Brooklyn ****

Directed by John Crowley; screenplay by Nick Hornby based on the novel from Colm Tóibín
Starring Saoirse Ronan, Emory Cohen, Domhnall Gleeson, Jim Broadbent
113’; Ireland/Uk/Canada 2015

Early fifties. Through her sister’s efforts and the collaboration of Father Flood, long established in New York, the young Eilis emigrates from Ireland to the United States, where a new life and job await. The first months are very hard and despite the priest trying to help her by even offering her the opportunity to attend college, homesickness almost peruades her to give up. Then Eilis meets Tony, a young Italian man who courts her with perseverance and kindness, and a little bit of sun starts shining into the girl’s life. When a painful event brings her back home, Eilis will have to understand what is really important to her life.

Brooklyn is a delicate and respectful adaptation by Nick Hornby from a successful novel. Like An Education (a previous adaptation by Hornby) it is a coming of age story played through the discovery of, and clash with, a reality capable of wounding and putting to the test; one that always demands a choice.

In the story of Eilis, portrayed with intensity by Saoirse Ronan, who relies on expression and small gestures to convey the emotions flowing through her, Hornby captures the nuances of character of a young woman forced to leave behind all certainty, but also a world devoid of any prospect of building a new life for herself. The environment is hard, but the focus is deliberately not on physical deprivations; rather, on loneliness and nostalgia, which the movie manages to depict with great sensitivity.

The viewer recieves very vivid impressions of the life of many immigrants in the America of the fifties, which offered a dream but also asked a lot in exchange for it. The constant link with the homeland and her sister Rose (a beautiful female role model, willing to sacrifice herself for the good of her sister without asking anything in return) intertwine with the new relationships Eilis forges. First, there is the priest who helps her (finally a positive religious figure on the big screen, attesting to the great efforts done by the Church for immigrants), then the Italian plumber, Tony.

The relationship between the two young people — belonging to two different communities united by religious faith, but divided by so much more — is a story of delicate and romantic love in the deepest sense of the term. We see two people who learn to know each other and to share their dreams in an everyday context which the movie manages to portray effectively, leaving space for humour and playing on national stereotypes without being distasteful.

The second part of the movie, triggered by a tragic event, takes Eilis back to Ireland. Here she discovers what she has left behind and suffers the temptation of “another life”, a dilemma that is not exclusively sentimental. One of the interesting aspects of the movie is that the protagonist has to make a choice not between a good man and a “bad” one, but between two equally positive male characters.

Eilis’ choice comes in a crescendo that avoids melodramatic tears and lacerations, but tells with sincerity and plausibility the doubts and anxieties of a young woman. This narrative style is constant throughout the movie, in which surprises come from the discovery of the unimagined qualities that each character is able to reveal, rather than by continuous or improbable plot twists.

Brooklyn also has the attraction of affirming a positive outlook on reality through hard times, where even pain is seen as a possibility for happiness. This perspective is so rare that it makes the viewer appreciate even more the linear simplicity of this movie, in which we’re shown an era and sentiments for which it is hard not to feel a certain nostalgia.

Problematic elements: one sexually intimate scene.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is a New Zealand journalist with a special interest in family issues. She began her working life as a secondary school teacher but always fancied the life of the scribe. Too late, she...