The Secret of Roan Inish (1994) Poster

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8/10
charming and magical
I saw this listed in TV guide, and watched it because the description made me imagine it would be a simple, charming movie. I didn't realize it was a John Sayles movie until I saw his name on the credits and then I thought it might be something different; I don't associate Sayles with simple family movies. But in fact, this is pretty much the movie I was hoping for, full of Irish charm and blarney, beautiful filmed and full of magic and wonder. One hesitates to call it a children's movie or a family movie because those are generally awful, but it is very much the sort of movie that is perfect to take the family too (although it is unaccountably rated PG). But it's not *just* a kid's movie, it's a movie with magic for anyone, and I would put it in the same category as Alfonso Cuarón's A Little Princess, another movie that treats children not in the Disney aren't-they-cute way but as real thinking individuals. This is a lovely drama featuring a child rather than a kid's movie, but it works on either level.
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9/10
A Wonderful Tale with a Fearless Young Heroine
lostein11 August 2004
I love this movie for a number of reasons. First, its just a beautiful setting. Second, John Sayles does not succumb to Hollywood norms and resort to special effects, rock songs or cheap dramatic plot twists to jazz up what seems to be a simple folk tale. Most of all, I love that all of the characters are allowed their humanity and dignity. Fiona, the 10 year girl who is at the center of the film, follows her curiosity in a brave but realistic way, never spouting wise cracks so common with most American child characters. Imagine being told an old family story by your favorite Uncle or Grandfather while sitting around a living room late at night, with only the low light provided by the glow of a fire or one old lamp so nothing distracts your imagination's journey. That is what this film is like...
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9/10
Charming and full of wonder
Captain Ed24 July 2002
The Secret of Roan Inish is a departure for John Sayles, in that his normal cynicism and mildly jaundiced eye is replaced by the completely credulous child's view, and his film is all the more charming because of it. In essence, this is a children's movie, and only through Sayles' brilliance are we adults allowed in.

Roan Inish is a deserted island off the coast of Donegal, where Fiona's mother died and her baby brother was lost at sea. Her father has moved to the city but Fiona is sent back to live with her grandparents for her health. Her grandparents live on the coast opposite Roan Inish, having moved off the island at the same time. In fact, the Conneelys have a very special bond with Roan Inish, as Fiona starts to discover as she talks with the local townfolk, especially to a dark and brooding relative named Tadhg. Tadhg tells her about the selkie -- a shapeshifter of Irish lore who is half-seal and half-human -- and why Roan Inish is so important to the family. From that, Fiona must unravel the mystery of what happened to her baby brother.

I don't want to spoil any of the story, so rather than recount any more of the plot, I'll just tell you that all the performances are wonderful. Mick Lally as the grandfather especially shines, as does Eileen Colgan as the grandmother. Jeni Courtney is terrific as young Fiona and Richard Sheridan as Eamonn, her young cousin, is very good too. In fact, I couldn't pick out any bad performances at all.

The Secret of Roan Inish features some beautiful Irish music, both instrumental and Irish-language, and of course features lush cinematography of the Donegal area and coast. Beautifully shot, wonderfully written and performed, and masterfully directed, The Secret of Roan Inish will delight everyone in the family. Don't hesitate to buy or rent this one.
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The most mystical movie I've ever seen!
Shayde930 November 2001
Some people would label this a children's movie...and yet, it has all the mystery and beauty that accompanies films for adults who love poetry and traditional storytelling and classic literature. Watch this film, and you'll get a good idea of Irish tradition and life and their constant belief in legend and lore, which has made them into the wonderful and strong race that they are today. There is a deep sense of family...a truly strong family who has clearly had its ups and downs and yet has come out even stronger than before. A family that has been through generations of change, adapted, continues to change and yet still holds onto the traditions and stories along the way. Stories that others might assume are myth and faery tales. And stories that we know aren't anything but the truth woven into a magical tale.

