With its gentle and unassuming manner, it could be an easy, early conclusion that Sanctuary is setting out to (rightly) demonstrate that people with intellectual disabilities go through the same struggles as everyone else in terms of love and longing. So far, so amiable. Larry (Kieran Coppinger) is semi-secretly in love with Sophie (Charlene Kelly). They’re both in the same care group for people with learning disabilities and an excursion to the cinema presents an opportunity for some much-coveted alone time, helpfully (though perhaps inadvisably) engineered by their carer Tom (a charming Robert Doherty).
In what could have been a breezy, almost twee depiction of characters who are largely absent from cinema (and indeed, television shows, theatre, novels, and so on), Sanctuary subtly creates an emotional richness that can be extraordinarily poignant. There are unexpected and disconcerting jolts of darkness that seemingly (though organically) come out of nowhere, creating a delicate balancing act of a film that is heartwarming while still packing a considerable emotional wallop. At times, it can also be hilarious.
The cast is comprised of performers with intellectual disabilities from the Galway-based Blue Teapot Theatre Company, where Sanctuary (in its initial theatre incarnation) originated. The presumably minimal budget for the movie in conjunction with its stage-based origins has resulted in a feature that is visually perfunctory, even perhaps a tiny bit unimaginative in its composition. There’s almost a gentle defiance in the film, particularly when the protagonists are met with responses that, though well-intentioned, can be rather patronising. Most of these potential conflicts evaporate with jovial goodwill almost as soon as they arise, although this is not to suggest that Sanctuary doesn’t have a compelling conflict at its heart.
A compassionate tale of people whose stories are largely ignored by mainstream cinema, the movie doesn’t make any moral demands or bring about a call to action. And yet, in its own unobtrusive way, Sanctuary is an affecting film that deserves an audience.
Sanctuary is released nationwide on 29th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for Sanctuary here: