While Northern Ireland is in the Oscar spotlight thanks to “Belfast,” their neighbors on the island are also receiving awards buzz from Sean Breathnach’s bleak coming-of-age drama “Shelter,” which is Ireland’s selection for the Best International Film category.
“Shelter” — or “Foscadh” in the Irish language — is based on Donal Ryan’s novel “The December” and stars Dónall Ó Héalai as John Cunliffe, a recluse who has spent all 28 years of his life being sheltered by his overprotective parents.
But now his parents have passed on, and John gets thrown into a real world that he is unprepared for in the most unexpected way possible when he learns that he inherited land that is on a site for a potential wind farm. With zero social skills or real world knowledge, John is thrust into a rural community filled with people who pity him, mock him, or seek to exploit him, forcing him on a sink-or-swim path to maturity.
Breathnach says that as he has screened “Shelter” at festivals, many people have asked him whether John suffers from a mental disorder. But he sees John as a product of nurture rather than nature.
“I always say that he’s a product of his environment and we just try to show that environment and his heritage, and we just hope that the audience will recognize that and come to see something in him,” he said.
Producer Paddy Hayes said he was drawn to John Cunliffe because he has seen so many stories about how “our parents messed us up” through neglect and abuse, but wanted to make a movie about a man who suffers from the exact opposite problem.
“This is a story about someone who has been overloved and over-coddled,” Hayes said. “And Donal Ryan’s novel has plenty of internal monologues that we were able to tap into in order to create an intriguing movie character, and Dónall Ó Héalai used those monologues as a core for his character.
Watch the full Q&A with Breathnach and Hayes in the clip above.