In most Irish tales and legends I've read, there is a quest which keeps the main character(s) pushing forward through all the challenges of life. Fiona's store in this movie is no different. She's a little girl lost at the beginning when we meet her, wandering through the smog of the city to find some way to latch onto her father who is lost and sad with grief over a dead wife and a dead and missing baby boy. Her true quest begins when she is sent to live with her grandparents who still live by the sea. And the quest truly becomes a quest when she learns that her baby brother Jamie has been spotted on Roan Inish, the Island of the Seals where her family originated from.

The music weaves itself around the characters and the story to make it more complete than it would be without it. It is both peaceful and stirring, providing the background for the cultural ear. With the music and the intricate storytelling, one can become truly lost in this story. And truly a part of it.

If I had children, this is one movie I would have them watch over and over again. Like Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," this is a movie to entertain children of all ages.
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A good story well told
itsmewendylee14 August 2004
I loved this movie. While this was not a movie specifically made for a young audience (by that I mean, it's not a "kid flick,") this is a great family film. If you give your kids a chance to love an intelligent film, they will. This story is told so vividly, so beautifully, that it held my 6 and 9 year old daughters rapt in spite of the fact that it did not resemble a Disney Channel video.

Anyone who can appreciate folklore tales should love this movie. The cinematography is absolutely breathtaking, the script well written, the actors all wholly believable. I could watch it again and again.
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A quiet, magical and elegant movie. Timeless
hnmcclain7728 May 2004
I happened to rent "The Secret of Roan Inish," when it was first out on video and it has been one of the best movie finds. This movie tells a captivating story with beautiful scenes of Ireland. It looks so realistic to me for the Irish culture and home-life. This movie is very quiet but never boring. It does not jump up and grab your attention or startle you, it just gradually lays out a very magical yet timeless story. It is a story about love, found and lost, and a little girl who refuses to believe that she has lost a beloved family member. It is told through her magical eyes and the Irish background and characters that cross her path easily come to life. I watch this movie whenever I need to relax and just get away from the everyday craziness of life. It is well worth the time. This movie reminds me of, "The Winter Guest," by Alan Rickman. It has a similar pace and feel to it. If you like this movie, you will probably enjoy, "The Winter Guest," as well.
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8/10
Heartwarming and rich in Irish culture, but not in a sappy way
Andrew Nixon15 March 2003
One of the things I love about the Irish culture is it's rich legends and storytelling. This story follows Fiona (Jeni Courtney) who has returned from the city with her father to live with her grandparents. They had previously lived on the island of Roan Inish, but are now living on the mainland. The director, John Sayles, bring us a version of the legend of the selkie, a creature that is half seal-half human. I found this movie to be very heartwarming and rich in Irish culture, but not in a sappy way. Jeni Courtney turns in an excellent and completely believable performance as Fiona who learns about the legend of the selkie and uses it to find her little brother Jimmy who had disappeared at sea at an infant. The Irish landscape and sea are gorgeously filmed and it's as if you are there in Ireland learning about the legends yourself through the eyes of Fiona. '

***1/2 (out of 4)
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9/10
A lovely magical tale in 1940's Ireland
mlouns10 October 2005
The film examines a young Irish girl, Fiona Coneely, and her search for her baby brother, Jamie, in the late 1940's. Jamie disappeared a few years earlier, and hints begin to emerge that he may have been carried off by the many seals that haunt the island where he lived.

Fiona is portrayed quite well. Although she looks frail physically, she nevertheless conveys a deep strength and fearlessness as she uncovers strange elements of her family's past and begins to believe that Jamie may still be alive

The Irish setting is played up very strongly. There are lovely seascapes and good use of Irish music. The faces of the people are very evocative as well, with many rugged, homely appearances that feel very honest and comfortable. The magical elements are portrayed seriously and delicately without getting too corny -- no dancing leprechauns.

