LFF REVIEW: “Dramatic, Powerful, and Relevant” – ‘Rose Plays Julie’ (2019)


“Beautiful, resonant, the culmination of their work.”

When we first meet Rose (Ann Skelly), she is faceless. Much like Anna Karina in Vivre Sa Vie, she begins her story shrouded in mystery, through narration she slowly peels away at her own mystery. She wants to meet her birth mother, Ellen (Orla Brady), but Ellen’s own enigma creates a barrier between them. Thus, begins a dramatic, powerful, and relevant drama exploring relations and their fluidity. Rose Plays Julie is brought to us by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, also known as Desperate Optimists, who return to fiction with this film, after completing their debut documentary, Further Beyond, in 2016.

Desperate Optimists often focus on performance, it is a central theme in their work. This is particularly prevalent in Helen, a scouse whodunnit based around a girl asked to play another girl who has disappeared. As the title suggests, this idea of performance crops up again in Rose Plays Julie. Unlike Helen, which is positively Bressonic in its sparse performances, Rose Plays Julie allows its cast room to express themselves, even if what they are expressing is restraint. Ann Skelly’s Rose is incredibly pure, she struggles with the falsities she is forced to create, and even when pushed to the edge, it feels as though she’s just trying her best. Skelly’s careful delivery of each line, as if every word is being planned before it can be uttered, allows her to distant us from Rose. We never know what she’s really thinking, we only know what she allows us to know.

Then there is Ellen, Rose’s birth mother. She is, by trade, an actor. She works in cheesy genre shows, a police officer who has to slay a vampire, a nun with psychic powers. Her switches in tone from soft to stern at an instant, stern in her softness and vice versa, immediately create the feeling of a character who is, inherently maternal. However, much like Rose, she allows herself to remain shrouded in mystery.

It is this sense of mystery that allows Molloy and Lawlor to twist and turn this story to their will, taking influences from genre but never being so abrupt as to delve head-first into it. The constant feeling of duality throughout the film, the feeling of peeling back each layer of performance as the film goes on, is a unique and endlessly interesting approach to character and plot. Rose Plays Julie feels like a culmination of Molloy and Lawlor’s work so far. The balance between Bressonic and a slightly looser performance style, the gorgeous cinematography, and the perfectly paced narrative make for a film definitely not to be missed.

Dir: Christine Molloy & Joe Lawlor

Prod: David Collins, Christine Molloy, & Joe Lawlor

Cast: Ann Skelly, Orla Brady, Aidan Gillen

Release Date: Unconfirmed

Clip from Rose Plays Julie