Older Than Ireland

Framed prints of Jesus, or his mother, decorate the walls of Irish houses. With this telling detail, Alex Fegan’s Older Than Ireland establishes a divine presence in the domestic lives of its subjects. The documentary is an artfully composed assemblage of interviews with centenarians, men and women born before 1915. While religion may be hanging above their heads, each curated anecdote is reliably and profoundly secular. Kathleen Snavely, the eldest at 113, jokes about the long hairs growing on her chin. Bessie Nolan, 103, provocatively lights a cigarette before uttering a series of casual “feckin”s. It’s unclear to her, as it is with every interviewee, why they’ve lived past 100. Some are mournful for lost loved ones; others are sparked back to spryness by the camera’s inquiring eye. The scenes are thoughtfully framed, and often with a sense of grace. When Rose O’Halloran, 101, begins to describe the day her husband died, she recedes to a blur as the lens brings a photograph of the young couple sharply into focus. Memory comes to the foreground and holds dominion over the present. The film captures another subject through aquarium glass, her life slowed down and contained. This unsentimental scene quietly illustrates the progression of growing old as an exquisite kind of tedium, a purgatory before what comes next.

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