16th October 2018 1.00pm at BFI Southbank (NFT)
When filmmaker Iain Cunningham embarks on a journey to uncover the truth about what happened to the mother he never knew, whom he lost at a young age, Irene’s Ghost – part documentary, part animation that was six years in the making – evolves from tracking down people in a photograph into a poignant portrait of memory – from remembrances that stick with us, are passed on to us, invented by us, or told to protect us, alongside the emotional weight that each carries. Irene’s Ghost is a devastatingly powerful and personal story that we can all relate to in some form.
Although the premise of unearthing the history of the titular Irene may be a relatively simple (yet tragic) tale, it’s the thoughtful musings of the filmmaker’s narration, accompanied by the genuine human reactions of his subjects as they account for and revisit old memories, that grounds the film in a tangible sense of emotion that pulls viewers deeper into this increasingly personal journey. Moreover, Cunningham’s tranquil tones, alongside a truly beautiful score by Chris Tye, give the documentary a dreamlike atmosphere that eloquently embodies the overarching themes of memory scattered throughout the runtime. Though some musical cues can appear overbearing and distracting at times, they soon ease themselves back into the background for the hypnosis to continue.
What really makes Irene’s Ghost stand out is the incorporation of short animated sequences that fill in for flashbacks. The minimalistic style not only invokes the childhood imagination of a young Cunningham, but their vibrancy and general childlike innocence is used to echo the rose-tinted nostalgia of the happy memories we have – and the ones we create for ourselves. And when the film touches on tougher memories, the animation style provides a whole new meaning to these moments through heart-breaking and even disturbing imagery.
Irene’s Ghost is an incredibly personal and utterly powerful journey of discovery that revolves around uncovering the tragic story of a lost relative; yet it’s much more than this. It’s a profound examination of the power of memory on how what we remember not only shapes how we think of the past, but how we see ourselves in the present. We won’t be forgetting Irene’s Ghost anytime soon.
Irene’s Ghost does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews and interviews from our London Film Festival 2018 coverage here.
For further information about the festival visit the official BFI website here.
Watch the trailer for Irene’s Ghost here: