Written for RAF News October 2020
Dublin’s portside town provides no escape for a middle-aged man in the thick of an existential crisis.
From the first moment that we see Colm (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor), he looks pained, carrying the weight of an unseen burden. Against the scale of the freight cargo that surrounds him at work, and the sea beyond, he looks insignificant – and perhaps this is why he keeps his troubles to himself and suffers in silence.
Emasculated as a father and emotionally detached from his wife (Monica Dolan), we learn that he has recently lost his own father and is soon to lose his job of 30 years. Too young to retire, but too settled to start anew, 46 year old Colm’s only escape is in the brief meetings that he has with teenager Jay (Tom Glynn-Carney) whom he pays for sex.
Set in the titular port town of Dublin, Rialto is shot with a focus on realism. The exchanges between characters are minimal, with Colm so cagey and closed off from those around him that his words are often grumbled – in a dialect that is hard enough to discern when he’s sober. Closeted for so long that he sees no other way, Colm ponders aloud at one point: ‘if we told people what was really in our heads, if we admitted to ourselves even, what would happen?’
There is no joy or respite to be found in the film, moments of pleasure are fraught and serve to highlight the misery that has enveloped Colm’s compromised life. Awash in a grey setting that could well have been 10 or 20 years in the past, it is haunting in it’s existential bleakness. Repressed in almost every way, Colm takes abuse from his son and his young lover (whose meet-cute takes the form of a mugging) only to later lash out at his grieving mother. The abuse is cyclical and misery inescapable.
Adapted for the screen from Mark O’Halloran’s own play Trade, the intimacy remains, and the smaller idiosyncrasies of the phenomenal cast fill the screen with authenticity, but one could hardly call the experience of watching Rialto enjoyable.