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Rocky Road to Dublin

Director: Peter Lennon

Ireland 1968. B&W. 70mins.


Peter Lennon’s legendary Rocky Road to Dublin is currently enjoying a new lease of life, having been restored from elements preserved by the Irish Film Archive and with funding from the Irish Film Board; it is now receiving a very belated theatrical release in the U.K. and Ireland. A Paris-based ‘Guardian’ journalist in the 1960s, Lennon was covering the Dublin Theatre Festival when he began to question his friends’ claim that issues such as the role of the Catholic Church and state censorship were no longer relevant in modern Irish society. Lennon wrote a scathing article to prove that quite the opposite was true. He went on to team up with famous French cinematographer Raoul Coutard (the darling of the New Wave set) and made an extraordinary documentary that was effectively suppressed because it proved so embarrassing to the powers that be.
As the filmmaker has insisted, Rocky Road to Dublin is ‘a genuine record of how people lived and thought and felt in 1960s Ireland.’ Lennon never intended it to be any kind of hatchet job—there’s much in the film that’s warm, positive and very funny—but neither did he shrink from portraying a society straining under the pressure of social and religious traditions. He also let people who were so inclined to condemn themselves through their own words and actions. The results were bound to prove controversial here in Ireland, but what really made the film’s reputation was its inclusion in the 1968 Cannes Film Festival. It was one of the last film’s screened at that year’s event, which was shut down by Godard and Truffaut in solidarity with students and strikers. Somewhat ironically, the film was then taken up by radicals and shown extensively in universities. Plus The Making of Rocky Road to Dublin, directed by Paul Duane, which does an excellent job of putting the original film into context. Coutard comes out of retirement to talk about the background to the film and its political significance. There’s some remarkable, previously unseen footage of Lennon confronting Godard and Truffaut at Cannes, plus scenes of demonstrations around the Sorbonne as revolutionary fervour peaked.

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