this, the book was chosen regardless of whether there was a demand of film of this type. The main criterion would have been it is a current Welsh language book and little more.
Had the generating impetus been to create a great film this team would have been up to the job but they would have chosen a story which would benefit from being filmed, or chosen a story that was felt likely to have commercial success. By choosing this they end up with a film which doesn’t (I presume) add much to the book and will certainly have little commercial success (the paltry audience it gathered in the Welsh speaking heartlands is testimony to this).
It would be patronising beyond measure to praise Danish filmmakers for making their films in Danish, likewise I won’t pat the Germans on the back for showing their television in German. These artists go out to make good films, great television, or to write the great novel or a moving poem. They intend to move, to stir or to educate the audience they do not go out with the intention “I must write something in Danish”.
We clearly have the talent to make great film in Wales, we have to try and find ways to increase the demand for welsh language products. It is demand which will drive the market and drive up quality. Focusing on the supply side gives rise to poor quality products lacking a natural market. No matter how many well meaning awards, medals and positive reviews this film garners, a poor film playing to empty cinemas will not give birth to the new Welsh cinema.