The messages of the film are done intelligently, without much dialogue, relying mostly on visuals. One thing I noticed in a second viewing is how much of the time the film shows people working. It opens up in a tough-looking laundromat or factory of some sort, and many of the key scenes are set with the main characters talking while they are busy with the work of their daily lives. There is an important scene where children labor especially hard for something that has a strong influence on the resolution of the story. At no time is there an overt quote about working, but the importance of labor comes through seeing people do it.

"Roan Inish" works well for young children as well. My younger sons were swept into it, although it is quite unlike any film they had seen before. They definitely thought it was unusual, but they seemed to enjoy the characters and situations and had a lot of interested questions about what was going on.
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8/10
An Irish Fairy Tale for All
gbheron9 August 2002
You have to suspend belief during "The Secret of Roan Inish" and accept Irish legend as fact. This shouldn't be too difficult for moviegoers weaned on Star Wars and Die Hard. Let's hope so because "The Secret of Roan Inish" is a rare movie, a fairy tale, told from a child?s perspective, but for adults as well as children.

Roan Inish is an island off the coast of western Ireland from which 10-year-old Fiona's family has recently decamped for the mainland because of hard times. Now directly across the water from their beloved island, Fiona's grandparents take her in after her city-living father can no longer care for her. And there are secrets. Unbeknownst to Fiona there is a branch of her family descended from Selkies, beings half seal and half human. Unlike mermaids though, Selkies are either all human or all seal, depending on their mood. And if you can catch a human Selkie, they're yours until they discover where you've hid their seal skin. And with a beautiful female, Fiona's grandfather did just that, married her, raised a family, but alas one day she finds her seal skin and she's off to the sea. This legend segues into a modern mystery and a challenge Fiona must face.

Slow paced, beautifully photographed, well acted and directed, this is a unique gem of a movie.
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10/10
Wonderful Movie
DannyMcL29 December 2004
My father's family left a small island off the Donegal Coast early in the 20th Century and this film gave us a wonderful insight into life on such an island.

The reality of the film really made it for us, the soda bread (or scone bread) as we called it on the table, the turf fires and the whitewashed walls. Even the seal colony is like Inishtrahull Island where our Dad was from.

I recommend this film without hesitation if you have any roots or interest in Ireland.

One blooper we noted in the subtitles. A kid is being teased for speaking Irish at the start (the film clearly shows why the language was so damaged in the early 20th Century and who was to blame).

His fellow pupils are shown in the subtitles as saying "Eject, Eject" when of course they are actually shouting "Eeejit", the word Idiot in an Irish accent!.

One other blooper we noted in the subtitles was a complete misinterpretation of Killybegs, a fishing port in Donegal which was titled something completely different.
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8/10
Great film
stephanmarkel12 April 2012
Some people would label this a children's movie...and yet, it has all the mystery and beauty that accompanies films for adults who love poetry and traditional storytelling and classic literature. Watch this film, and you'll get a good idea of Irish tradition and life and their constant belief in legend and lore, which has made them into the wonderful and strong race that they are today. There is a deep sense of family...a truly strong family who has clearly had its ups and downs and yet has come out even stronger than before. A family that has been through generations of change, adapted, continues to change and yet still holds onto the traditions and stories along the way. Stories that others might assume are myth and faery tales. And stories that we know aren't anything but the truth woven into a magical tale.

In most Irish tales and legends I've read, there is a quest which keeps the main character(s) pushing forward through all the challenges of life. Fiona's store in this movie is no different. She's a little girl lost at the beginning when we meet her, wandering through the smog of the city to find some way to latch onto her father who is lost and sad with grief over a dead wife and a dead and missing baby boy. Her true quest begins when she is sent to live with her grandparents who still live by the sea. And the quest truly becomes a quest when she learns that her baby brother Jamie has been spotted on Roan Inish, the Island of the Seals where her family originated from.

The music weaves itself around the characters and the story to make it more complete than it would be without it. It is both peaceful and stirring, providing the background for the cultural ear. With the music and the intricate storytelling, one can become truly lost in this story. And truly a part of it.

