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'Eat the Peach'

By Hal Hinson
Washington Post Staff Writer
December 04, 1987


Peter Ormrod
Stephen Brennan;
Eamon Morrissey;
Catherine Byrne;
Niall Toibin
Not rated

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"Eat the Peach," the new film by the Irish filmmaker Peter Ormrod, creates its own special mood of dampened exhilaration. Set in an economically depressed area of Ireland, it's a lyrical, atmospheric movie about ordinary people, but it's not at all downbeat. It has a head-clearing, tonic effect, like a brisk walk through the cold.

Taking its title from Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the movie establishes an ineffable, highly perishable tone and sustains it. And along the way you're drawn into its heightened sense of the improbable, the incongruously daft. The situation at the beginning of the film is that the area's largest employer, a Japanese microchip producer, has decided to cut its losses and pull up stakes. This comes as bad news to the film's two main characters: Arthur (Eamon Morrissey), because he loses a job; and Vinnie (Stephen Brennan), because he loses a pal.

The scenes between the Japanese and the Irish are representative of Ormrod's skill at unexpected juxtapositions. In his rhythms and eye for submerged, colloquial humor, Ormrod may remind you of the Scottish director Bill Forsyth. They both specialize in offspeed stuff, in curve balls and floaters.

As it turns out, the Japanese, like blithe, benevolent gods, inseminate their Irish mates with an idea before leaving. As their last Japanese friend steps into his electric-green helicopter, he hands a gift to Vinnie and Arthur, a symbol of his culture -- a videocassette player and a handful of tapes.

The present has far-reaching effects. Among the tapes is "Roustabout," an old Elvis Presley movie from 1964, and watching it one night, Vinnie is captivated by a scene in which Elvis, playing a carnival daredevil, rides his motorcycle high up on the sides of a wooden cylinder called the Wall of Death, with both bike and rider held up by centrifugal force. Immediately the gears in Vinnie's head start turning and he, with Arthur to help him, starts conducting experiments, taking measurements and drawing up plans for a wall of his own.

The project is one of those life-sustaining follies that spring forth with crystalline lucidity from the minds of dreamers and are incomprehensible to everyone else. And the movie is itself an understated, comic ode to cracked dreams and insupportable leaps of creative faith -- to life's peach-eaters.

Vinnie's foolishness has a touch of the visionary. He can't make enough to put a decent roof over his family's head. But even after his wife Nora (Catherine Byrne), who's pregnant and exasperated by Vinnie's cloud-walking, temporarily walks out on him, dragging their daughter Vicky along with her, he still can't pull himself away from his crazy, impractical obsessions. Constructing his wall, Vinnie is relentlessly resourceful -- a kind of possessed handyman genius. Ormrod makes a solid connection with small-timers and crackpot schemers. One of the film's most vivid characters is a free-lance promoter and bull artist named Boots (Niall Toibin). Boots, who wears cowboy gear, pretends to be a wheeling, dealing American. The joke is that nobody for a second believes him, which -- to make the joke even richer -- doesn't for a second stop them from going along with his schemes.

Boots has big plans for Vinnie and Arthur and their Wall of Death. But additional money is needed to complete the job, and to earn it, he sets them up with a local black-marketeer in what is called "commodity relocation." These episodes, in which the leads smuggle huge loads of gasoline or booze over the border into Northern Ireland, are deftly set up gags with sly kickers. These scenes -- in one of them a truckload of vodka is disguised as a pig wagon, complete with realistic sound effects -- don't play like gags, though. The comedy surprises you; it comes sneaking in under your radar.

The film also has moments of elevating, unforced beauty, and those are unexpected, too. For a modestly scaled piece, the movie works on a lot of levels. When the plans that Vinnie and Arthur have cooked up with Boots fall through, Ormrod stages a virtuoso climax that builds on all the underlying emotions and frustrations in his story. He's taken care to create a realistic setting for his material -- almost everything in the film is based on fact -- but with his ending, he carries us up to the level of poetry. Watching the film, we feel like Vinnie on his motorcycle, held up in space by invisible hands, lighter than gravity.

Eat the Peach, at the Circle West End, is unrated but contains no objectionable material.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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