While there have been plenty of stories depicting a person searching for their biological parent(s), ROSE PLAYS JULIE, directed by Christine Molloy and Joe Lawlor, subverts expectations in a story with beautiful directing and cinematography, a thrilling score, and superior acting. It leaves the audience holding their breaths, then heaving a sigh of relief only to sharply inhale again.
Rose is attending vet school in Ireland but, even in class, she is distracted. She watches a film repeatedly and we soon learn that the woman in the film is her biological mother who gave her up for adoption. She calls her mom often but is unsure of what to say and, when she finally tells her mother who she is, her mother is rendered silent and hangs up.
Undeterred, Rose travels to where her mother is acting on a set and is once again snubbed. Determined, she then pretends to be looking for a home to gain access to a tour of her mother’s house which is on the market where she meets her younger half-sister.
Once she understands the reason her mom gave her up, she seeks out her biological father. Things slowly escalate as she pretends to be an actress looking to work on his archaeological dig site for experience for a role she has.
ROSE PLAYS JULIE is a dramatic surprise that is carried by two wonderful performances—Ann Skelly as Rose and Orla Brady as Ellen. There are not many actors who are able to convey enough emotional depth in their expressions to render dialogue unnecessary. These two actresses achieve that. Rose often looks both innocent and quizzical like she’s puzzling out the problem of the person in front of her. Ellen, her mom, emotes a myriad of emotions, from fear, pain, guilt, and an inescapable maternal concern for the daughter she gave up.
The cinematography is beautiful. Though I truly feel it’s impossible to get shots of these locations wrong, the directors—Joe Lawlor & Christine Molloy—and cinematographer, Tom Comerford, all did an exceptional job. The off-centered shots make it seem like something is lurking but perhaps that’s all that is unsaid and all that has happened. Even the shot of the tree leaning in the woods! Experiences, particularly bad ones, can throw us off-kilter and the shots feel like a visual of that feeling as well as all that comes with it—loneliness, sorrow, etc. Many of the shots mirror the photo she gazes at of her at a lighthouse, where she is, again, slightly to the right of the center.
The music made me feel like I was watching both “Something to Tide You Over” from Creepshow and The Shining, because it held an impending, dramatic dread that was simultaneously haunting and lovely. The wailing ebbs and flows along with the instrumental score, that symbolizes the waxing and waning emotions of our female leads as well as an impending reckoning that is perhaps inevitable. I loved it, but it was still so dramatic that I half expected two murdered people to emerge from the ocean and take a tour of a home looking for their killer.
There is foreshadowing, but even what you glean is not fully how it all wraps up. ROSE PLAYS JULIE knowingly plays with our expectations as much as it plays with genres. I anticipated horror, stalker, thriller, drama and it kept making me wonder throughout.
Overall, ROSE PLAYS JULIE is an exceptional film that is uncomfortable to sit through because of the subject matter but still highly recommended. The music may haunt you for a while, but it’ll pass. Eventually.