Nobody does sad like the Irish

Kisses is an Irish movie that has Christmas and cute kids and it’s about as close to a “feel good” movie as the Pogues’ Fairytale of New York is to Silver Bells.  Kisses and the Pogues’ song both use Christmas as a kind of tawdry foil for the deep and abiding sadness that permeates them.  The cute 12 or 13 year old kids in the movie, the boy physically abused by his step-father, the girl sexually abused by her uncle, run away to Dublin at Christmas time and spend an alternatively magic and horror-filled night on the streets.  In the morning they are picked up by the police and taken back to their dysfunctional homes.

From my description it sounds like a just another depressing story that none of us needs to hear because we’ve already heard a dozen or a hundred like it.  But in addition to all the misery, there is a kind of triumphal note to the movie that builds even as our fear for the two characters also builds.  For one thing, the interplay between the boy and the girl which the camerawork enhances but doesn’t overwhelm is so nice to watch.  They are in a pretty grim situation, even before night falls when it really gets scary, but the wary, not quite sexual affection that grows between them gradually pushes back that scary world.

By the time the police pick them up, they have become unshakable friends and allies, and when they are being led away by their embarrassed and irate parents, a look passes between them that makes us believe that their friendship will sustain them until they are old enough to deal with their enemies.  You know they will survive and maybe even prevail.  And the movie does all that just with a look.

I guess you could say that Kisses has a happy ending of sorts. It is certainly more upbeat than Fairytale of New York, but that song has a musical energy that counteracts the doom-ridden lyrics and like Kisses, you are left with a kind of elation.

The Pogues serve up sentimental lines:

The boys of the NYPD choir
Were singing “Galway Bay”
And the bells were ringing out
For Christmas day

and then a few stanzas later, they’ll hit you with:

Happy Christmas your arse
I pray God it’s our last

Paradoxically, the effect is exhilarating

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