Luke McManus’s resonant, vivid and beautifully shot film is a documentary essay on Dublin’s North Circular Road and its working-class communities and histories. The road runs from Phoenix Park in the west to Summerhill and the docklands in the east, with some neighbourhoods still deprived, others gentrified, and residents fighting back against being priced out. McManus interleaves plangent and melancholy folk music with individual interviews and reflections on the institutions and landmarks, including the brutal Mountjoy prison and the building that once housed the grim St Brendan’s psychiatric hospital in Grangegorman. There is also O’Devaney Gardens, a notoriously tough area whose flats are being removed for a gentrified redevelopment (effacing, one ex-resident fears, any concept of community) and the Cobblestone pub, a famous trad folk music mecca saved from being converted into a hotel by community action.
Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
What’s more, North Circular is a musical, although surely one of the most sombre and chilly works ever staged in that genre. Accompanying each expositional portion are traditional folk ballads mainly sung a cappella by famed local musicians, whose lyrics chime with the memories and accounts we’ve just heard. They’re captured diegetically in a pub, bathed artfully in narrow sheets of Rembrandtesque lighting; with the black-and-white, digital cinematography, these moments feel like a funeral wake following the articulate eulogies of the voice-over-driven main sections.
David Katz, Cineuropa