Picks and Pans Review: The Secret of Roan Inish

updated 02/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 02/27/1995 AT 01:00 AM EST

Jeni Courtney, Eileen Colgan, Mick Lally, Richard Sheridan, Susan Lynch

John Sayles, the writer-director, is a moviemaker who respects his audience. He never spoon-feeds, he never hectors. In film after film, from The Return of the Seacaucus Seven (1980) through Passion Fish (1993), he concentrates on his characters, assuming their stories will interest us. They always do. And in The Secret of Roan Inish, a truly magical movie based on Irish folktales, he is working in top form.

Roan Inish—which Sayles adapted from a 1957 novella by Rosalie K. Fry, Secret of the Ron Mor Skerry—is set on the west coast of Ireland and is about longing for one's home. It focuses on a 10-year-old girl (Courtney) whose family can no longer afford to remain on the island, which had been home for generations. They move to the mainland, where the girl becomes convinced that her younger brother, who as a baby drifted out to sea when the tide carried off his cradle, is still alive. If the family could only move back to the island, she believes, everyone would be reunited and life would be good again. Interwoven with her story is the Irish myth of the Selkie, a creature who is part seal, part woman (and wholly believable as played by the ethereal Susan Lynch).

Although Roan Inish starts out a tad slow, once Sayles gets his rhythm going, the movie glides along as smoothly as a sailboat cutting through calm seas. Of immeasurable help is Haskell Wexler's cinematography, which indelibly captures the bleak moodiness of the Irish land and seascapes. (PG)

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