Edinburgh Bites: Blackbird Review

Mike Scurfield catches Blackbird at the Edinburgh International Film Festival...

This sensitive, lyrical tale centring on the loss of Scotland’s rich oral traditions, fading into obsolescence in the wake of modern society, gives one last gasp to the folk songs of old. But holding this musical narrative together in its off-beats is a stunning central performance by Andrew Rothney that breathes luminance, liberation and exhilaration into a character painfully attached to the past.

Keeping time, director Jamie Chambers paints his dying fishing village with a nostalgic brush, paying close attention to the tiny details: the cracks and decay that appear in buildings and residents alike. Focusing on young Ruadhan (Rothney), a free spirit with wild hair and an unravelling jumper who lives in a dilapidated boat and surrounds himself with antiquated trinkets, the story tells of his plight to collect the traditional vocal songs before they are buried with the ever-passing community. A fierce preservationist, Ruadhan becomes obsessed with his cause, pushing away friends and family who try to convince him to let the past lie.

A simple tale, all told, yet Blackbird squeezes out of its neat 90 minutes, a deep, emotional sincerity, and a strong sense of Ruadhan’s increasing desperation at his own failure. Chambers directs confidently, unafraid to silence the moments of highest drama, instead allowing the beautiful vocal performances to cast a shadow over the action. And though some of the more pointed visual comparisons are a little heavy-handed – Amy, a modern friend who moved away to a big city, comes equipped with iPod headphones constantly looped over her neck – this portrait of an old soul in a new world, unprogressed by his love of yesteryear, is thoughtfully and believably composed.

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out of 10

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