Lost Spirits and Formal Sporrans: The Angels' Share (AFF)

And the Atlantic Film Festival begins, with this frolic of a fairy tale about whisky and redemption, a sort of SIDEWAYS that, in place of neurotic, pretentious, SoCal yuppie wine geeks, gives us scarred, working-class, Glaswegian ex-cons. Which, to me, makes it about a million times more charming.

It's not a deep film, and it's a resolutely sentimental one, but it left me in an awfully good mood.  Ken Loach draws his main characters with his wonted decency and detail, although tangential characters sometimes descend into the sort of caricature that left me with the uneasy feeling that if the film had been set in London instead of Glasgow, it might have starred Hugh Grant.  (One character is so profoundly foolish that even his companions can't quite believe it.)  A large portion of the film dances at the edge of neorealist inaudibility, or perhaps muttered incomprehensibility, and to be honest these were my favorite sections: this film could do with a bit more muddiness, a bit more obscurity in its moral message.  I loved The Angels' Share best when it seemed not to care what we thought, or whether we were even keeping up.

What saves it from utter didacticism as a tale of the last big score that allows a fundamentally decent man to escape the trap of criminality and violence is the performance of Paul Brannigan as handsome, scarred Robbie (and, needless to say, the way Loach patiently frames that performance).  Robbie's just been told by a judge that he's had his last chance, and only gotten it because of the stabilizing influence of a girlfriend who's just about to make him a father for the first time: when next he finds himself in trouble, he's going to prison, and probably for some time.  Brannigan's Robbie is fiercely smart and mutely shameful; he discovers an unusual perceptiveness to the nuances of whiskey, a drink he never cared for before, but despairs of ever getting a legitimate job when the violence of his past is written in sharp cuts on his face.  In every scene, his eyes show his ambition warring with his despair and regret, like a doppler map of coming weather.  I was half in love with him myself by the film's end.  (Wait, am I not supposed to admit that?)

The film's title, like everything else about it, is both squirmingly earnest and defiantly evocative.  The angels' share is the percentage of spirit that evaporates every year from the stored whiskey: it represents what is lost, but also what is offered up.  It is the spirit of generosity and the poetics of pragmatism, and it emerges as a social metaphor for those who've been written off.  I found myself warming to the title the more I thought about it, even in its final, most literal invocation.

"Everything about this film screams Nova Scotia," said the festival programmer to us as we took our seats, "It's set in Glasgow; it's about people turning their lives around; and, you know, stealing booze."

Sure enough, when our Dogsberrying group of misfits make their way to the Highlands in kilts, and "I'm gonna be (500 miles)" started up, a not insignificant portion of the audience (including me, and not just because I was expecting the Doctor to show up) sang along in clear, broad Scottish accents.

On the other hand, this is the sort of film which rousingly plays the Proclaimers as kilted Glaswegians seek out legendary whiskey in the Highlands. You've been forewarned.

 The Angels' Share
dir. Ken Loach (2012)


Here, share in my good mood:

And now, a personal tangent:

At the film, I had a revelation. When D  moves to Nova Scotia, I'm getting him a kilt to celebrate. My mom and I agree that he will rock it. (And the best part: it will be a major victory in his ongoing war on pants.) Now I just had to find out what my mother's family tartan is.

There followed this series of manic midnight messages to D in Hawai'i, who was having an unusually frantic day on set and probably did not appreciate a thousand questions about how he would look in a skirt: 

"Ugh: apparently we are lumped in with the MacLennans, a clan with a singularly hideous tartan (What's that whirring, thumping sound? Is it my ancestors spinning in their collective Presbyterian graves in Glasgow and Northern Ireland?)."

["Hmmm," wrote my sister-in-law after examining the MacLennan tartan, "not sure who decided that green, teal and red should all go together."

"Ancient clan warriors," I replied, "who'd been up all night drinking and painting themselves with woad. Never trust the color-sense of a woad-covered man."

"I'm tied down to it," I went on to the unresponsive D, "but I don't think you should be. I think instead I'm going to get you a plaid from one of the clans represented by characters in the Scottish play. Unless you indicate a favorite, I'm leaning towards MacDuff. (Although I really think you would look best in MacDonald. But we can't totally throw signification and association out the window and declare your allegiance to a Haligonian bridge, for God's sake. That way lies madness.)"


"Do you prefer your sporran in muskrat, badger, or leather? Or shall we go the full Canadian with beaver? Too on the nose (so to speak) for a crotch accessory?"
[No answer from D.  Odd. Clearly he needs some local context.]
"This wins the prize for Canadian non-story of the summer. It honestly reads like an Onion article:

The Halifax artist donned a kilt last October and has since decided that he prefers it over pants.

“You don’t feel so confined or something,” says King, 40.

Pants for men in the Western world seem to be pretty much the norm in modern times, but for most of history, it wasn’t. Even Romans thought pants were for barbarians.... He wants to wear the kilt “because it is a more authentic type of clothing or something and has a history to it.”"


"Do I detect an ominous silence from D?" my mother interjects, "I mean, you can lead a man to a kilt, but ..."

And he doesn't even know yet that this kilt (even without the [everyday] sporran, the socks, the matching tartan things that hold up your socks, the dress sporran, the ceremonial knife, and the Jacobite jacket) is going to cost as much as a mortgage payment. Shhh. No one tell him.

Saturday, September 15, 2012