The old country don’t take kindly to dance halls

FILM by Jorge Ignacio Castillo


Jimmy’s Hall
RPL Film Theatre
Sept. 3-6
3.5 out of 5

Director Ken Loach has dedicated his career to portraying critical moments in Irish history. From the war of independence (The Wind that Shakes the Barley) to the Troubles in Northern Ireland (Hidden Agenda), Loach never shies away from tackling controversial matters from his well-considered socialist perspective.

Lately, however, the almost octogenarian Loach has demonstrated a lightness of touch that comes as a surprise to those who have followed him over the years. The Angels’ Share (2012) was a fiercely funny depiction of unemployment and desperation among the Irish youth. And Jimmy’s Hall finesses a tangled conjunction of social issues with working-class merriment.

The Jimmy of the title is an ex-pat who returns to his homeland after a decade in America. His reappearance causes commotion among the locals, particularly those who forced him into exile — namely the resident priest and abusive landowners.

Jimmy’s crime? Creating a community center where farmers and their families could dance, learn a trade or just enjoy each other’s company. Urged by a new generation of teens, Jimmy takes no time to get the hall going again, only this time he wants to ensure it won’t be shut down.

But like before, the anti-dancing forces might be too powerful to be kept at bay.

Unlike, say, Footloose, the stakes in Jimmy’s Hall are high. Not only does the protagonist risk exile (again), those trying to defend the hall (a beacon of hope among poverty and religion-fueled repression) are putting their well-being on the line. Trigger-happy zealots see community life as the sprouting of communism and they aim to nip it in the bud.

Goosing-up the plot further, the relationship between Jimmy and his former sweetheart — the one he left behind after being sent to America — is as touching as tragedies often are.

Overall, Jimmy’s Hall is a terrific story made better by an artist who never stopped evolving.