If I had children, this is one movie I would have them watch over and over again. Like Disney's "Darby O'Gill and the Little People," this is a movie to entertain children of all ages.
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10/10
Music to my fears
Steve Skafte7 July 2011
Much like "The Secret Garden", this is a film about the unlikely combination of everyday reality and pure magic. The character of Fiona (played by Jeni Courtney) is like every free and beautiful little girl that you've ever encountered rolled into one. She has such a wonderful outlook on life; honest and serious, faithful and fanciful. This is an improbable film for director John Sayles, an American filmmaker who usually sticks much closer to home. More pleasing still is the fact that he takes an honest, unfiltered view of the Irish culture that is so intrinsic to the story being told.

"The Secret of Roan Inish" is about storytelling, from an inner and outer perspective. Each character is deeply concerned with sharing his or her own tale or take on local folklore. The script takes all sorts of beautiful sidelines into the tales of Fiona's relatives and anyone else who happens to pass by. Particularly fascinating is the performance of John Lynch, whose character tells the legend of the Selkie (played by his sister, Susan Lynch). The images of the seal woman are breathtaking, painful in their uncertain waking beauty.

The final result of the film is something between the purity of childhood and the trust of self. I was taken in not only by the overwhelming sense of the unknown, but by everything fearful and wonderful in the making known of the same. This is one of the most enrapturing motion pictures I've ever seen.
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10/10
"Family values" in the best sense.
Screen-76 September 2010
This is a true family film -- for and about families.

Except for very small children (who might get bored) this film is has something for all ages. The actors -- both young and old, animal and human -- are excellent. The story-line is interesting for children but complex enough for adults.

It's as beautiful as most "art movies" but as plot-driven as a Hollywood movie, again making it appealing to a broad range of people.

It's non-offensive but not at all cloying like some family movies. (Well, unless you're offended by drinking or toddler nudity.) It's magical and mythic but still rooted in characters that seem believable. It also has interesting rural Irish culture which, I assume is accurate.

My wife and I saw this movie in the theater before we had children and we now watch it with our kids on DVD. I've seen it three or four times and I'm still not tired of it!

The only possible downside I can think of are the fairly thick Irish accents. I have no problem understanding but some people might.
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10/10
Great Movie, Great Scenery
wh0izzit4 October 2005
It's a great Irish movie and you can actually understand what they are saying. The seals in the movie were mysterious and cute. It's a movie about one of those moments in life where life is stranger than fiction. But totally believable. :)

The characters are not over done, the story is pretty simple and would be a great film for anyone of any age to see.

The main heroine is a young girl who leaves to go live with her grandparents after her mother's death. She learns more about her family and the family stories. The family is originally from the island Roan Inish where the stories come from.
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9/10
A lovely family film
UrbanFaerie_uk30 May 2005
This film is absolutely lovely! I watched this film a few years ago with my little brother, who was 8 years old at the time and only watched Disney. However, he was hooked on this film. It shows everything that is good and pure about Ireland. It is a bit similar to 'Fairytale, a true story' but is so pure and lovely. I have just spent an hour searching for this film (as I'd forgotten the name) just so that I can buy it for myself, and I would recommend it to people. I challenge you not to feel touched by this magical film! The girl (Fiona) is sent to live with her grandparents in a remote part of Ireland, which overlooks the deserted Islad of Roan Inish. There are legends relating to this island which she learns, including the fact that her baby brother disappeared. She see's a small boy on the island, and is sure that the seals are bringing him up as their own. This begins her search for the truth.
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Marvelous for the literate family
andrew_mutnick20 December 2002
My kids want to watch this one over and over. They love the accents as well as the magical story. It's just as terrific for adults - with lovely landscapes, beautiful music and fine acting. Highly recommended for families weary of the usual garbage marketed to kids.
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8/10
Mythic Storytelling and Ethnic Culture Done Right
AZINDN14 July 2002
The Secret of Roan Inish is a unique film which reveals in a slow paced story, the relationship of the Irish people to the sea and land. Roan Inish weaves its magic through the well written dialogue of characters who tell the story of a family ancestor who was a mythological selkie, as well as the lost infant raised by seals who populate the abandoned island. They comment on the loss of native language and culture by a generation of young islanders who left for jobs in the city. The return of a small island girl to her grandparents permits director John Sayles to examine with the girl, the island's history, and its community whose knowledge is grounded in oral history and the past. Set in the post-war economy, desire to leave the old ways to incorporate benefits of modern urban life is seen only briefly as intrusive on the people whose community is intimately tied to the sea. The strength of the film is in how it presents the need and place of intergenerational knowledge, the preservation of the language, and the unique place of ethnic heritage based in oral traditions.

