On DVD: Kisses

Lance Daly's short feature film is a miniature jewel that sparkles with effective moods and situations, anchored by two remarkably intuitive performances by pre-teen, non-professional lead actors. In an arc that takes us from the depressed working-class outskirts of Dublin, down the River Liffey into a fable-like vision of the city itself, Daly's film recreates the unmistakable and easily-forgotten sensation of what it feels like to be a child experiencing that first taste of freedom in a world that discovered to be larger than ever before imagined - a place where anything can happen.

The story is simple. Dylan (Shane Curry) and Kylie (Kelly O'Neill) are next-door neighbors in a run-down suburb. One day, they escape their abusive families and leap aboard a small riverboat, whose pilot takes them all the way to Dublin. On top of the city's unfamiliarity to Dylan and Kylie, it's Christmastime to boot, making Dublin a sheer wonderland, alight with festivity. The two go to the mall, buy clothes, and go ice skating. Still, they can't escape the city's underbelly: at one point, after unsuccessfully searching for Dylan's older brother, they are pursued by adult male predators. The next morning, their options seem extremely limited, in stark contrast to the wild possibility of the previous evening.

Lance Daly constructs a simple enough narrative utilizing a variety of cinematic tools. The film is shot in widescreen; composition is excellent. The opening and closing sequences (set in Dylan and Kylie's ugly neighborhood) are shot in black and white. The slow fade into and out of color as the duo enter and leave Dublin is almost unnoticeable. These technical choices are next to nothing, however, when it comes to the notoriously difficult business of working with child actors. Daly was either extraordinarily lucky, or he was wise enough to cast young actors whose personalities melded ideally with those of the characters. Maybe it was some of both. The end result is a pair of on-the-nose performances that effortlessly create distinctive characters. Curry's Dylan is an inward, prematurely hardened kid who barely emotes at all, while as Kylie, O'Neill is voluble, emphatic, and adventurous. They are well-matched opposites whose mutual affection grows as the story progresses. Yet by the film's end we begin to sense that these two aren't exactly "meant" for each other. They are two very young people who have shared an important moment, but who will ultimately grow up pointed in different directions, despite their having experienced something unforgettable together.

At a swift 74 minutes, Kisses is nonetheless a full, complete film. The story of Dylan and Kylie concludes with an inevitable return home. The concluding sequence is shot in a way that might be a bit much; it's still moving, though, and memorable. I just wish Daly had pulled back ever so slightly on the use of slow-motion; but I often react this way to slow-motion. It's a minor point. Aided by his outstanding young actors, Daly's film is elegant, heartfelt, imaginative, and real.

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