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NewCityNet The Mighty Quinns

A Love Story To Get Your Irish Up

By Ray Pride

JUNE 7, 1999:  Ah, an unadulterated weepie. It's about time for a romantic tragedy.

Paul Quinn had nurtured the story of "This Is My Father" for almost a decade, scribbling to himself on a scrap of paper that he would, someday, somehow, eventually direct it with his brothers, Aidan the actor and Declan the cinematographer. In that time, all sorts of stories and memoirs of old Eire have been published and filmed, but the dire fate of Quinn's mismatched lovers has the good fortune of being released after the great success of Frank McCourt's "Angela's Ashes" (but before its movie edition, by blusterer Alan Parker). Declan's career took off in the meantime, with masterful turns on films such as "Leaving Las Vegas" and "Kama Sutra."

The central story is set in 1939, with Aidan playing Kieran O'Day, a shambler and mumbler, a "poorhouse bastard" whose own father murmurs as Kieran lights off to a dance, "Lord I hope he meets a girl." The girl is Fiona Flynn (vivacious, rosy-cheeked Moya Farrelly), a privileged, underage boarding-school girl sent home after "a bit of a row with the nuns."

While not a family secret, the Quinns' mother had told a heart-wrenching love story from the days in Ireland. "I heard it from my mother when I was a kid. It was a real story about [this passion] over a girl. What fascinated me was my mother's sense of feeling so bad for this guy, although she was 8 when he would have been in his early 20s. That fascinated me, as did the curse that had been put on him, that he was a 'poorhouse bastard.'"

But Paul grew bored writing a story set in 1939, until the modern frame occurred to him, with James Caan as a weary Aurora schoolteacher aching for his roots, venturing to Ireland with headstrong teenage nephew Jack (Jacob Tierney). "Now I could put more of myself into it, my sense of history," he says, speaking after a long lunch, and a shared bottle of wine with Aidan, who's relishing a cigar as we talk.

Quinn's writing and directing is sturdy for a first feature, on the surface a story of universal longing that is sorrowful yet strewn with small bits of wit and delicious observation. (In the present, when teenage Jack asks for vegetables, Colm Meaney's innkeeper says, "I could fry up some tomatoes for ye.") Paul serves up a contemporary Ireland where history and kitsch are cheek-by-jowl, and Declan's eye sets up three distinct visual styles - Aurora, contemporary Ireland, and the auburned-by-memory 1939. "The world was different then," characters say in the present and in the not-so-distant, so-far-away 1939.

The Quinns grew up in Rockford, Illinois, and Paul acted and directed theater in Chicago, notably with the New Crime troupe. The family spent a year in Ireland when Paul was 12. "The year-and-a-half we spent there was the most formative of my life. I was the Yank kid into baseball and sports and the worst tragedy in the world was our parents wanted to take us away for a year. It changed everything. It got me out of my cliques, and when I got back, I didn't want to be part of it. I realized how cliquey American lives are, particularly in Rockford at that time. I wanted to present an Ireland that I knew. Not so much Irish-American, but it was important to me to be true to the experience - "

Aidan interrupts, "The backbiting and viciousness we experienced in our own family, but also the generosity."

"It's a schizophrenic place and I love it. We had a more detailed experience of the place," Paul says, more than an adult Irish-American dropping in for a ramble might have. "When you read the script, things that were very effective didn't work as well because we didn't have time to shoot it," Aidan says.

He cites one instance where the thirty-seven-day schedule drew the energies of the three Quinns together. They lost the light when Fiona is bad-mouthing the nuns who sent her home. Aidan cites the description in Paul's script: "'She looks out at the most beautiful Irish classic clichˇ landscape and a pause.' Then she says, 'God! I hate the country!' Well, when you read that, that's fantastic." Paul smiles, watching his brother. "There's the difference between Fiona and Kieran, who loves the country. In a word and in an image. But all we had was two takes. We couldn't frame it in the dark. That was the most picturesque thing we could get at that moment." While the lovers' tragedy will be all that wept-out audiences will remember, the two Quinns remember what more they had in mind. A pause and Aidan continues, "It was underwhelming." The brothers laugh.

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