12. März 2014

DON'T RUSH LIFE. The Warmest Advice.

A review of the documentary The Irish Pub (2013). A film by Alex Fegan. 

The Pub and I
Two weeks ago I went to a pub in Stuttgart. The Six Nations Rugby match Ireland against England was on. I looked about and saw strangers talking cordially with one another, groups trying not to block the view for the fans watching the big screen from a corner, and fair applause for a stunning English try.

I don’t think any other place is able to express my love for Ireland as much as an Irish pub. And yes, Guinness, Bulmers and Red Ales play a part in it, too. It seems more than “just” a microcosm of the Irish mentality, it feels like a second home.

No wonder I was so excited about Alex Fegan’s documentary “The Irish Pub”. As I explained to him in an email, I am eager to share my love for the Irish film, the Irish’s capacity for beautiful storytelling and Irish pubs on this blog. And, very generously, he let me watch his film online (noting that subtitles will be required given some of the dialects).

I’m sorry if this review is more about my experience of Irish pubs and why I think it’s such a wonderful place to be than about the documentary itself. This said, the film evoked so many positive feelings that everything I talk about hereafter simply echoes its effect it had on me.

The Irish Pub as Third Place
Living in Dublin for nearly two years (with a break of one year to finish my bachelor in Germany) I can say I had the opportunity of visiting many pubs and finding one or two favourites as well.

Perhaps it was because I was a foreigner after all, perhaps it was because I longed for home - the Irish Pub as a third space (when home is the first place and your workplace signifies the second place), an outsourced living-room if you wish, comforted me in times of loneliness, brought me joy when I went out with a couple of friends, made me jumpf off my stool when I was watching the 6 Nations and never ever let me down.  

When I was hitch-hiking with my best friend Cindy from Kenmare up to Galway, stopping in pubs along the way - in Cahersiveen, Tralee, Ennis or Lisdoonvarna - precious memories were made. In short: the Irish Pub shaped my experience of Ireland.

One thing the documentary obviously cares about is letting people talk. All of the pub owners (or pub landlords) are given time and space to talk about their pubs, their lives and the invariable link between the two. The authenticity of these interviews stems from the interaction between pub owners and customers, between father and children, between a football coach and a club member – all of which just happen while the “real” interview takes place. 

Conversation is the main activity, yes indeed! And according to one of the owners it’s also the prime reason why there are less psychologists in Ireland than elsewhere – everything is discussed over a pint of Guinness until both parties go home, problem solved. Needless to say that the owner winked.

Tradition Inside
Another issue nearly all of the interviewees agree with is the importance of a tradition preserved. Century-old floors, wood panelling or the one stool for the regular: life is lived the same way every day. Changes in the outside world almost never affect the life inside a pub. There will always be music, there will always be beer. Deceased people will be remembered and the family business stays in the family. There are even pacts between different pubs that have sworn to never change a thing about the furnishings. However, the documentary fills this battle against modernisation with heart and humour.

Personally, I think in times of over-accelerated living, entering a pub seems like a big relief. Time stands still. Keeping the traditions alive seems like a good way to provide a safe haven from the hectic life we’re living. 

I like the idea of pubs not giving in to the pressure that Wi-Fi has to be available in every public place. There’s a sad example everyone who travels the world has experienced in recent years: the loss of colourful hostel life. Once you went into a room full of strangers, leaving it with new friends that come from all over the world. Now, you see strangers sitting in front of their laptop screens, keeping their interests to themselves and to communicating on facebook.

One owner recounts the words of a wise man that sums it up: Don’t rush life. This advice seems very much worth following.

Same but different
The way the documentary is shot – the camera almost exclusively concentrates on the interviewees and the interior of the pub – amplifies their variety. Same setup, different man or woman, different background. And a different dialect that makes me grateful for the subtitles once more.  

While the background changes in colour and trinkets on shelves are replaced with other trinkets, the essentials don’t change at all: the interviewees cherish their work, their customers and the never-changing tradition of entering a pub, having a drink, a chat and, once the glasses of the last round have been emptied, leaving. Just to return tomorrow.

Why bother?
I can’t believe there hasn’t been a documentary on Irish pubs before that caught my eye. It’s such a very warm and heartfelt look at pubs all over Ireland today! Alex Fegan documentary style might be a conventional one, rarely straying from standard interview situations, but this unagitated approach helps that, in this film, the pubs speak for themselves. 

If you haven’t experienced the sensation of being welcome in an Irish Pub yet, do watch this documentary and go to the nearest pub in town. If you have experienced it, do watch the film as well. You will like it a lot. Buy it here or wait until it’ll hopefully be in German cinemas in September 2014.

The lesson is clear: Alex Fegan’s “The Irish Pub” is yet another example of resonating, passionate Irish storytelling. 

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