What sets this film apart from others is how it is a "family film" without resorting to clichés, but instead, is the kind of movie entertaining to all age groups without talking down to anyone. That the film was not better marketed is likely the fault of the studio that did not know how to sell the film's idea to American audiences grown accustomed to mindless car chases, exploding buildings, and gratuitous violence as well as irritating, smart-mouth kid actors. Roan Inish has none of these elements although the brief nudity of one child actor could offend some who would find offense in any presentation of the human form in any context. But for this, the film allows audiences to be drawn into the story of children who value and desire to restore their heritage and family, and take responsibility to act.

The production values of this film are high, its plot thoroughly believable. DP Haskell Wexler uses the beauty of the Irish countryside to paint a stunning image of the landscape and sea that makes one wish to return to the old sod. Sayles's cast are character actors not familiar to most audiences in the US, but who are able to carry the film with authenticity and grace. The child actors are especially mature and believable. This is a film that should be seen by more audiences but probably won't and that is unfortunate for The Secret of Roan Inish is a gem in a sea of mediocre Hollywood fare.
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10/10
Excellent!
Timothy D. Naegele4 February 2006
A truly charming film, with wonderful actors, which captures the very essence of rural Ireland and its windswept islands offshore. Few movies can be shown to children these days; however, this is one that can. Jeni Courtney as "Fiona" is terrific, and a remarkable young actress.

Having spent time on the unspoiled coast and in the quaint villages of County Donegal, this film brings them to life for all to see and enjoy. It is a magic movie and I recommend it to anyone—unless magic and "fairies" have gone out of your life, in which case this film and "Finding Neverland" (with brilliant acting by Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet) might bring them back.
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8/10
Excellent
artzau7 March 2001
The reviewer who reveals his ignorance by decrying, "What's a selkie?" and then proceeds to place both feet in his mouth, should bother to read a bit of Irish folklore. A selkie is NOT what some suggest, a half seal, half human. A selkie is a spirit which can take the body of a seal and a woman. It is the celtic counterpart to the Greek sirens or the oceanides, river spirits, to the Japanese kawakami, the Basque Lamiñak and others. Shapeshifters abound in folklore and this story winds around such a tale. Bored? Go watch one of those mindless teenage slice'n dice films and leave this gentle tale about a little girl's odyssey in a breathtakingly beautiful setting in a wonderful land to children of all ages. My grandfar came from County 'Derry (what the Protestants call Londenderry) in Northern Ireland near Lough Boyle and told me stories as a child that were as gentle and awesome as this. This is a fine film. Not as goofy as Waking Ned Devine, as wacky as the Purple Taxi, as wrenching as Angela's Ashes or as poignant as The Quiet Man. But, it wasn't meant to be. It is wonderful. Check it out.
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9/10
Quiet story about a girl, her grandparents, and legend
MeYesMe9 August 1998
I love this movie, but be warned. I have recommended it dozens of times and no one who has seen it at my urging has sought my movie advice again. Hmm. I would like to think that these are friends who don't appreciate fine film, but I must, in all fairness, entertain the thought that perhaps this is a movie that isn't for all tastes. Do you like poetry? Fantasy? Story-spinning? This movie is like a song. It can take you away, if you're willing to go. It effortlessly shows off the beauty and mystery of Ireland in a way that "The Matchmaker" (with Janeane Garofalo) wanted, but that film just made the landscape a lovely background to a silly, throw-away plot. That's not the case with "The Secret of Roan Inish." The story belongs in Ireland and makes you want to go and capture a bit of the magic it spins.
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10/10
A beauty to be discovered
Phroggy30 October 1999
I agree with the mysterious Mr Meyesme : this can't be a movie

