I Used to Live Here
Frank Berry's riveting drama explores the effect of suicide on a Dublin community
Previously lauded for his documentary Ballymun Lullaby, Frank Berry initially intended to make I Used to Live Here as a non-fiction film. In choosing to not do so, the writer-director has achieved a rare feat: his first narrative feature is both an engaging piece of storytelling, and a genuine social wake up call.
13-year-old Amy (Jordanne Jones) is still at school but since the death of her mother has been looking out for herself, her father, and occasionally her quiet friend Dylan (Dafhyd Flynn) too. When her crush Joe Healey kills himself, and her father’s ex-girlfriend moves in with her toddler, she begins to contemplate taking her own life.
Inspired by a two-part article in the Irish Times examining the ripple effects of suicide, I Used to Live Here was workshopped with adults and children in the Killinarden Community Centre in Tallaght, Dublin. This is Jones and Flynn’s first experience of acting, and they’re riveting; in fact, the entire young cast are great. There’s a powerful authenticity to their dialogue and concerns – especially in their boredom, lack of money, and their constant questioning of how bereaved their peers have the right to feel.
Youth suicide is a particular problem in Ireland: it claims the highest rate of suicide amongst young girls in Europe, and the second highest for young boys. Berry’s film is a world away from the usual depictions of the country, with not a 'begorrah' in earshot. His careful and considered direction teases out the tragedy of lives cut short and how this affects communities with a sophistication that belies his short career. As a slice of social realism, it’s less Ken Loach and more Andrea Arnold, emulating some of the style and colour of her 2009 film Fish Tank.
There are issues with the pacing – the film’s action is divided into distinct days, which sometimes disrupts its flow – and, at just 80 minutes, it feels a little slight. Nevertheless, this is a brave and important film that certainly does its social agenda justice.
Selected release from Fri 3 Apr.