I vividly remember the first time I set foot in the majestic surroundings of Yorkshire’s premier independent cinema (based on my all too humble and undoubtedly biased opinion): Hull Screen. As an undergraduate, I spent many an hour popping into this oddly austere-looking delight to be educated on various filmic wonders that I would have otherwise probably never encountered.

On my maiden visit I entered this cold screening room that was all too familiarly designed like a lecture theatre and seemed to command an uncompromising penchant for ridged, old-school formality. I took to my seat without knowing a single thing about what film I was about to watch, except for its title, Garage, and by the time the lights went up after viewing this lucky charm I was left with an unexplainable feeling that has lingered with me ever since. 

This little Irish gem centres on a rural garage attendant named Josie (Pat Shortt): a social outcast who just potters around contented in his own world despite existing in cyclical routine of uneventful monotony. His only steady contact with humanity includes infrequent conversations with the woman he harbours some affections for at the grocery shop named Carmel (Anne-Marie Duff) and the local bullies who mock him down at the town’s local watering hole. 

When the garage is opened for extended hours during weekends, Josie’s boss hires a 15-year-old boy named David (Conor Ryan) to be his assistant and an unexpected friendship develops between the two characters. Their activities often include drinking a few cans after work and commenting on the gossip that circulates throughout the town, but the consequences of their innocuous meetings eventually lead to a deeply humbling conclusion. 

Garage belongs in the social-realist canon of work that is so often occupied by British directors including Andrea Arnold, Mike Leigh and Shane Meadows. Familiar tropes of this dramatic sub-genre often include a bleak aesthetic, protracted shot durations, minimal scoring and simple continuity cutting to accurately recreate the harsh realities that the filmmakers are trying to convey; so often evoking the phrase, “nothing really happens.” 

Despite conforming to many of these conventions, Abrahamson’s film is instilled with a beautifully poised comedic quality that thwarts some of the more sorrowful and anguished themes from dictating the film. It is ironic that most of the film’s laughs are perpetuated from the same mundanity and threatening social alienation that burdens Josie throughout. 

The vast majority of the film’s awkward charm is amassed by the meritoriously restrained and brilliant performance of Shortt, whose character study of a frumpy loner with a partially debilitating defect in his hip and an inhibited inter-personal awareness is overwhelmingly endearing. 

It is clear that Josie harbours escapist fantasises to experience pastures new from the way he beams with intrigue when a passing lorry driver enlightens him on the supposedly exotic and sexually debauched cultural practices that are ubiquitous in Europe. He also regularly wears a weather-beaten cap with ‘Australia’ written on it; as if he has wished and speculated about journeying to these far off lands for a long time but has potentially allowed his insecurities and dependence on fruitless rituals to hold him back. 

Josie is utterly alien to developments in the modern world and his archaic, albeit innocent, lifestyle does not comply with what is deemed socially acceptable, and although none of his actions are intended to be incriminating, he is not emotionally competent enough to acknowledge his potential to corrupt. This feature is what really empowers the narrative on reflection. 

The most pertinent feature of Garage is its proposition of a rural paradox: there are numerous scenes of Josie’s isolated excursions which encapsulate the poignant beauty and simplicity of the countryside, championing Ireland’s national identity, whilst simultaneously converging them with atavistic bigotry and primal discriminations against those that the local consensus deem non-conformist to their ethically backward ideals. 

There is a horse that Josie goes to visit on a few occasions who is one of the few beings in the film that he can relate to: trapped and ostracised. Although the two only have a few brief encounters, it is apparent that the horse is a metaphorical referent for Josie and despite the film’s harrowingly emotive denouement, the presence of the horse in the final shot offers a welcomed, if not wholly satisfying, catharsis. 

Above all else, the reason why Garage succeeds so convincingly is because of its effortlessly simple execution. The cinematography and editing are as raw and pure as you could imagine; the music is kept to a bare minimum and the performances are subtle, but all of these components are handled with such careful attention that all become gloriously impactful. 

It might not be the most enthralling piece of cinema ever committed to film, nor will it be everybody’s cup of tea, but exquisite examples of social-realism like Garage can certainly offer Hollywood an alternative to the sensory bombardment and decadence that is an unfortunate prerequisite of contemporary mainstream tastes. If you have the time, park yourself down and fill up on this Irish beauty because hopefully you’ll agree that it really is a little pot of gold.

About The Author

Ross is a Screen Studies graduate from Manchester who can be found beaming with joy rather than wincing with discomfort at cinema’s oddest, most experimental and depraved offerings.