for all taste. If your idea of fantasy is Star Wars, end, try

something else. This one is entirely atmospheric, beautiful in

the way only ireland can be, to be appreciated by the gaslight

as a Lorenna McKennit, Mike Scott or Clannad song or one of

Keats most beautiful poetry. Having the chance to translate the

novel in France, I can say the movie is almost better. But

comparing it to other fantasies, even the most exotic like "A

chinese ghost story" would be like comparing Kate Bush to Korn.

Both are incredibly talented, but can't please the same people.

(Okay… maybe I'm not the only one to like both, but you get my

point !) This story of dreams, foggy banks, silkies and renewal

could make a good double-feature with the uncredible, one-of-a-kind fantasy "The
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Celtic crowd pleaser masquerading as edgy indie art
tieman6415 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
"The older the fiddle, the sweeter the tune." - Irish proverb

Part of cinema's "Irish boom" in the lead up to the Anglo-Irish ceasefires, "The Secret of Roan Inish" is a low key, fairly unassuming piece of fantasy by director John Sales, notable mostly for some good cinematography by the legendary Haskell Wexler.

Like all of these films ("Waking Ned Devine", "Far and Away", "Riverdance" etc), "The Secret of Roan Inish" exemplifies what writer Natasha Casey calls "Cletic commodification", reducing Ireland and Irishness to "Celtic myths", quaint, pre-modern, rural landscapes, and a depiction of the nation as being forever pre-colonised. Unsurprisingly, the film was widely distributed in America and Britian (since John Ford, "Irishness" has always been used as a vehicle to allow white audiences to role-play being white minorities/victims), but only had a limited release in Ireland. Its pastoral, regressive image of Irish society is more commercially viable outside of its home territory.

The film is often touted as being Sayles' only non-political film, but this isn't true. Its tales of when "man and beast lived side-by-side, sharing the sea", of "monsters shedding their past skins", of a little girl's self determination and slow journey back to her roots, are designed specifically for the Irish diaspora. It's a call for a people to return to their homes and live alongside the now tamed beasts of Old England.

"Everyone wants to march into the future," one haggard Irish character says, mourning about how his country "just got left behind." But the film's solution is to avoid modernization and to delve deeper into the past; a regression into some mythical "pure origins", a move backward to re-establish a pre-colonial Ireland. This is not surprising. The grand narrative of a society moving from the pre-modern to the modern to the post-modern, breaks down in Ireland. After the Anglo-Irish and Civil wars, as well as hundreds of years of struggle, the Irish were concerned with maintaining the nationalist cultural identity that they were finally free to express in their self-governance.

But what Sayles' film does is advocate delving into the "rich identity of Ireland's past", whilst serving up only Disneyland trinkets. It's the condescending David Lean view of Ireland; the art house equivalent of a Lucky Charms cereal box. So it's not only that the film fails to give a genuine ideology of contemporary Ireland, or that it chooses an escape to the past instead of clarifying historical events, but that it pretends to be about "identity" when actually it's relying on mythology in order to avoid questions of authenticity (or the impossibility thereof).

