At the weekend I caught an absolutely beautiful Scottish film, the Gaelic-language Seachd: the Inaccessible Pinnacle. A man returns home from Glasgow to his dying grandfather back in the Western Isles, which leads to a series of tales – in many ways it is a story about stories. Rather fittingly, since Gaelic has an immensely rich oral tradition, a seam of folklore and tales told and retold by bards, singers and just ordinary folk generation after generation. In one scene the grandfather – who may have a much more personal link to the stories of centuries past he tells – talks to his wee grandson, angry and bitter after the death of his parents, rejecting his upbringing, calling it stupid and his grandad’s stories false and tells him “no-one can tell the truth. We all tell stories.”
(Angus Peter Campbell/Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul as the grandfather. A man well suited to play a storyteller since he was taught by Iain Crichton Smith and then later encouraged by Sorley MacLean at University. He is a published novelist and poet and it shows in his performance – like any good poet he has a feel for the fabric and rhythm of storytelling)
As a lifelong reader its hard for me to argue that point – narrative, story, is central to the human condition, it informs who we are in a personal day to day life (how was your day? You don’t just say I did this, this and this, you tell it like a short story) and on the grander scale (the older stories which tell us on a deeper level who we are as a people, stories that repeat again and again – Arthur, the Iliad, Beowulf, Ramayana, the songs of the Dreamtime. We are story, we are words and images – we think in words and images, we talk in them, write and draw and sing in them. They’re encoded into our DNA. And Seachd is stories within stories, stories defining and illustrating history, culture and the individuals too.
The film is beautiful to behold – much of it is shot on An t-Eilean Sgitheanach, better know to most of us as the Isle of Skye and the mighty Cuillins range. Even in scenes shot on gray, dull, overcast (very Scottish weather) days the imagery is stunning, clouds reaching down to the tops of the mountains, like angel’s wings caressing the earth. The music (which is what is playing from the embedded player I got from the official site over on the left of the blog here) is also wonderful.
It makes my blood boil that the numpty heids at BAFTA have decided not to support this Scottish film and put it forward as their non-English language selection for Oscar consideration – not because they had something else they preferred to put forward either, they just didn’t put Seachd or anything else forward, which totally undermines their supposed commitment to supporting British film-making (and nice to see London still haughtily mistreats Gaelic culture, some things never change it seems). BAFTA has attracted a raft of criticism, starting with the Scottish arts community, the Parliament and now worldwide condemnation for this shameful and inexcusable lack of support and rightly so. With the fine reception the film is receiving it makes BAFTA’s ignorant decision look all the more foolish and ill-informed and I hope they are quite humiliated by their disgusting actions.
But enough negativity – the film itself is truly beautiful and moving; the seemingly simple idea of an elderly storyteller telling story after story doesn’t convey the feel of the film. As with any story it isn’t just the story, it is how the storytellers tell the story that often makes it and that’s the case here. Its hauntingly beautiful, stories that you can feel on those deeper levels that the truly good stories can reach. Go and see it.