Ironically, with the Irish film industry in ruins, "Irishness" has increasingly become a sort of "viscious circle", foreigners projecting "Irishness" onto a country who must now parrot (and export) such cosy, plastic "Irishness" in their own art if they hope to garner international attention. Sayles is unwittingly participating here in the kind of damaging, bottled-tourism and cultural kitsch that he denounces so well in "Limbo" and "Sunshine State".

Ignoring these issues, the film works fairly well as a children's fantasy, though I suspect most kids and adults will find "Roan Inish" too plain and too slow. Compare the film to Victor Erice's "The Spirit of the Beehive", a masterpiece which, like "Roan Inish", merges history, myth and childhood.

7/10 – Worth one viewing.
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10/10
A wonderful poem on film.
fgunther1 November 2003
Just a simple little film, wonderfully done. An Irish ballad in pictures, a skillful rendering of legend and family.

Sort of "Quiet Man" meets "Ring of Bright Water."

If the folks who butchered "Mists of Avalon" had only hired John Sayles...
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8/10
A quiet gem of a movie
Momcat_of_Lomita3 March 2011
This is a rare movie: one that can hold the attention of adults while at the same time keeping children entranced.

That said, I have to add: this is not a movie for very young kids, who will not understand the mythology involved or "get" the plot. It is also not a film for people who are looking for a lot of action, special effects, cornball humor or over-the-top near-hysterical acting. It's a movie that works quietly for its effects.

The first thing I have to comment on is the beautiful setting of the film and the photography. The setting is the west coast of Ireland, in a small fishing village, and on the sea and the land around the village. I believe "Secret" is as successful at conveying the rugged beauty of this landscape and seascape as any movie made. No tricks, no special effects, just the beauty of a place that has a lot of history and mythology associated with it.

The actors and actresses in this film are not big names and not well-known, and I would say that this is a movie that is more story-driven than character-driven. At the same time, the lack of "name" actors or big bravura performances works to the advantage of the film, in that the personalities of the actors are submerged in the plot.

There is a lot of kindness in this film, and a sense of the people being really connected to one another and caring for and about each other, and about the land and time they live in. That's one of the things that I loved about this film: there are no real villains, nothing evil. Nobody is considered stupid or demeaned in any way. And yet there is a tension to the story, and a move towards resolution of a history that had sadness and tragedy in a way that is literally magical.

I loved this movie and I recommend it to anyone who can enjoy a movie that isn't big on action, that doesn't try to do more than tell a story in a way that's thoughtful and beautiful and makes you wish that you could find that kind of magic in your own life.
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Magical
Richard Burin11 June 2010
On the soundtrack to Tarantino's Kill Bill, Vol. 1, rapper RZA dedicates his witless contribution to character O-Ren Ishii, "half-Chinese, half-Japanese-ie". Well this review is dedicated in its entirety to the isle of Roan Inish, all Irish, no Japan-inish. John Sayles has spent most of his stellar career as a writer-director documenting the making of modern America: with the searing, masterfully-woven race relations dramas Lone Star and Sunshine State and the classic coming-of-age film Baby It's You, which doubles as a portrait of the immigrant experience. This change-of-pace outing finds him amidst the myths and mysteries of rural Ireland, where a 10-year-old girl is hunting for the baby brother who was swept to sea when her family evacuated its remote island home. The film builds slowly, mesmerisingly towards a cathartic act of mercy, incorporating several nuanced diversions which either bolster the narrative or flesh out its highly evocative portrait of a sea-faring community.

Medium Cool director Haskell Wexler's lustrous cinematography and a soundtrack of Celtic folk songs add to the very special atmosphere, while the sensitive performances remain doggedly unsentimental, young Jeni Courtney representing the movie's poetic but earthy sensibility as the resourceful, single-minded heroine. Meanwhile, Sayles' unmatched ear for dialogue is as attuned as ever, his empathy for the characters reinforced by inventive direction that sees the world from Courtney's height for its first five minutes. Roan Inish is a tender, affecting and ultimately magical film - and one of the best few I'll see this year. RZA was unavailable for comment.
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